Contextually appropriate audiobook narrators

Audiobooks are great. They are not cheating – they count as reading. They are also wonderful opportunities for more tangibly presenting the characters and tone of any particular work. Whether it’s an individual narrator, or a full cast with sounds effects and music, listening to a well done audiobook can really magnify your experience of a book.

I try to find audiobooks that are read by what I call “contextually appropriate narrators.” While I love the deep tones and rich textures of a British man’s voice as much as the next bookworm or theatre-lover, this voice-type isn’t always the best or only option available to convey the personality, emotion, culture, and experience of every story’s characters.

While this idea is subjective, it isn’t that subjective. Is the main character a person of color? Then the narrator should be a person of color. Is the book about Chinese people? Then the person reading should probably have Chinese heritage. Not every narrator will wholly represent an entire story and all of its characters, but I believe they should relate in some central way.

Yes, I understand that narrators are actors and can act like other people, but why not find a voice actor that more closely resembles the characters in the story being told? As with memoirs being read by authors, contextually appropriate narrators lend much-needed authenticity and credibility to the presentation of a story, which makes the narration more impactful and enjoyable.

Here are 6 well-read books by contextually appropriate narrators in the Seattle Public Library collection:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
While the title really does say it all about multiple incredibly wealthy Singaporean families and one American-born Chinese outsider, Asian American narrator Lynn Chen says the rest.

Goldenhand by Garth Nix
A continuation of the story of the Abhorsen Lirael from Old Kingdom series books Lirael and Abhorsen, this entry is narrated for the first time by a woman, British voice actor Heather Wilds.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
This Hugo Award winning speculative-fiction novel follows the experiences of a black woman surviving in a broken world where those who have the ability to manipulate the power of the earth are both feared and enslaved, narrated by African American voice actor Robin Miles.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The modern classic of a young British boy who learns that he is a wizard, narrated by British voice actor Jim Dale.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The echoed stories of an Asian American novelist living in Canada who finds the diaries of a young Japanese American woman living in Japan washed up on the beach are narrated by the author herself, Asian American-Canadian Ruth Ozeki.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
A high fantasy tale focused on the different approaches to doing and understanding magic, set in an equivalent of medieval Poland, “Polnya”, narrated by Russian expat Julia Emelin.

~ posted by Mychal L.

3 thoughts on “Contextually appropriate audiobook narrators”

  1. Never considered an audio book. Wanted to try one but always figured I wouldn’t have the patience for it. And it may be difficult to skip ahead or go back to a particular part, but I suppose digital indexing takes care of that.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! It just doesn’t do the story justice if you don’t hear it in the right kind of voice. Recently I’ve been listening to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo books and the narrator is phenomenal! Makes all the difference. 🙂

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