I’d fallen woefully behind on my reading challenge until last week. In looking for some great new reads by Asian American authors, I ended up devouring Ali Wong’s dear Girls and Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact in three days. I was on a book high.
Then I got the notification that my hold of Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House was available for download finally through my Overdrive account. I heard great things about the book itself; but everyone was going cuckoo bananas for the audiobook version narrated by none other than America’s Dad, Tom Hanks. Now, as someone who has grown up with Tom Hanks on screen since my early childhood Hanks’ evolution from funny guy to dramatic powerhouse, to a tent pole actor has been inspirational to witness. While I have been moved to tears by his performances in Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan, and Castaway; I have also been left breathless with laughter, tears streaming down my cheeks in the wake of several of his comedic performances. I can’t lie - my all time favorite Hanks role is from The Money Pit. It is one of the films we quote constantly in my family. Considering how much time I have spent in my life watching Tom Hanks do all manner of things - renovate houses, dance on over-sized pianos, land planes on the Hudson, fight pirates... - you’d think I’d be prepared for how powerful an audiobook narrator he is. Nope. I was unprepared and gobsmacked. While the primary character of The Dutch House is male, when Hanks narrates the female characters, he embodies the role in such a way that you kind of forget that it’s a man reading the part (maybe his early work on Busom Buddies was enlightening?). I can’t say enough good things about the story Patchett weaves in The Dutch House. There is a wonderful balance between tension and exposition throughout the complicated story of the Conroy family as it stretches out over fifty years. I won’t give anything of the plot away, I will only say this is one of those books that if you can do audiobooks, that is the way to go for this novel.
After being blown away by Hanks’ narration of The Dutch House, I started thinking about some other favorite audiobook narrators. The first that came to mind was Jim Dale. If you’ve listened to any of the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series, you already know of the amazing vocal stylings of Mr. Dale. Honestly, his narration brings the books to life in a way that that I couldn’t have imagined. When you consider the pantheon of characters he was responsible for bringing to life, you realize what a challenge he was facing. He didn’t just meet the challenge, he made it seem effortless. He is also the narrator of My Favorite Book Ever - The Night Circus. I won’t lose my mind once again about this book in this blog, I will merely state that I read the book on the page before I listened to the audiobook and once again the narration brought so much more to my love and appreciation of the text.
Another book that has been recently added to my TBR list is A Burning by Megha Majumdar. I was even more excited to listen to listen to it after discovering it is narrated by Vikas Adam - the same narrator who brought Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi to life. Adam is one of Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame for a good reason. He has tremendous talent for accent and dialect that transports the listener to time and place at the narrator’s whim. His voice brings life to stories across genres - and he appears to be a darling of the fantasy/sci-fi author set, and he has even been entrusted with the words of preeminent astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
You can’t really talk about book narrators without mentioning Neil Gaiman. Gaiman doesn’t just narrate his books and short stories, he performs them. Listening to a Gaiman tale read by the author is the most sublime form of theater of the mind. While his books are a delight to read on the page, listening to him weave his own tale seems to directly transfer the imagery into the visual center of your mind.
The final narrator whose praises I shall sing is Robin Miles. When the amazing lives of Katherine Johnson and the other women of color who helped NASA put men on the moon was immortalized in Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, Miles was the voice that brought these women to life in my mind’s eye. She has also narrated Peter Slevin’s biography of Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris’ The Truths We Hold. Caste is one of the books that I am hoping to get to soon and lo and behold - Robin Miles is the voice of record.
Far too often I have abandoned a well-written tale because I just couldn’t connect with the voice of the narrator. More often than that I am enchanted and transported buy the skill of a talented narrator. When I think of meaningful quotes from my favorite stories, I hear them in the voice of my favorite vocal talent.