Audiobooks: The Dancer

Those of you who listen to audiobooks, what do you think about multiple readers reading one book?  I finished listening to Colum McCann’s The Dancer recently and had  mixed feelings about the quality of the reading.  I’m not sure about the quality of the novel itself, as it’s hard to tell if I would have liked it if I had read it in the usual way.  But on audio I found it slow and a little dull.  And their choice to have multiple readers reading various parts irritated me.

This is a book where having multiple readers makes sense, in a way, because the novel switches point of view a lot, moving from character to character and place to place, telling the story from a whole range of voices and perspectives.  Having different readers read each part makes it easier to figure out that a new section has begun.  I could remember the reader’s voices, too, and figure out which character the narrative was then following.

And yet I prefer to stay with one reader, no matter how varied the novel’s point of view is.  What I like about audiobooks is the sense that there is one person reading a story to me; that reader becomes kind of like a character him or herself, someone I want to spend time with.  Switching readers feels too jarring.

It didn’t help that several of the readers have irritating voices — too often overly dramatic, with every word over-enunciated.  Some of the readers were really loud and others were really quiet, so I could never get the volume set right.  It seems hard enough to find one reader who can read well; trying to put a book together with half a dozen good readers seems impossible.

The book is about Rudolf Nureyev, covering most of his life, from his very poor childhood in Russia to his international success as a ballet dancer, which brought wealth and fame.  It captures life in the Soviet Union very well, as well as the pressures that are placed on a strong-willed, spirited young man who finds himself with more money and attention than he knows what to do with.  He becomes friends with all sorts of famous people including Andy Warhol and John Lennon, and it was fun to read about the artistic, bohemian circles Nureyev moved in.

But overall, there were only parts of the book that really intrigued me; unfortunately, I spent more time cringing at the readers rather than getting much out of the book itself.  I probably would have stopped listening to it if I listened to books anywhere but in the car, but I have plenty of time there (unfortunately), so it seemed to make sense to keep on with it.

Now I’m listening to Laura Lippman’s What the Dead Know, and it’s working much better for me.  Maybe when it comes to audiobooks I should stick to mystery novels?


Filed under Books, Fiction, Reading

14 responses to “Audiobooks: The Dancer

  1. verbivore

    I’ve never listened to an audio book with multiple readers and I agree with you that it would be jarring…seems maybe more like listening to a play.


  2. Multiple readers sounds like it would be very confusing, unless it was a play and each person read only their part.

    My worst audiobook experience was a reader with a very Southern accent trying to share experiences of Tuscany. I could not get past the first few minutes — the accent completely clashed with the country she was describing.


  3. Like verbivore, I’ve never listened to one with multiple readers, although my son loves the dramatised versions of Golden Age crime fiction (Christie, Marsh and Sayers, in particular). But eww, when the voices get in the way of the story, that’s clearly no good.


  4. JoAnn

    An audiobook with multiple readers does seem to be a totally different experience. A few I have enjoyed include Water for Elephants, My Sister’s Keeper, and The History of Love. My usual listening fare is ‘lighter fiction’, but I have been experimenting with nonfiction lately.


  5. I prefer audiobooks with a single reader. I’ve listened to a few with two readers, a man and a woman and that was ok. More than two readers I can’t stand. It turns it into a production and distracts me from the actual text of the book.


  6. I, too, prefer one reader. And like Stefanie, I get distracted when the reading turns into a production; I don’t like music and stuff interspersed, either.

    The BEST reading I’ve heard was Salmon Rushdie reading his own Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It was absolutely brilliant!


  7. Edd


    I do not listen to audio books as I should now with my illness but some readers are very irritating to the ear and when I have heard the same book read by different individuals there is a loss of attention because you tend to focus on the reader you enjoy the most. For many years, I have continued to listen to Radio Reader on NPR with Dick Estell. He his now reading Measure of the Heart by Mary Ellen Geist on Alzheimer’s and although my disease mimic’s Alzheimer’s it is not the same. In my limited experience, no other reader can project an author’s words as he can especially with Ms. Geist’s book.


  8. I’m really picky about audio books and if it doesn’t sound right to me I will delete it off my player with no hesitation (I wish I could be so ruthless sometimes when reading a book that wasn’t working for me!). I had this same experience. I was listening to one of those YA vampire books (Stephanie Meyer) and there were two readers–one male and one female. At first I thought this would be good, as each reader would divide up the male/female parts, but it didn’t work that way. The guy only read one part and the lady read all the rest–male parts included. It didn’t help that I didn’t like her voice–she didn’t vary her voice enough. So I think I prefer one reader as well. I will say I listened to a radio dramatization of a Bradbury book that I loved, but it was totally different–what I imagine it must have been like listening to a radio before TV came along!


  9. grrljock

    I’d say that having multiple readers increases the chance that something would go wrong, like you mentioned (volume, style, etc). I’ve listened to only one audiobook with multiple readers, and it was perfectly suited for it (Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White”). The readers in this particular production really fit my perception of the characters. It probably helps that I had not read the book beforehand, so had not formed my own ideas of how the characters would/should sound.

    Of course, as others have pointed out, having one reader can be a bad experience as well, especially if s/he is not an adept mimic of accents. Nothing quite destroys characterization as an accent done really badly. So the audiobook of Allegra Goodman’s “Intuition” sticks in my mind, for this very wrong reason.

    I had a subscription to audible. com back when I had to drive 45 minutes to work each way, and I mostly listened to non-fiction works, since I wanted to use my actual reading time to read fiction.


  10. Verbivore — yes, it was definitely jarring — when I listen to a book, I want to get to know one reader and stick to that person. The book feels more coherent that way.

    Debby — the novel’s perspective shifted from character to character and the readers each stuck to one or two (or maybe three) voices, so it was a little like a play, but I suppose a play is not what I wanted! And yes, a southerner reading about Tuscany might not work!

    Litlove — yeah, the voices were distracting. That’s the main thing, I suppose … if the readers were better, I wouldn’t have minded nearly as much.

    JoAnn — I listened to A History of Love, and I thought the multiple readers worked better there, but still I think I prefer one reader. That person becomes a companion, and I don’t want to give them up!

    Stefanie — I agree. I wonder if some books, particularly those with lots of different perspectives and voices, just shouldn’t be made into audio books. You might think they would work really well on audio, but I’m not sure they do.

    Bardiac — oh, yeah, the music drives me nuts! It’s invariably cheesy. Now Rushdie reading Haroun would be great.

    Edd — I agree that with multiple readers you tend to focus on your favorite. I kept waiting for my favorite reader to come back, and it didn’t happen often enough!

    Danielle — yes, listening to a radio dramatization sounds fun, but these audio books with multiple readers are strange hybrids that don’t seem to work. I need to be better about quitting audio books and regular books both if I don’t like them!

    Grrljock — I bet The Woman in White was fun to listen to! I think you’re exactly right that having lots of readers increases the chances of something going wrong; inevitably some will be better than others and the less enjoyable ones will get annoying.


  11. I guess it depends on the book. The audio version of DRACULA, which has more than one narrator (male and female, for the different voices) I loved. I can imagine it might get on my nerves if it weren’t well-done, though. If you’re looking for a good non-mystery audiobook that I think you’ll like, try HERE IF YOU NEED ME, by Kate Baestrup. It’s memoir/autobiography, read by the author, and that works VERY well.


  12. Emily — thanks for the recommendation! I’ll have to see if my library has it.


  13. Librivox audiobooks generally involve multiple readers. Not for dialogue or narration, but just to get the book recorded without imposing a 45-hour recording session on any of the volunteers. Everyone can volunteer for as few as one chapter. But I agree with you: what makes recording easier in the case of Librivox, makes listening harder. The voices, the accents, the sound quality, the pace: all these differences are a little disconcerting, and I am much fonder of ‘solo’ projects, even if it takes one full year of recording and editing for the one volunteer reading the book.


  14. irene

    I am currently listening to the audio of Dancer; I enjoy the story and multiple viewpoints, but it irks me no end that the reader who does Nureyev tries for a Russian accent simply by over enunciating the t’s and d’s. Its maddening and distracts from the story. But over all McCann’s story and writing are fascinating.


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