As long time Hit Coffeers know, I am a big fan of audiobooks. They’ve gotten me through some pretty horrendous commutes. It started with Harry Potter and Ender’s Game (and subsequent Ender/Bean novels). Most recently it has been Tom Clancy. One of the things that wouldn’t have really occurred to me, if I’d thought about it, is the difference the reader makes. I would have figured that a bad reader is better than a good reader, but there’s really more to it than that. A different reader can make the author sound different. Not just in voice (obviously), but in tone. It’s working through the Clancy series that has made this most apparent because of the three different readers, one of which is one of the readers from the Ender series (Scott Brick) and another (Michael Pritchard) sounds very similar to the reader from the Jason Bourne series (Darrin McGavin).

Clancy’s novels spend a lot of time explaining things, which makes the Ender-Bourne connection make sense, because Orson Scott Card and Robert Ludlum spend a lot of time explaining things, too. When read by Pritchard, it makes Clancy sound more like Ludlum in that the explanations are technical in nature. Ludlum explains, more or less, what it’s like being a spy, how it works, and the psychology of it. Clancy explains a lot of technical stuff*, but also the psychology of spy work. So it’s not surprising, in a sense, that I had actually thought, for a time, that they were read by the same person. There is quite a bit of overlap in author’s voice and all it takes is some similarity between the readers and they can easily sound like the same guy.

Except that when Brick is reading Clancy, it suddenly becomes very reminiscent of Ender. Not just because it’s the same voice, but because of the reader’s tone. Brick comes across as a bit condescending. Like he’s explaining something down to you. For Ender, this makes sense to some extent because you’re dealing with a story revolving around (in large part) pre-teens. So the smug certainty of what is being explained is the smug, certainty of youth. For Clancy, though, it’s a little off-putting. Because it feels like adult-to-adult but talking slowly to make sure that you get it. It’s the difference between talking to a 15 year old who thinks that he is the first person to discover that America is not flawless or that there is no God and talking to a 35 year old who thinks that he is the first person with these thoughts.

Now, he’s only reading what Clancy wrote, but it manages to put an entirely different spin on Clancy’s writing. It triple-underlines some of the flaws in his writing that I only barely noticed before. His tendency to repeat observations, using the same (originally clever) line over and over again. Some of it may be that Clancy’s writing itself has changed somewhat, becoming more righty-political (the American media is nothing but a bunch of communists, the British NHS is practically third-world, etc). Though that started a few novels earlier when Jack Ryan became president, and while it was noteworthy, it wasn’t quite as aggravating.

None of this is to say that I am not enjoying it. Almost all of the novels I’ve listened to are mixtures of good and bad. Nor is this a slight on Brick in particular, as he has an interesting voice and (unlike the reader of the first one) gets the southern accent right. I just found it interesting how much differently a different reader makes the author sound. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, but I’d really only thought about readers in the good/bad sense rather than making the author sound like… a different author.

* – He goes out of his way to make it sound complicated, though. I realized this when he was explaining how modems worked.

Category: Theater

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8 Responses to The Voices of the Book

  1. Mike Hunt says:

    In the Seinfeld episode “The Fatigues” George pretends to be blind because he finds out that the blind can get any book as an audiobook. Much to his chagrin, however, the voice on the audiobook sounds just like him.


    If I had my choice everything in my life that needed narration would be done by David Ogden Stiers.

  2. trumwill says:

    You are really a Seinfeld Encyclopedia.

    I will have to think about whom I would want to voice over for me.

    If you didn’t watch the Tim Menchin video, I think you should. It strikes me as the sort of thing you would like.

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    You are really a Seinfeld Encyclopedia.

    It is more of a curse than a blessing.

    Once upon a time, when trying to pick up a young lady, I made a Seinfeld reference. She then said, with no trace of humor, “Are you one of those losers who can quote Seinfeld episodes?”

    At that point I excused myself, since I knew I had no chance.

  4. trumwill says:

    Did she actually use the word “loser”? How rude.

    My brother Mitch (the romantically successful, charismatic one) had the same Seinfeld-quoting talent. I don’t think it was something that he did when picking women up, though.

    In any event, I get a kick out of it on this site. I finally made it all the way through the series in ’09 on my Pocket PC and earpiece. Before that I had just seen an episode here and there, somewhere between finding it irritating and wondering what all the fuss was about. But once I got into it, I understood.

  5. Mike Hunt says:

    Yes, the word loser was actually used. The only thing I can say in my defense was that the Seinfeld reference was not my primary pick-up method; it just happened to flow organically from the conversation. That’s when the references work best, like when you mentioned exports and audiobooks. By the way, Uncle Leo died yesterday.

    Will, have you actually SEEN all the episodes, or just heard them? If you haven’t watched them, you should. I feel they generally hold up, except for the fact that a lot of the plots would be resolved rather quickly if cellphones had been in common use.

    Finally, did you figure out who you want your personal narrator to be? DGS has always been a favorite of mine. I thought it was inspired casting to use him in an episode of Frasier, since I always felt that the character of Frasier Crane had its germ in Charles Winchester.

  6. trumwill says:


    Yes, the word loser was actually used. The only thing I can say in my defense was that the Seinfeld reference was not my primary pick-up method; it just happened to flow organically from the conversation.

    I’ve just listened, for the most part. That’s the case with most sitcoms. Watched seasons 4 and 5 cause I had it on the Pocket PC by my bed. I did watch off and on when I couldn’t follow the plot with my ears. I wasn’t working at the time, so I had a lot more latitude on being able to watch than I did when I was working and I would just shrug and miss stuff.

    Still working on personal narrator. I’m debating between “Kind of what I actually sound like” or “Awesome voice, dude” and “oh, that guy” or “Who? I’ve never heard of this person.”

  7. Mike Hunt says:

    I think you quoted the wrong part of my post in your reply.

    Also, when I typed DGS I meant DOS. The man is my personal narrator, you would think I could get his initials right…

    I’m debating between “Kind of what I actually sound like” or “Awesome voice, dude” and “oh, that guy” or “Who? I’ve never heard of this person.”

    To make it interesting for others, it should be someone that others have heard of. It is like telling someone your favorite band or favorite song; it is cheating to pick someone or something so obscure that no one has heard of it. Also, people who are primarily voice-over people should be ineligible, such as the late great Don LaFontaine.

  8. trumwill says:

    I accidentally omitted the paragraph that was in response to that quoted part (and omited the tags). I was just going to say that she was really out of line.

    If I go with someone that few here (if any) have heard of, I would also have a more public example. I do that with music. Nobody has heard of many of my favorite artists, so I have two answers. My favorite artist and my favorite artist that you might have heard of. That sort of thing.

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