What Makes or Breaks an Audiobook

This post is sponsored by Audible

This week, Ella somehow got it into her mind to interview everyone in the family.

She made a long list of questions (favorite pie, favorite breakfast cereal, favorite animal, etc) and proceeded to ask everyone in the family for their answers in private, before sharing everyone’s responses with the whole family.

It was pretty easy for me to answer most of them – my favorite color has been blue for as long as I can remember and Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cinnamon Chex are my all-time favorite cereals – but when she asked for my favorite book, I felt that familiar sense of overwhelm.

Out of all the books I’ve read in the last 30 years, how could I possibly pick a favorite? It’s basically impossible.

But if I absolutely had to pick one single favorite book, I’d probably pick The Wednesday Wars.

I first read it when it in 2008 and I just loved it.

So much so that a year later, I got the audiobook so Bart could listen to it.

And . . . then I ended up listening to it too.

It’s rare for me re-read a book and even more so to do it in such a short timeframe, but I couldn’t resist reliving the story through Joel Johnstone’s narration.

The Wednesday Wars is the story of Holling Hoodhood, who is starting seventh grade in 1967 as the Vietnam War rages in the background of everyone’s lives.

But Holling has bigger things to worry about than a distant war, like the fact that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, obviously hates him. How else to explain why she makes him study Shakespeare every Wednesday afternoon while the rest of the class attends either Catholic or Jewish religious classes.

And it’s hardly just that one terrible thing.

There’s also his hard-to-please father, a couple of escaped rats living in the ceiling of the school, and a school bully. Just to name a few things weighing on Holling’s mind.

I’d already loved the book, but when I listened to it, Joel Johnstone brought a whole new life to the story. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe this is actually an adult reading this – he is a PERFECT 13-year-old boy.”

I’m a pretty fast reader and so, even listening at double speed usually means it takes me longer to get through an audiobook than reading a book on paper. Which means that often an audiobook sticks with me more than a physical reading experience.

I can remember so clearly where I was or what I was doing during parts of hundreds of different audiobooks.

A few months ago, for instance, Ella was listening to Ms. Rapscott’s Girls and I knew within about three words that the narrator was Katherine Kellgren. Her voice instantly took me back to the months I spent listening to the Bloody Jack series as I drove back and forth to my elementary schools while we lived in Boston.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from listening to so many audiobooks over the past decade, it’s that the narrator can make or break an audiobook.

I love that, on Audible, the ratings are based both on the book AND the narration, because I’ve learned that a terrible narrator can kill a story I might have otherwise enjoyed.

Likewise, I’ve listened to many books where I thought, “I’m not sure I would have loved this nearly as much if I’d read it myself, but this narrator brought the whole thing to life.”

As soon as I finished The Wednesday Wars, I looked up what else Joel Johnstone had narrated and listened to (and sobbed my face off while doing so) Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, which was fantastic.

You can try out a free 30-day trial of Audible and get a free book to listen to. Audible has the most enormous collection on the planet (I’ve used a ton of different audiobook services over the years, and no one else comes even close to Audible – they are the gold standard of audiobooks).

And if you end up staying way more on top of your laundry or dishes or ironing or vacuuming than you normally would because you want to listen to a little bit more of your audiobook, well, you can thank a great narrator.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible. The opinions and text are all mine.

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  • Reply Mikayla Fuge February 28, 2017 at 7:11 am

    I totally agree with this! I don’t think I’ve ever had a truly bad narrator (yet- I’m fairly new to the audiobook scene, having only started listening about a year and a half ago), but some narrators definitely catch you more than others. I am listening to This Is Where You Belong right now and (I know this is kind of unreasonable) it really irks me that a book written by a 30-something is narrated by a woman who is almost 60. The two voices just conflict so much for me. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I am listening on hoopla, where the poor audio quality doesn’t allow me to listen at my normal 1.5x speed.

  • Reply Jessica February 28, 2017 at 8:20 am

    I had an audio crush on a narrator when I was a kid – Jeff Woodman, who did a lot of upper middle grade stuff in the 90s.

    Currently, I am into Stephen Hoye for nonfiction who reads every sentence like the next one is going to be a shocking twist.

    Also, I just started listening to the new Maria Semple, whose audios so far have been narrated by the actress who played Luke’s sister on Gilmore Girls. Which is hard to ignore, but fun!

  • Reply Paige February 28, 2017 at 11:51 am

    I totally agree! The worst is when you get a British narrator who you can barely understand on single speed, making the double and triple speed options… not an option.

  • Reply Maria February 28, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    It’s so interesting that you are discussing Audiobooks. I recently started listening to my first audiobook (I know, I’m late to the game!). I’m trying to give it a chance but I feel like I need to actually sees words in front of me to retain the story. I feel like I need to take notes or something. Perhaps, I’ll get used to it. I’m listening to The Great Gatsby read by Humphrey Bower. He reads well, so I’m going to stick with it and see how I get on. Admittedly, listening to audiobooks makes laundry and driving more enjoyable.

  • Reply Amy February 28, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    I liked the WEdnesday Wars but LOVE LOVE LOVE Okay for Now. I have never loved a sequel to a book more than the original, but this is the case in this book. I want to reread it so bad because I loved it so much but I hate the thought the I just might not love it as much the second time so I just cannot bring myself to doing it. 🙁

  • Reply Diana February 28, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    I really really enjoyed Wednesday Wars, such a good book! I haven’t been able to get on the audiobook thing yet…tried one (I KNOW, not enough) but what gets me is that I could read a book so much faster, like you said. I think if I had a daily commute without a kid I’d be really into it!

  • Reply Claire February 28, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    I ADORE Wednesday Wars! Whenever someone asks for a recommendation for middle grades I suggest this one. It was one of my favorites to suggest for boys and girls when I was teaching school. I’ll have to listen to the audio version now!

  • Reply JoLee March 1, 2017 at 6:55 am

    You know you are a huge audiobook fan when the first thing you think upon starting a new audiobook is, “hmmm, now where have I heard this voice before? I know I’ve listened to another book with this narrator.”

  • Reply Feisty Harriet March 1, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    Edward Herrmann, for me, makes ANY audiobook. I’d listen to him read the phone book. Apparently I need to also do some research on Alan Rickman’s audiobook reading, I know he does a Thomas Hardy, and that sounds a good enough reason as any to read/listen to Thomas Hardy.


  • Reply Kristen from Pugs & Pearls March 8, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    I LOVE audiobooks! I’ve always been a reader, but as a busy person I rarely have time to sit and read. In fact if I sit down and get comfy, I’m most likely to fall asleep. Audiobooks are the perfect solution because I can listen when I drive or clean the house. I will have to add Wednesday Wars to my list!

  • Reply Ruth Ann Stagg March 10, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    i love audiobooks on the audible app! sometimes that is the only way i can get a book club book read in time. and i love that you recommended Wednesday Wars because i LOVE it!!! i keep crying through all the chapters at the end. (i’m such a boob) anyhow thanks for letting us in on these wonderful books you love! I might have to try Wednesday wars on Audio but i kind of don’t want to waste my points on a book i’ve already read… have you read Peter the Great? somehow we are doing that huge huge book(47 hours on audible ) wish me luck!

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