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Can you hear me now?

June 25, 2013

eightmillionaudio“For those used to listening to crime stories on audio, [Michael] Kelly’s take on [Stephen King’s] Joyland might be jarring. The narrators of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series, for example – Alan Sklar, William Roberts, Mark Hammer – explore every word as a threat, pummeling headlong toward finales composed of shock and sadness. (Only Block himself, on Eight Million Ways to Die, seems to get to the deep sorrow of the character).”

So writes Kevin Quigley in his review of Joyland. I quote it here not merely because it’s both (a) about me me me and (b) favorable, but because I find it reassuring after a couple of recent posts criticizing my narrative efforts as flat and undramatic, and lacking in the quality that can be imparted by a professional voice artist.

Neither critical response is invalid. A thing worth noting about audiobooks is that different styles work for different sets of ears. Some listeners are transported by a skilled actor who supplies a different voice for every character, and wraps it up in a performance worthy of the stage. Others don’t want the voice artist to enhance the author’s words, but merely to convey them with no more inflection that they’d get on the printed page. And there are no end of gradations between the two extremes.

For my own part, I’m not enough of a listener to have a preference. I don’t absorb information well by listening to it; the only way for me to experience a book is to read the thing. I don’t need to smell the paper, eBooks work as well as printed ones for me (and even better, as the years shrink the print on the page). But books for me are an essentially visual medium, and when I try listening to one my mind wanders.

But that’s just me. If I’m not a consumer of audiobooks, I’m certainly an enthusiastic content provider. Search for my name at and you’ll be furnished with an astonishing 94 listings. I’ve watched the medium grow from the high-minded backwater of Talking Books for the Blind to a broad-based and robust marketplace. I know people who never developed the habit of reading because printed books don’t work for them any better than audiobooks do for me; once they’ve discovered that they can read with their ears, a whole new world has opened up for them.

telling lies audioMy first efforts at narration began in the mid-1990s, when I voiced the Burglar books for Penguin Audio. The books were severely abridged, reduced to a third or less of their original length, and I hated to see so many of my best words left on the cutting room floor—but I have to say I liked the work. It took its toll; at the end of my first studio session, in which we’d wrapped a two-hour abridged audiobook in five or six hours, I came home and slept for sixteen hours. But the process became less exhausting as I got used to it, and I never stopped finding it a gratifying challenge.

I even published an audiobook. Irked that no one had audio-published Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, I hired a producer I’d worked with previously and ran a couple of thousand cassettes. When selling them got to be a headache, I licensed the whole thing to Recorded Books, and their edition has been a steady seller ever since.

Besides Telling Lies, lists three other books I’ve voiced: Eight Million Ways to Die, Hit Parade, and The Night and the Music. (Search my titles for those I’ve narrated and you’ll get those and a dozen more, but eleven are individual stories from The Night and the Music, while the twelfth is an abridged edition of Hope to Die. I can’t recommend the abridgement—or any abridgement, really; an unabridged Hope to Die will be along in due course.)

While I’m very pleased that Kevin Quigley liked my work with Eight Million Ways to Die, the great majority of my audiobooks have been narrated by professional voice artists, and they’ve served me campustrampaudiovery well indeed. (At least that’s what everybody tells me. I don’t listen to audiobooks, and I for sure don’t listen to them if they’re books I happen to have written.) And I’m especially aware of this these days, with a whole batch of my Open Road backlist books in audio. If anybody had told me 55 years ago, when I was back home in Buffalo, writing Carla on a little maple desk in my parents’ house at 422 Starin Avenue, that the day would come when Julie Roundtree would actually read the damn thing out loud for people to download and listen to…Why, you might as well try to convince me Eva Wilhelm would record Campus Tramp. Yeah, right.

rabdomwalkaudioNever mind. If you’re a fan of audiobooks, I hope you’ll treat your ears to some of mine. If you’re planning a road trip, Norman Dietz’s rendition of Random Walk will make the miles go faster. If you really want to kick back and relax, pick any title, and read with your eyes closed.

And I might as well admit that I’m particularly motivated to urge this action upon you now, and to hope that you act sooner rather than later. launched a program last summer, paying their authors a bonus for every audiobook sold. As far as I can tell, it was designed solely to generate good will, and I have to say it accomplished that end in this household.

But it was a temporary thing, and it ends the last day of June. So, if you were going to buy some audiobooks of mine sooner or later, well, sooner is better.

And even if you’re not in the market, what can it hurt to look?


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  1. On my way to buy Random Walk! I’ve always loved that book. Didn’t know there was an audio version.

  2. Tom Howard permalink

    Having listened to what you have read yourself (Fantastic! two of the four Keller books and ‘Telling Lies’ are seldom out of my car), and listened to a few that have been read by a variety of others (complete rubbish) … well, just my opinion. Never mind.

    “Only the writer can do justice to the genius of his work.” – me

  3. Llyn Bye permalink

    The first exposure I had to your books was Tom Stechschulte’s narration of ‘A Drop of the Hard Stuff’ for Recorded Books. I loved Tom’s narration; I fell in love with Matthew Scudder and have since read or listened to most of the books in the series.

  4. Although I consider myself one of LB’s many “#1 fans”, I have never read one of his books; but, I have listened to over 50 of his audio books. I always enjoy it when the author does the audio book partially for the same reason I like listening to singer songwriters sing their own songs. I believe it gives me a special insight to the work when “author” sings his or her own lyrics. As for LB’s audio endeavors, I enjoyed all the Burglar books he did primarily because I always thought Bernie would sound like him. On the other hand, I am not as big a fan of his Matthew Scudder audio books because I thought some of the other readers sounded more like what I thought MS would sound like. Finishing up this thought, I thought Robert Forster was perfect for Keller because I thought that was what Keller would sound like.

    • Robert Forster’s narration of Hit Man seems to be a universal favorite. (He never disappoints on the screen, either.)


  5. A good book reader can make all the difference…..but not for all books. Mark Hammer captured Scudder but sounded terrible as Dave Robicheaux from James Lee Burke.

  6. Tom Howard permalink

    The narration of ‘Hit Man’ isn’t bad. It just isn’t you. The narration of ‘Hit and Run’ is awful. It sounded like the voice talent merely read the book into the microphone. It was like listening to someone describe the care and maintenance of a lawn mower. Absolutely no understanding of the characters or their emotions. The narration of ‘Hit Parade’ is brilliant. Your reading of ‘Keller’s Adjustment’ really brings out the pain that JPK feels, and the fact that despite his profession, he is still a human being. And ‘Keller By A Nose’ and ‘Keller The Dog-Killer’ are just plain hilarious. You capture the complex relationship between Dot and Keller that only the author can truly express with authenticity.
    I read all the Keller books before I even know that there were audio books available. Listening to ‘Hit Parade’ was like stepping into a whole new world. An absolute joy. Listening to ‘Hit and Run’ was just painful.
    The opinions expressed above are of no value, and should not be taken seriously by anyone.
    Your 43,728,129th Number 1 Fan!

  7. I am not a fan of audiobooks. I prefer a book made out of paper which I can hold and read.

  8. sewcraftyme permalink

    I love audiobooks and listen to them while my hands are busy doing other things, gaming, sewing, clipping coupons, playing with my birds, house witch drudgery, or any number of other things. I need to be doing a couple of things at once or else I feel I’m not adequately engaged. As a matter of fact I just posted in a discussion of this on Goodreads, and stated in case anyone was wondering if I missed anything that no, I don’t, at least yet. Just turned 55 last week, so perhaps as I get even older I might.

    In one phase of my Law Enforcement career I was a 911 operator in a single person Dispatch center for 16 counties, which included Police, Fire, Rescue and Sheriff’s Deputies. You have to be able to prioritize what you’re hearing, and process it according to what’s really important in order to survive in that environment and keep your people alive and safe.

    I enjoyed Michael Kelly’s narration of Joyland very much and thought he brought to the story a guileless tone that would have been missed if one just read the book.

    I hadn’t experienced his narration on anything else and now I’m not sure I could get his character from the King story out of my mind.

    I first began listening to Audiobooks when someone suggested that I try Will Patton reading any James Lee Burke for the full experience of Mr. Burke and found out how correct they were. Will Patton takes me home to the South, where I don’t want to live again, but sometimes miss.

    I am collecting your stories, one a month from Audible and listening to them and so far, no matter the narrator have not found one that disagrees with me. The same as your written words in the books.

    Last week my daughter and I listened to Hit Man while working jigsaw puzzles – in the course of the audiobook (unabridged of course) we completed 2 fifteen hundred piece puzzles (in 2 different sessions).

    We both loved A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Tom Stechschulte though he hasn’t been our favorite narrators on other titles and to be honest, I hesitated to purchase with him as the narrator. Glad I took the chance.

    As you reminded us, its all a matter of personal taste and what our ears like. I also think it is a matter of what we’re expecting from the narrator, if we’ve read the books before listening, and if they can live up to that voice we’ve already given to the character.

    I currently own 28 of the 94 Audible books available and I have yet to write a review. I really should do that but in spite of the fact that I love your work, enjoy the characters, story lines and always look forward to anything you write with great anticipation, I don’t feel I have the words or talent to leave a review that expresses this adequately to others.

    I have yet to read anything of yours that didn’t affect me in some way: I’m either shaking my head in wonderment, laughing, or feeling absorbed in the story. All books should leave the reader with some emotion and you never fail to do that.

    Ila in Maine

  9. sewcraftyme permalink

    Reblogged this on Sewcraftyme’s Weblog and commented:
    One of my favorite authors, if you have never read Lawrence Block, you are missing one of the finest authors in the world.

  10. juliabarrett permalink

    Ah, for my husband. Huge audiobook and LB fan.

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