Rainbow Rowell, the author of ATTACHMENTS, FANGIRL and, most recently, ELEANOR & PARK, is no stranger to a good audiobook. From Grisham to Austen, Rainbow is an avid listener --- even if she's simultaneously cleaning her house. Here, she discusses the role that a good narrator plays in drawing listeners into the story in new ways, how hearing a difficult book can make it more accessible, and why her two young sons can't get enough audio-bedtime stories.
Question: What does a great narrator add to an audiobook?
Rainbow Rowell: I think a great narrator really brings the story to life in a different way --- draws you into the story through a different door.
Q: What types of books do you like to listen to on audio?
RR: All kinds. I especially like to listen to the classics on audio. Sometimes I have a hard time getting into a book if the language is older or antiquated. It’s like I have a hard time setting the tone in my head. An audiobook can really help with that. I just listened to Jane Austen’s EMMA on audio, and I think I got so much more out of it that way. The narrator helped me pick up more of the humor --- and helped me sort and understand the characters.
Q: What do you do while you listen?
RR: Ha! I clean. In fact, I can’t clean unless I’m listening to an audiobook or podcast. We also listen in the car...I used to have a job where I drove a lot in rural Iowa; audiobooks kept me sane.
Q: What is the first audiobook you ever listened to? What prompted you to choose that title and to listen vs. read it?
RR: Oh, it wasn’t intentional. I was in my early 20s. Someone lent me John Grisham’s THE FIRM for a car trip, and I was like, “What? I can read even when I can’t hold a book? THIS IS AMAZING.” I tore through all the Grisham books, and learned to hate abridgments. (THE RAINMAKER was my favorite.)
Q: If you are listening to any audiobooks now, tell us about it.
RR: I just listened to EMMA, and next is THE GREAT GATSBY. But the biggest way that audiobooks are a part of my life now is with my kids. (I have two boys, nine and five.) We listen to audiobooks almost constantly in the car, and they listen to them every night at bedtime. My oldest son was sort of a reluctant reader --- but he loves listening to books. So we just let them listen whenever they want. (It absolutely counts as reading, in my mind.) They’ve listened to the entire Oz series on audio, and they ask for Kes Gray’s DAISY AND THE TROUBLE WITH LIFE almost every night.
Q: What is your all-time favorite audiobook and why?
RR: "Low Men in Yellow Coats." It’s a novella that’s part of Stephen King’s HEARTS IN ATLANTIS. William Hurt reads it, and it’s absolutely transporting. I get chills just thinking about it. It’s the perfect convergence of story, writing and narration.
Q: Do you have a favorite narrator? Tell us what makes his/her work so enjoyable for you.
RR: Yes! Davina Porter! I’ve listened to books just because she was the narrator. She did THE MISTS OF AVALON and the Outlander series...I actually prefer her voice to any of the voices in my head. Her characters are so clear and deep. And she reads male characters incredibly well --- without ever trying to sound like a man. Her Jamie Fraser breaks my heart.