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Mother Daughter Me
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Archives > The Agony of Narrating Your Own Memoir

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message 1: by Katie (new)

Katie (katie_hafner) I just wrote a piece for The Atlantic about narrating my own memoir, and the very (and I mean very) bizarre feeling of inhabiting my own mother's voice, especially when she was voicing fury at me. Ouch. But in the end, it was a fascinating experience. I'd love to hear what others have to say.

Here's the link:

message 2: by MissSusie (new)

MissSusie | 1925 comments Good for you! I think that would be really tough, especially having to verbalize your mother.

message 3: by Paul (new)

Paul Ruben | 14 comments Dear Katie

I read through your Atlantic article and took a quick listen. In an effort to address your commentary here and article the following might be argued: audiobook narration is really storytelling, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. Storytelling is a performance skill or art that requires an actor. Most authors are simply not aesthetically equipped to tell a story, ironically, even their own. Why? The notion can be difficult for some authors who wrongly believe that there's a causal relationship between writing and performance. There is not. In my two decade experience as an audiobook producer/director/coach and a writer I have never recorded a book with an author who was more than adequate, defined by me as the ability to read fluidly. Here the operative word is "read." But none possess the kind of performance energy that is immediately indicative of amateur vs. professional. To be sure there are compelling storytellers and uninspiring ones. But in general, actors are intuitively wired to "act", to connect to the subtext, which is where the emotional consequence of your story and any text rests. Words, and what they intellectually signify, are not actable and so their meaning isn't useful to the performer--only their emotional consequence. Yes, of course, the actor must understand the story, but most narratives are decoded relatively easily. And even if they're dense or difficult to comprehend, performers can still quite capably
convince a listener that they understand what they're saying. I can explain this but it would take a bit of time.

Despite the physical newness of the narration experience--the booth, the annoying flubs, commentary from the engineer--none of these things are especially meaningful in terms of a performance whose outcome is to emotionally connect the listener to the text. For that to occur a storyteller, albeit a compelling one, is required.

For numerous reasons publishers often prefer authors to narrate their own work. None of these reasons have to do with performance. There is no guarantee that an actor would have done your book justice but a bet that authors (unless they're actors) do not possess the performance tools necessary to emotionally connect the listener to the subtext embedded in the syntax is much more of a sure thing.

Finally, actors often bond with characters to the degree that they become emotionally involved during the narration and sometimes cry or must stop to regain their composure. But in the final analysis actors understand that they are, in fact, acting, and so they intuitively redirect their performance energies back to an effort that organically recreates an emotional experience without living it. That is what actors, and storytellers, do.

message 4: by Katie (new)

Katie (katie_hafner) Paul,

Thanks for the very thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post. Everything you wrote is fascinating, and very illuminating, though I'm chagrined to hear you've never recorded a book with an author who was more than adequate.

What did you think of Obama's narration of his book?

I'll be very interested in what you think of the audiobook once it's out.

All the best,

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I've heard your perspective echoed on Goodreads by many people, Paul. As a reader / listener, I so appreciate the benefit of your wisdom and expertise.

I am happy to say that I have found an exception to your guiding principles - Joshilyn Jackson's superb narration of her own A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty.

message 6: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 159 comments Katie: Thanks for sharing your story and the insight into the process and technical details of recording. Having read aloud quite a bit, I imagine skipping words was one of the hardest things to avoid. I know I do that as I read aloud, and doing voices, that would be incredibly hard to do, especially with your emotional connection to the story. You could hear the actual voice in your head to have to try to mimic.

message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul Ruben | 14 comments Of course exceptions make the rule. I was especially impressed with Bill Clinton's audiobook narrations, having not heard Obama. Again, what's salient, I think, isn't so much that an author can't narrate their book but rather, who would do a better job of digging into the subtext and connecting the narrative's emotional consequence to the listener, especially with fiction: the actor, almost always.

Katie, I'd be delighted to listen to your book once it's published and will look for it or let me know. If you go to, you can email me.

message 8: by Jeanie (new)

Jeanie | 3194 comments One author who is his own best narrator most of the time--Neil Gaiman.

message 9: by Ann (new)

Ann (annrumsey) | 159 comments Jeanie: I agree with that comment on Neil Gaiman - he narrates his books very well! I can hear his voice in my head ( a good thing)

message 10: by Paul (new)

Paul Ruben | 14 comments If you needed brain surgery, who would you prefer: a really top notch amateur or a trained surgeon?

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

With all due respect, Paul, that's not the point. I'd prefer a well-trained surgeon who listens to and empathizes with the patient. Many surgeons don't possess these qualities.

If I'm listening to an audiobook, I want to connect with the material and feel something after the book has ended. I want someone who can inspire me and entrance me and challenge my assumptions. While I agree that often the author is too close to the material to perform these essential functions, I have listened to many professional narrators who sounded detached and disinterested.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

And as a consumer, I get frustrated when a sales pitch attempts to tell me what I SHOULD want, as opposed to making every effort to provide me with what I DO want.

That's not a criticism of you, just of the analogy :)

message 13: by J. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (new)

J.   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ | 717 comments I generally avoid author narrated audiobooks, exceptions are usually people that give speeches regularly or are involved in radio.

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