& Interview with Robin Whitten, editor of
Lowe: What is the history of your awards at AudioFile?
Did they begin with the founding of the magazine?
awards have been given since AudioFile started
in 1992. Any reviewer for the magazine can nominate
whatever title they wish for an award, but of
course they need to substantiate it under a certain
set of criteria.
Jonathan: What are your criteria?
Robin: Narrative voice and style, vocal
characterizations, appropriateness for the audio
format, and enhancement of the text.
Do you need to concur with the nominator,
and do you listen to the title?
Robin: Yes, I do have to concur. We'll
sometimes have a conversation about the nomination,
because the idea is that these are exceptional
audios, and excel in very specific ways, and I
want to make sure that the review reflects that.
I don't always listen to the entire audiobook
of a nominee, but some of our reviewers have been
with us for 12 years, so I pretty much know what
their level of excellence is.
Jonathan: I've noticed that the
Earphones awards comprise roughly one in ten of
the reviewed titles. As a reviewer, I've also
noticed that I really enjoy roughly one in ten
titles. What's magical about that number?
Robin: That's just the way it seems to
turn out, doesn't it? It's interesting to me that
there seems to be a lot of mystery Earphones winners
sometimes, but in our next issue there are only
two. So it reinforces the arbitrary nature of
It really just depends on the material.
Right. What comes through our offices drives it.
So it would be nice if all of them could
Yes, it's not that we try to be sparing, but we
don't want it to appear that there are so many
fabulous titles, either. Although sometimes there
are. There is definitely something special when
the casting is really perfect, and the narrator
is doing an exceptional job. When you've got a
written work which really lends itself to spoken
word, so that all the signs are aligned just right.
How are the Golden
Voice awards chosen?
They're chosen by AudioFile editors, and we nominate
them according to their lifetime career contributions
to audiobooks. Some of them are Alyssa Bresnahan,
David Case, Grover Gardner, George Guidall, Edward
Herrmann, Dick Hill, Derek Jacobi, Martin Jarvis,
Garrison Keillor, Miriam Margolyes, Wanda McCaddon,
John McDonough, Frank Muller, Davina Porter, Simon
Prebble, Christian Rodska, Barbara Rosenblat,
Jay O. Sanders, and Lynne Thigpen.
As the audiobook industry grows, more
actors are applying for narration jobs from publishers.
What is your opinion of new talent? Do they stack
up to pioneer talents like George Guidall and
Well, we don't know yet, do we? George and Barbara
have lifetime careers recording audiobooks, and
I hope that there are people entering the field
willing to make that kind of commitment to audiobook
work. I think it's perhaps a little easier to
carve out a niche as an actor in narration now
because the acting aspect is being recognized,
Some famous screen actors have won Grammy
awards reading audiobooks, like Julia Roberts,
but they are certainly not the best narrators.
Do you think the Grammy awards will ever allow
an audiobook specialist to win in the narrator
category---someone who isn't a famous screen actor?
I don't know, I'm not voting! (laughs) You know,
the Grammy awards appreciate people who are involved
in the greater entertainment industry. But you
You mentioned a tipping point once in
an editorial, and you've also helped coordinate
the Audie awards, which booksellers and audiobook
fans know about, thanks to the Audio Publishers
Association, but not yet the general public who
have yet to try audiobooks, although audiobook
sales are rising while hardcover sales continue
to fall. Do you think the tipping point is coming
soon, and what can we do to make the various audiobook
awards get more attention?
I don't know whether we're there yet. Depends
on the coverage the awards get, which is unpredictable.
I'm hoping that with the new Audiobook of the
Year award, that may be an opportunity for more
in the media to focus on the Audie awards. The
criteria that goes into choosing the finalists
is the same as the other categories, but in addition
the sales and marketing was considered. The judging
was done a little differently too, in that a panel
met live to have a discussion, and they made a
point in celebrating the unique features of each
of the finalists, all of which are different and
very much like poster children for the industry.
Now for a Flashback: Author Orson
Scott Card on audiobook abridgments:
Jonathan: Many people listen
to audio books while they drive. Does your family
Orson Scott Card:
My whole family joins me in listening to books
on tape when we travel together. We recently crossed
the country and heard almost a dozen books, though
admittedly some were BBC
radio dramatizations of Agatha Christie. It
was a wonderful way to pass the time. And even
though my family are all good readers-aloud, it
was better to listen to a well-performed audio
book than to read to each other because my family
are all prone to motion sickness and headaches
from reading in a car, and we would all go hoarse
from shouting to be heard over highway noise.
Nowadays we wouldn't think of going on a drive
together without a book. Frequently we switch
it off in order to discuss what we've been hearing,
so that we don't sit as mute audience but let
it engage our thoughts and become the root of
conversation. And, of course, we openly admire
Can an excellent performance make a mediocre
book sound good?
Scott Card: We are quite aware that good
performances can seduce us into enjoying second-rate
books rather more than we should. We thought we
were fans of Patricia
Cornwell, for instance, until one day I actually
bought one of her books in print form and found
it almost unreadable. We had been won over by
the performer and the abridger! Likewise, I've
found that I can't read Grisham,
but I very much enjoy listening to abridged performances
of his work. So now we don't even buy Cornwell
or Grisham between covers. We buy the books on
tape and save them for long car trips. On the
other hand, sometimes even excellent performances
can't save a bad book. We did listen to from beginning
to end, but with the awful fascination of watching
endless replays of a race car crashing into a
wall. It gave us many good conversations about
the art of writing, and speculation about why
something so empty-headed and badly written could
become a bestseller. How many people really survive
firing squads? How often can you use the same
gimmick before the reader starts laughing? But
the abridgment and the performance, far from hurting
the book, were the only reason we could endure
hearing it read to the end.
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