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Photo: Village Voice
Grover Gardner is one of the country’s best-known voices on audiobooks.

Many of my friends are beginning to find that audiobooks work better for them than hard copy, probably because they can do something else at the same time as listening, like driving a car. One of my nephews, in fact, says audiobooks have changed his life because he just never took to reading much but he loves learning.

One of the country’s most intuitive vocal interpreters of an author’s works is Grover Gardner, profiled recently by Molly Fitzpatrick at the Village Voice.

“When Grover Gardner goes to work, there are certain things he can’t wear. No watches. No jewelry of any kind. No starched shirts. No starched anything. Nothing that could rustle, click, rattle, or otherwise make noise. …

“Among the more than 1,200 books Gardner has narrated are Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, Stephen King’s The Stand (all 48 hours), and all four volumes of Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson published to date. The resident of Medford, Oregon, was named 2005’s Audiobook Narrator of the Year by Publishers Weekly and has been heralded among AudioFile magazine’s ‘Best Voices of the Century.’ …

“Gardner’s favorite credits include Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, Paulette Jiles’s News of the World, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March …, David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter mystery series, and the LBJ biographies. ‘Boy, I hope [Caro] finishes the fifth one before I get too old to read and my teeth fall out,’ Gardner says. ‘I wish he would write ten more, because I loved doing them so much.’

“For Gardner, every project begins, unsurprisingly, with reading the book in question, and with detailed visualization of the characters and events described therein. It works: His narration vividly conjures a sense of place, be it the streets of New York City via Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, or the shores of the Mississippi via The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. ‘If you act out the performance in your head, that’s what the listener is going to hear,’ Gardner explains. That acting extends to movement within the recording booth …, vital even though unseen by his audience — for instance, shifting from one side to another while embodying each of two characters in the midst of an animated conversation, or gesturing angrily to punctuate an argument. The trick is making sure you stay on mic. …

“Even seasoned voiceover artists will find that audiobooks are a ‘completely different’ discipline. ‘If you’re coming from a context where the point is to call attention to your voice, to grab the listeners’ ear — Tomorrow, big sale!  — that doesn’t work in audiobooks,’ Gardner explains. ‘If I’m listening to the sound of your voice, I’m missing the book. The word that we use a lot in the business is “transparency.” You want people to forget. You want to disappear into the book.’ ”

More at the Village Voice.

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