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Hear, Here: Four Audiobooks With A Brand-New Sound03:41
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Think a graphic novel is too visual to make a good audiobook? Think again. The audio version of <em>Civil War </em>uses sound effects, music and a full cast to bring the superhero story to life. (Courtesy of GraphicAudio)
Think a graphic novel is too visual to make a good audiobook? Think again. The audio version of Civil War uses sound effects, music and a full cast to bring the superhero story to life. (Courtesy of GraphicAudio)

If your holiday shopping trip includes a stop at the bookstore, you might consider adding audiobooks to your gift list. And this year, as you slip on headphones to sample the offerings, what you hear might surprise you.

According to Robin Whitten, the founder and editor of AudioFile magazine, the genre has far surpassed the conventions of the taped readings of yore.

An emphasis on theatrical elements, she says, "expands what audio listening can be, so that we can't just think of it as a single narrator who sort of takes you through a literary novel or a fabulous mystery," Whitten says. "Audio publishers are really expanding the envelope in the way they look — with multiple narrators, sound effects and sound design, as well as a single voice just telling you a great story."

Whitten gives NPR's Linda Wertheimer her recommendations for some of the most notable audiobooks released in 2013. On Morning Edition, she talks up a music-filled collection, a superhero story and a compellingly narrated novel; for NPR.org, she includes a book with a bevy of narrators.


"Toshi," from Pete Seeger: The Storm King, produced by Jeff Haynes and published by Hachette Audio. Copyright 2013 by Jeff Haynes, Komunyaka Productions, LLC.

Storm King

The Storm King

The Storm King is not an audio version of a novel. Instead, it's a whole series of spoken word performances, read by someone we usually hear singing: Pete Seeger.

"It's really a production of a program that was written to be recorded with [Seeger] talking about stories, and the music is all integrated into the program," Whitten says. "It's really a very exciting and special program."

Civil War

Civil War

Civil War is based on a Marvel comic series about superheroes Iron Man and Captain America. Wertheimer notes that this unconventional take on an audio story is aiming for a younger audience: "These are not people who are listening to audiobooks because they can't see to read," she says.

Whitten is particularly impressed by the sound effects and other production elements. "This is ... audio theater and drama taken to a new level, with a real soundscape written underneath the story and the acting," she says.

The Good Lord Bird

The Good Lord Bird

Of course, the traditional single-narrator audiobook is still going strong, and Whitten recommends one book in that familiar format. James McBride's National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird tells the story of a young slave boy who joins John Brown's fight against slavery and dresses as a little girl. The audio version is narrated by actor Michael Boatman.

"I think you're getting something very special in Michael Boatman's narration there," says Whitten. "You get the accent and the dialogue and the dialect that was written into the book, and yet, you know, it comes alive in his voice."

We Are Water

We Are Water

Through alternating perspectives, the characters in We Are Water recount their family's struggle in the face of a disintegrating marriage. The audiobook version features 11 voice actors, one for each narrator in the book.

"Wally Lamb was very involved in the whole casting of this production and interest in having an ensemble of narrators to give him a variety of voices," Whitten says. "There's nothing added to the book. It's ... read as written. But it has the voices that come in and out of the different characters. It's pretty exciting, and it's an all-star ensemble."

Copyright NPR 2022.

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