December 29, 2009

"hate audio books where women speak man's part."

This is a Google search that brought a couple readers to my blog — to a post that wasn't about being annoyed when female audiobook readers do the dialogue of male characters. But it's a good topic for discussion! I too hate the way female readers — especially the really dramatic ones — do male voices. They macho it up ridiculously. I have an audiobook of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" — read by Emilia Fox — and the male characters all sound so brutish. Some of that is in the text, but I'd like the text to speak for itself.
"No; my heart's as numb as a potato, my penis droops and never lifts its head up, I dare rather cut him clean off than say 'shit!' in front of my mother or my aunt... they are real ladies, mind you; and I'm not really intelligent, I'm only a 'mental-lifer'. It would be wonderful to be intelligent: then one would be alive in all the parts mentioned and unmentionable. The penis rouses his head and says: How do you do? -- to any really intelligent person. Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis... he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine. God! when one can only talk! Another torture added to Hades! And Socrates started it."
I'd rather try to figure that out without a woman trying to sound like the man who would say that.

51 comments:

Fred4Pres said...

I guess I do not see this as a problem. I am not a huge fan of audio books, but I occasionally listen to them. Usually there is one reader who just reads the book. Male or female, the criteria is being a good speaker with a pleasant voice that matches the material.

For example: I do not think I would want Jesse Ventura reading Pride and Prejudice (with the possible exception of the zombie version). You want a reader who does the work justice and engages you as a listener.

chickenlittle said...

Makes cents to me.

Scott M said...

It cuts both ways, though. I would say, however, that of the myriad of audio books I've digested with men doing women, unless the scene explicitly called for sultry or seductive (which honestly makes it funny in the context of an audio book read by a man), the men just affect a higher pitch with a bit softer texture.

It doesn't seem to work the other way around.

I'm a bit of a geek on this subject, though, having spent nearly a decade in radio and having cut countless voice spots myself.

I will again cite Roddy McDowell's excellent work on Hubbard's epic Battlefield Earth in which Roddy did not just the human men and women (of multiple accents) but also pulled off the aliens and their various dialects...none of which was described audibly in the original written work.

Ann Althouse said...

I do also have a problem with male readers doing female characters. They always whisper and sound super-gentle so that the characters seem subordinate, often inappropriately.

ricpic said...

Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis...

Well, if Renoir said that he was lying. He painted his pictures with his head commanding his hands. Which is the way all pictures that amount to anything are painted. Less romantic, less "sexy" to be sure, but painting is all about the head, the big head.

Paul Zrimsek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lou said...

I don't mind a woman or man reading lines for a character of the other gender. What I do mind is someone who isn't equipped to speak all parts distinctly and in character trying to do so.

Jim Dale gave a unique voice to every character in Harry Potter. Each was distinct from the other and self-consistent through a range of emotion, across different pacing and over the series. Most readers don't seem to do as well.

Given the alternative of badly voiced parts, I'd rather have the book read in a constant voice, with some emotion, pacing and tonal changes when dictated by the language, but nowhere else.

Mom said...

I agree that few readers of either gender can do convincing voices for the other gender. Also, adult readers of either gender usually can't do children's voices convincingly. They pitch their voices too high and sound coy and condescending.

In most cases, I don't think readers should try to do voices at all, whether they are recording an audio book or just reading aloud to some other human being. Just READ THE STORY in a pleasant and respectful manner, and let the listener's imagination do the rest, just as it would for a solitary, silent reader.

Ann Althouse said...

@Paul I talk about that in the art therapy post, in an update:

"Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis... he did too, lovely pictures!" And Abdulmutallab attempted to create a "visually stunning" plane crash with his bomb-augmented penis.

Christian said...

Have you ever heard the Harry Potter books on tape? Everytime he does Ginny's voice (a young preteen/teenage) girl's voice she sounds like a crotchety old grandma. It's so bad it's awesome!

rhhardin said...

Valéry has the best Socrates talk reenactment.

(missing copyright pages in the link not vital)

steve said...

No man wants to listen to another man boast about his conquests. Anything with an erotic component has to be narrated by a female or you will alienate the male audience.

To test this theory I did a survey of erotica on the audible.com website. I listened to all the avaiable samples and they were all narrated by women. I don't claim to have done a thorough survey, but I think the point is proved.

Fred4Pres said...

I think some of Alec Baldwin's best work is his narration for Thomas the Tank Engine. Alec does a hell of a Lady Toppenhat. Better by far than Ringo Star or George Carlin's narration efforts. Bravo Alec, Bravo!

bill said...

recommendation: Donna Tartt reading
"True Grit." While many of the characters are male, the story is an old woman remembering a tale of her youth.

Charles Portis does great dialogue and Tartt brings it all to life. Great work.

Rialby said...

I couldn't figure it out before but I think that's what turned me off of the audiobook version of "A Confederacy of Dunces". The narrator kept doing these awful female voices.

vbspurs said...

My God, you know, I've never actually read Lady Chatterley's Lover (just excerpts), but given that short paragraph, I'm glad. My heart is as numb as a potato? My penis says howjudu? THIS made my great-grandmother's generation rush out to buy their specially-ordered copies in brown wrapping from booksellers willing to risk gaol time? It's not sexy, it's just filthy. The King's censor had a point.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

The really funny audiobooks are when the narrator does foreign accents in English. I forget the book, but there was one which featured an immigrant Italian grandma.

"He no good-a! He break-a you da balls!".

Unintended comedy gold.

Fred4Pres said...

Is there an audiobook of Going Rouge with Andrew Sullivan in the speaker role? Because that would likely be comedy gold.

vbspurs said...

Because that would likely be comedy gold.

IT WOULD. But this is when I envy being Andrew Sullivan's husband -- you know he's already had the privilege of hearing Andrew intone several swaths of Palin's book. And there is nothing like a first reading, cold.

PatCA said...

The selection sounds like something the Underpants Bomber would think.

Shanna said...

There are so many ways for audio books to go wrong, I think this is why I mostly avoid them.

john said...

I thought William Shattner got the voice just right with his read of Sarah Palin's book.

(And don't forget, his version of MacArthur Park is and will always remain a classic.)

Beaverdam said...

Some dude talking about her/his magnificent heaving breast. Take me Bob, I'm yours. TAKE ME NOW, YOU BEAST.

As read by Titus.

Just doesn't work for me.

can we talk about boobs?

Peano said...

Ann said, "I too hate the way female readers — especially the really dramatic ones — do male voices."

I agree with you about Emilia Fox, but it isn't fair to judge all female narrators by her performances.

Give a listen to Flo Gibson's narration of, say, Jane Eyre. I've bought about a dozen classics read by her and have listened to dozens more from the library. One of Gibson's strong points is her ability to render male parts believably.

traditionalguy said...

There is little recorded that we have access to, but it seems that the voice of the terrible General George Patton was high a squeeky.

Michael Hasenstab said...

I'd listen to Claudine Longet reading the dictionary. And Helen Mirren reading the London telephone book.

And Gilbert Gottfried reading Maureen Dowd.

Beth said...

Michael, d'accord - on all of those.

I've heard good readers of both sexes do fine with all characters. So long as I'm able to make that leap in the willful suspension of disbelief, I'm happy.

Beth said...
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Beth said...

Rialby, I wouldn't want to hear that, either. I doubt that narrator could do the dialects that make those characters distinctly New Orleans.

Joe said...

I never read Lady Chatterly's Lover and based on this paragraph I'd say that making it filthy would have been an improvement.

Michael Hasenstab said...

The late Paul Warfield had a wonderful voice, drippingly southern. He narrated a TV show on TruTV, sorry I don't remember its name, about crime cases.

His voice would be perfect for narrating any story set in the south, especially in New Orleans.

Matt Eckert said...

I really enjoyed when Jenna Jamison read her autobiography.

With a dick in her mouth.

It lent verisimilitude.

Christy said...

I listen to audiobooks all the time. The only time I have been annoyed at narration was with a Brit production of Byatt's Possession wherein they gave the guy from New Mexico a Savannah accent.

I can't say that I listen to much sexually explicit material, however. I can see how that might make a difference.

Beth said...

Michael, I am not familiar with Warfield's voice, but if it's "drippingly Southern" it's not appropriate for New Orleans, particularly for Confederacy of Dunces. The central characters, Ignatius and his mother, are Uptown/Irish Channel denizens, and their accents would remind you more of Brooklynites, as would their friends Santa Battaglia and her nephew, the hapless cop, Patrolman Mancuso.

Only a small part of the New Orleans population sounds Southern. It's a port city, with similar immigration patterns to New York, so the neighborhood dialects reflect the waves of Irish, Eastern European, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and German arrivals, with the earlier French and English (American planters and industrialists who came post-Louisiana Purchase) populations as well.

Marcia said...

Juliet Stephenson does a wonderful job reading Jane Austen's novels. She walks the perfect line of giving a different flavor to each character (including the men) without sounding like she's "doing voices."

Beth said...

Marcia, that's a good description of what I like in a narrator. There are subtle shifts, but nothing over the top. Continuing with the parallel issue of dialects, subtle is best.

Michael Hasenstab said...

Beth, I typed "Paul Warfield" (NFL Hall of Famer) when I meant to type "Paul Winfield"

Winfield was a brilliant actor. He also narrated the TV show City Confidential. You can hear his voice here

Michael Hasenstab said...

Bad link. Paul Winfield's voice here.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Lady Chatterly's Lover is overrated, and pretty disappointing for an adolescent who's heard about the controversy (ask me how I know this). It's either nonsense like Ann quoted or it sounds like The Bobbsey Twins Have Sex.

gbarto said...

On one of David Sedaris' audio books, his sister Amy did the voice for their younger brother is some rambling old story about their family. It was absolutely perfect for the material.

On the male doing female voices side of things, it seems like in every recording I have of the old Jeeves books, the narrator does a splendid job with the Aunts - Agatha and Dahlia - but most of them can't do younger women unless they're of the outspoken variety.

Peano said...

Just ran across this: letters in praise of Flo Gibson. I heartily agree with them all.

Beth said...

Well, Paul WINFIELD I have heard! I'd give him a listen as a narrator, sure.

Got football on the brain, huh? Me, too.

Ignatius J. O'Reilly would say that Fortuna hath spun her wheel downward for the Saints and Vikings. Just a quarter turn, we hope.

Beth said...

overrated, and pretty disappointing for an adolescent who's heard about the controversy

That experience was Portnoy's Complaint, for me, at age 11. I dimly recall getting someone older to check it out for me at the library and being completely mystified. If Mad did a satire of it, I'm sure I enjoyed that much more.

Pogo said...

In Marcel Marceau's reading of Mum's the Word: The Shields and Yarnell Story, he does a very credible Lorene Yarnell.

Inaudibly brilliant.

Pogo said...

David Sedaris Singing Billie Holiday doing commercial jingles.

(fake background video)

chickenlittle said...

Maurice Chevalier does a great French accent in this Christmas Classic: Link

Omnibus Driver said...

Listened to my daughter listening to an audio book in the chick-lit vein this weekend. I had all I could do to keep from shrieking with laughter when the female "performing" the book did not only macho men in a low, monotone tone of voice, but then attempted to do a "love scene" in a dramatic, but not pornographic manner, and succeeded only in making really hot sex sound utterly banal and boring. Why bother?

Cut It said...

Hmmm. I'm not sure why you would bother with audio-books then.

tomlopy said...

I agree. I like multiple voices in my audio books. I know there is one site that offers these types of audio book presentations. They are free at newfiction.com .

Dave said...

Are there any audio books with women reading women characters and men reading male characters? I recently bought a book where its a man reading the book and he reads for the women characters and I find it very annoying and hard to listen to this man pretending to be a woman. I want to hear a woman's voice or the female characters. It could be the same women who reads all of the female characters but with different accents and inflections but I want to hear a real woman's voice.

Dave said...

Are there any audio books with women reading women characters and men reading male characters? I recently bought a book where its a man reading the book and he reads for the women characters and I find it very annoying and hard to listen to this man pretending to be a woman. I want to hear a woman's voice or the female characters. It could be the same women who reads all of the female characters but with different accents and inflections but I want to hear a real woman's voice.