Audiobook, Voiceover and Translation

I listen to audiobook once in a while and the experience of listening to audiobooks has a lot to do with by whom it is read.

I like it the best when the audiobook is read by the author him/herself. An outstanding example would be “Re-Imagine!“, both written and read by Tom Peters ($27.97 at Audible or $23.95 at iTunes Music Store). Tom Peters is a great speaker and his audiobook is much like listening to his speeches.

Most audiobooks, however, are read by professional readers. Some of the audiobooks are rather difficult to keep listening because of the “flatness” of the voice. I can only guess that the professional readers would rather refrain from emphasizing any portion of the book from their own subjective viewpoint because they are not the author. But that makes the listening experience rather drowsy and bland. Listening to such audiobooks while driving could be very dangerous.

I was delighted to find Daniel Yergin’s remarkable book “The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World” in audiobook format. It is a very long book, and it takes more than 29 hours to listen to. The book is fluently read by Robert Petkoff who has background as musical stage actor. Perhaps due to such background, the sentences have more flow and rhythm and the book is very easy to listen to.

In a short video clip on the topic of voiceover, Marc Cashman(*) discusses what it is like to speak (or read) on behalf of someone else while being invisible to others. I then thought that the act of reading for audiobooks is much like translation. In translation, you can either blandly transliterate original text into another language, keeping subjective viewpoints from getting infused, or you can subtly add flow and rhythm in the translation so that the readers would feel more comfortable to follow. I would prefer the latter.

— *Marc Cashman is the one who reads audiobook “Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World“, written by Stuart Diamond. Since Stuart Diamond is a teacher who speaks a lot in public (an example: his 1-hour speech at Google), it could have been nice if he himself had read the book for the audiobook.

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