Saturday, April 16, 2011

Five Minutes with Award Winning Narrator Grover Gardner

I've been reading audio books for more than a dozen years now probably. Both of our libraries have good collections. But one thing an audio book benefits from that a printed volume is exempt from is a good narrator. Some readers you just put up with because you want to hear the book. Others are very good and are like icing on the cake. One of these I have listened to so many times that he's almost like an old friend. His name is Grover Gardner. His style is a perfect balance of restraint and, where suitable, empathy.

The first Elmore Leonard audio book I ever listened to was Mr. Majestyk. I liked it so much I've listened to it several times over the years, along with many of Mr. Leonard's books including Out of Sight, Get Shorty and others. Little did I know that half the reason I enjoyed these books so much was due to the reader. But now I understand this and whenever an audio book begins with this voice which has become so familiar to me, I know it will be a better experience because he is accompanying me through the story.

Over the years I've listened to many books narrated by Grover Gardner, most recently the deeply moving Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. But his repertoire includes C.S. Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Umberto Eco, Will Durant, John Grisham, Michener, Kerouac and other household names.

This is the first time I've ever gone out of my way to thank a narrator of one of the books I've listened to. I commend him to all of you. There is a link to a lengthy list of Mr. Gardner's 650-plus readings at the end of this blog.

Ennyman: What was your career path from student to award winning audio book narrator?

Grover Gardner: I began narrating for the Library of Congress' "Talking Book" program when I was a graduate student in Washington, D.C. That was in 1984. A fellow narrator, Flo Gibson, started her own company a couple of years later, and hired me to narrate commercial audio books for her. From there I began working for Books On Tape, then Blackstone, and on from there.

E: How and when did you discover you had a gift at speaking and reading?

GG: As a kid I loved listening to old time radio comedy, and from high school on I had thought it would be great to read books out loud, for the radio or some medium. I seem to recall making cassette tapes of sketches and stories, adding background music, things like that. In college I spent a lot of time in the radio station, but it wasn't until I was hired to narrate some magazines for the blind that I realized there was a whole industry devoted to what I wanted to do.

E: Are there things audio book readers do to develop their voices?

GG: No. Apart from being pleasant and easy on the ear, the voice doesn't have that much to do with it. We just think it does because the great narrators are so intelligent and use their voices to convey the ideas behind the text.

E: Your readings show remarkable range, and so many classics. How do you choose the projects you undertake? Or rather, how much freedom do you have in selecting what you read?
GG: As Studio Director for Blackstone I naturally get to pick and choose a bit, which is nice. In the broader freelance market narrators are assigned titles. The more in demand you are, the more you have the luxury of turning down the occasional project that doesn't really suit you. But by and large narrators are dependent on the casting smarts of the audio publishers.

E: I've listened to nearly all of the Elmore Leonard books you’ve read, a few several times, and the Hemingway books also. I was not aware that you’ve also read numerous books by Evangelicals like A.W. Tozer, J.I. Packer, John Piper and Eugene Peterson. Do you have a favorite author from this vast range of audio titles you’ve helped produce?

GG: Elmore Leonard was great fun to record. Mark Twain is an especial favorite of mine. The John Gardner novels I recorded years ago for Books On Tape (October Light, The Sunlight Dialogues), now sadly o/o/p, were memorable.

The Cider House Rules has always remained a favorite. Lately the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois Bujold has been a joy to do. Also the David Rosenfelt series for Listen and Live, those are great fun. And Ross Macdonald is an indulgence. I think the best thing I've done is Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones. No one listens to it because the subject matter is so ghastly, but it's my favorite book because it's so dark and subversive. No one who enjoys hearing me do an Andy Carpenter mystery would want to sit through it.

In terms of non-fiction, Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb was one of the best books I've ever read, about anything. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was titanic and utterly absorbing. Shelby Foote's The Civil War and Will Durant's Story of Civilization (all eleven volumes!) were landmark recordings in their day.

E: Thank you for your services in the advancement of literature.

Check out Grover Gardner's full catalog here.

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