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Interview with Kate Reading, 2024 Golden Voice Narrator

Golden Voice narrator Kate Reading joins host Jo Reed to discuss her career in audiobook narration. Her experience with audiobooks began with her first job at the Library of Congress's Talking Books program, which gave her an education in audiobook narration. In their conversation, Jo and Kate discuss her process of narrating audiobooks, particularly the importance of embodying both characters and narrative prose, and also explore how Kate's theater background informs her narration. She shares the fun and challenges of mastering different voices and dialects, and her process for preparing to record. She also opens up about the changes she's seen in the audiobook industry, her interactions with authors, and the special bond she feels with her listeners. Tune in to their conversation, below. 

Partial transcript: 

Jo Reed: What about narrating audiobooks felt right to you?

Kate Reading: It's hard to describe, really, because there are so many aspects that are all operating at once. I've always been a reader. I've always loved reading books, and I get lost in a book, and I love language and I love characters. I love how interesting people are, and when I encounter characters in a book, it's second nature to embody them. So, I don't have a problem with playing all the roles. I like that. I work at a home studio, and so, most of the time, I'm not working with a director, and I like that, too. I like not being interrupted, because then I can get into the flow of a book and lose myself, and all I'm doing is serving the story. I'm one of those people—I have a terribly hard time making choices. Don't ever ask me what my favorite thing is because I get paralyzed. I can't make choices. I don't like shopping because it's overwhelming. But when I'm reading a book, I'm making split-second decisions, some of them really big ones, and that's not a problem. So, I think, in a way, when I'm recording audiobooks, I'm free.

JR: Well, your job is not just to be all the characters, it's also to be that narrative voice that really is responsible for driving that story forward and that's a decision, I think, that can be challenging.

KR: I agree, and I think a lot of people, especially if they have experience on stage, the characters are not the problem. It's the narrative prose, and I remember one time at the Library of Congress, Grover [Gardner] was monitoring me, and I kept running out of breath in the narrative prose, and it felt like pushing a rock uphill. And he stopped me and said, "You know, it's just another character," and I was like "Oh, lightbulb." It's embodying the author who's telling this story. And then all of a sudden, it was like "Oh, now I understand why we have a description of the landscape for five pages. I understand why, and I understand what the motivation is." Because once you know what the motivation is, then you're flying. That was a really interesting difference between the narrative prose and the character dialogue.

JR: And we need to say Grover Gardner is a splendid narrator himself and also, named a Golden Voice by AudioFile magazine and he’s a great producer, as well.

KR: He's responsible for getting a number of us who came up through Washington, D.C., theater into audiobooks.

JR: How do you think your theater training helps you with narration?

KR: I think exercising that cold read muscle, picking words off the page, making decisions, discovering intentions, motivations, being willing to transform. I've always been a transformative actor. I really like presenting a very different persona depending on what the character is. There are some people who bring the character to them, and there are other people who bring themselves to the character, and I think if you have that kind of on-stage experience, you lose that inhibition about sounding really different, behaving differently from yourself.

JR: How do you prepare for narrating? Why don't we take the Lady Sherlock series as an example. You've narrated, what is it, all eight books by Sherry Thomas? How do you prepare? I also wonder if the way you prepare now is different from the first book because by now, you know these characters.

KR: Yeah. I mean, it's going to sound silly, but I read the book.

JR: You read the book before you narrate it.

KR: Yes. I just read the book, and whatever the writer puts on the page guides me. Obviously, if there are words I don't know or if there are names I need to look up the pronunciation or find the pronunciation from the author, there's that level of sort of technical preparation. But really, it's about reading the book, understanding the book, and then when you get in the booth and start to record, it's about encountering it as if it's for the first time, which again, if you do on-stage work, every night is fresh, even though you know all the words by heart.

JR: The Sherry Thomas series, Lady Sherlock, is so charming. I mean, I get such joy listening to those books. Can you talk about narrating them and embodying not just that wonderful character, all those wonderful characters, but also embodying a time and a perspective as you're reading them?

KR: Yeah. I think one of the things that's so amazing about Sherry's writing is that she is period-accurate. I don't think there's been a single moment reading her books when I've been jolted out of the story by an anachronism. I've never thought "Oh, no, that wouldn't happen." And the characters have very relatable and quite contemporary sensibilities from our understanding, but they exist in that world. So, even though you have a character like Charlotte, who flouts the social conventions, she does it in a way that is realistically plausible for that period of time. It's a great foil because of all the restrictions that are in place. So, you have this wonderful tension between the rules and regulations that govern people's lives, especially women, and then this amazing insight and intelligence and enthusiasm for solving problems, and courage.

Listen to their full conversation on our Behind the Mic podcast.


Kate Reading photo by DJ Corey.

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