Today’s Take 5 guest is one smooth-talking man. No matter the genre, I find myself swimming in Ron Butler’s soft voice, leaning in to catch every nuance. I’ve always admired his feel for the pace of a story, whether truth or fiction, and seeing Ron’s name on an audiobook is enough for me to add the title to my wish list.
I’ve chosen five excellent audiobooks to introduce you to the range of Ron’s solo work, but I can’t miss this opportunity to encourage you to listen to some of the award-winning multi-narrator books he has contributed to, including FRESH INK, a collection of contemporary short stories for teens celebrating diversity in literature.
In his fabulous memoir, CHASING SPACE, Leland Melvin tells us how he made the unlikely transition from an NFL wide receiver to a NASA astronaut. Melvin’s don’t-miss inspiring story is one of overcoming setbacks, holding fast to one’s dreams, and grabbing on to second chances. For this audiobook, Ron takes a conversational tone, which perfectly highlights the author’s engaging personality and true grit. Don’t you just love the audiobook cover?
I grew up listening to jazz, my parents’ favorite music, so have put Nate Chinen’s PLAYING CHANGES on my wish list. Although the well-known music critic takes a look at the development of the genre and details the wide variety of sounds and artists in the field, he keeps the focus on contemporary jazz and its relevance in the new millennium. Throughout the audiobook, Chinen recommends albums that exemplify the ideas and styles he writes about. In the words of our reviewer: “Ron Butler narrates this exceptional audiobook with the laid-back flair and nuanced understanding of a seasoned jazz musician.”
That Ron’s smooth, intimate voice is perfect for romantic fiction is proven by his work on Brenda Jackson’s The Grangers series, which follows four brothers who return to their Virginia home to save the family business and prove that their father is innocent of murder. The guys are sexy and their relationships are hot, and Ron reads the entire quartet, developing distinct, consistent voices for the characters and helping us fall a little in love with the brothers. Each audiobook can stand alone, but for the full story, start with A BROTHER’S HONOR and end with CAPTIVATED BY LOVE.
HOODOO by Ronald L. Smith is a middle-grade Southern Gothic story about a 12-year-old boy named Hoodoo who dreams of being a conjurer, though he can’t seem to cast a single spell. He does, however, have crazy vivid dreams, which get more intense after a mysterious stranger comes to town. Kids will be engrossed by Ron’s rendering of the dialect and his enthusiastic delivery, and the whole family will cheer for Hoodoo as he finds his inner strength and tries to protect his loved ones. Ron talks about his experience narrating this much-praised audiobook in our narrator video.
In today’s divided America, everyone—sports lover or not—seems to have an opinion on whether black professional athletes should use their visibility to put forth a political agenda. In THE HERITAGE, journalist Howard Bryant address this controversial issue, starting at its very roots with the integration of sports teams and the ensuing expectations of white owners and fans and ending with the current debate over “taking a knee” during the singing of the national anthem, as well as a look to the future. Ron’s brilliant narration conveys the urgency and importance of addressing the intersection of professional sports and politics but allows the author’s words to take center stage and leaves us room to form our own opinions. This is an audiobook everyone, red or blue, should listen to.
As you can see, Ron Butler is a versatile voice performer whose work appeals to a wide variety of listeners. Now that I’ve helped you add an audiobook or to two to your wish list, it’s time to ask Ron to step to the other side of the mic and Take 5 to answer some questions.
AudioFile magazine: Tell us something surprising about yourself.
Ron Butler: There are YouTube videos of me dressed as Obama, singing and playing the ukulele. So . . . I occasionally worked as an Obama impersonator during his presidency, mostly writing and creating YouTube videos, political satire and TV sketch comedy, and some corporate gigs. I learned the ukulele cuz I thought it would be funny for “Obama” to prove he was really born in Hawaii by whipping out a ukulele and breaking into song!
AFM: What’s your first reaction when someone asks you how he or she could become an audiobook narrator?
RB: Remember that movie title Must Love Dogs? Well, my knee-jerk reaction when someone asks about breaking into narration is: “Must Love books.” “Must Love Reading.” “Must Love Storytelling.” “Must Love Learning.” I immediately launch into telling people they must be passionate about all these things because narration is a decathlon sport—it’s challenging. In general I encourage people to pursue things based on passion, and I think you’ve got to be passionate about all these aspects of narrating in order to find it fulfilling and rewarding.
AFM: What are some of the particular challenges of narrating nonfiction?
RB: Making an 11-line run-on sentence (with 5 parenthetical statements) gently roll off your tongue and make sense to the listener. There’s a lot of that.
AFM: When reading for pleasure, do you find yourself creating voices and thinking about pacing and emphasis?
RB: Rarely. The better the book, the more compelling and resonant the story, the more likely I am to be oblivious to “the person behind the curtain.” Since I choose the books I read for pleasure, more often than not those books tick off all these boxes for me. A lot of the pleasure is having that immersive experience. I do have moments of, “my God, this writing is gorgeous,” but otherwise, thankfully, I still get lost in it.
AFM: What’s your go-to beverage when recording? How about after recording?
RB: I start the morning with a cup of English breakfast tea (decaf) or plain hot water with a dash of honey. Then it’s water, water, water all day. After recording I’ll reward myself with dark chocolate. Okay, let’s be real—I reward myself with dark chocolate every day regardless. My current go-to is Letterpress chocolate with 70% cacao (from Ecuador). It will change your life.
Thanks so much, Ron, for being a good sport and playing along with Take 5. I love your “proof” of Obama’s birthplace, and you know I’ll be tracking down those videos. And that chocolate from Ecuador? I’m ready to change my life.
For more audiobooks performed by Ron Butler, take a look at our reviews. Note too that Ron will be returning to AudioFile magazine’s blog on Saturday with a video about his work on BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY BURN AGAIN; be sure to mark your calendar.
More from AudioFile