The Human Age AudioFile Best of 2014 Contemporary Culture
"The world the author presents upon the page is rich in thought and emotion, and through Barbara Caruso's remarkable imagination, each moment comes alive," says Claudia Howard, executive producer for Recorded Books. Howard has worked with Barbara for nearly twenty years and has cast her for some of her most memorable audiobooks. She says Barbara's "biggest gift to listeners is her humble willingness to give herself up to the world of the book." Among the powerful performances that have become touchstones for audiobook fans are UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN by Frances Mayes, Jill Ker Conway's ROAD TO COORAIN, and Joan Didion's affecting memoir, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING . Barbara is one of our best voice artists, and her performances deliver exceptional listening that stays with us.
AudioFile talked with Barbara in New York and asked her what she thinks is the secret of a memorable performance: "Concentration--absolute focus," she says. "It's not the voice beautiful. It's entering into the story." Barbara first honed her recording skills in the 1980s when she began to read for Talking Book Productions, the arm of the American Foundation for the Blind that works through the Library of Congress to bring audiobooks to the sight impaired. Alongside her extensive stage career, she's recorded hundreds of Talking Books programs from cookbooks to travelogues and all the genres--memoir, classics, fiction, mystery, children's, health, fantasy--that she also has recorded for mainstream audiobooks. "I have stayed with AFB because the bond with those listeners is so important. You may be their companion for as much as two weeks." Reflecting her dedication, AFB honored Barbara with the Alexander Scourby Award in 1992.
Having recently worked with Barbara on THE HOUSE OF SCORTA and the upcoming historical novel THE TEAHOUSE FIRE, director Paul Ruben notes that "Barbara Caruso emotionally connects with the text and becomes, for me, the author's greatest ally."
Barbara herself echoes this thinking as she explains her intent to serve the writer, "Storytelling is a collaborative process. You are an interpreter, not the creator." She describes how the text "informs" her, and how she follows that lead, but with restraint. With accents, for instance, Barbara feels less is more. "You don't want to wear the listener out with too much emphasis on accent," she says. Even though she is an avid student of accents, she chooses to employ "brush strokes"--just a few authentic vowels or consonant combinations that occur throughout and are authentic to the language. It creates the suggestion of a dialect without overplaying or over committing to the demands of what may be hours of a character's speech. Barbara laughs: "There's also less chance of being 'caught out.'" Indeed, her subtle approach brings believability to accents, and to the characters themselves.
Looking at Barbara's audiography, her consummate skill with biography and memoir stands out. While a prevailing trend in memoir is to have more authors read their own work (see "My Own True Story," AudioFile, August/September 2006), the professional narrator can do what some authors cannot, or would find emotionally too difficult. We see this in Barbara's success with Joan Didion's and Katherine Graham's personal stories. As our review of THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING notes, "Barbara Caruso speaks Didion's words as if they flow straight from her own heart . . . a smile in the voice when the line is witty, an intake of breath before pain." Barbara's touches are light but effective, and she gets there with characteristic modesty. "This is someone's life," she says. "I may offer a hint of the author's personality as revealed by the writing, but really, I want to recede in the shadow of the person whose story I am reading. My goal is that you notice only the words, not me."
Barbara has also recorded some memorable children's books: TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt, HOMECOMING by Cynthia Voight, and Denys Cazet's wacky bovine series, Minnie and Moo . Recorded for Live Oak Media, these read-along programs deliver the picture books along with Barbara's lively narration. The recent escapades of Elvis the Rooster, also by Cazet, inspired Barbara. According to the AudioFile review, "She growls, gasps, crows, coughs, scoffs, and generally struts her vocal stuff in a way that does Elvis proud." Barbara also brings freshness to classics such as L.M. Montgomery's RAINBOW VALLEY and Louisa May Alcott's LITTLE WOMEN , delivering to an audience of twenty-first-century children all of their enduring charm.
Barbara claims that it's the great writers who make her job "easy." But her seemingly effortless narrations are themselves an enduring contribution to our understanding and enjoyment of literature. Claudia Howard sums up why we celebrate Barbara Caruso among the great narrators, "It is her honesty that touches us so deeply, allowing us a profound experience that lingers long after the story is told."--Robin Whitten [Dec 2006]
December 2007: A brilliant and enduring recording early in the year was Joan Didion's THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING . Barbara impressed us with her continuing range of topics and cultures such as Earphones winner NIXON AND MAO , THE TEAHOUSE FIRE, and her entrancing recordings of Minnie and Moo.
2002 Narrator Yearbook: Since the early '70s Barbara Caruso has performed hundreds of audiobooks. Active in both the worlds of commercial audiobooks and Library of Congress Talking Books, Barbara has been celebrated by both camps. She received the Alexander Scourby Award for her performances of young adult literature from the American Foundation for the Blind. Barbara notes how much she appreciates receiving letters from sight-impaired listeners, "because I know my voice is a particular kind of lifeline." She has garnered 15 AudioFile Earphones Awards for works by several authors, including Joyce Carol Oates and Jill Ker Conway. Her engaging voice captures characters as various as the Italian workmen of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN and the Dublin caterer in SCARLET FEATHER . In Tom Brokaw's recent ALBUM OF MEMORIES Barbara was the voice of many of the WWII-era letters. She has a clear knack for portraying the emotional side of characters who are young or old, contemporary or historical—even futuristic in the case of Piers Anthony. And in the nonfiction realm of natural science, Barbara offered a splendid performance of WAITING FOR APHRODITE --Sue Hubbell.--2002 Narrator Yearbook
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