Tag Archives: Anne Flosnik

LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave

I have a tendency to avoid books that are really popular. Either I worry that the book won’t live up to the hype, or I feel like once I’ve read a hundred reviews of a book, I won’t be able to experience it anew, or I am just snobby that way. (Yes, I admit it.) For many years, Little Bee by Chris Cleave fell into that category of best-sellers I have avoided, joining others such as Eat Pray Love and Fifty Shades of Grey. (Incidentally, The Help WAS on the list, as was Room for a while, but curiosity got the better of me and I actually enjoyed them both. Also, I read Gone Girl before it exploded, so it never made it onto the list.)

Little Bee by Chris CleaveSo, Little Bee. I decided to take the plunge once I learned that the audio version was narrated by the extremely talented Anne Flosnik, who is also a friend of EDIWTB. For those who haven’t read it, it’s the story of a 16 year-old Nigerian refugee who has been in a London immigration detention facility for two years. She manages to get released, and tracks down a suburban couple – Sarah and Andrew – who she met two years earlier on a Nigerian beach. The events that transpired on that beach were horrific, and had serious ramifications for each of the three. Little Bee was forced to flee after witnessing the brutal murder of her sister, while the incident signaled the death knell for Sarah and Andrew’s marriage. They left Nigeria both physically and emotionally ravaged.

The fact pattern here is compelling. But it was given poor treatment by Cleave, who wrote what is basically a parable. Ultimately, I found Little Bee to be contrived, implausible and shallow. There were so many conversations that barely scratched the surface of what the characters SHOULD have been talking about. I kept thinking to myself, “This never could have happened.” or “That’s not what this person would have said at this juncture.” or “Seriously?” Cleave clearly wanted to tell a story about globalization and human rights, and on a more personal level, the sacrifices one human being will make to protect the well-being of another. I get that. But the book he wrote was really just a fable. There was no emotional heft to it. Some really disturbing stuff happened, and some very important issues were touched on, but the characters were about an inch deep.

I am really surprised that this book was so well-received. My paperback version has a few pages of blurbs, the novel itself, an afterword from the author, book club discussion questions, and a Q&A with Cleave. Clearly this was a popular book. I just don’t get it.

What salvaged this reading experience for me was the audio version. It is narrated by Anne Flosnik, and her performance is exquisite. She does Little Bee’s voice in a Nigerian accent that she maintains perfectly throughout the whole book, without ever deviating. And she moves seamlessly between Little Bee and Sarah. I have a lot of admiration for Flosnik’s performance. She had to narrate some very disturbing scenes, which she did without unnecessary drama. Her even, almost dream-like narration actually had the effect to me of heightening the parable-esque quality of the book. Were it not for Flosnik’s narration, I might have given up on Little Bee long ago. So while I didn’t like the book, I do recommend the audobook for the sheer pleasure of listening to Flosnik’s interpretation.

I know that I am in the minority here, but this book was really not for me.

Q&A With Audiobook Narrator Anne Flosnik

This has been quite a month for Q&As! Two great author Q&As at Politics & Prose – Curtis Sittenfeld and Lionel Shriver – which I will be posting about here on the blog. And three great audiobook narrator Q&As in honor of June is Audiobook Month! Here is the third one, with narrator Anne Flosnik, whom I met at the BEA audiobook narrator breakfast I attended in May. Anne narrated The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which I enjoyed on audio despite the fact that the discs were skipping. And I have her Little Bee on my to-listen list. Thanks to Anne for taking the time to answer my questions!

Anne Flosnik audiobook narratorQ.  How did you get into audiobook narration?

A. I got into audiobook narration via joining a local women’s networking organization in order to try to make a success of a side business in cosmetic sales. Through it, I met a lady who was a guest on a local TV show, and she invited me to take part on the show. Through being on the show I met other other performers, and heard about the Actor’s Center, an excellent “one stop” resource for actors. I joined, and found a voice teacher through it, and also through its audition hotline I found my Library Of Congress job. I was a Studio Narrator at the Library of Congress from 1996 – 2008, when I left because my commercial audiobook career had taken off with my narration of Little Bee by Chris Cleave, for Tantor Audio.

Q. How do you prepare for a new narration role? Do you read the whole book through to get a sense of the characters and story?

A. I prepare by reading the book from cover to cover, and I make notes concerning the character descriptions, age, personality, accents if any. I also have a page to list any pronunciations I need to look up, and this also helps me to keep pronunciations consistent. I keep all my notes, which are on paper, and in stacks, and they have saved my life on many occasions, especially when doing a series that evolves over time.

Q. What is your favorite book that you’ve recorded? Any books on your dream list?

 A. That’s a tough question. I am keenly aware that each and every book is the author carefully crafted creation, and in a sense their “baby.” It is my responsibility to ensure with every project that I give the highest quality narration I am capable of, and be as true to the author’s intent as possible. Some books have stayed with me however, and each of them has something unforgettable about them, that has remained with me, for different reasons: The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox, Little Bee, and Anna And The King Of Siam.  All were award winners, and all were self directed and researched. Other extra special books include the classics I have narrated such as Pride And Prejudice, Sense And Sensibility and The Turn Of The Screw.  I have a great fondness for Long Lankin, a chilling, multi-point of view YA title, and children’s books such as The Wheel On The School and The Secret Garden. I also loved the intricate Kushiel’s Dart set in an alternate medieval Europe part of the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. This was a challenging, and satisfying series. The books I read by Robin Hobb were outstanding, and the many romances it has been my honor to narrate.

Q.  Where do you do your recording?

A. I record Tantor projects at home. All others I take to a local engineer, and I also travel on occasion, or indeed whenever asked, if I can fit it into my schedule. It’s lovely to get to see old friends and make new ones. This life can be solitary at times. Usually I am directing myself, and do all my own research, which is an integral part of the narration process, and I find deepens my understanding and appreciation of the text.

Q. Do you ever find that your voice changes from session to session? (Sometimes I think I can tell when one session ends and another starts because the narrator’s voice gets lower, for example.)

A. Yes, I do find my voice changes from day to day, and even over the course of a day. For me it has as much to do with the time of day, or when I last ate, as tiredness, or just not feeling well. I think audiobook narration can be somewhat of an “athletic exercise,” in that the fitter I am physically, the better I perform, as my breath control, stamina and endurance are all increased. Being well-rested is an extremely important component of how I sound. I make great efforts however, to keep the sound quality as consistent as possible, and am very aware of it, along with the many other things I am listening for, and course correct to keep things on an even keel.

Q. How much interaction, if any, do you have with the author while you’re recording?

A. Most times I don’t have any interaction with the author. If I do it is usually concerning pronunciation issues. Sometimes, as I have narrated for authors over the course of a series, or even years, we keep in touch, and I am always excited to be narrating their latest work, or even doing several of their  backlist books one after the other. It is a very special bond to get to work this closely with another person’s creations.

Q. What do you like to read in your spare time?

A. I am finding I have less and less time to read for pleasure, but when I do I will often read something that is current. I usually have an audiobook on the go though, and for recommendations I look to AudioFile magazine for inspiration. I love literary fiction and mysteries best, along with some non fiction. I enjoy “how-to” books, and historical fiction and nonfiction are also favorites. 

Thank you to the wonderful narrators who have participated in this Q&A mini-series on EDIWTB: Robert Fass, Karen White, and Anne Flosnik! And hooray for audiobooks, which have changed my life.

June is Audiobook Month

This month is Audiobook Month, and I am celebrating it with some audiobook-related content here at EDIWTB.

I discovered audiobooks in the summer of 2010, when I listened to 21-hour Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Ever since, I  always have an audiobook going in the car. My commute is about 20-30 minutes long, so I can usually get through an audiobook in about three weeks, sometimes less depending on the length of the book. I almost always pick out audiobooks for which I already have the print version, because I like to read along in the print. I find that having the print version lets me re-read passages that might be hard to find on CD, and it helps with learning how characters’ names are spelled, how books are structured, and how key scenes were written. And sometimes when I get close to the end of an audiobook, I finish it off in print because I get impatient to find out how it ends, and print is faster.

Some books aren’t as successful in audio as others (The Red House by Mark Haddon comes to mind), while others seem to dance off the pages on audio (A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash). I’ve read books narrated by their authors, multiple books narrated by the same narrator, and books narrated by multiple authors. I’ve read books narrated by 80s movies stars (hello Campbell Scott and Elizabeth McGovern and Molly Ringwald). And I’ve even had the chance to meet some of the narrators I’ve enjoyed.

Last week at BEA, I went to a breakfast with a group of audiobook narrators and a few other bloggers. It was one of the highlights of my BEA experience. I met Karen White, Robert Fass, Anne Flosnik, Patrick Lawler, Amy Rubinate, Simon Vance, Xe Sands, and Lauren Fortgang, and they couldn’t have been a nicer bunch. They tolerated my many, many questions and recommended books and recordings. They were incredibly supportive of each other, and seemed genuinely happy to be in each others’ company. Please check out their sites and their recordings!

In honor of Audiobook Month, I will be featuring interviews with Karen White, Anne Flosnik and Robert Fass later this month, and I have also created a new category within the blog – Audiobooks – which collects all of the audiobook reviews that I have written. I always cross-post my audio reviews at Audiobook Jukebox, which is a great resource for finding new audiobook reviews, and I also recommend the site Audiogals, which is run by Lea Hensley, whom I also had the pleasure to meet last week.

So keep an eye out for the narrator interviews later this month, and keep listening to the great recorded books that we are lucky to have access to.

Here is a photo of me with the narrators and bloggers at the breakfast last Thursday (thank you Lea for the photo!). I can’t seem to make it any larger.

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I’d love to know: what are the best audiobooks you’ve ever listened to? What made them great? I will do a top-5 list later this month.