Say hello to today’s featured audiobook narrator, Robert Petkoff, who has performed some of my all-time favorite listens, one of which I feature here. He has an impressive roster of audiobooks that spans a wide range of genres from contemporary culture to romance to literary fiction to children’s titles. His work shines, no matter the subject.
When listening to nonfiction, I appreciate Robert’s thoughtful performances, which help me connect to important and complex topics like politics and mental health. I’m also a fan of the way Robert can create a deep emotional atmosphere when performing literary fiction. He avoids melodrama and is a master at portraying characters in a way that lets us come to our own conclusions about the characters’ choices and behavior.
The following recommended audiobooks give you a taste of Robert’s diverse skills.
Particularly timely as we near a U.S. election year is Bob Woodward’s FEAR: Trump in the White House. In this political analysis, the award-winning investigative journalist takes a look at how President Trump runs his administration and the process (or lack thereof) he uses to make policy decisions. No matter which side of the aisle you sit on, this audiobook will help you gain perspective. Robert, an experienced nonfiction narrator, knows how to walk the line between an expressive delivery and an objective performance, which is much appreciated in an audiobook such as this. Hear more about FEAR in Robert’s narrator video.
If you’re in the mood for a unique take on the zombie apocalypse, then listen to Kira Jane Buxton’s HOLLOW KINGDOM. The story is told by a domesticated taking crow who must fend for himself after his human, like the rest of humanity, transforms into a zombie. The crow relates all he sees and learns after he ventures into the city and encounters other animals as they prepare to rule the world in a post-human era. Robert does a brilliant job creating voices for the animals, capturing each species’ unique characteristics and highlighting the ways our hero crow changes over the course of his self-discovery journey.
One of my all-time favorite audiobooks is THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH by Christopher Scotton. This affecting coming-of-age story, set in small-town Kentucky in the mid-1980s, takes place over the course of a summer when 14-year-old Kevin discovers both the beauty of the natural environment and the ugly side of human nature when greed and desperation push men to violence. Robert’s strong and sensitive performance captures the many layers and themes of this story—such as Kevin’s guilt and sadness, his grandfather’s gentleness, and the evils of prejudice—making this an unforgettable audiobook experience.
What happens when Henry, a rule-abiding government employee, is teamed up with a hard-drinking robot and tasked with saving the planned-out ideal city of tomorrow? You get the action-packed buddy story THE MUNICIPALISTS by Seth Fried. A little bit social commentary on America’s future and little bit thriller, this audiobook can be listened to purely for fun. Robert’s performance highlights his skill at keeping the action moving as well his great sense of comedic timing as the duo learns to balance humanity with technology.
Annie Proulx’s BARKSKINS, a family saga, introduces you to more than 300 years of Nova Scotia history as seen through the eyes of multiple generations, from French settlers in a “New World” through to their 21st-century descendants. The wild lands and once-dense Canadian forests are as much the stars of this beautifully written story as the humans are. Robert brilliantly meets the challenges of this audiobook; our reviewer noted his believable characterizations and accents and his impeccable pacing, dubbing his overall performance “mesmerizing.”
Has your audiobook wishlist just grown? I hope so, because you can’t go wrong with a book performed by Robert Petkoff. So who is that man in the sound booth? Let’s find out. Robert was gracious enough to answer a few questions, giving us a peek at the life of an audiobook narrator.
AudioFile: What are some of the particular challenges of narrating nonfiction?
Robert Petkoff: I think the most challenging thing is keeping it interesting and conversational. I always joke that it’s like being at a cool social event or party and I’m trying to tell the story of whatever work of nonfiction I’m recording to an attractive person of the opposite sex. I really want to keep her attention so I work very hard at making it sound like the most fascinating information you could imagine. Fortunately for me, I’ve been given so many interesting nonfiction titles to record that it isn’t that difficult a task.
AF: What’s your most embarrassing moment in the recording booth?
RP: I was recording a Kresley Cole paranormal romance and had just arrived at a very intense, uhm, romantic moment when we had to switch out engineers. The male engineer I had was replaced with a young woman I was meeting for the first time. It felt a bit awkward essentially making love to myself on the mic in front of this young woman as our first experience recording together. After the scene we took a break and I apologized if that scene had made her uncomfortable. She put me at ease by saying, “No problem, but I think I need a cigarette now!”
AF: What are the pros and cons of recording a series?
RP: I love doing a series because I’m familiar with the world, the characters, and the author’s voice. It’s like going to a favorite bar and hanging with friends. I’ve mentioned Kresley Cole but I also really enjoy recording the Star Trek books and anything by Michael Koryta. The only con I could imagine is the pressure to not let the fans down. I really want to bring my A game every time I’m in the studio, but it’s especially important to be on it for the listeners who are coming back again and again.
AF: What are pros and cons of working on a multi-narrator audiobook?
RF: The best part of a multi-narrator audiobook is the listener getting more depth of character and a more unique experience. The only difficulty is making sure to coordinate on voices that are shared by more than one narrator. I don’t want to make a vocal choice for a character that is very different from the voice being created by another narrator so I contact the other narrator and we will share ideas and even audio clips. It’s often revelatory for me hearing another narrator’s voicing of a character. It opens avenues I might not have thought of and helps my creativity.
AF: What’s your go-to beverage when recording?
RF: PG Tips English Breakfast tea in the studio. I always make a thermos of it and bring it with me. During the day I will go through only about one or two mugs of tea. I’m always surprised that that’s about all I drink. I rarely drink water during recording even though I know I should. I find I don’t need it like I thought I did when I first started recording.
AF: What’s the first task you tackle when given a new audiobook project?
RP: With fiction I always start by reading the book, of course, and highlighting each character’s spoken dialogue with their own colored highlighter in iAnnotate (my go-to app for recording on my iPad). This way I can easily switch back and forth between character voices and dialects when I’m in the booth. With nonfiction the biggest task for me is making sure proper names and scientific terms are pronounced correctly. One side note: The most humbling part of being a narrator is discovering how many words in the English language I thought I knew how to pronounce and was actually wrong about. Not just words that have multiple pronunciations, but words that I had read with confidence all my life and then read them out loud only to have a producer/director correct me. Humbling. Very humbling.
Thanks so much, Robert, for taking time to talk with us. I was surprised to learn how a multi-narrator book can spark creativity. It makes sense, but I hadn’t thought about that before. And I had to laugh at the circumstances of your meeting a new engineer—glad she made you laugh, too.
To discover more books performed by Robert Petkoff, be sure to explore his audiography.