Touch and Go AudioFile Best of 2008 Biography & Memoir
Norman Dietz just loves to fool with words. While telling me about his fictionalized memoir, NAILING IT , which he recorded for Blackstone Audio in 2005, he mentions “knots” and “knotholes,” and I begin to get a little lost. Then Norman says, “I’m really a well-spoken acrobat. I like to stir up laughter.” As the author and performer of dozens of short theatrical productions, Norman has delighted audiences with vaudevillian sketches such as “a tiny satiric tale about . . . and a fast-moving rethinking of biblical narrative from . . . and a fable about . . .” As a narrator, Norman has spent more than 20 years bringing listeners the works of some of the great American humorists.
>Norman recorded Mark Twain’s LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI in 1988 and has 10 Twain titles to his credit. His Tom Sawyer has always been my personal favorite—I remember hours of re-listening spent with my son. Norman’s personal favorite is PUDD’NHEAD WILSON, because of Twain’s subtle attack on racism. Other audiobooks capture the works of P.J. O’Rourke, AGE AND GUILE BEAT YOUTH, INNOCENCE AND A BAD HAIRCUT ; WILL ROGERS , a biography of the early-twentieth-century humorist; and Kurt Vonnegut’s TIMEQUAKE , in which Norman captures the author’s “codgerly, sardonic grouchiness.”
Norman was one of the first narrators for Recorded Books, where he worked with Frank Muller, Nelson Runger, and Davina Porter under the direction of Claudia Howard, who continues as executive producer. Norman reflects on how styles of narration have shifted since the 1980s. “There was little emphasis on dialect work,” Norman recalls. “It’s a lot more theatrical now, with a focus on playing the characters.” The conversational style of Twain’s writing has always attracted Norman, and he enjoyed what he found in Studs Terkel’s memoir, TOUCH AND GO . “I love the first-person narrative, but I don’t become the author—like Hal Holbrook doing Twain. He’s the raconteur.”
Recently Norman has recorded more nonfiction—David Herbert Donald’s biography, LINCOLN , along with DID LINCOLN OWN SLAVES? ; a history of early germ warfare, THE FOURTH HORSEMAN ; a look at the Tabasco family company, MCILHENNY’S GOLD; and some personal health advice, YOUNGER NEXT YEAR FOR WOMEN . Norman has remarkable narrative gifts and style, seasoned by many years as an audiobook narrator, but his new venture is taking him back to his theatrical roots. He’s touring his one-man performance of NAILING IT. This is a true gift to listeners everywhere. Try to catch Norman’s show live, but if you must listen to the audiobook, you will “knot” be disappointed.—Robin F. Whitten
Photo courtesy of the narrator
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