It took me a while to embrace the world of audiobooks. I’m a huge fan of physical media and I love the barrier that is set in place by a large book in front of my face. But a job in Austin (about an hour and a half’s trip by car one way) made me start to really love audiobooks. Today, I wanted to talk about an audiobook that is close to my heart, and it all started with the sleepy little town of Night Vale.
Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast that began with Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor at the helm, and it revolves around a strange little town in the middle of the desert. Night Vale as a podcast is brought to life by the voice of Night Vale, Cecil Palmer, who is expertly played by Cecil Baldwin III. Now, Cecil Baldwin III is a proud and out HIV-positive gay man with an impeccable fashion sense and a voice that can warm even the darkest of hearts while also feeling just ever so slightly creepy: Night Vale is a place full of mystery and strange occurrences and a Dog Park that you are never to see or speak of.
When I found out that one of the podcasts that I loved so much was coming out with its first novel a few years ago, I was surprised. I knew the show as a podcast, and the idea of simply relying on the words on a page seemed more than tolerable (I can always hear Cecil Baldwin in my mind when I read it). I was even more delighted to find out that the first Night Vale novel would also be available as an audiobook narrated by the Voice of Night Vale himself; well, dear readers, I was over the moon.
I picked up a copy using Audible and was able to listen to the novel in my car during my long commute. For an audiobook, it’s a long one. I finished up over weeks, and the final tally is that it’s a 12 hour listen and it lasted me a good long while. Narrative-wise, the Welcome to Night Vale novel feels a lot like a very, very long episode of the podcast. It centers around a fixture in the Night Vale universe, Diane Crayton and her son, Josh, who happens to be a shapeshifter. Diane is a single mother doing her very best in the strange town of Night Vale, and the novel centers around many of her day to day interactions with the other staples of the community and other strange experiences, like not actually ever being able to leave Night Vale and the fact that Michigan does not exist. The main narrative of the novel is speckled with pieces from Night Vale’s favorite radio show (the actual basis of the podcast) that keeps the listeners up to date on all the happening in Night Vale from the deadly Summer Reading Club to the Glow Cloud on the PTA board that drops dead animals and takes over the minds of community members. All the while Cecil uses his dulcet baritone to keep listeners engaged as you do your best to answer the many questions the novel puts in front of your mind or wherever you process your thoughts.
The best thing about the first Welcome to Night Vale novel is that you do not need to be caught up on the podcast to fully grasp the work; it certainly does help but it isn’t absolutely necessary. So even though I was not entirely caught up at the time I started the novel, I was invested enough in the series to love each part of the novel.
If there’s a lesson that can be taken away from the Night Vale audiobook, it’s that a narrator can sell a product. I love Night Vale for more than just the velvet poetic tone that Cecil Baldwin can utter, but it just adds so much more to the experience.
I give the first Welcome to Night Vale audiobook a very well deserved 5 out of 5!