Are You Listening?

Since we moved house and increased our morning commute, I’ve been listening to more audio books than before, something I haven’t really done since I was doing my postgrad 6 years ago and had a 90minute commute to class each day.

I came late the audio book thing, but did you know that you can rent them free from libraries? I didn’t either until my 80 year old Nanny told me about it, she’s been getting two a week delivered to her front door for over twenty years. You can buy the CD’s online, or you can even download audio books in MP3 formats from sites like

On Boxing Day a couple of years ago Radio2 played JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone’ in it’s entirety. All eight hours of it. It was read, in the UK version, by Stephen Fry (Jim Dale reads the US versions I believe), and millions of people sat entranced for the whole day. And while the book was charming in itself, I can’t help but think that Fry had something to do with it.

And so we get onto our topic of the day – celebrities reading audio books.

Reading audio books is something of an art form, just like writing books, and there are readers out there who have over 900 audio books under their belt, such as the rather formidable George Guidall, who read my copy of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ back in the day, and more recently Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ and Elie Wiesel’s outstanding ‘Night.’

Now, when it comes to choosing a reader for an audio book, there are many factors to consider, the voice, the tone, how a reader of that genre with respond to that person. Sometimes the match is a bad one, sometimes it just doesn’t work. ‘Twilight’ for example, is read by Ilyana Kadushin, a very obviously middle aged woman, and doesn’t fit at all with the teenage protagonist, and while the reader is a great reader and has a huge amount of experience and won awards, the older woman reading a teen book match just didn’t work for me at all.

Neither did Cynthia Nixon reading ‘Sex and the City’ mainly because she was a voice we already associated with a character in the series, and it just sounded…wrong to have her read as if she was Carrie. Or maybe that’s just me.

Most recently I’ve been listening to ‘Water for Elephants’ by Sara Gruen, which is read by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones, respectively reading the 23 year old and the 90 (or 93) year old sections. This dual narrator works well, with the younger reader full of life and emotion, and the older reader bringing a different perspective to things.

The most recent version of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was read by Sissy Spacek (the creepy teen from ‘Carrie’) and really reminded me how subtle the use of voice can be, just as the fact that it’s John Cleese reading ‘The Inferno of Dante’ comes as a shock to people listening.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is read by Tony Robinson, who is a master of comic timing, and is so much a ‘voice’ of Terry Pratchett now that he read Pratchett’s Dimbleby lecture in 2010.

There are some matches that made perfect sense to me, and some which I’m still trying to work out. Below I have listed a few that might surprise you. You can make your own minds up about the combinations though:

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald read by Tim Robbins
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain ready by Paul Newman
  • All the Pretty Horsesby Cormac McCarthy read by Brad Pitt
  • The Bell Jarby Sylvia Plath read by Maggie Gyllenhaal
  • A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick read by Paul Giamatti
  • The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway read by Donald Sutherland
  • The Langoliers by Stephen King read by Willem Dafoe

The point is, who reads the book can really change the whole feel of the book, and if the voice is wrong for it, then that can really detract from the experience. In the past no one cared as much, but over recent years publishers are realising that there is a huge market for audio books that extends further than the blind customers like my Nanny and getting a good reader is a something of a status symbol for publisher and author alike.

Personally, I’m trying to work out if there is any conceivable way I could get William Shatner to read my children’s book.


1 Comment

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One response to “Are You Listening?

  1. Oh, Sissy Spacek reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I bet that’s wonderful. I remember her southern accent from Badlands.

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