Had you told me in 2010 that a year later I’d become addicted to audiobooks, I would have laughed you off. I used to think that audiobooks were either for people who’s eyes didn’t permit them to read comfortably (or at all), or for those who were too ‘lazy’ to read ‘a real book’. This was until I joined a group on LibraryThing, among which Mark, a postal carrier with very good and eclectic tastes, said he listened to them while working, and assured me that many audio productions were of excellent quality and at least worth looking into. So I tried one or two very short ones—children’s books; The Gruffalo and A Bad Case of Stripes. I thought those were fun, but of course, they were supposed to be, considering who they were geared to. Then I tried something quite a bit longer, Oliver Twist, and found that my daily walks with Coco suddenly became more interesting as I listened on my iPhone. When my concentration drifted away—which it frequently does—I pressed the nifty auto-rewind feature as many times as I needed to. Suddenly, I found myself wanting to do things around the house which I usually have little taste for, such as… well most things one should do around the house, such as cooking and cleaning—because they made for perfect listening opportunities.
I discovered I could borrow recordings from the library, download free ones recorded by volunteers on LibrixVox.org, and purchase them from a huge selection and the frequent sales at Audible.com. Quite apart from the quality of the book itself, I found that what could make or break the experience was whether or not I liked the narrator’s style and voice, and being able to sample to recordings on Audible helps to avoid disasters. Most productions are fairly simple, but some employ multiple narrators and combine music and sound effects, with varying results. Since I live alone, and my pets don’t seem to mind my attention being divided, I tend to be plugged into an audiobook much of the time, which is one of the reasons I usually get through them quite fast, which in turn, has dramatically increased the volume of reading I do in any given week. I won’t deny that I get quite a lot of satisfaction from being read to… after all, wasn’t that one of our greatest pleasures as children? Links lead to my reviews.
Best Audiobooks (and a couple of bad ones)
♫ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: The Primary Phase (BBC Radio Collection) by Douglas Adams. Performed by an ensemble cast.
The original radio series is how THGttG was meant to be experienced for maximum hilarity.
♫ The Help by Kathryn Stockett, narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell
Four great actresses make the women of this hit novel truly unforgettable.
♫ The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, narrated by Neil Gaiman
A real treat of a novel, and Gaiman’s wonderful voice is irresistible.
♫ The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, narrated by Elizabeth Klett
With over 200 free LibriVox recordings to her name, Klett delivers professional results read with real feeling.
♫ Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, narrated by Frances McDormand
What could be better than an absolutely charming book read by the very same actress who plays the leading role in the excellent movie adaptation?
♫ Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, narrated by Samuel West
If one were to find true love based on a person’s voice alone, Samuel West would be my one and only. I’d listen to him narrate the phone book. In Chinese.
♫ Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, narrated by Bill Wallis
Wallis hits the perfect note to make the grumpy Major that much more loveable.
♫ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, narrated by Tim Curry
Curry’s excellent performance makes the beloved classic laugh out loud funny.
♫ Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, read by Samuel L. Jackson
Jackson makes you forget this adult bedtime story originally comes as a picture book.
♫ Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, narrated by Steven Crossley
This humorous adventure has been interpreted by a bevy or great narrators, but Crossley is a personal favourite who’s comic delivery is bang on.
♫ Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, narrated by Robert Hardy
The novel is a fast-paced, disjointed and delirious affair which perfectly captures the spirit of the times, and Hardy brings the characters to life very convincingly.
♫ Dubliners by James Joyce, narrated by Jim Norton
With his rich voice and ability to convey a wide range of Irish accents and personalities, Norton is an ideal reader. A great musical selection of old songs and music from scratchy old recordings adds a wonderful ambience between stories.
♫ The Bluest Eye by Tony Morrison, narrated by the author
Who better but Morrison herself to fully bring out the richness and beauty of her prose? It made me appreciate her writing more than ever before.
♫ Animal Farm by George Orwell, narrated by Ralph Cosham
Cosham made my third visit to Animal Farm that much more memorable and gave back the animals the English accents they were always meant to have.
♫ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, narrated by Christopher Plummer
Everyone’s favourite story which Plummer manages to make even better. Too delightful for words. Avoid TtLG though—it must have been recorded after quite a few too many.
♫ Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, narrated by Jeremy Northam
I’ve been lucky with most of my audio experiences, but a few have made me regret that choice. Northam is an excellent reader, but the producers have thrown in a music score that set my teeth on edge. A travesty.
♫ American Gods by Neil Gaiman, performed by an ensemble cast
I wasn’t very fond of the story, and this 10th anniversary edition audiobook with 12,000 extra words made my ears bleed.
I’d listen to just about anything narrated by: Samuel West, Simon Prebble, Juliet Stevenson, Josephine Bailey, Derek Jacobi, Steven Crossley, Nadia May (aka Donada Peters aka Wanda McCaddon), Simon Vance, Davina Porter, Campbell Scott, Neil Gaiman
Coming Next in the Final Part 4: The best of the worst.