Celebrity audiobooks: The good and the bad

I’m not usually the biggest audiobook fan, except for when I’m driving ever since that terrible time I tried to balance The Stand on my steering column, but even I know that much of the effectiveness of cassette-tape oration is dependent on who’s doing the reading. Jeremy Irons, for example, could read a bound collection of Chinese takeout menus and I would find it engrossing. Sylvester Stallone narrating Jane Eyre, or Fran Drescher narrating anything, not so much. And it’s probably a plus that Stephen Hawking didn’t do his own Brief History of Time.

The good people over at the website Whose Voice Is That? have put together a helpful list of the best and worst matches of celebrity lector to material. For example: “Not Scary Enough: Joe Mantegna reads Stephen King’s Thinner”, “Too Scary: Willem Dafoe reads Stephen King’s The Langoliers.”

I think an audiobook’s success also depends on the listener’s own situation. Harlan Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman read, or more likely frantically yelled in 324 voices, by Robin Williams is probably not good if you’re trying to relax. Conversely, listening to James Earl Jones read the Bible while operating heavy machinery would be dangerous both to yourself and those around you. And while Christopher Walken may be a good fit for something like this, something like this doesn’t work as well.  Oftentimes the best person for the job isn’t a celebrity, per se. Jim Dale has done a fantastic job with the Harry Potter series, while Brad Pitt only detracted from Cormac McCarthy’s beautiful All the Pretty Horses by pronouncing “jefe” like it was a brand of peanut butter. What do you think? Are there any celebrity/book match-ups you think are just crying out to be made a reality? Any that should never, ever, under any circumstances, come to fruition?


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  • Why yes, I’m using it right now…

    George Guidall can ruin anything. Juilet Stevenson on the other hand makes everything sound better.

  • Personal Preference

    I’m not crazy when the dialogue in the book is acted out or done with too much intonation. Actors try to act the heck out of the dialogue and the narration they give often shows a their lack of familiarity with a prose.

  • Marie

    um….i can’t think of any celebrity/book match ups that i would run to the library for.
    But i must second the comment on Jim Dale’s reading of the Harry Potter series. I read the first 4 books and listened to the last 3 on audiobook. Jim Dale was FANTASTIC!!! I encourage everyone to check out the Harry Potter series on audiobook. You will not be disappointed.

    • Ann

      I haven’t listed to Jim Dale’s reading of Harry Potter but I am listening to him read Peter and The Starcathers and he is amazing!!

    • Celia

      STEPHEN FRY does the British Harry Potter audiobooks! He’s awesome too. :D

  • alex

    TOtally agree with Marie. The Harry Potter audios are amazing and a great way to experience the books in a new way if you’re in withdrawl..

    Also Jeremy Irons reading lolita

  • CScott

    Wil Wheaton reading anything by Wil Wheaton. He is a master of his own prose and I could not imagine anyone else reading his work. “Just a Geek” is a gem.

  • Harry Potter Fan

    Jim Dale’s performance on the Harry Potter series was absolutely amazing! I recommend them to everyone I know who likes Harry Potter or who is looking for a good audiobook.

  • Melissa

    I find Tom Clancy’s books excellent on audio as Tom will spend 8 pages describing a bolt on a weapon otherwise. Also I find when people ready their autobiograhies it makes it much more enjoyable.

  • Mary

    Sissy Spacek did a terrific job reading Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Highly recommended!

    • Mary

      I love Sissy Spacek reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” Great book and very well read!!

  • Polly

    I think Jim Dale is the best reader I’ve heard, but I also liked Tracie Bennett reading Bridget Jones’ Diary, she was really funny.

  • Jenn

    Jim Dale is great. I’ve had books I couldn’t listen to because the narrator’s voice was too annoying or boring. Jim Dale should narrate them all!

  • Kelly

    James Marsters reading the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

  • Mia

    Bobby Cannavale reading Richard Price’s Lush Life was the perfect match.

  • oliver c.

    Nora Ephron narrating I Feel Bad About My Neck. It’s fantastic. Also, narrated by David Sedaris (or his sister Amy) is completely hilarious.

    • cindy

      Yes, David Sedaris is the funniest. Also, to me the absolute best is Frank McCourt reading his own Angela’s Ashes. Heaven!

  • Geneva Girl

    I love audio books in the car and while I’m cleaning up the kitchen. Jim Dale is my all-time favorite, hands down.

    Edward Hermann is pretty terrific too. I really don’t care much about the Roosevelts, but I listened to several books just because he read them.

    James Avery’s reading of the children’s book, Bud Not Buddy, had the whole family on the floor. We’re currently listening to Lavar Burton read The Watsons Go To Birmingham 1963 for the second time because he was so entertaining. I originally borrowed them from the library then purchased them because those readings were so good.

    Pretty much all of the seven readers for The Chronicles of Narnia were terrific. (You can’t go wrong with Patrick Stewart.)

    For autobiographies, Michael Caine was awesome.

    Sadly, I can’t think of any great women readers off the top of my head, but Lynn Redgrave (Narnia) was very good.

  • Nelly

    Tim Curry reads A Series of Unfortunate Events, aimed at children but perfectly done and I recommend it for adults if you don’t mind repetition. I haven’t heard any others by celebrities. The PG Wodehouse books are read very well by an English actor called Jonathan Cecil and I love Nigel Planer’s readings of Terry Pratchett, a perfect meld of voice and material.
    PS thanks for the heads up about the Narnia chronicles, I will try these next.

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