And They Listened Happily Ever After: Audible.com’s A-list celebrity narration project

Yesterday morning, much to my pleasure, I awoke to this article referred to me by a friend: A-List Celebrities Line up to Record Audiobooks. Apparently Audible.com has embarked on a new project to enlist some very well-known names to lend their voices to reading works of classic literature; narrators include Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Anne Hathaway, and—the one about whom I’m by far the most excited—Colin Firth. (Excuse me while I die happy). As a blind booklover, I’ve always been something of an audiobook enthusiast, and as my work as an English teacher and my professional interests in literary adaptation have taught me, a well-narrated audiobook is, like a film performance, an active reading of the text—both in the literal and interpretive sense. I find it interesting that quite a few, if not all of the actors and actresses on the list have been involved with literary adaptation at some point in their film careers; Kate Winslet’s Hanna Schmitt in the 2008 adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s /The Reader/ was quite authentic; Anne Hathaway is of course famous for her portrayal of Mia in /The Princess Diaries/ by Meg Cabot, and—as I’ve pointed out here on numerous occasions—Colin Firth’s list of literary adaptations is rather extensive and includes some of his best acting.

As my visually impaired and blind fellow book lovers can attest, there’s a certain knack for narrating audiobooks, and several of my friends and I have spent countless hours waxing rhapsodic about our favorite audiobook narrators as well as which books or series we’d love to hear narrated by our favorite actors. (Morgan Freeman is a widely popular choice, not surprisingly). Personally, I’ve always found the gentle fluidity of Colin Firth’s voice comforting somehow. Solid, unwavering, like a heartbeat, with the crispness of a fall breeze one instant and the almost imperceptible brush of fingertips across the skin the next. My favorite scene in the BBC adaptation of /Pride and Prejudice/ is the one in which we hear Firth as Mr. Darcy reading, in voiceover, his famous letter to Elizabeth Bennet. The first time I watched that adaptation and listened to his reading of the letter, I instantly thought he’d make a superb audiobook narrator. Aside from his soothing tone and pleasantly rhythmic speech pattern, I’ve always enjoyed listening to the way he plays with words, the way he seems to shape them on his tongue and roll them around like savory morsels of thought. I envy anyone with that much linguistic poise, actually; my brain-to-mouth filter rarely works, and the result is typically an embarrassing, Bridget Jonseian spew of verbally incontinent nonsense. I tend, as Mark Darcy so eloquently puts it, to let whatever’s in my head come out of my mouth without much consideration of the consequences.

About a year ago, I obtained a copy of the Dick Frances novel /Comeback/, the only other audiobook that I know of narrated by Firth, and his narration didn’t disappoint me. He manages the transition between narration and character voices smoothly, even if he doesn’t give us the same colorful cast of character voices we get from, say, Jim Dale’s narration of the Harry Potter books. Needless to say, I’m anxiously awaiting this forthcoming book project, which Audible has announced is scheduled for a 2012 release.

Do you love audiobooks? What, for you, makes a good audiobook narrator? Of all of the audiobook narrators you’ve heard, to whom could you happily listen for ever after

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2 Comments »

  1. I know Alan rickman did a narration of Return of the Native. I have not yet read it, but what I have heard is amazing!!! he could narrate any audio book he wanted. 🙂 He puts feeling into his characters and has a very smooth voice.

  2. John said

    Yes, rhythm is all important in reading of audio books. I’ve, come across, some who read like, that. And no matter how good the book actually is I can’t finish it! Ugh. I also prefer female narration, obviously. Haha. But I give thumbs-up to some men who read very well also, like Mark Ashby for NLS.

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