Actors, meet audio books. Audio books, meet actors.

George Burns and Gracie Allen

A great pair of comedic actors and a love that lasted a lifetime: George Burns and Gracie Allen. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, by use all gently, for in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise.” — Hamlet’s speech to the actors 

This weekend, I found an interesting article in the New York Times, “Actors Today Don’t Just Read for the Part. Reading IS the Part.” The article discusses how audio books are providing more and more employment for trained actors who look for steady work and have yet to become A-list celebrities. But some celebrities got in on the action. Actors such as Whoopie Goldberg, Alan Cumming and Edward Herrmann often narrate for audio books as well.

I like the idea that up-and-coming actors get to use their acting skills this way. You’d get to establish all sorts of characters in the readers’ minds and set moods through the dialogue.

In a way, it seems to me that the use of audio books combines the best of past and present technology. In the early days of radio, actors would put on shows for the public and everybody in the family would gather around the radio to listen to the show. I have some recordings of these productions, such as “The Shadow,” “Abbott and Costello,” and “The Burns and Allen Show”. They’re fun to hear and still just as good as the day they were recorded. Gracie Allen’s illogical logic still cracks me up. (This is a woman who joked that she could save power by shortening the cord of the vacuum cleaner and when asked to say something funny, replied “Charlie Chaplin.”)

But now the audible entertainment can be transferred to an MP3 player, an iPad or an iPod so it goes anywhere you go. I bet that would liven up things when you were waiting for a plane or in line at the DMV.

There are some actors whose voices seem made for this type of project. Edward Herrmann is one; Richard Armitage, Sir Patrick Stewart and Harrison Ford are others. And I could see Sharon Stone, Judi Dench and Dawn French doing the same, if they haven’t already. I speak from inexperience; I have yet to get my first audio book. (Ack! Stop throwing things at me, you bibliophiles! Can someone toss me a newspaper so I can protect myself?)

Blog readers, what are your opinions of audio books? Which narrators and books have you enjoyed the most?



Filed under Writing

22 responses to “Actors, meet audio books. Audio books, meet actors.

  1. Have you listened to Bernard Cornwell’s Lords of the North? If not, I will gladly send you a copy.

  2. travelrat

    I don’t listen to audio books very often, but the ones I particularly like are those read by actors who played the role in the film or TV adaptation, as they provide a voice you can identify with the character.

  3. Impybat

    I have never listened to an audio book, but since you mentioned actors who narrate, I’ll tell you that my favorite is Liev Schreiber.

  4. I am an audiobook fan, big time. Started when I was a commuter, but now I still listen. I also read, but audiobooks are like movies, but I’m the director, producer and cinematographer.

  5. I love the old radio shows. Designed and produced for broadcasting.
    Books? I still like to see the words. (But what a fun job to read stories out loud)

  6. Ooh, pick me! Pick me! Audio books are sooo cool for long car trips. I heard Hunger Games this way and I related to the book much better because I had to listen to every word (otherwise I would have raced through it, I’m sure).
    Jeremy Irons, excellent reading of The Alchemist
    Sissy Spacek, perfect for To Kill a Mockingbird

    Enjoy! I think there are other suggestions on my post about audio books from other readers as well.

  7. I have more audiobooks on my ipod than music, I think. I’ve listened to Patrick Stewart read The Last Battle by CS Lewis and Brendan Fraser read Inkspell by Cornelia Funke. I love it when really good actors read audiobooks. It makes listening to the book that much better.

  8. I have a whole post about this for kids’ audio books ( The narrators make all the difference! Cherry Jones voiced the Little House books, and she is perfect. I really liked Peter Coyote’s reading of Hatchet. Natasha Richardson read The BFG by Dahl, and it is awesome.

  9. I’ve been slowly collecting audiobooks on CD. I got addicted when I found the Nero Wolfe books read by Michael Pritchard. I usually get them at the used bookstores (although sometimes I just borrow them from the library). I have a friend who does voice work: Bob Kuhn, but you probably haven’t heard of him (yet).

  10. Jaclyn

    Ed Herrmann narrates audiobooks? That trail of smoke you see is me rushing off to the library.

  11. My very first exposure to books was through audio — my mother and aunt reading to us at bedtime, at naptime, at bathtime, in the car. Later, teachers read aloud after lunch or during recess when it was raining. Without audio books, I would not be the person I am today. Seeing as I do not now live with my mother, aunt, or school teachers, I find CD and tape cassette versions equally satisfying. They have also allowed me to “read” to my children in the car while I am driving.

  12. If Alan Rickman was the narrator of all audio books, I’d be in heaven! He could be the GPS voice in my car too! I’d never stop driving, ha-ha!!

    • I wish that the GPS manufacturers would include a list of voice options of famous actors in their menus. Wouldn’t that be great? Alan Rickman would definitely be a wonderful candidate.

      Or better yet, they could have famous actors narrating the countryside you’re passing through and drawing your attention to sights to see. The audio tour to end all audio tours.


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