Recommend me some great audiobooks.
February 11, 2005 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I've been listening to audiobooks for a few months now. I like them, but some are better than others. I'm looking for recommendations for great audiobooks, and, in particular, great readers. (Also: any recommendations for great courses from The Teaching Company?)

I've audited the first nine Patrick O'Brien novels, and I must say: Patrick Tull is outstanding. I could listen to him forever. Other readers are less exciting. George Guidall's reading of My Antonia was good once I got used to his lazy delivery (or perhaps it was just the text transcending the delivery?). I was less pleased with Nelson Runger's sleep-inducing walk through Founding Brothers and with Michael Prichard's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which other Audible users seem to like).

I'm currently listening to Jill Masters read Vanity Fair; she seems excellent thus far, with a sort of wry delivery perfectly suited to the material.

It seems I'm a permanent convert to audiobooks. I'd love to learn about other great readers. (Or books that have made an excellent conversion to the audio format.)

Also: I've started listening to some of the lectures from The Teaching Company. I'd be pleased to learn of good courses or lecturers from their line of products.
posted by jdroth to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Not an answer, but you're right, Patrick Tull is outstanding!
posted by brheavy at 9:19 AM on February 11, 2005

If you haven't already gone through all the Harry Potter books--and they're your cup of tea--Jim Dale does a _tremendous_ job of reading those.

Normally, I appreciate a bit drier approach, without a lot of histrionics on the narrator's part, but Dale's renditions of different characters and tones are really outstanding.

There was actually an NYT article a few weeks ago on the folks who make a living out of doing audiobooks...the non-celebs who are the real pros at this. Beyond the impressive technical skills involved, they seemed to pride themselves on not being a prominent part of the experience.
posted by LairBob at 9:21 AM on February 11, 2005

Response by poster: I'll have to seek out that NYT article, LairBob.

Last week a friend told me she had recently heard an NPR story on the business of audiobooks, but she couldn't remember which program, or when she'd hear it, or anything that might help me google the damn thing. Anybody here know what she was talking about?
posted by jdroth at 9:28 AM on February 11, 2005

Douglas Adams did a wonderful job of reading all of his books, except, sadly, the last.

I also like William Gibsons reading of Neuromancer. He's got a weird southern drawl so it takes some getting used to, but once you do...well, you either hate it, or it grows on you. I love it.
posted by jaded at 9:30 AM on February 11, 2005

I liked A Million Little Pieces. An intense memoir about drug rehab. Abridged, apparently.
posted by callmejay at 9:36 AM on February 11, 2005

I do not recommend Ray Bradbury reading his own work. We got Fahrenheit 451 for a road trip and it was awful - his writing is so much like poetry to me, and hearing it read in this deadpan, emotionless, kind of stumbling voice was a turnoff. YMMV, of course.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:48 AM on February 11, 2005

The NYT article was called "Actors You've Never Heard of Are Becoming the Ones Heard Most." Here is the only reposting I can find. It goes through all the difficulties of being an audiobook reader, challenges that normal actors find daunting. Multiple accents, and of course, not giving away the ending.
Ms. Rosenblat was delivering the dialogue of a handful of
characters, most of them men, and was shifting quickly
between characters with British, Indian, Arabic, Egyptian,
Irish, Austro-Hungarian and Texan accents. Those distinct
roles interacted with incredulity, shock, anguish and
sarcasm. It was emotion layered on dialect layered on
perfect enunciation.
posted by scazza at 9:53 AM on February 11, 2005

I strongly recommend anything read by Scott Brick, including "The Company" and "The Devil in the White City." I spent 36 hours listening to him read "The Company" and loved every minute of it. I'm looking forward to listening to "Alexander Hamilton," clocking in at 37 hours!
posted by pardonyou? at 10:00 AM on February 11, 2005

Sarah Vowell reading her own work, "A Cloudy Patriot", was especially enjoyable because her voice is so unique.
posted by Heatwole at 10:18 AM on February 11, 2005

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is one of the most fun novels ever written. It's also one of the best audible books I've found after being an member for several years. Each chapter of the book has a different narrator, so audible got multiple actors to read the parts. The are all excellent, and it's a great way to sample a lot of different readers (all of them do other books).

According to the link, the narrator is Patrick Tull, but that's incorrect. Patrick Tull is the first (and I think best) narrator.
posted by grumblebee at 10:19 AM on February 11, 2005

I've listened to about fifteen different Teaching Company lecture series, and I've liked the ones on WWII, American Religious History, and American Economic History the best. I've really liked everything they've put out, but those have been the best so far. Those have seemed more like a Ken Burns documentary than college style classes.
posted by andrewzipp at 11:02 AM on February 11, 2005

I am a big fan of Wilbur Smith and have read or listened to nearly all of his books. I would highly recommend Birds of Prey, Monsoon, The Seventh Scroll, Elephant Song, and Warlock. Some of the best historical action / fiction I have come across.

Also, try Ayn Rand, I was never able to finish Atlas Shrugged, so I listened commuting back and forth from work, and found it to be a great novel read extremely well.

And I will second William Gibson's reading of Nueromancer, I found it oddly compelling.
posted by Benway at 11:47 AM on February 11, 2005

Some libraries are now offering audiobook (and ebook) borrowing online. Very cool. The Overdrive DRM is supported by most mp3 players nowadays. I audit books while commuting, which extends my 'reading' time because I can continue while I walk the last half-mile to-and-fro.

I usually select audiobooks by sorting on "most popular" and checking out the first audiobook that is currently available. Most recently that's been "The Enemy" by Lee Child, and "Boogers" by Dave Barry. As you can see, it's a hit and miss algorithm, but I do get exposed to stuff I wouldn't otherwise consider and, not unlike reality-TV, "it's popular"!
posted by gregor-e at 12:04 PM on February 11, 2005

Here's a list of public libraries that offer OverDrive audiobooks.
posted by gregor-e at 12:13 PM on February 11, 2005

Agreed, Scott Brick is wonderful. Frank Muller is probably one of the best audiobook readers around (though his meat and potatoes is Grisham and King, if you don't mind that), though there probably won't be any more from him after a very bad motorcycle accident several years ago.

I like hearing authors read their own work, especially in the case of narrative non-fiction. Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris are both audio favorites of mine.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:14 PM on February 11, 2005

The best I've ever heard is John Cleese reading C. S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters", but it's hard to find.
posted by nicwolff at 12:15 PM on February 11, 2005

I've also listened to several Teaching Company lectures and my clear favorite is Michael Sugrue doing Plato, Socrates, and the Dialogues.
posted by Phatty Lumpkin at 12:31 PM on February 11, 2005

Many, if not all, of the Penguin Lives series is on audio. Try Sherwin Nuland's "Leonardo da Vinci" or Karen Armstrong's "Buddha".
posted by barjo at 1:05 PM on February 11, 2005

Frank Muller is probably one of the best audiobook readers around...

If you can find it (not at Audible), Muller did the best recording of "The Great Gatsby" I've ever heard. It's my favorite novel, and I prefer Muller's voice to the voice in my head when I read it to myself. I have old cassette tapes of this recording.
posted by grumblebee at 1:16 PM on February 11, 2005

Ditto on the Jim Dale opinion...
posted by achmorrison at 1:54 PM on February 11, 2005

Any David Sedaris audiobook is gold. Especially Me Talk Pretty One Day. Hearing him read it is a whole different experience than reading it in book form.

As for TTC, I grabbed Robert Solomon's Existentialism one on a lark. He's the professor near the beginning of the movie Waking Life who talks about existentialism. From the little I've heard so far, it's very compelling.
posted by skechada at 3:59 PM on February 11, 2005

Lisette Lecat, the reader for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series is excellent. She gives the right tone to the story and each individual word, and has a great accent for it (the stories take place in Botswana, she grew up in South Africa and England, iirc).

(One that I would never ever listen to again was the guy who read Robin Cook's Abduction. Before I even knew it was a bad book, I wanted to stop listening because his voice was that boring.
posted by whatzit at 4:32 PM on February 11, 2005

Mark Hammer is one of the best fiction readers period. I have listened to him do Cool Hand Luke, Tobacco Road, The Reevers, and Sunset Limited. Tim Curry read the Lemony Snicket books and entertained me through some dreadful parts of Idaho not too long ago. And Ian McClellan doing the Robert Fagles translation of The Odyssey is just fun to listen to.

Conversely, every single thing I have ever listened to from a company called Books in Motion out of Spokane has made me want to either drive off a cliff, claw out my inner ears, or appreciate the subtle nuances of Ashlee Simpson.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 4:37 PM on February 11, 2005

Lisette Lecat, the reader for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series

This is actually one of the few audiobooks that I found dull. By that I mean, while I enjoyed reading the series , listening to it was dull. The story moved too slowly to keep my interest.

But I second the Augustan Burroughs and David Sedaris recommendations.

I just finished listening to Jonathon Franzen's The Corrections (unabridged)1 as read by George Guidall and it was terrific in all respects.

Guidall is a fabulous reader, one of the best working today. He also did American Gods by Neil Geiman which enthralled me.

Others that stand out as audiobooks:
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:59 PM on February 11, 2005

Ok. Something went wrong here. The final 1. disappeared and one of the underline close tags went missing.

1. I only ever listen to unabridged. Abridged makes bad novels worse and as for good novels, you miss out on more of the good stuff.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:08 PM on February 11, 2005

This American Life is almost always compelling. has some free stuff. I really enjoyed "A Walk in the Woods" read by the author, Bill Bryson, and "a short history of everything" which totally clued me into the 17th century birth of science, which made reading Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle" much more bearable.
posted by mecran01 at 9:00 PM on February 11, 2005

if you're a fan of the coen brothers' films, i'd recommend "gates of eden" by ethan coen, a collection of short stories of varying degrees of weirdness. it's read by some coen regulars like steve buscemi, john goodman and john turturro, and also ben stiller, matt dillon and william h macy, among others. it came out on tape from simon & schuster audio.
heatwole, i believe it's "the partly cloudy patriot".
posted by Silky Slim at 4:10 PM on February 12, 2005

I know that this is way after the thread has otherwise closed, but I have one set of audiobooks that I can heartily recommend -- The "Series of Unfortunate Events" books are read by Tim Curry, and are extraordinary, and very, very funny (the one exception is one title--I don't remember which one--which is ready by Daniel Handler, the series' author. He's not bad).

Someone else mentioned C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters," but added that it's hard to find. You can download it for $9.95 USD from, and I concur that it's very good.
posted by curtm at 5:43 PM on February 20, 2005

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