Books for Your Ears: Classics

by Erin on November 26, 2010

A few Fridays ago I introduced a miniseries featuring some of my favorite audiobooks. This week, in the final installment of Books for Your Ears, I’ll be focusing on classics. I’ve selected a few of my favorites:

Books for Your Ears - Classics

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (read by Sissy Spacek)

Set in Maycomb County, Alabama, during the Depression, Harper Lee’s classic novel follows the Finch family: Scout (the daughter), Jem (her older brother), and Atticus (their father, a lawyer). The novel’s central event is the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Around this centerpiece flows ordinary life in a small Southern town, populated with a colorful cast of characters and punctuated by the adventures of the children. “To Kill a Mockingbird” tackles big themes, but they are shown through a child’s eyes as Scout relates the events and her reactions to them in the first person.

I first read To Kill a Mockinbird in eighth grade, but not much about the book stuck with me from that first reading. Last summer, I happened to come across a copy of the audiobook narrated by Sissy Spacek. In this dead-on pairing of narrator and text, Spacek does a phenomenal job bringing Scout and her adventures to life. Spacek’s accent is perfect, her pacing easy. She captures the sibling interaction between Scout and Jem especially well. This audiobook was one of the first that made me think perhaps I liked classics after all.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (read by Frank Muller)

It is the early 1920s, and Nick Carraway, a young man in the bond business and our narrator, has recently moved from Minnesota to the small town of West Egg, just outside New York City, for work. Here we meet Daisy and Tom Buchanan, wealthy relations of Nick’s; Jordan Baker, Daisy’s friend; and, of course, Jay Gatsby, Nick’s unfathomably rich and mysterious next door neighbor. A whole host of minor characters adds depth and interest to the story as well: a freeloader, a mistress, a mechanic, a drunk, a prominent player in the organized crime network. The Great Gatsby is Nick’s account of what transpires during the time he knows this elite group; as he looks on, the group self destructs before his very eyes.

Frank Muller, who reads The Great Gatsby in the production I listened to, is Nick Carraway. His voice is Nick’s, as well as his phrasing, intonation, pacing, and everything else. As with To Kill a Mockingbird, this is a superb pairing of reader and text. And as a bonus, the unabridged version is only four and a half hours long!

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (read by Christopher Hurt)

In a future not too far from our own time, televisions take up entire walls and trivia is valued over knowledge and original ideas. Guy Montag is a fireman, and his duty–like all firemen–is to start fires wherever secret stores of books are discovered. But then Guy meets Clarisse, a young girl who’s not like anyone Guy has ever met. When she disappears, something snaps within Guy, and the sure foundation on which he’s stood all his life begins to crumble.

I read about the audiobook as read by Christopher Hurt on Book Journey, where Sheila said she’d much preferred Hurt’s narration to Bradbury’s own. I sought out Hurt’s version based on Sheila’s recommendation, and it was fantastic!

The Odyssey by Homer (translated by Robert Fagles and read by Ian McKellen)

I’ve been discussing The Odyssey for the past three weeks as part of Trish’s readalong, so I won’t go into a full summary here. I’ll just say that this translation/narration pairing is phenomenal! Fagles’s translation is very accessible and easy to follow, and McKellen’s dramatic reading style fits the story perfectly. It’s like having Gandalf tell you crazy stories.

I never expected to enjoy listening to The Odyssey–especially since I didn’t care for the epic at all in college–and yet, I did! If you’ve always meant to tackle or revisit Homer’s The Odyssey, the audiobook (or an audiobook + text pairing) is a great way to go.

Your Turn!

Do you have any favorite classics on audio? Do you find it easier or harder to listen to classics on audio, or does the format not make any difference to you?

Care to share?

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12 comments
Rebecca Reid
Rebecca Reid

I like to read classics in print. A few I've listened to were very good: Lord of the Flies by William Golding was read by the author. And then Martin Jarvis read THREE MEN IN A BOAT and it was quite fun.

Em (Love YA Lit)
Em (Love YA Lit)

I love Ruby Dee's reading of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)
Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)

I just finished read The Odyssey and Fagles' notes about the audiobook. I think Ian McKellan would be amazing.

Mrs. DeRaps
Mrs. DeRaps

My all-time favorite reading of a classic is Gary Sinise's reading of the Steinbeck book Of Mice and Men. My students and I are enraptured by it every year. My students talk about it for years after they listen to this audiobook. It's really, really good. Love Mr. Sinise!

Amanda
Amanda

I'm definitely taking your recommendations for To Kill a Mockingbird (one I read in middle school but remember almost nothing about) and Gatsby (which I've tried and failed to read in print).

Other great classics in audio: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, read by Alan Rickman (melt!) and I'm currently listening to Lolita read by Jeremy Irons, which is fantastic. Considering how seductive and beautiful Irons' voice is, it makes the reader even more conflicted about HH. I also just got Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome narrated by Martin Jarvis. I haven't listened to it yet, but after hearing Jarvis read Good Omens, I absolutely adore him as a narrator. With the comedy that Three Men in a Boat is supposed to be, I'm sure it will be fantastic!

Erin
Erin

Three Men in a Boat is on my list, so I'll definitely check out the Jarvis recording. I loved him reading both Good Omens and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! Listening to classics helped me get over my feeling that they were somehow harder than modern fiction. With someone reading them to me, they felt more like stories and less like work. I'm not sure I'd have gotten over my fear of classics without audiobooks!

Erin
Erin

Next time I revisit Their Eyes were Watching God -- one of my favorites -- I'll be sure to try the audio. I bet it would be wonderful!

Erin
Erin

Hmm, I didn't know Fagles had notes on the audiobook -- I'll have to look for them!

Erin
Erin

I read parts of Of Mice and Men in high school. We were supposed to read the whole thing, but my teacher forgot to do it, so we squeezed it in at the end of the term. It sounds like this is an audiobook I need to check out! Thanks for the recommendation!

Erin
Erin

I hope you love them! I'm totally adding The Return of the Native to my classics list! When I get to the point when I'm ready to reread Lolita, I will absolutely check out the audio. I bet it's fantastic. I, too, just got Three Men in a Boat out of the library on audio! Martin Jarvis is amazing, isn't he? He does Jekyll & Hyde as well. It seems he's quite versatile!

Amanda
Amanda

My library sadly does not have Martin Jarvis's version of Jekyll & Hyde. :(

Erin
Erin

Aww, boo! :-(