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:
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.
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?