Audiobook readers have been thrilling and devastating lit lovers long before the rise of services like Audible. With just one syllable or pregnant pause, an entire book experience can be transformed—for better and for worse. Here, we review our favorite and least-favorite narrators in the hopes of helping you pick your next car-ride earworm. Happy listening!
Music to our ears:
1. Dan Stevens
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In addition to his notable performances on Downton Abbey and Beauty and the Beast, Dan Stevens has also enjoyed an accomplished career as an audiobook narrator, receiving 2 Audie Award nominations for his work in Frankenstein and The Odyssey. It’s not hard to hear why—Stevens’s voice is nothing less than pure, sexy English charm. His debonair intonation makes even the most horrid stories enthralling.
2. Davina Porter
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Porter, a veteran audiobook narrator, has gained many fans for her remarkable reading of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Porter devotes herself fully to the steamy Scottish world she is describing, bringing characters to life with such pinpoint accuracy that you scarcely need to watch the TV show.
3. Marin Ireland
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At first, Marin Ireland does not seem the obvious choice to narrate Beartown, Fredrik Backman’s exploration of small-town machismo gone awry. Yet the Tony-nominated Ireland uses this very unconventionality to her advantage, transforming from sweet teenage girl to obnoxious school bully to grizzled old man with astonishing ease. Just like a cozy small town, Ireland lures you in with her earthy tones—then tears your heart out.
4. Jim Dale
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For thousands of Harry Potter listeners, Jim Dale IS the voice of J.K. Rowling’s saga. While some audiobook aficionados may be partial to Stephen Fry’s own iconic Potter narration, Dale’s spry and enthusiastic embrace of the wizarding world’s sprawling cast will go down in history as one of the all-time greatest audiobook performances.
- Brad Pitt
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Pitt, like other celebrities, has jumped on the audiobook bandwagon. While his narration of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses is far from abominable, some of his stilted line-readings leave something to be desired—especially his attempts at Spanish pronunciation. Keep at it, Brad! Practice makes perfect.
- Stephen King
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Though this maddeningly prolific author is unquestionably a star when it comes to writing, he would probably be wise to stay away from the narration side of things. If you want to listen to King, turn to pros like Craig Weston and not the horror Mainestay (heh-heh) himself.
- Donna Tartt
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Though Tartt used her natural southern drawl to great effect in her narration of True Grit, this asset turns into a drawback in her reading of her own book The Secret History. Her narrator, Richard Papen, hails from California—why does he sound like he’s home on the range? A classic example of an audiobook experience that isn’t necessarily enriched by the input of the author.
- Roy Dotrice
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Ok, we’ll cut the man some slack: narrating George R.R. Martin’s massive A Song of Ice and Fire series would be a grievous undertaking for even the most versatile narrator. Still, more than a few readers have been put off by Dotrice’s shrill approach to voicing the ladies of Westeros. Dotrice has a few voices in his toolbox, and he uses them well. Only problem? Martin’s cast is usually much larger than Dotrice’s range can accommodate.
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