Must-Hear Audio Books Narrated by Pop Culture Favorites

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“As a narrator, [Edward] Herrmann has presence, and his rich, patrician voice is unmistakable, but he never upstages the text, instead drawing in the listener with authority and calm assurance. He has a voice we love to listen to,” wrote AudioFile Magazine of the famed character actor who passed away earlier this week. Herrmann’s distinctive tones have elevated the art of the narrator. We’re looking at other famous faces who went behind the scenes to give life to the literature we love.

Edward Herrmann, Life Itself: A Memoir By Roger Ebert

Gilmore Girls star and eerie head vampire in The Lost Boys Edward Herrmann lent his award-winning voice to countless television specials and audio books. The actor gave legendary film critic Roger Ebert his voice back during the writer’s battle with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands, during which he lost the ability to speak for a period of time. Herrmann narrated Ebert’s memoir, Life Itself. The famed critic wrote about Herrmann’s reading with glowing praise:

Edward Herrmann is a pro. He positions the material in the foreground but he never tries to sell it. He brings it into existence clearly, concisely, with flawless control of timing and tone. It doesn’t sound as if he’s “reading.” It sounds like he might have had these memories — as if he’s confiding events and conversations he remembers. He’s friendly, but not like some affable uncle crowding you on the sofa. He doesn’t insist that we listen.

Herrmann discussed his career as an audio book narrator in an interview with AudioFile Magazine: “I love the spoken-word. I love hearing it. The way the words can seduce you.”

Helen Mirren, Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales

“It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller may never die in Africa, that all the children of the world may experience the wonder of books,” wrote Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela in the foreword of 2010 Audi winner Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales. Imparting this rich tradition from every region across the continent required help from multiple narrators, but we’re partial to the silky tones of Helen Mirren’s contribution.

Tim Curry, Taltos

The Tim Curry catalogue of unforgettable characters is massive, but the actor’s sparkling performance as a pink-caped “Grand Wizard” witch in The Worst Witch is Curry at his most fabulously hammy. It seems only natural that Curry would narrate an entry in Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches trilogy, 1994’s Taltos. The wicked glint in his voice is perfect for Rice’s gothic tale of sex-crazed creatures and family secrets.

Gillian Anderson, Switch Bitch

Famous for his unconventional children’s stories, Roald Dahl also wrote a few naughty, adult tales — as in the 1974 short story collection Switch Bitch. The works were first published in Playboy during the ‘60s. Gillian Anderson’s breathy vocals and reputation for dark roles brings Dahl’s stories of sexual obsession to life.

Jeremy Irons, Lolita

Fans of the Adrian Lyne-directed adaptation of Nabokov’s Lolita will want to pick up this audio book, featuring the sounds of that film’s Humbert Humbert, the sonorous-voiced Jeremy Irons.

Henry Rollins, The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

“Performed by Henry Rollins, these classics of bullets and bad men demonstrate the superb talent for language and gripping narrative that made Elmore Leonard one of the most acclaimed writers of our time,” promises this 2004 audio book collection of influential novelist Elmore Leonard’s famous ‘50s westerns. The “Dickens of Detroit’s” works have been adapted into many well-known films, including Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. Rollins has the right growl and grit in his voice for Leonard’s straight-shooting style.

Jennifer Connelly, The Sheltering Sky

Playwright Tennessee Williams, in a 1949 review, praised Paul Bowles landmark existential work, The Sheltering Sky:

The surface is enthralling as narrative. It is impressive as writing. But above that surface is the aura that I spoke of, intangible and powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire. And that is the surface of the novel that has filled me with such excitement.

Actress Jennifer Connelly brings that soft lilt of sadness in her voice to the bleak story about a troubled couple from New York City drifting through the North African desert.

Stephen Fry, Winnie-the-Pooh

And the award for the most British of all audio books goes to this charming ensemble reading of Winnie-the-Pooh, which we chose because Stephen Fry’s distinctive murmur can be heard in the role of the honey-loving Pooh. We’re not sure if children can dig it, but adults fond of the former Jeeves should.

Betty White, Here We Go Again: My Life in Television

Listen to the memoirs of one of television’s pioneering women who is still going strong into her 90s. We only wish White was reading the book as Rose from The Golden Girls — minus the never-ending St. Olaf stories.

Reg E. Cathey, Gun Machine

Of course you want to listen to Norman Wilson (Reg E. Cathey) from The Wire read Warren Ellis’s dark crime thriller.