In this age of e-books and Amazon, dense literary behemoths, creepy family memoirs, and harrowing true-life adventure tales, sometimes it’s all you can do not to crawl under the covers and wish that someone would just read to you. And if that regressive fantasy happens to include the soothing voice of a hot celebrity instead of Mama, all the better: This year’s crop of audiobooks features a gaggle of A-list readers voicing fiction classics for charity, plugging their own autobiographies, or simply looking for a way to get a thespian workout between movie projects. Here’s a roundup of the latest:
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
WRITTEN BY Mark Twain
PERFORMED BY Hollywood veteran Paul Newman
DELIVERY Newman’s throaty, gravelly delivery wraps itself snugly around both the Southern-fried twangs of the classic characters and the knowing, demeanor of the narrator.
LISTEN FOR The Oscar-winning actor’s flair for onomatopoeia, with his nuanced rendition of ”Ding-dong, dong, ding-dong, dong!” as he impersonates a steamboat.
THE LOWDOWN Forget those spaghetti sauces — Newman could give Garrison Keillor a run for his microphone as a professional storyteller. GRADE A
WRITTEN BY Janet Fitch
PERFORMED BY Reigning pop-culture media queen Oprah Winfrey
DELIVERY Winfrey’s melodious voice and unhurried delivery are perfect for the darkly lyrical tale of a pensive teenage girl and her incarcerated mother.
LISTEN FOR The gracious Ms. Winfrey shrieking unprintable, expletive-heavy phrases, not to mention racy descriptions of steamy sex.
THE LOWDOWN From breathily sexy to haughty to heartbreakingly innocent, Winfrey displays her acting chops — but her mellifluous tones are more suited to bedtime listening than an all-night road trip.
Cradle and All
WRITTEN BY James Patterson
PERFORMED BY High Art-ist Ally Sheedy and Tony award-winning actor Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd)
DELIVERY While Sheedy’s languid, pouty delivery is fine, Cariou’s deep-voiced rendition of the devil torturing young — and mysteriously pregnant — women is positively terrifying.
LISTEN FOR Stage veteran Cariou’s discomfort at having to utter youthful phrases like ”Smashing Pumpkins” and ”bombed out of his mind.”
THE LOWDOWN The frightful tale is a sure bet for creepy campfire listening — but don’t count on it to help you drift off to dreamland.
WRITTEN BY Michael Ondaatje
PERFORMED BY Eyes Wide Shut‘s flirty hotel bell clerk, Alan Cumming
DELIVERY Alternately prim and passionate, Cumming’s Scottish tones (occasionally accompanied by haunting flute music) are smooth and lilting.
LISTEN FOR The gender-bending Cabaret star’s sly delivery of the line ”Blessed be the scaffolding deep down in the shaft.”
THE LOWDOWN Cumming’s elegantly ironic, wonderfully nuanced reading injects passion into the intricate, cerebral tale about a forensic anthropologist caught in Sri Lanka’s political turmoil.