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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
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What makes King on audio special? Why bother, in other words, if you’ve already read the books? Listen, because King is a strong believer in the format, and he writes books that are meant to be heard. Audio, especially through earphones, sets up a very intimate relationship between story and listener. King knows this, and as a master stylist and storyteller, he provides all the material narrators need to create completely immersive performances. His narrators expertly reflect his voice and intention, establishing a creepy sense of foreboding early on and letting it build to an almost unbearable intensity. They vividly realize his iconic characters and conjure up his unsettling settings. King’s craftsmanship enables his narrators to hold listeners in their thrall, involving them in King’s words and stories.
There are unabridged recordings of almost all King’s titles, beginning in the early 1990s. Over the next 10 years, until his untimely death, Frank Muller was King’s voice, and his recordings remain the gold standard. His dark-tones and precise cadence lent themselves to King’s brooding novels and novellas. Subsequently, award-winning narrators and popular actors—George Guidall, Grover Gardner, Sissy Spacek, Kathy Bates, and Will Patton, among them—have all contributed their talents.
Because King is so prolific and popular, libraries sometimes have to make tough choices in their audio collections. It’s easy to decide to buy new titles as they’re released, but King’s backlist is rich in treasures and shouldn’t be forgotten. Here are suggestions for the best of Stephen King on audio, recordings that belong in all libraries.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. By Stephen King. Read by Stephen King and others.
2015. 19hr. Simon & Schuster Audio, CD, $49.99 (9781442388505).
King has written short stories throughout his career, and this recent title demonstrates his mastery of the art. Two elements set this collection apart. First, carefully chosen narrators perfectly match each piece. For example, Maine humorist Tim Sample’s over-the-top rendition of “Drunken Fireworks,” the epic battle between two families to outdo each other on July 4, is a delight. Second, King reads an introduction to each story, providing backstory and inspiration as well as noting authors who influenced him. This personal touch, shared in his own voice, adds a companionable, confiding note. Though not all horror, the stories are mostly dark, and their range makes the collection a good introduction to King.
Hearts in Atlantis. By Stephen King. Read by Stephen King and William Hurt. 2002. 21hr. Simon & Schuster Audio, DD, $29.95 (9780743563352).
King has read a few of his novels, and listeners either love or hate his performances. With these linked short stories, both sides win. Hurt narrates the initial novella and the last story in an appropriately low-key style that helps underline the lessons learned. Then King reads the middle three, Maine-set tales, with the title story and its first-person narrator especially intimate in the author’s own voice. Coming-of-age, Vietnam, and the post-Vietnam era drive these intense and compelling character studies with just a touch of the supernatural.
IT. By Stephen King. Read by Steven Weber. 2016. 45hrs. Simon & Schuster Audio, DD, $29.95 (9781508217114).
This is the longest recording of the group, but even at 45 hours, it’s worth the investment of time, as it’s a near-perfect horror novel in print and on audio. Memories and flashbacks propel the story of seven friends who first encounter a manifestation of evil in their small Maine town as children and then again when they return home 27 years later. Weber seductively lures listeners into the tale, taking them on a hair-raising ride. It’s pure horror and rich in the popular-culture references that fill King’s books.
The Mist. By Stephen King. Read by Will Patton. 2017. 5.5hrs. Simon & Schuster Audio, DD, $17.99 (9781508245360).
An earlier, abridged radio dramatization of this title, with theatrical sound effects to amp up the tension, attests to its power to terrify. In this newer, unabridged version, the story builds more slowly but inexorably as a mysterious, sinister mist descends on a Maine community and destroys all it encounters. Patton, surely Frank Muller’s successor as the premier interpreter of King’s work, reads in a quiet yet compelling voice that thrusts listeners into a nightmare that menaces physically as well as psychologically. The result is frankly as chilling as the electronically enhanced version.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. By Stephen King. Read by the author. 2001. 8hr. DD, $20.95 (9780743563376).
It’s hard to resist this very personal and practical guide to King the person and the writer, especially in King’s heartfelt performance. Both a useful guide for writers and a powerful account of a man nearly destroyed by his personal demons yet saved by his art, the book and performance are earnest, evangelistic, and riveting. This should be required listening for teens and anyone who appreciates fine storytelling and its genesis.
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. By Stephen King. Read by Frank Muller. 2016. 4hrs. Simon & Schuster Audio, CD, $14.99 (9781508218531).
Listeners might try any of Muller’s narrations to appreciate his skill—his ability to build the intensity of the story, fully realize characters, and capture the brooding atmosphere that typifies King’s writing. This performance, however, is a master class, as he voices an inmate’s struggle to survive—and escape—prison. Muller’s raw and edgy voice enlivens guards and fellow prisoners and draws listeners into the harsh realities of prison life. His powerful, riveting reading transforms the story, raising it to the sublime.
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