Stay Kulchured!- Tip #1: Audiobooks
You’re stuck in traffic on the way to work. You’ve heard the same five annoying songs on the radio and talk radio just ain’t your thing. Feel like getting a little culture? Why not crack a book? No, don’t start reading behind the wheel- that way lies madness and fender benders. I’m talking about audiobooks.
Some of you may roll your eyes. Back in the day, books-on-tape were sort of the senior citizen special. Times change though, and these days you’d be hard pressed to find geek icons who haven’t spent some time behind the mic, narrating some of the best material out there. Take World War Z for example- one of the most quoted phrases about the film was that it barely resembled the book. Punch in Audible.com and take a look at the description. No Brad Pitt in sight, but what’s that? The book is divided up into narrations by people like Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), Mark Hamill (if you need to know who he is, turn in your geek card now). Hell, they got Martin Scorsese to pop in to play a part.
Pick a particular branch of fandom and you can find some of your favorite stars narrating stories familiar OR fringe. Maybe you dig The Doctor. Aside from the fact that there are a dozen Doctor Who audiobook adventures narrated by David Tennant, the guy clearly has a soft spot in his heart for Cressida Cowell. From How To Train Your Dragon to How to Be A Pirate, you can trust your narrator-he’s The Doctor, after all. And Peter Capaldi, aka the future Doctor himself, seems to have followed suit, recording the narration for The Birds. If you thought Hitchcock’s film was scary enough, imagine a Time Lord telling the tale!
Maybe you’re more of a Star Wars fan. Even if you loathe zombies, check out Hamill go against-type and play a tough-guy soldier who has seen it all in World War Z. If you’ve got some kids in the car, Hamill’s also the narrator of the fantasy series The Spiderwick too. But if you’re dying to hear Mark slip into the Skywalker shoes one more time, a simple search for the NPR Star Wars Radio Dramas will ease your mind. In addition to having an awesome cast (they even got Billy Dee Williams to return as Lando for Empire), the audio dramas even expand on the film by adding deleted scenes. Throw in full John Williams tracks and authentic Star Wars sound effects and it’s like you’re watching the movies. Bonus? No special edition digital tweaking by George Lucas.
Plenty of other Star Wars alums have spent some time playing storyteller, but it doesn’t get much more epic than Samuel L. Jackson. Does his mic come stamped with B.A.M.F. on it? We hope so, because his readings are fantastic. From A Rage in Harlem to The Bible Experience, Sam has shown he doesn’t need to a screen to show you how he’s feeling. Best of all? For less than the price of a case of Coca Cola, you could hear him tell your kids to Go The F*&^ to Sleep. If you haven’t heard it yet, your life is half empty.
Let’s say you’re looking for more of a classic- after all, we’re talking about getting some culture on the commute! If you or someone you know is looking for British charm in your story, how about Benedict Cumberbatch telling the tale of Casanova? That sound you just heard? That was a million fangirls and fanboys around the world squealing in realization.
So you have Khan narrating a lady’s man’s story- there’s a pairing I bet you never saw coming…and some choices that make perfect sense!
Bill Nighy- From chasing Captain Jack to chasing the perfect chords, Nighy is one hell of a good choice to narrate Clapton. Top notch talent speaking for top notch talent.
Anne Hathaway- Considering Princess Diaries was what put her on the map, it’s no surprise the Oscar winner also did the voice work for the series. But how about Anne taking a trip to Oz for a rendition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?
Ralph Fiennes- Voldemort may have had a hard time ganking that Potter punk with the right choice of spell words, but Fiennes has no such trouble with words in his audio work. Check out a Bond-ian double play when he and Dame Judi Dench perform Seven Ages, a collection of poetry.
James Earl Jones- The Bible. We’re pretty sure that if God had to choose a voice, this would be the right one.
Alan Cumming and Tim Curry- So Nightcrawler and Doctor Frank N Furter walk into a recording booth…no, we’re not joking. Their adaptation of Dracula is considered one of the best audio recordings of the last year!
Alfred Molina- Doc Ock steps up to the mic in three particular strong stories that are great for the road. First, he tackled one of the world’s first grand adventure tales, The Iliad before making like a pirate in Treasure Island. But you have to love the idea of Molina examining John, Paul, George and Ringo for The Beatles: The Biography.
Wil Wheaton- The former Star Trek cast member entered the recording booth for Ready Player One audiobook and may have inadvertently made history. After all, in the book, Wil Wheaton is the president of the United States in the future. So if Wheaton were to get elected now, would that mean he got the idea from his past self reading this book? Someone call Doc Brown- we need a paradox pep talk. This video game/pop culture treasure hunt makes for a fun listen, made even more amusing by Wheaton’s delivery.
Feeling like your car ride is taking you to a world that lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge? Well, that sign post up ahead is navigating you to the Twilight Zone radio dramas. Taking the scripts of the classic Serling show and converting them to an audio-only format seems risky. After all, you can’t see what’s happening, and that’s half the fun of Serling’s serial. But when you lasso in people like Lou Diamond Phillips, Adam Baldwin, John Schneider, Adam West and Michael Rooker to lead the charge, it’s a lot easier
But if you’re looking for an all-star cast AND you want to support a good cause WHILE getting some of that all-important kulchure, download Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folk Tales. The proceeds go to Mandela’s Children’s Fund and the Artists for New South Africa. And who did they line up? How about Samuel L. Jackson, Matt Damon, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Rickman, LeVar Buton, Don Cheadle, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Dame Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and Charlize Theron just to name a few? When it’s difficult to find a member of the cast who didn’t win an Oscar or an Emmy, you know you’ve got clout
So that’s it! No more excuses about no time to crack open a book in your spare time. If you’ve got an ipod and a functional email, check out Audible, Amazon and publisher websites to get direct downloads of your favorite titles. Turn off the talk radio, turn on a story and get kulchured!