Spoken-word CDs include readings from Joyce, Woolf, Tolkein, and more

Caryn James praises spoken word CDs available from The British Library:

The best of the discs is the “Writers” volume …. the happiest surprise must be Joyce, as cerebral and intimidating a literary genius as the world has ever known, and by all accounts not an easygoing guy. Who would have guessed he’d play a washerwoman so convincingly? He actually becomes two washerwomen with lilting Irish brogues who chat while doing laundry by the river. “Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper!” one says to the other as he reads from the “Anna Livia Plurabelle” section of “Finnegans Wake.” In language that is always lyrical, and usually more complicated than that, his voice flows like the river whose rhythm he said he was imitating.

Virginia Woolf is startling for a different reason. The voice that is so graceful and elegant on the page sounds deep and distressingly like that of an effete schoolmarm.

For the Tolkien fans in your life, “The Spoken Word: Children’s Writers” includes a 1952 recording of the author reading from “The Hobbit”:

he gives the sinister Gollum a hissing, whispery voice, full of sibilant menace, and makes a choking sound as he says of his creature, “He made a horrible swallowing noise in his throat. That is how he got his name, though he always called himself `my precious.'”

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