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6 literary classics you should listen to as audiobooks

These oral readings put a whole new spin on these timeless novels. Award-winning author Mark Haddon shares his favorite audio picks.

These oral readings put a whole new spin on these timeless novels. Award-winning author Mark Haddon shares his favorite audio picks.

Beowulf, translated and read by Seamus Heaney (HighBridge, $25).

That rare thing: A translation of a masterpiece that is also a masterpiece. After listening to it for the first time I decided to listen to it all over again, not least because Heaney's voice is a thing of wonder. I could listen to him reading insurance policies, frankly.

Emma by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos, $64).

Emma Woodhouse is one of the most lovably infuriating heroines in the whole of English literature. And British stage actress Juliet Stevenson is Austen's best reader by a country mile. And George Eliot's best reader. And Virginia Woolf's.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, read by Frank Muller (Recorded Books, $14).

I read it and wasn't seduced; then I listened to it and fell in love. There are longueurs in Melville's novel, but the last third contains passage after passage that rival Shakespeare for sheer poetry. You have to listen to the unabridged version, incidentally. That applies to all of these books. There's a reason why the authors chose to include all of those words.

Paradise Lost by John Milton, read by Anton Lesser and Laura Paton (Naxos, $16).

I was driving regularly between Oxford and London when I listened to this. Those long Latinate sentences with their knotty syntax and their subclauses like Russian nesting dolls require a lot of concentration. On a number of occasions I emerged from the poem to find myself driving at 70 mph on a busy motorway. Glorious. But do listen while walking or sitting.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, read by Glen McCready and Rachel Bavidge (Naxos, $60).

Skulduggery, derring-do, extortion, doppelgangers, sinister secrets, and the obese Count Fosco with his pet mice and canaries. The first detective story, or so they say. Very definitely a fine romp from beginning to end.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens, read by Sean Barrett and Teresa Gallagher (Naxos, $49).

I'm listening to it right now. It is sublime. And Gallagher and Barrett are so good at what Dickens called "doing the Police in different voices" that I feel as if I'm being read to by a cast of hundreds.

Mark Haddon, the award-winning author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, has become a big fan of audiobooks. His new short-story collection, The Pier Falls, will be published this month by Doubleday.

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