One of the many pleasures of hearing a children’s author reading his or her own work is their overwhelming lack of vocal sentiment. When my children were young, I always opted for the horse’s mouth, over the more histrionic characterizations of a hired narrator, regardless of what sitcom or Broadway play he or she may have starred in. It might have taken author E.B. White 17 takes to lay down a track for Charlotte’s Web’s titular character’s death scene, but he eventually achieved the healthy remove that lets the listener—not the reader—wallow in the valley of deep emotions.
Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is not a weepie, like White’s best loved work. Instead, it revels in a sort of understated creepiness en route to the horrifically bizarre. It’s a tone his fellow literary celebs are blissfully well equipped to deliver, reading chapters aloud in honor of the book’s 10th anniversary. You can see them read all of the chapters here.
Gaiman himself bookends the proceedings by claiming the first (above) and final chapter. Lucky that. One shudders to think of the myriad ways in which a narrator of cutesier sensibilities could have screwed up phrases like “oompah oompah” and “squidy brown toadstools” (thus blighting the entire book).
I conceive of these readings as a multiple narrator audiobook because the performers are reading, rather than attempting to act out the text in their hands, but really it’s more of a video storytime. Gaiman is definitely on point in front of the camera—his large brown eyes, prominent proboscis and stringy sternocleidomastoid muscles adding to the proceedings.
Sandwiched in between the master’s performances, you will find such luminaries as authors R.L. Stine, John Hodgman, and Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler, framed so that he has no head. Former child star Fairuza Balk would’ve made a gimcrack Coraline back in the day, but her rendition of the book’s penultimate chapter suggests that she’s even better suited to the role of Coraline’s “Other Mother,” or rather her disembodied hand. Bedlam, indeed.
Listen to the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the book in its entirety here.
Should that leave you wanting more, Harper Collins has compiled a stem to stern playlist of Gaiman reading 2008’s The Graveyard Book, culled from various videos of the author on tour. You can watch it above, or find it in our collection, 700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.