The Readings of Elizabeth Klett
December 4, 2013 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Librivox, the grand repository for free recordings of public domain literature, hosts quite a few fine readers. I'm partial to the Dickens interpretations of Czechchris and Mil Nicholson, and I've warmed to Chiquito Crasto's judicious renditions of classic ghost stories. But for my money, the best reader on Librivox is Elizabeth Klett, a trained actor and English professor whose many recordings unite range and insight.

Klett's solo readings include Joyce's The Dead; Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey; le Fanu's Carmilla and The Room in the Dragon Volant; Shakespeare's sonnets; James' The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady, and What Maisie Knew; Nella Larsen's Passing; and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.
posted by Iridic (34 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
I love the idea of Librivox, but I wound up disliking it in practice because of the long introduction at the beginning of every chapter. I only tried one book, though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:04 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would use Librivox more if there were a rating assigned to readers though I appreciate that would likely result in a huge drop-off in contributions. I spent a fair bit of time downloading works of Shakespeare only to find people who seemed to be contributing as practice either in public speaking or learning English. I'm all for it, but I'd like a way to filter that stuff out. Someone build me a 3rd party site for this (or, I suppose I could simply Google for things like this).
posted by yerfatma at 10:12 AM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ruth Goldin is also amazing. Try her "Wuthering Heights."
posted by Infinity_8 at 10:18 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kara Shallenberg's voice makes me go all weak in the knees. Her reading of "Our Island Story" is wonderful.

My 10-year-old daughter's 30GB iPod is chock full of Librivox recordings. She LOOOOVES them.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:24 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding the idea of putting reader-ratings on Librivox. I don't have time right now to dig up a link to the specific recording, but I recall downloading one of their versions of "A Princess of Mars" some time ago. The reader had apparently decided that since John Carter was a Confederate officer from Virginia, then he must sound exactly like Blanche DuBois. I don't know if it was a sincere attempt at authenticity or just straight-up trollin'.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:35 AM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

My 10-year-old daughter's 30GB iPod is chock full of Librivox recordings. She LOOOOVES them.

Fascinating! What are her recommendations, and how does she find the stories/renditions she enjoys?
posted by filthy light thief at 10:38 AM on December 4, 2013

Here's the Librivox wiki page for recommended listening lists, as mentioned in this Librivox blog post.

Here's another blogger's list of favorite readers, with additional suggestions from the comments.

Here's a Librarything thread on Librivox, with various users giving their recommendations and ratings of various readings/readers.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:41 AM on December 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

Oh are we recommending Librivox recordings? Because Andy Minter's Prisoner of Zenda.
posted by Erasmouse at 10:45 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I listened to someone reading TS Eliot's The Waste Land via Librivox and it was laugh-out-loud just wrong. Like that portrait of Jesus restoration. So I am glad for this thread, because obviously Librivox is a great idea which needs better implementation.
posted by chavenet at 10:57 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

On a related note, I'd love to shout out Kate Baker at Clarkesworld. Her voice is incredible. And she's read some incredible stories from both up and coming scifi/fantasy authors like E. Lily Yu* and slightly more established authors like George R. R. Martin.

Kate Baker does have the occasionally long winded intro, but wait till the stories start. Her voice, with a well written story, is like gold pressed latinum.

*The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees is SO GOOD
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:01 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I listened to someone reading TS Eliot's The Waste Land via Librivox and it was laugh-out-loud just wrong.

Yes, there are actually multiple readings of Wuthering Heights. One by Ruth Goldin, and one by the community. The community reading was nearly enough to put me off of Librivox, and would have if I hadn't already had positive experiences there. One chapter in particular humbled me, as I usually pride myself on being able to penetrate impenetrable accents. Add to her thick (Hindu?) accent an attempt to replicate Joseph's Yorkshire accent and it was really quite astounding.
posted by Infinity_8 at 11:39 AM on December 4, 2013

I'll see your Elizabeth Kett, and raise you Mark Smith of Simpsonville, South Carolina.

I'm halfway through his reading of Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island
posted by thisisdrew at 11:57 AM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think I attempted to listen to Dracula on here, and was like, "Fuck this," and just read the damn book. It wound up being a blessing because I kind of liked how it was written.

mb is no Keanu Reeves, that's for sure.
posted by Redfield at 12:16 PM on December 4, 2013

The community reading was nearly enough to put me off of Librivox...

I've yet to find a Librivox collaborative drama I can wholly enjoy. The clashes of acting styles, mic techniques, and room tones always throw me. Has anyone had better luck hunting out a decent Shakespeare adaptation?
posted by Iridic at 12:49 PM on December 4, 2013

This is very timely (for me) and interesting because I just started with LibriVox about 6 months ago and was not aware of the good narrators mentioned in the OP, except one. The narrators I have experienced so far have been mixed, let's say. I have listened to several of Mil Nicholson's Dickens readings and she is very good in some ways - the way she does Flora Finching in Little Dorritt is laugh-out-loud funny - but it's clear she's an amateur — words mispronounced, wrong words emphasized etc. Still, she's great for a volunteer reader of this sort. I will have to check out some of the other recommended readers.

I'm currently listening to a group effort on Wilkie Collins' Armadale. The reader of the chapter I listened to this morning pronounces the -qu- in conquer as -qu-, among other gaffes. Not to be a total grouch, but why would you volunteer as a narrator if you don't know how to pronounce very common English words?

On the other end of the spectrum, has great professional readers but their pricing is IMHO absurd.
posted by Eyebeams at 12:58 PM on December 4, 2013

The kids enjoyed Zane Grey's "The Last Trail" with appropriate counseling on what updated gender roles are, etc... YMMV.

We really liked Mike Vendetti's voice, he made the long panoramic descriptions of the landscape very interesting.
posted by drowsy at 1:21 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed Beasts, Men and Gods read by Mark Smith.
posted by drowsy at 1:24 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Argh, now I'm nervous about contributing there. I signed up as a reader recently after a few friends recommended it. They do offer some good tips and feedback.

On the other hand, it's nice to have an objective model of what works really, really well. Thanks for these.
posted by mochapickle at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fascinating! What are her recommendations, and how does she find the stories/renditions she enjoys?

Our Island Story Part 1
Our Island Story Part 2
Poems Every Child Should Know
All of the "Oz" Books

My wife homeschools all three of our kids (12,10,7) and uses a lot of classic literature like "Treasure Island", "Pinocchio", "Peter Pan" and so on. After reading one of these books for school, my daughter will often ask to have them on her iPod. It took HOURS to get all of the "Oz" books onto her iPod, but it is so worth it to see my little pre-teen hanging around the house and enjoying audio versions of classic books.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:52 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tried Librivox for 3-4 books and did not enjoy it. Sounds like I should follow the pointers above to find the good voice talent. For me, Audible's pricing is worth it, as I can reliably find books I will like without wasting too much time. Come to think of it, Audible's ratings system is probably worth as much to me as their having more modern books than Librivox.
posted by Triplanetary at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2013

This Leaves of Grass sounds pretty good to me. I get clunkers around half the time. That is a godly average for a major league baseball player and a good average for internet content. I don't think I would ever try a Shakespeare play without highly credible references, though.
posted by bukvich at 2:47 PM on December 4, 2013

Erasmouse: Oh are we recommending Librivox recordings? Because Andy Minter's Prisoner of Zenda.

Andy Minter is definitely my favourite Librivox reader. I was surprised to learn he had never done professional voicework. He's got a lovely soothing voice.

I like Librivox and find it a great resource--and free, all free! Amazing. That's not to say I haven't listened to readings that made me stop after five minutes. I simply try another one until I find a reader I like. The "best of" links in this thread are a good place to start. There are a couple of AskMes that give recommendations too.

On the absence of ratings on Librivox:
it’s an extremely central tenet of LibriVox that ALL readers are welcome. As long as they are able to record themselves audibly and stick to the text, it doesn’t matter about age, gender, accent, ability to ‘do voices’ or even whether they understand the book. And the rest of this post is where I contend that this is not only a Good Thing — but essential to LibriVox’s past and future success.
I think the main problem LibriVox has, is around educating its listeners. What many listeners want, I suspect, is completely free access to Audible. They’re frustrated because LibriVox is free-but-different (non-pro. voices, mixed voices in books, non-native voices, etc.) They think that just a few little changes, kicking out the very ‘worst’ readers, would fix things. But it doesn’t work like that. A small barrier to entry, however low, would stop all but the most determined voices (or the most pig-headed readers). And that’s not going to benefit anyone.

As an aside, all LibriVox recordings are public domain. There’s nothing to stop anyone setting up, linking through to the catalogue, or pulling recordings directly from If rating recordings is as essential a part of the listening experience as those who’ve requested the feature over the years tend to claim — it’d be more popular than LV itself – and that’d be fine … we could concentrate on recording and let other people do the thorny decision-making. And of course, the more recordings there are, the more chance there is that some of them ARE “okay”, by the particular standards of any given listener.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:10 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

ooooh thanks for this post - I love librivox, and it is awesome to get particular readers recommended. I actually sometimes like the group readings - it makes me happy to hear all the different accents and voices. It can be a bit distracting at first, but after a few minutes I stop noticing and just pay attention to the book.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:56 PM on December 4, 2013

Last year some time I listened to "3 Men in a Boat" by Jerome K Jerome as a community recording. The first three or four chapters were by Brits or brit colonists and it all more or less fit the narrative, although the changing voices threw me a bit. The next chapter was by a woman from the You Pee in Michigan, and the differnt in accent and intonation about gave me whiplash. I stuck with the book and enjoyed it but the changes made it tough sledding.

there was a single reader version of Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow that was a lot easier going.
posted by hearthpig at 5:40 PM on December 4, 2013

Been a while since I last binged on Librivox recordings but I've got a real soft spot for Martin Gleeson's efforts. The combination of his somewhat David Mitchell-like accent and the peevishness he gives the titular character made Turgenev's Diary Of A Superfluous Man for me. Can take him as a stamp of quality regarding sound, clarity, etc too. Quite a distinctive voice, so I can see how he might be an acquired taste.

Can't think of any other names of the top of my head, although I know there was one British woman who may have already been mentioned with a clear, very slightly casual, engaging delivery that was really listenable. Pretty sure I also heard her reading on the StarShipSofa at some point too. If she had a surname that reminded me of a famous Irish actor I'd remember her.

Will definitely be checking some of the links out anyhow.
posted by comealongpole at 5:48 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kate Baker of Clarkesworld drives me CRAZY with the many mispronounced words and the vocal fry she has sometimes. I know that makes me a small-minded pedant, but seriously: if you're going to read fiction out loud, check your pronunciations. "Mulish" is not a hard word to pronounce correctly. I know a lot of people really like her. I just don't understand why.

Andy Minter of Librivox is wonderful. Lawrence Santoro, who hosts the Tales to Terrify podcast and also reads stories for them occasionally, does a great job too.
posted by Archer25 at 6:27 PM on December 4, 2013

I've listened to over 50 LibriVox books. Some of the best readers IMO, though many more:

David Wales
Bob Neufeld
Lars Rolander
Mark Nelson
Ruth Golding
Tadhg Hynes
Adrian Praetzellis
posted by stbalbach at 9:35 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is so helpful - I *love* the idea of Librivox and have downloaded half a dozen books, but have so far wound up disappointed. A good voice is worth as much as a good book, I think, so these recs give me hope of finding something great there.
posted by abecedarium radiolarium at 6:24 AM on December 5, 2013

Some of the best readers IMO...

Thanks, stbalbach! I particularly like "Bob Neufeld," who is obviously Leonard Nimoy, reading under a pseudonym and with a slight change of register.
posted by Iridic at 8:02 AM on December 5, 2013

Yeah Bob Neufeld is great. His Ethan From is ideal. Apparently he just started reading a solo version of Les Miserables.

If you get a chance try Lars Rolander who has covered much of Nobel winner Selma Lagerlöf who is not widely read in English but is a national figure in Sweden (currency bill). The Treasure or a couple short stories from Invisible Links is a good introduction (I'm partial to "The King's Grave" and "The Outlaws"). Those are all kind of dark Viking pieces, she is probably most famous for The Wonderful Adventures of Nils which is more for kids and people from Sweden, a geography lesson wrapped in a fable.
posted by stbalbach at 1:39 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The recordings are hosted on, where there are reviews and ratings left by listeners. So even though it's a little hidden and under-trafficked, that stuff is (kinda) there.
e.g. Here's a search for Klett within the librivoxaudio collection, sorted by average rating and the number of reviews.

(As far as favourite readers go, I found Stewart Wills' solo reading of Moby-Dick pretty wonderful, and Peter Yearsley's voice nicely suited to some M.R. James.)
posted by seikleja at 1:50 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Wonderful, wonderful post -- thank you so much, OP.

(I'm completely spoiled by Audible and do not at all find their prices too high -- $15 to have Barbara Kingsolver read me The Lacuna? Having her read it, her inflections, her intonations, $50 bucks would be fair, IMO, and a bargain at that. And to listen to Bill Bryson read things he's written? So much fun. I'd love to hear The Book of Ruth read by Jane Hamilton, an all-time favorite book by an all-time favorite author, the reader is adequate but not Jane Hamilton.)

So anyways, i'm not sure I'll ever be able to kick my Audible habit but you've given me pause, not to mention that I will pass this page to my younger brother and his daughter, who do use Librivox a lot.

Grt post -- thx OP.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:19 PM on December 5, 2013

Thanks so much, Iridic and everyone else recommending readers and linking lists here! This is perfectly timely for me, since I've just been seeking around for more great things to listen to besides Night Vale, and this is perfect.
posted by taz at 3:25 AM on December 7, 2013

I'm getting in late on this awesome post but:

I wanted to mention how utterly charmed I am personally by:

the recitations of e. e. cummings' work performed by:

Librivox reader Christina Zhu. Here are some links:

All in green my love went riding

Buffalo Bill’s

i have found what you are like

it may not always be so;and i say

O sweet spontaneous

the sky was

this is the garden: colours come and go

Where’s Madge then


Thy fingers make early flowers of

when life is quite through with
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 11:40 AM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

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