Audiobooks’ George Guidall Talks About Talking

by Frank Rizzo

The Chosen, a coming-of-age story set in the 1940s, is now playing at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre through Dec. 17. Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok from the novel by Potok, the show centers on two young friends from rival yeshivas — both with demanding fathers — who learn to question their place in a fast-changing world.

I asked one of the show’s stars, George Guidall, what makes an actor right to narrate audiobooks. Guidall should know. After all, his voice is the one you hear on more than 1,300 audiobooks. His narrations of classics such as Crime and Punishment, Frankenstein, The Iliad, Don Quixote and Les Miserables, along with many popular best-sellers, have set a standard for excellence recognized throughout the audiobook industry, winning three “Audies” for best audiobook narrations.

“Not every actor is cut out for narrating a book,” says Guidall, 79. “There are some fine actors who come to the mike and somehow don’t grasp the art of talking to somebody as much as they understand performing for people. There is no secret to it, other than to say it’s not just reading out loud.”

And the appeal of audiobooks?

“There’s a primal need to be told a story,” he says. “We are really wired for this, even before we knew how to read. It’s akin to people in a cave listening to a caveman telling of a hunt when they forgot about their troubles. You transport people in the telling to some other imagined world. I guess I’m a literary hermit crab, finding a home in someone else’s imagined truths.”

His most challenging assignment? “Don Quixote,” he says, which was also one of his favorite books to narrate.

And no, his golden throat is not insured, he says with a laugh. “It would be so phenomenally expensive,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with a steady instrument that has gotten deeper and a bit more gravelly as the years go on. But I do have a lot of cough drops.”