Tuesday, 8 December 2015

In praise of audiobooks: my favourites from 2015

There are three things I’d like to say to you, three pieces of wisdom I’d like to pass on before I die. Number 1, ride a bicycle. Number 2, original sin – Augustine was right. Number 3, get yourself a subscription to audible.com.

The human voice can be annoying, it can summon armies and bring disaster upon the earth, I know that, but it can also be the friendliest and most consoling thing in the world. For the past few years I’ve taken to filling up the nooks and crannies of my life with audiobooks.

Do you have to commute to work by car? Why are you letting those wisecracking adolescent radio presenters yell at you when you could be charming away the hours with Jane Austen?

Do you have a train to catch? Why are you standing there playing video games like a child when Dostoevsky could be whispering his dreadful secrets in your ears, peeling back the onion layers of every human heart that jostles around you on the carriage?

Is insomnia troubling you again? O my friend, don't lie there in the dark running your tired mind upon the cruel treadmill of grocery lists and budgets and things said and unsaid in last week's committee meeting. The adulterous heart of Madame Bovary is here to take away your cares, and poor Lolita is ready to coax you sweetly into the land of dreams, or at least to keep you innocently entertained till dawn.

Are your children taunting and tormenting one another in the backseat of the car? Why are you blasting their tender spirits with the hot and nihilistic winds of the latest pop songs, why are your offspring subjected to the parade of hourly horrors on the news, when you have Jonathan Stroud and Neil Gaiman right here at your disposal, quite eager to tell their stories and to scare your little treasures into a blessed and salubrious silence? Instead of letting the children wage war against each other, let them bask in all the wholesome blood and glory of Rosemary Sutcliff’s adaptation of the Iliad.

Or perhaps you are one of those people who subscribe to podcasts. I do not reprobate the podcast; I will not pronounce a curse upon it. I heard a good one myself this year. But if you're the kind of person who listens to educational podcasts – I will say nothing of that excitable kindergarten of the mind, the TED Talk – well, I would like to ask you one question: what could you possibly stand to learn from any podcast, from all the podcasts in the world, compared to the intellectual exhilaration of 36 hours of Adam Smith or 10 hours of John Locke or 24 hours – a sacred number – of David Hume?

Are you struggling with your faith? Have you lost your sense of humour? The collected essays of C. S. Lewis will put the spring back in your step. Or if Lewis has made faith seem too easy and too confident, just put your earphones in and let Nietzsche explain a few things to you.

Do you want to know what love is? Plato can show you. Are you intrigued by the darker side of religious experience? Flannery O'Connor has a story to tell. Do you want to know how to win friends and influence people? Tolstoy can help. Do you feel bored and disenchanted with life? Saddle up your donkey and follow Don Quixote and he will show you how to live.

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