Monday 7 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

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.


Jason Goroncy said...

Sure, and don't forget about LibriVox. Yes, 'the human voice can be annoying', and LibriVox has its share of such voices, but it's a fantastic resource. Indeed, many labours of love are.

Ben Myers said...

Yeah I've posted before on LibriVox and I appreciate their volunteer spirit. Years ago I listened to every last minute of their recording of the City of God - a massive labour of love if ever there was one. Still, once you get a taste for the high quality available on Audible, it's hard to go back to the LibriVox freebies. Why would you get your bedtime stories for free when you can pay 10 bucks to have Colin Firth or Elijah Wood or Kate Winslet read to you?

Some customers are squeamish about Amazon's market dominance, but on the other hand Audible is now keeping a lot of actors gainfully employed. I read somewhere that Audible is currently the biggest employer of actors in New York. So God bless them for that.

Jason Goroncy said...

And don't forget that most local libraries also carry a good range of audiobooks. I'm a big fan of local libraries. Which reminds me, my reserved copy of Winton's 'Island Home', the paper version, is now due for pick up ...

Craig said...

Two words that left me spellbound during my hours and hours on the road as a presbytery worker in Western Victoria. Terry Pratchett.

The Foggy Knitter said...

Agreed, I've been working my way through Timothy West's fantastic readings of Anthony Trollope's novels, he truly brings them to life. The Barchester novels give an interesting impression of 19th Century Christianity and the church in flux. I am going to feel bereft when I finish them.

Unknown said...

I suppose it depends on what you mean by "podcast". I have spent many happy hours listening to Gresham College lectures; indeed I would say that most of my understanding of 20th-century British political history derives from hours listening to the magisterial Vernon Bogdanor. Am currently working my way through a free Yale open course on early Greek history, should be 25 or 30 hours I suppose, and fascinating. Nothing against Audible, of course, but the Internet is full of wonders.

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