Horror Legend Boris Karloff Reads Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Premiering in 1966, the How the Grinch Stole Christmas TV special is a perfect (snow?) storm of creative folks working at the top of their game, with Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss providing the original 1956 book on which it's based, Chuck Jones brilliantly interpreting Geisel’s own drawings in his own animated style, and making the Grinch’s long-suffering dog companion Max much more of a moral sidekick. It also gave us several musical numbers written by Albert Hague using Geisel’s lyrics.

And then there’s Boris Karloff, who narrates the special from beginning to end and supplies the Grinch’s voice. The English actor was best known in his early career for portraying Frankenstein’s monster and The Mummy in the original Universal horror movies of the same names (and numerous sequels), and was a go-to character actor to play all sorts of nefarious criminals.

Later he would have a second career capitalizing on his horror pedigree, hosting anthology shows on television, and reading not just tales of Edgar Allan Poe on vinyl, but other not-so-scary children’s lit, like Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Unlike Bela Lugosi, who suffered from being typecast his entire career post-Dracula, Karloff was able to make a good career from that breakthrough performance with good humor.

Karloff's reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is pretty much taken straight from the animated TV special with some judicious editing and no commercials to get in the way. Side note: It is not Karloff but Thurl Ravenscroft singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." He was not credited in the original cartoon and Dr. Seuss profoundly apologized after the fact. The record would go on to earn Karloff a Spoken Word Grammy Award, the only such entertainment award he ever won. You can also listen to it on Spotify below:

If you have been feeling Grinchy in any way as we approach the holiday season, prepare to get your heart melted. This reading will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Bruce Springsteen Narrates Audiobook Version of His New Memoir (and How to Download It for Free)

In September, Bruce Springsteen published his new autobiography, Born to Run. Patiently I've been awaiting the audiobook version, which came out today. And, to my surprise, I discovered that it's narrated by Springsteen himself. All 18 hours of it.

You can hear him read Chapter 41 (called "Hitsville") above. Plus Chapter 53 below. And if you want to hear the whole shebang, you can purchase it online. Or download the audiobook for free by signing up for Audible's 30-day free trial. As I've mentioned before, if you register for Audible's free trial program, they let you download two free audiobooks. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether you want to become an Audible subscriber (as I have) or not. No matter what you decide, you get to keep the two free audiobooks. Springsteen's memoir can be one of them.

Learn more about Audible's free trial program here.

NB: We have a partnership with Audible.com. So, if you give their program a try, it will help support Open Culture.

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Hear 20 Hours of Romantic & Victorian Poetry Read by Ralph Fiennes, Dylan Thomas, James Mason & Many More


By the time William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads in 1798, poets in England had long been celebrities and arbiters of taste in matters political and literary. The seventeenth century, for example, became known as the “Age of Dryden,” for poet and literary critic John Dryden’s tremendous influence. John Milton, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson... these were literary men whose writing vied with the era’s philosophers and advised its nobility and heads of state. By the Romantic period of Wordsworth and Coleridge, no poet held such a position of authority and influence as had those of the previous two centuries.

And yet, we might argue that poetry—and the exalted figure of the poet—became even more sacrosanct and indispensable to British culture throughout the nineteenth century; that poets became, as Percy Shelley wrote in 1821, the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Such a hyperbolic statement may seem to conflict with the aims Wordsworth stated for Romantic poetry in the Lyrical Ballads’ preface: “fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation.” Yet when we think of Romantic poetry, we rarely think of the “real language of men.”

The nineteenth century saw the ascendency of the British Empire to its height during Victoria’s reign. Whether effect or cause of the hubris of the times, both Romantic and Victorian poetry—all the way to the end of Alfred Tennyson’s 12-cycle series Idylls of the King in 1885—gave us mythical epics filled with grandeur of expression and image, and no small amount of bombast. Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (from the Lyrical Ballads) and strange “Kubla Khan” showed the way. Keats tells an outsized tale of the Titans’ fall from Olympus in Hyperion. Shelley gave us the bleak imperial relics of “Ozymandias.”

There were also, of course, the quiet love and nature poems of Wordsworth, Keats, John Clare, and Walter De La Mare, all wonderfully representative of a Romantic pastoral tradition reflecting a nostalgia for a rapidly transforming English countryside. There were the Orientalist poems of exotic wonder, and heroic poems of military valor and revolution. The later nineteenth century revealed even more variety as these strains yielded to greater specialization, and to expanded roles for women poets.

Kipling’s colonialist verses reassured British subjects of their superior status in the scheme of things, and entertained them with fables and morality plays. Oscar Wilde refined the aestheticism of Keats with a decadent eroticism. Brother and sister Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti took the Romantics’ antiquarianism into the territory of medieval and Gothic revival. Husband and wife Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning looked also to the Middle Ages, and to Italy. Swinburne and Tennyson upheld the tradition of the epic, imbuing it with their own strange preoccupations. Gerard Manley Hopkins did things with language never attempted before.

All of these poets appear in the Spotify playlists here, titled “The Romantics” and “The Victorians,” though you’ll notice that these aren’t mutually exclusive categories. Elizabeth Barrett Browning appears in both lists. Tennyson, perhaps the longest-lived and most famous poet of the age, spans almost the entire century.  Keats, whose early tragic death contributed to his rock star status with later readers, died most assuredly a Romantic. But the terms hardly tell us very much by themselves, marking conventional ways of dividing up the literature of the nineteenth century.

What we might notice about the English verse of these two periods on the whole is its tendency toward exaggerated, often florid and overly formal diction and syntax, and its sentimentalism, high seriousness, and decorum. These are qualities we often learn to associate with all poetry, or learn to think of as insincere and pretentious.  In the nearly 20 hours of skilled readings here—including some by famous names like James Mason, Dylan Thomas, John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Boris Karloff, and Ralph Fiennes—we hear a great deal of nuance, subtlety, irony, and beauty. Learning to appreciate the poetic voices of over a century past not only requires familiarity with unusual idioms and ideas; it also requires tuning our ears to very different kinds of English than our own.

Both playlists will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Great 19 Century Poems Read in French: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine & More


Here's how Smithsonian Folkways describes this 1961 album now made available by Spotify. (If you need their free software, download it here):

Paul A. Mankin recites the most famous French poetry from the 19th Century. Gérard de Nerval, Victor Hugo and Alphonse de Lamartine, the main poets from the romantic period are represented, as well as precursors of Symbolism, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé. In addition, the album includes poems written by the tortured Charles Baudelaire and the unclassifiable Arthur Rimbaud.

Note: The image above is of Charles Baudelaire.  This album will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Other albums featuring Mankin's readings can also be found there, including:

  • Multiple Authors - 20th Century French Poetry, Narrated by Paul Mankin - Spotify
  • Multiple Authors - French African Poetry, Read in French by Paul Mankin - Spotify

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If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Download Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as a Free Audiobook (Available for a Limited Time)

When Ralph Ellison published his first novel, Invisible Man, in 1952, it took the literary world by storm. Orville Prescott, a literary critic at The New York Times, wrote in April of '52:

Ralph Ellison's first novel, "The Invisible Man," is the most impressive work of fiction by an American Negro which I have ever read. Unlike Richard Wright and Willard Motley, who achieve their best effects by overpowering their readers with documentary detail, Mr. Ellison is a finished novelist who uses words with great skill, who writes with poetic intensity and immense narrative drive. "Invisible Man" has many flaws. It is a sensational and feverishly emotional book. It will shock and sicken some of its readers. But, whatever the final verdict on "Invisible Man" may be, it does mark the appearance of a richly talented writer.

Invisible Man won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction the following year. And the belief that Ellison wrote something special hasn't diminished since. Case in point: When Modern Library created a list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, they placed Invisible Man at number 19.

As Don Katz tells us above, the book touched him deeply during his college years at NYU. Now the founder and CEO of Audible.com, he's letting you download Invisible Man as a free audiobook. The free download is available at Audible and at Amazon until December 31st. (Audible is an Amazon subsidiary). Please note that you'll need to create an account to get the download. But apparently no payment/credit card info is required.

Separately, I should also mention that Audible offers a free 30-day trial program, where they let you download two professionally-read audiobooks. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether to become an Audible subscriber or not. Either way, you can keep the two free audiobooks. Find more information on that free trial program here.

Again, the links to download Invisible Man are here: Audible - Amazon. And remember, we have more free audiobooks in our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Mostly classics.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Five Short Stories by Leo Tolstoy: A Free AudioBook

tolstoy rules 2

Though known for his long epic novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote short stories too. Below, you can stream readings of five such stories, "The Three Hermits," "Three Deaths," "Albert," "Ernak, and "God Sees the Truth But Waits." They're read by Bart Wolfe, and made freely available on Spotify. (If you need Spotify's software, download it here.) If you want to get it from iTunes, it will run you $6.95.

This three-hour recording will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Meanwhile, if you'd like to download two professionally-read audiobooks from Audible for free, get more information on that here.

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Hear 20 Minutes of Mark Frost’s New Secret History of Twin Peaks, the Book Fans Have Waited 25 Years to Read

We live in a good time to be a Twin Peaks fan. Amid the buzz of a third season of David Lynch and Mark Frost's innovatively surreal primetime drama premiering on Showtime next year, we've enjoyed the emergence of contemporary Twin Peaks-related materials (David Lynch's hand-drawn map of the titular small-town setting, the Japanese coffee commercials he set there) as well as newer Twin Peaks-themed projects from other creators (an Atari game, an elementary school play). And now we can read Frost's novel The Secret History of Twin Peaks, billed by its publisher as "the story millions of fans have been waiting to get their hands on for 25 long years."

The novel's "362 pages cover what happened to some of the people of that iconic fictional town since we last saw them 25 years ago, but the timeline starts as early as the 1800s with the journals of Lewis and Clark," says fan site Welcome to Twin Peaks. It also "also offers a deeper glimpse into the central mystery that was only touched on by the original series, and will include over 100 four-color illustrations and photographs." The nearly ten-hour audiobook version features the voices of original cast members like Michael Horse as Deputy Hawk, Russ Tamblyn as Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, and most Twin Peaks of all, Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper.

In the video and audio clips at the top of the post, you can sample The Secret History of Twin Peaks' audiobook experience and get a sense of how it differs from that of a normal audiobook — and how the text itself differs from that of a standard novel. It takes the form not of a straight-ahead narrative but a thorough FBI dossier, the print version of which Meredith Borders of Birth.Movies.Death. describes as "an attractive multi-media hodgepodge, with Xeroxed manila folders and sticky notes, arrest reports, book covers, photos and sketches and maps and newspaper clippings." The longer excerpt here delves into the story of Josie Packard, the widowed owner of Packard Sawmill and a particularly mysterious character in a cast of mysterious characters. Not to give too much away, but her past involves a fashion empire, a Hong Kong drug triad, and a "legendarily beautiful prostitute."

As always in Twin Peaks, the more you learn, the stranger things get. But a true fan wants just that, and they can have it and then some by picking up their own copy of the book or audiobook, the latter of which they can get for free if they take audiobook provider Audible up on their 30-day trial offer.

via Welcome to Twin Peaks

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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