Hear Sherlock Holmes Stories Read by The Great Christopher Lee

The extended Sherlock Holmes Universe, as we might call it, has grown so vast in the last century (as with other franchises that have universes) that it’s possible to call oneself a fan without ever having read the source material. Depending on one’s persuasion, this is either heresy or the inevitable outcome of so much mediation by Holmesian high priests, none of whom can resist writing Holmes fan fiction of their own. But Sherlockians agree: the true Holmes Canon (yes, it’s capitalized) consists of only 60 works — 56 short stories and four novels, excluding apocrypha. No more, no less. (And they’re in the public domain!)

The Canon safeguards Arthur Conan Doyle’s work against the extra-voluminous flood of pastichists, parodists, and imposters appearing on the scene since Holmes’ first appearance in 1892. (Doyle personally liked Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie’s Holmes parody, “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators,” so much he included it in his autobiography.) The Holmes Canon remains untouchable for its wit, ingenuity, and the true strangeness of its detective — a portrait of perhaps the most emotionally avoidant protagonist in English literature when we first meet him:

All emotions, and [love] particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.

How to make such a cold fish compelling? With a host of quirks, an ingenious mind, a “Bohemian soul,” some unsavory qualities, and at least one or two human attachments, if you can call them that. Sherlock’s cold, logical exterior masks considerable passion, inspiring fan theories about an ancestral relationship to Star Trek’s Spock.

But of course, we see Holmes almost entirely through the eyes of his sidekick and amanuensis, James Watson, who has his biases. When Holmes stepped out of the stories and into radio and screen adaptations, he became his own man, so to speak — or a series of leading men: Basil Rathbone, John Gielgud, Ian McKellen, Michael Caine, Robert Downey, Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and the late Christopher Lee, who played not one of Doyle’s characters, but four, beginning with his role as Sir Henry Baskerville, with Peter Cushing as Holmes, in a 1959 adaptation.

In 1962, Lee took on the role of Holmes himself in a German-Italian production, Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, an original story based on Doyle’s work. He played Holmes’ smarter but unmotivated older brother, Mycroft, in 1970, then played a much older Holmes twice more in the 90s, pausing along the way for the role of Arnaud, a character in another Doyle adaptation, The Leather Funnel, in 1973 and the narrator of a 1985 Holmes documentary, The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes. In an extraordinary career, Lee became an icon in the worlds of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and Sherlock Holmes, a genre all its own, into which he fit perfectly.

In the videos here, you can hear Lee read four of the last twelve Holmes stories Doyle wrote in the final decade of his life. These were collected in 1927 in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. We begin, at the top, with the very last of the 56 canonical stories, “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.”  Lee may never have played Dr. Watson, but we can imagine him bringing his familiar gravitas to that role, too, as he narrates in his deep mellifluous voice. Find links to 7 more stories from Doyle’s last collection, read by Lee, on Metafilter, and hear him narrate The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes, just below.

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

Hear an Excerpt from the Newly-Released, First Unabridged Audiobook of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake

Need one go so far in digging out strata of meaning? Only if one wishes to; Finnegans Wake is a puzzle, just as a dream is a puzzle, but the puzzle element is less important than the thrust of the narrative and the shadowy majesty of the characters… and when our eyes grow bewildered with strange roots and incredible compounds, why, then we can switch on our ears. It is astonishing how much of the meaning is conveyed through music: the art of dim-sighted Joyce is, like that of Milton, mainly auditory. — Anthony Burgess

Finnegans Wake is not typically one of those books people pretend they have read, and even when they have read James Joyce’s last novel, no one’s likely to bring it up at dinner. It seems like making sense of Joyce’s polyglot prose — full of peculiar coinages and portmanteaus — takes special training and the kind of dedication and natural polymathic talents few readers possess. Critic, composer, linguist, poet, screenwriter, playwright, and novelist Anthony Burgess was one such reader, spending decades studying Joyce and publishing his first book on the Irish writer, Here Comes Everybody, in 1965.

Burgess published two more Joyce books, edited a shorter Finnegans Wake with his own critical commentary, and released documentary films about the novel, a book he made more approachable with his plain-spoken summaries. From the start, in the introduction to his first Joyce book — and against the evidence of most everyone’s experience with Finnegans Wake — Burgess insisted reading Joyce was not a rarified pursuit. “If ever there was a writer for the people,” Burgess argued, “Joyce was that writer.”




What’s important to keep in mind, Burgess emphasizes, even over and above considerations of meaning, is the music of Joyce’s language. One might go so far as to say, the book is nothing but language that must be read aloud, and, critically, sung. “[Joyce’s] writing is not about something,” wrote Samuel Beckett. “It is that something itself… . When the sense is sleep, the words go to sleep… When the sense is dancing the words dance.”

That quote comes from the liner notes of the very first unabridged commercial audiobook recording of Finnegans Wake, read by Irish actor Barry McGovern (handpicked by the Joyce estate), with Marcella Riordan. You can hear an excerpt further up, the first five paragraphs of the book, opening with the famous sentence fragment, “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” Rolling Stone writes:

As it progresses, McGovern expertly navigates seemingly unpronounceable words like “bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk” (which contains 100 characters) and he enunciates every consonant in Joyce’s unusual word inventions like “duskt.”

Yes, in print, it’s daunting stuff, but we should remember that for all Finnegans Wake’s linguistic complexity, its attempts to capture all of human history, its illustrations of the obscure theories of Giambattista Vico and Giordano Bruno and so forth, at its heart, wrote Burgess, is song, which gave the book its title.

“Finnegan’s Wake” is a New York Irish ballad which tells of the death of Tim Finnegan, a builder’s labourer who, fond of the bottle, falls drunk from his ladder… This ballad may be taken as demotic resurrection myth and one can see why, with its core of profundity wrapped round with the language of ordinary people, it appealed so much to Joyce. 

Joyce, the singer and lover of song, heard it everywhere he went, and it’s in every bewildering sentence and paragraph of Finnegans Wake. Hear the entire book, read unabridged for the first time, in the new recording, released on June 16th, Bloomsday, by Naxos Audiobooks. Free alternative versions can be found below…

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

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: A Free Reading by Featuring Neil Gaiman, William Shatner, Susan Orlean & More

Today, the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s birthday. And, to mark the occasion, Neil Gaiman, William Shatner, Susan Orlean & many others will host a reading of Bradbury’s classic book, Fahrenheit 451.

The online special, like the book, is separated into three parts, each introduced by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. The voices of librarians, notable authors, actors, scholars, and students are bookended by the opening and closing readings from Neil Gaiman and William Shatner. The special includes commentary by Ann Druyan, director and co-author of Cosmos, an afterword by Susan Orlean, author of The Library Book, and a special appearance and reading by former NASA astronaut and administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr.

You can watch the videos the reading  the videos above and below. The videos should be available until September 5th.

Part 2

Part 3

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Stream 15 Audio Drama Podcasts & Get Through COVID-19: Features Rami Malek, Catherine Keener, Tim Robbins & More

At my home now, we constantly tell stories: to distract, soothe, entertain—telling and retelling, collaboratively authoring over meals, listening to a ton of story podcasts. These activities took up a good part of the day before all hell broke loose and schools shut down. Now they guide us from morning to night as we try to imagine other worlds, better worlds, than the one we’re living in at present. We are painting on the walls of our cave, so to speak, with brave and fearful images, while outside, confusion sets in.

Lest anyone think this is kid stuff, it most assuredly is not. Narrative coherence seems particularly important for healthy human functioning. We may grow to appreciate greater levels of complexity and moral ambiguity, it’s true. But the desire to experience reality as something with arcs, rather than erratic and disturbing non-sequiturs, remains strong. Experimental fiction proves so unsettling because it defies acceptable notions of cause and consequence.




From the tales told by plague-displaced aristocrats in Boccaccio’s Decameron to the radio dramas that entertained families sheltering in place during the Blitz to our own podcast-saturated coronavirus media landscape…. Stories told well and often have a healing effect on the distressed psyches of those trapped in world-historical dramas. “While stories might not protect you from a virus,” writes Andre Spicer at New Statesman, “they can protect you from the ill feelings which epidemics generate.”

In addition to advice offered throughout history—by many of Boccaccio’s contemporaries, for example, who urged story and song to lift plague-weary spirits—“dozens of studies” by psychologists have shown “the impact storytelling has on our health.” Telling and hearing stories gives us language we may lack to describe experience. We can communicate and analyze painful emotions through metaphors and characterization, rather than too-personal confession. We can experience a sense of kinship with those who have felt similarly.

Perhaps this last function is most important in the midst of catastrophes that isolate people from each other. As reality refuses to conform to a sense of appropriate scope, as cartoonish villains destroy all proportion and probability, empathy fatigue can start to set in. Through the art of storytelling, we might learn we don’t have to share other people’s backgrounds, beliefs, and interests to understand their motivations and care about what happens to them.

We can also learn to start small, with just a few people, instead of the whole world. Short fiction brings unthinkable abstractions—the death tolls in wars and plagues—to a manageable emotional scale. Rather than showing us how we might defeat, avoid, or escape invisible antagonists like viral pandemics, stories illustrate how people can behave well or badly in extreme, inhuman circumstances.

Below, find a series of audio dramas, both fiction and non, in podcast form—many featuring celebrity voices, including Rami Malek, Catherine Keener, Tim Robbins & more—to help you in your journey through our narratively exhausting times. Parents and caregivers likely already find themselves immersed in stories much of the day. Yet adults, whether they’re raising kids or not, need storytime too—maybe especially when the stories we believed about the world stop making sense.

Alice Isn’t DeadAppleSpotifyGoogleWeb Site – A truck driver searches across America for the wife she had long assumed was dead. In the course of her search, she will encounter not-quite-human serial murderers, towns literally lost in time, and a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.

BlackoutAppleSpotifyGoogle – Academy Award winner Rami Malek stars in this apocalyptic thriller as a small-town radio DJ fighting to protect his family and community after the power grid goes down nationwide, upending modern civilization.

LifeAfter/The MessageAppleSpotifyGoogle – The Message and its sequel, LifeAfter, take listeners on journeys to the limits of technology. n The Message, an alien transmission from decades ago becomes an urgent puzzle with life or death consequences. In LifeAfter, Ross, a low level employee at the FBI, spends his days conversing online with his wife Charlie – who died eight months ago. But the technology behind this digital resurrection leads Ross down a dangerous path that threatens his job, his own life, and maybe even the world. Winner of the Cannes Gold Lion.

HomecomingAppleSpotifyGoogle – Homecoming centers on a caseworker at an experimental facility, her ambitious supervisor, and a soldier eager to rejoin civilian life — presented in an enigmatic collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations. Starring Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, David Cross, Amy Sedaris, Michael Cera, Mercedes Ruehl, Alia Shawkat, Chris Gethard, and Spike Jonze.

LimetownAppleSpotifyGoogleWeb Site – The premise: Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. In this podcast, American Public Radio reporter Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?”

MotherhackerAppleSpotifyGoogleWeb Site – The plot: Bridget’s life is a series of dropped calls. With a gift for gab, an ex-husband in rehab, and down to her last dollar, Bridget’s life takes a desperate turn when she starts vishing over the phone for a shady identity theft ring in order to support her family.

Passenger ListAppleSpotifyGoogleWeb Site – Atlantic Flight 702 has disappeared mid-flight between London and New York with 256 passengers on board. Kaitlin Le (Kelly Marie Tran), a college student whose twin brother vanished with the flight, is determined to uncover the truth.

SandraAppleSpotify – Web Site – Co-stars Kristen Wiig, Alia Shawkat, and Ethan Hawke. Here’s the plot: Helen’s always dreamed of ditching her hometown, so when she lands a job at the company that makes Sandra, everyone’s favorite A.I., she figures it’s the next-best thing. But working behind the curtain isn’t quite the escape from reality that Helen expected.

The Angel of VineAppleSpotifyGoogleWeb Site – A present day journalist uncovers the audio tapes of a 1950s private eye who cracked the greatest unsolved murder mystery Hollywood has ever known… and didn’t tell a soul. Starring Joe Manganiello, Alfred Molina, Constance Zimmer, Alan Tudyk, Camilla Luddington, and more.

The Bright SessionsAppleSpotifyGoogleWeb Site – A science fiction podcast that follows a group of therapy patients. But these are not your typical patients – each has a unique supernatural ability. The show documents their struggles and discoveries as well as the motivations of their mysterious therapist, Dr. Bright.

The Orbiting Human CircusAppleSpotifyGoogle – Discover a wondrously surreal world of magic, music, and mystery. This immersive, cinematic audio spectacle follows the adventures of a lonely, stage-struck janitor who is drawn into the larger-than-life universe of the Orbiting Human Circus, a fantastical, wildly popular radio show broadcast from the top of the Eiffel Tower. WNYC Studios presents a special director’s cut of this joyous, moving break from reality. Starring John Cameron Mitchell, Julian Koster, Tim Robbins, Drew Callander, Susannah Flood, and featuring Mandy Patinkin and Charlie Day.

The TruthAppleSpotifyGoogleWeb Site – The Truth makes movies for your ears. They’re short stories that are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always intriguing. Every story is different, but they all take you to unexpected places using only sound. If you’re new, some good starting places are: Silvia’s Blood, That’s Democracy, Moon Graffiti, Tape Delay, or whatever’s most recent. Listening with headphones is encouraged!

The WalkAppleSpotify – “Dystopian thriller, The Walk, is a tale of mistaken identity, terrorism, and a life-or-death mission to walk across Scotland. But the format of this story is — unusual. The Walk is an immersive fiction podcast, and the creators want you to listen to it while walking. It begins with a terrorist attack at a train station; you are the protagonist, known only as Walker, and the police think you’re a member of a shadowy terror group called The Burn.” “Author Naomi Alderman, whose latest novel was a bestseller called The Power, is the creator of The Walk.”

We’re AliveAppleSpotifyGoogle – An award-wining audio drama, originally released in podcast form. Its story follows a large group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse in downtown Los Angeles, California.

Wolf 359AppleSpotifyGoogle – A science fiction podcast created by Gabriel Urbina. Following in the tradition of Golden Age radio dramas, Wolf 359 tells the story of a dysfunctional space station crew orbiting the star Wolf 359 on a deep space survey mission.

These podcasts can be found in the new collection, The 150 Best Podcasts to Enrich Your Mind.

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

Iggy Pop, David Byrne, and More Come Together with Bedtime Stories (For Grownups)

Many friends have expressed a sense of relief that their elderly parents passed before the coronavirus pandemic hit, but I sure wish my stepfather were here to witness Iggy Pop crossing the rainbow bridge with the heartfelt valentine to the late Tromba, the pooch with whom he shared the happiest moments of his life.

Iggy’s paean to his adopted Mexican street dog, who never quite made the adjustment to the New York City canine lifestyle, would have made my stepfather’s grinchy, dog-soft heart grow three sizes, at least.




That level of engagement would have pleased conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, who launched Bedtime Stories under the digital auspices of New York City’s New Museum, asking friends, fellow artists, and favorite performers to contribute brief readings to foment a feeling of togetherness in these isolated times.

It was left to each contributor whether to go with a favorite literary passage or words of their own. As Cattelan told The New York Times:

It would have been quite depressing if all the invited artists and contributors had chosen fairy tales and children stories. We look to artists for their ability to show us the unexpected so I am thankful to all the participants for coming up with some genuinely weird stuff.

Thusfar, artist Raymond Pettibon‘s smutty Batman reverie is as close as Bedtime Stories comes to fairytale.

Which is to say not very close

Artist and musician David Byrne (pictured here at age five) reads from “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” by Milton Rokeach. As part of its series of new digital initiatives, the New Museum presents “Bedtime Stories,” a project initiated by the artist Maurizio Cattelan. Inviting friends and other artists and performers he admires to keep us company, Cattelan imagined “Bedtime Stories” as a way of staying together during these days of isolation. Read more at newmuseum.org. #NewMuseumBedtimeStories @davidbyrneofficial

A post shared by New Museum (@newmuseum) on


Musician David Byrne picked an excerpt from The Three Christs of Ypsilanti by social psychologist Milton Rokeach, who detailed the interactions between three paranoid schizophrenics, each of whom believed himself the Son of God.

Artist Tacita Dean‘s cutting from Thomas Hardy’s poem “An August Midnight” speaks to an experience familiar to many who’ve been isolating solo—an acute willingness to elevate random bugs to the status of companion.

Rashid Johnson‘s choice, Amiri Baraka’s “Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note,” also feels very of the moment:

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way

The ground opens up and envelopes me

Each time I go out to walk the dog

Things have come to that.

Listen to the New Museum’s Bedtime Stories here. A new story will be added every day through the end of June, with a lineup that includes musician Michael Stipe, architect Maya Lin, and artists Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Here latest project is an animation and a series of free downloadable posters, encouraging citizens to wear masks in public and wear them properly. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Audible Providing Free Audio Books to Kids & Teens: Introducing the New Service, Audible Stories

A heads up to all parents, Audible has announced that they’re providing free stories for kids during this period of social distancing, which inevitably means widespread school closures. They write:

For as long as schools are closed, we’re open. Starting today, kids everywhere can instantly stream an incredible collection of stories, including titles across six different languages, that will help them continue dreaming, learning, and just being kids.

All stories are free to stream on your desktop, laptop, phone or tablet.

Explore the collection, select a title and start listening.

It’s that easy.

Winnie the Pooh, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Beatrix Potter–they’re all available as free audio.

You can find more free audio books in our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Free for Audible Subscribers: James Taylor Releases a New Audio Memoir, and Michael Pollan a New Audio Book on Caffeine

This is a very quick FYI for anyone who happens to be an Audible subscriber. If you’re not, you can start a free trial here.

This month, all Audible members can get free access to James Taylor’s new short memoir called Break Shot: My First 21 Years. Read by James Taylor himself, the book revisits the musician’s turbulent childhood and his emergence as an artist. It also features recorded music by the singer-songwriter.

In addition, Michael Pollan has released a new short audiobook, Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World. Read by Pollan, the book (only available in audio format) “takes us on a journey through the history of the drug, which was first discovered in a small part of East Africa and within a century became an addiction affecting most of the human species.”

Both books are part of the Audible Originals program. So if you download them, you won’t be using any of your monthly credits. They are free bonus material.

And now for an extra bonus:  You can listen to Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Matthew Rhys, Maura Tierney and others read “The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture.” It’s free for all–whether you’re an Audible subscriber or not.

To sign up for an Audible free trial, click here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save Available as a Free AudioBook and eBook: Features Narrations by Paul Simon, Kristen Bell & Stephen Fry

In 2009, Princeton philosopher Peter Singer published his practical handbook/manifesto The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty. Bill and Melinda Gates called it “a persuasive and inspiring work that will change the way you think about philanthropy”–a book that “shows us we can make a profound difference in the lives of the world’s poorest.”

Now, on its tenth anniversary, Singer has released an updated version of The Life You Can Save. And he’s made it available as a free ebook, and also as a free audiobook featuring narrations by Kristen Bell, Stephen Fry, Paul Simon and Natalia Vodianova, among others. You can get the downloads here.

Singer’s website features a page where you can find the best charities that address global poverty. Each charity has been “rigorously evaluated to help you make the biggest impact per dollar.” If you are looking for an efficient approach, you can also make one single donation to support all of the charities vetted and recommended by Singer’s organization.

The audio version of The Life You Can Save will be added to our meta collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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