Hear Neil Gaiman Read A Christmas Carol Just Like Charles Dickens Read It

In Christmases past, we featured Charles Dickens’ hand-edited copy of his beloved 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. He did that hand editing for the purposes of giving public readings, a practice that, in his time, “was considered a desecration of one’s art and a lowering of one’s dignity.” That time, however, has gone, and many of the most prestigious writers alive today take the reading aloud of their own work to the level of art, or at least high entertainment, that Dickens must have suspected one could. Some writers even do a bang-up job of reading other writers’ work: modern master storyteller Neil Gaiman gave us a dose of that when we featured his recitation of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” from memory. Today, however, comes the full meal: Gaiman’s telling of A Christmas Carol straight from that very Dickens-edited reading copy.

Gaiman read to a full house at the New York Public Library, an institution known for its stimulating events, holiday-themed or otherwise. But he didn’t have to hold up the afternoon himself; taking the stage before him, BBC researcher and The Secret Museum author Molly Oldfield talked about her two years spent seeking out fascinating cultural artifacts the world over, including but not limited to the NYPL’s own collection of things Dickensian. You can hear both Oldfield and Gaiman in the recording below. But perhaps the greatest gift of all came in the form of the latter’s attire for his reading: not only did he go fully Victorian, he even went to the length of replicating the 19th-century literary superstar’s own severe hair part and long goatee. And School Library Journal has pictures. The story really gets started around the 11:00 mark. Gaiman’s reading will be added to our list of Free Audio Books. You can find the text of Dickens’ classic here.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in December 2014.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear Moby Dick Read in Its Entirety by Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry, John Waters & Many Others

Moby-Dick is the great American novel. But it is also the great unread American novel. Sprawling, magnificent, deliriously digressive, it stands over and above all other works of fiction, since it is barely a work of fiction itself. Rather, it is an explosive exposition of one man’s investigation into the world of the whale, and the way humans have related to it. Yet it is so much more than that.”

That’s how Plymouth University introduces Herman Melville’s classic tale from 1851. And it’s what set the stage for their web project launched back in 2012. Called The Moby-Dick Big Read, the project featured celebrities and lesser known figures reading all 135 chapters from Moby-Dick — chapters that you can start downloading (as free audio files) on iTunesSoundcloud, RSS Feed, or the Big Read web site itself.

The project started with the first chapters being read by Tilda Swinton (Chapter 1), Captain R.N. Hone (Chapter 2), Nigel Williams (Chapter 3), Caleb Crain (Chapter 4), Musa Okwonga (Chapter 5), and Mary Norris (Chapter 6). John WatersStephen Fry, Simon Callow, Mary Oliver and even Prime Minister David Cameron read later ones.

If you want to read the novel as you go along, find the text over at Project Gutenberg.

Tilda Swinton’s narration of Chapter 1 appears right below:

An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2012.

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What’s the Best Audio Book You’ve Ever “Read”?

Image by Knopper

We were looking for a good audiobook. So we asked our friends on Twitter for their audiobook recommendations, and recommendations we got. Good ones, and more than a few.  So we thought we would share the twitter thread/recommendations with you.

I, Claudius narrated by Nelson Runger; Lolita read by Jeremy Irons; Last Chance Texaco by Rickie Lee Jones; The Iliad as read by Alfred Molina; The Odyssey read by Ian McKellen; Anna Karenina narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the list goes on.

If you find any titles you like, you can always sign up for a free trial with Audible.com.

Please feel free to add any of your own favorites to the comments section below. Enjoy…

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Hear Benedict Cumberbatch Reading Letters by Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Turing, Sol LeWitt, and Others https://www.openculture.com/2022/01/hear-benedict-cumberbatch-reading-letters-by-kurt-vonnegut-alan-turing-sol-lewitt-and-others.html

Hear Aldous Huxley Narrate His Dystopian Masterpiece, Brave New World

The CBS Radio Workshop was an “experimental dramatic radio anthology series” that aired between 1956 and 1957. And it started with style–with a dramatized adaptation of Brave New World, narrated by Aldous Huxley himself. The broadcast aired on January 27 and February 3 1956.  The remaining 84 programs in the CBS Radio Workshop series drew on the work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, James Thurber, H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Robert Heinlein, Eugene O’Neil, Balzac, Carl Sandburg, and so many more. You can hear many of those episodes online here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, 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. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

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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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If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, 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. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

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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

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