Whilst shareholders in streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime would probably be happy if the quarantine stretched on into 2025; if you’re getting headaches from all the constant screen time, then perhaps it’s time to give your eyes a rest and enjoy some of the best audiobooks, podcasts, live music and comedy to be found on the digital airways.
For the voracious listener, finding out about LibriVox is like discovering the keys to the kingdom on a side table. LibriVox is like Audible, the audiobook service owned by Amazon, except that every book is made for free by volunteers, and every book was published before 1923. A legion of volunteer readers, from professional stage actors to people practicing reading English as a second language, patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, inch through thousands of texts, posting the end results for free. The most popular audiobooks on LibriVox (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Moby-Dick, and Pride and Prejudice) have been downloaded or streamed more than 2 million times. Since LibriVox started in 2005, over 8,000 texts have been recorded, edited and posted to the site by over 6,000 readers. Other volunteers work on editing the audio files and checking for accuracy with a real sense of DIY enthusiasm that recalls the internet’s utopian beginnings. There is no system of ranking, so obviously the quality of the readings varies wildly but this just adds to the punky fun of the service.
The Death Of Bunny Monroe
Whilst generally works of fiction written by even the most lyrical rockstars should be approached like an unexploded bomb (have you read Bob Dylan’s stream of consciousness novella Tarantula? Don’t) all rules have their exceptions. Nick Cave is something of a renaissance man in this regard, having written multiple award-winning films and novels alongside his more well-known musical endeavours. As a novel The Death Of Bunny Monroe is a darkly cracked yet scabrously funny story of a serial cheater taking to the road with his prepubescent son after the suicide of their respective wife and mother. What sets this author-narrated audiobook apart is that Cave and his frequent musical collaborator Warren Ellis’s astonishingly tactile soundtrack cocoons the story like a spider in a web, with the hissing throbbing score working its way into the spaces between Cave’s words in a way that makes the written text seem pallid by comparison. More of a full audio-experience than a simple reading, The Death of Bunny Monroe points to a path less travelled that other audiobooks could learn from.
Stay at Home Festival
When podcasts first started to gain serious mainstream acceptance it didn’t take long for comedians to see the enormous potential the new medium represented in allowing them to reach an appreciative global audience. Personal podcasts have made household names out of innumerable comedians, and now that stages have been shuttered across the nation some of those comics are giving back. The free to listen Stay at Home festival is live streaming as frequently as twice a day presenting mixed-bill comedy nights and conversations all without anyone leaving their home. There are plenty of options for listeners to donate to the performers to support their livelihoods at a time when the events industry has effectively ceased to exist.
Blurring the line between audiobook and podcast is Limetown, a historical deepdive into the history of the infamous Limetown disappearance of 2004. The podcast manages to successfully replicate the true crime interview style of heavy-hitters like Serial that it takes some listeners a few episodes and some exploratory googling to realise that Limetown is purely fictional. Even knowing the conceit it’s hard not to be drawn into Limetown’s excellently realised world. As the story develops and a legitimate sense of threat develops, the non-fictional format can’t help but bring you ever more involved with the story and afraid for its protagonists. Combining the pleasures of a really thorough documentary with the high-wire suspense of a psychological thriller, Limetown is its own hybrid delight.
With live music banned for the foreseeable future, vast numbers of professional musicians are looking at uncertain futures and unpayable bills, whilst kindhearted fans are bereft without any idea of how to support their musical heroes. Stageit, a virtual concert experience that sees bands play ‘virtual gigs’ to be streamed both for free and with paid tickets is one potential solution. Encouraging fans to turn up their sound systems and gather around screens might be a shift in gears for lovers of the live experience, but the upsurge in interest begs the question of whether virtual gigs might become more and more common in our coronavirus free future. In any case, considering all the money you’ll be saving on overpriced drinks in cavernous venues with awful acoustics, perhaps your living room might actually be an improvement?