By Louise Rachlis
I had no “Great Expectations” but discovering audio books transported me “Far from the Madding Crowd”
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair . . .” I marched in loops around the Canal, over the Pretoria Bridge and the Flora footbridge, my iPhone in my pocket, the earbuds in my ears as the powerful words of A Tale of Two Cities distracted me from the pandemic at hand.
My isolation coping strategy hasn’t been baking, but books. Audio books to be specific. I’ve walked—and sometimes run with audio books—for hundreds of hours.
I’d never been an audio book person; I read pocketbooks while travelling, hard cover books in the bathtub, and e-books in bed. I always considered audio books were for long car trips, and I rarely had any of those.
But suddenly in March, the only break from social isolation was to go for a walk in the neighborhood. And during those walks, I discovered the joy and the distraction of LibriVox audio books. I loved that LibriVox was founded by Montrealer Hugh McGuire in 2005 to provide “Acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.”
All the readers are volunteers, but you wouldn’t know it from many of their professional-sounding voices. Most of the books I listened to were from the 1800s and early 1900s. It was wonderful to go back in time and away from this time. All the passages had lots of repetition, and I could imagine them being read aloud at author readings and in the parlour.
The first book to which I walked was A Tale of Two Cities and I couldn’t get away from Charles Dickens after that. David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nicolby, Great Expectations . . . I couldn’t wait for my walks, and I couldn’t put down my earbuds when I got home. I often sat on the front porch to finish a chapter.
George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Silas Marner, then Edgard Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, and then Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Innocents Abroad.
Because I was so enchanted by their melodious voices, I sometimes searched for books by the readers, not the titles. I googled their names like a groupie: John Greenman, Mark F. Smith, Karen Savage, Mil Nicholson and the spectacular Irish-accented voice of “Tadhg” Hynes. There’s a “thank a reader” section on the LibriVox website, and there are many thank yous for T. Hynes, or a derivative of that, which apologize for mangling his name, which no one including me could figure out how to spell.
The books are read as written, and so language and descriptions can sometimes be offensive. It shows what was thought in those time periods. It says on the LibriVox website, “We acknowledge that some of the information and perspectives presented may be offensive, or even just plain incorrect, but we’re preserving history as presented by people of a specific time period without making judgements or statements about these perspectives.”
There are now more than 14,000 audiobooks on librivox.org so I hope my audio touring will be continuing long after the times of COVID-19.
Next up, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, read by Mark F. Smith…