I covered the first six audio books that I listened to here and here.

bleak house title page

Bleak House (1852) was Dickens’ ninth novel and falls just short of being one of his best. There were times while I listened to the audiobook that I thought it might turn out to be his best novel, however I was left disappointed by the concluding quarter or so. It has some classic Dickens themes and motifs, with powerful descriptions of eccentric, poverty stricken characters who live in the backstreets of a perpetually gloomy and foggy London, while others are caught up in complex legal cases that have run for so long that no one remembers what they are about and any money at claim has already been taken up in legal fees. It has one of his great ensemble casts of characters with some of the standouts being Mr. Chadband, the evangelical clergyman; Mr Snagsby, proprietor of a law stationery firm; Miss Flite, an elderly lady who lives in a boarding house and has a cage full of birds that represent various aspects of the convoluted legal cases she follows; and Krook, who runs the boarding house where several of the characters live and who also hoards items such as legal documents and bags of human hair.

As is often the case it is the major, heroic characters who are the least interesting. There are several of them in Bleak House, with the primary ones being Esther Summerson and Ada Clare, two young women who are friends and John Jarndyce, their wealthy and kind guardian. The character I had the biggest problem with was Inspector Bucket, a detective who is portrayed as being infallible in his deductions almost to the point of being telepathic. He really only seems to exist as a plot device to resolve certain mysteries and for me was one of the key factors that spoiled the end of the novel as it descended into predictable melodrama.

There are some wonderful passages of writing in the book, as well as brilliant character descriptions, such as this of the preacher … “Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man with a fat smile and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system. Mrs. Chadband is a stern, severe-looking, silent woman. Mr. Chadband moves softly and cumbrously, not unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright. He is very much embarrassed about the arms, as if they were inconvenient to him and he wanted to grovel, is very much in a perspiration about the head, and never speaks without first putting up his great hand, as delivering a token to his hearers that he is going to edify them.” (ch. 19)

There are more interesting characters than I’ve had time to mention here, such as the scheming young law clerks, and a group of bourgeois women who concern themselves with raising money to carry out good deeds in distant lands. The book has an interesting structure with some chapters narrated by Esther Summerson and others by the standard narrator found in most novels. The reading by Sean Barrett and Teresa Gallagher is excellent, with Teresa Gallagher reading the Esther chapters. The duration is 35 hours.

dombey

Dombey and Son (1846), Dickens’ seventh novel was a real surprise to me. I’m not sure if I’d ever heard of it before I had the idea to listen to all of his novels, and I don’t believe that any of the characters in the book have become well known in the way that many Dickens characters have. Because of this I thought it might not be particularly good, however I found it an excellent novel with some great characters, and it has become one of my favourites of his.

The overall theme of the book is quite grim, being mostly concerned with selfishness and the corrupting role of money in modern life, with none of the characters leading particularly happy or easy lives. Even the title is sombre, as we learn that Dombey is a wealthy, self-centred businessman and the son a sickly, sensitive boy who only exists, in the father’s eyes, to inherit and grow the business. (The full title is “Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son: Wholesale, Retail and for Exportation.”)

Overall, the book is a series of character studies. There isn’t much in the way of complex plot or action, with most of the text being about people as they strategise their way through life. There are those who have money and use it to manipulate others; those who don’t have money but are scheming to get it; and the innocent or naive, who would like to exist outside the money system but end up as victims of it.

Typically, the heroic characters are the least interesting, such as Dombey’s daughter Florence, who is like a female version of Oliver Twist. Fortunately there are plenty of secondary characters who provide some great entertainment. Major Bagstock, (Josh, Joe, J.B., Old Joe) a friend of convenience to Dombey, is one of the great Dickens boors. David Timson’s vocalising of this gruff, conceited character is wonderful – he seems to have decided to have fun with him and go over the top, much as Dickens went over the top in writing the character, where he seemed to believe you couldn’t have too much of a good thing. The Major likes to talk himself up in the third person, regularly coming out with lines such as “’Dombey,’ said the Major, ‘I’m glad to see you. I’m proud to see you. There are not many men in Europe to whom J. Bagstock would say that—for Josh is blunt. Sir: it’s his nature—but Joey B. is proud to see you, Dombey.’ ”

Dombey’s son Paul is a fascinating character, a sickly child who is deeply introspective and troubles his father with philosophical questions about the meaning of money, at one point being described as being “like an old man or a young goblin”. Due to his sickliness he is sent to stay with Mrs. Pipchin, who runs “an infantine Boarding-House of a very select description” and is mourning her late husband who died of a broken heart after losing his money in a failed investment in a Peruvian mine. “This celebrated Mrs Pipchin was a marvellous ill-favoured, ill-conditioned old lady, of a stooping figure, with a mottled face, like bad marble, a hook nose, and a hard grey eye, that looked as if it might have been hammered at on an anvil without sustaining any injury.”

The old sailor Captain Cuttle worried me at first as being a cliche pirate “ahoy me hearties” type, but ends up being a complex and delightful character who lives in fear of his Scottish landlady Mrs MacStinger.

The novel has one of Dickens’ great female characters in Edith Granger, who marries Dombey after being essentially pimped out to him by her mother, Mrs Skewton. The descriptive passages around this “courtship” are almost Hogarthian in revealing the naked cynicism behind this type of arranged marriage. It is similar to the scenario in Our Mutual Friend where Alfred and Sophronia Lammle marry each other for money, only to discover that both are penniless and were putting on a front to trap the other.

James Carker is a great villian, comparable to Uriah Heep, acting humble to his employer Dombey, as he seethes with resentment and plots his own fortune.

There is an interesting passage early in the book where Mr Dombey seeks to interview a wet nurse for his newly born son and interviews a woman named Polly Toodle. He tells her that if she wants the job she will have to change her name to Richards as he doesn’t want anyone with such a silly name working in his house. I interpreted this as another Dickens joke about some of his outrageous character names, similar to the passage in Oliver Twist describing how Mr Bumble named him. “‘My good woman,’ said Mr Dombey, turning round in his easy chair, as one piece, and not as a man with limbs and joints, ‘I understand you are poor, and wish to earn money by nursing the little boy, my son, who has been so prematurely deprived of what can never be replaced. I have no objection to your adding to the comforts of your family by that means. So far as I can tell, you seem to be a deserving object. But I must impose one or two conditions on you, before you enter my house in that capacity. While you are here, I must stipulate that you are always known as—say as Richards—an ordinary name, and convenient. Have you any objection to be known as Richards? You had better consult your husband.'”

The listening time is 39 hours and the reading by David Timson is superb, one of the best I’ve listened to.

two cities

A Tale Of Two Cities was Dickens’ twelfth novel, published in 1859. Along with Oliver Twist it is probably one of his best known stories, with some big budget film and TV series having been based on them. I found it to be one of his dullest novels and it was a relief that it was relatively short. It’s a straightforward adventure novel about people doing dangerous things in revolutionary France. There are none of the interesting characters that are found in most of his novels. Most characters in this novel are two dimensional cliches – possibly why Hollywood film makers like it so much. There is none of the humour that makes his other novels so enjoyable, perhaps because he thought of this as being a serious novel. It’s a plot based novel and I feel that intricate plotting was not one of Dickens strengths, with character driven action being more what he was good at. I found it absurd that the main plot device that resolves the story is that two of the major characters look so alike that they are easily mistaken for each other. This happens not once, but twice. The first time is early in the book, presumably to prepare us for what happens at the end. Not only does he use this absurd plot device twice, but he supposedly lifted the idea from an unpublished play by Watts Phillips that he had been shown.

The text has some well known passages such as the famous lines at the start and end about the best and worst of times and ‘tis a far far better thing I do. I particularly like the writing that opens chapter three “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this.”

It’s a decent enough story but far from being one of his best. The best Dickens novels are epic, dense books in which diverse characters interact with each other, without the need for major events driving the action. The reading by Anton Lesser is good and runs for 14 hours.

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Following on from an earlier post, this summary is of the next three Charles Dickens novels I’ve listened to as audio books in my car. The selection wasn’t deliberate, however, as the titles reveal, each novel has a male character as the main protagonist. In listening order the books were David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

I’m enjoying the experience of listening to the novels and have started to think of it as being like storytime for adults. Adding to the enjoyment is the quality of narration – all of the readers are English, which makes sense for Dickens, however they all seem to have been classically trained and have a good feel for rhythm and pacing, as well as a wide range of accents and character voices. It’s impressive to hear a male narrator carry off a convincing female voice, and also hear how they can switch from one character to another, along with the narrator’s voice, during passages of conversation. The readers of these three books were Ralph Cosham, Alex Jennings and Martin Jarvis. A quick search reveals that Alex Jennings has appeared on stage with the Royal National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, along with many film and TV roles. Martin Jarvis trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. As well as stage appearances he has also performed in TV roles, including Uriah Heep in a 1974 BBC version of David Copperfield. In other words these are readers with highly developed skills and I am appreciative of this.

One interesting aspect of car listening is how the story gets broken up. I’m in my car most days, probably averaging a couple of twenty minute drives. So on a short drive I only hear a short amount, perhaps only part of a chapter, whereas on long drives of an hour or more I can consume large portions of the novel. This is different to the experience of reading a book, which is almost always done at home where I will tend to read the same amount each day. Generally speaking, it takes about three weeks to listen to a Dickens novel, with most of them averaging about thirty hours.

copperfield micawber

David Copperfield (1850) was Dickens’ 8th novel and one of his best known due to prominent characters such as Mr. Micawber and Uriah Heep. Overall it’s an excellent story, worthy of its high status, although somewhat marred by a few dull segments. It is regarded as the most autobiographical of Dickens’ novels as the title character suffers early hardship followed by literary success as a young man. The suffering inflicted on the young David is heart-rending – after the death of his father he has a happy childhood for several years until his mother remarries the truly evil Mr Murdstone, who brings his complicit sister to live with them. Under the guise of strict Christianity they break his mothers spirit and ill-treat David with both physical punishment and psychological cruelty. After his mother’s death he is sent to London to work in a factory and fend for himself, an occurrence that might seem unbelievable if it wasn’t for the fact that this actually happened to Dickens at the age of twelve, and no doubt tens of thousands of other children in that era. From this he escapes with an epic walk of several days, (something that Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby also do), penniless and hungry, to seek help from his only relative, an eccentric aunt whom it had previously been hinted was not fond of him, but turns out to be a great help and protector to him. This is a common device with Dickens – a character is introduced to the story as a likely opponent to the main character, only to end up becoming a firm ally. From here things look up for David as he starts to make his way in the world, although there are various difficulties to be faced.

There are some parts of the story that might have been thrilling in the 1850s but act as a drag on the narrative to a modern reader. Most of this revolves around the simple fishing folk that David befriends in Yarmouth. One of the great scandals of the book is when Little Emily, one of the fishing family, abandons her betrothed to run away with Steerforth, David’s aristocratic bounder friend. There is much discussion of the shame she has brought on the family, and endless melodrama surrounding her distraught uncle who devotes his life to finding and redeeming her. The moral is that she fell due to pride, not being content with her place living in a shack on the beach. Her intended husband is a simple-minded oaf with whom she would have lead a dull, constricted life. These many chapters struck a false note with me as I was cheering on Little Emily for trying to have an enjoyable life. The other dull section concerns David’s first wife, who is written as lacking any depth of character. It becomes clear that David is intended for someone else, necessitating the removal of his wife via a lingering and melodramatic wasting illness. These aspects don’t spoil the book, merely make it less than thoroughly enjoyable. At its best it is Dickens at his finest, with characters that are complex, believable and surprising. There are enjoyable eccentrics such as Mr Dick and Mr Micawber, and good villains in Uriah Heep, Mr Creakle and the Murdstones.

Oliver_Twist

Oliver Twist (1838) was Dickens second novel, following on from The Pickwick Papers. It could be argued that it was his first proper novel – that is, planned from the outset as a coherent narrative rather than a series of episodes. I was familiar with the story, as no doubt most people are, from having seen the musical film from the 1960s, which I found thrilling as a child. I was surprised at what a disappointment the novel was, with its one-dimensional characters and creaking, full of holes plot. No Dickens novel is completely bad or unreadable, and the best parts of the book are the early chapters that describe the living conditions of the poor and destitute, particularly the brutal conditions in the workhouses and the portrayals of the uncaring minor officials who run these places. Ill-treatment of children was a major theme for Dickens due to events in his own childhood.

Oliver Twist was born in a workhouse to a mother whose name was not known and who died during childbirth. He was named by Mr Bumble, the beadle, who describes his method for naming such children –“And notwithstanding a offered reward of ten pound, which was afterwards increased to twenty pound. Notwithstanding the most superlative, and, I may say, supernat’ral exertions on the part of this parish,’ said Bumble, ‘we have never been able to discover who is his father, or what was his mother’s settlement, name, or condition.’Mrs. Mann raised her hands in astonishment; but added, after a moment’s reflection, ‘How comes he to have any name at all, then?’The beadle drew himself up with great pride, and said, ‘I inwented it.’   ‘You, Mr. Bumble!’    ‘I, Mrs. Mann. We name our fondlings in alphabetical order. The last was a S,—Swubble, I named him. This was a T,—Twist, I named him. The next one comes will be Unwin, and the next Vilkins. I have got names ready made to the end of the alphabet, and all the way through it again, when we come to Z.”Why, you’re quite a literary character, sir!’ said Mrs. Mann. I found this passage interesting, as Dickens is noted for some of the outlandish names he gave to characters, and wondered if perhaps he was commenting on that in this passage – the power the author has to name someone, and the fun that could be had with it.

Due to constant mistreatment Oliver escapes and makes an epic walk to London where he falls in with the well-known gang of criminals. This is where the story goes off the rails with a series of absurd circumstances where Oliver is essentially passed back and forth between the criminal gang and various kind-hearted, wealthy people who want to save him. Towards the end there is a pointless romance between Harry Maylie and Rose that has no relevance to the story but simply seems to have been included because he thought a novel needed a romantic episode. This is written in the worst sort of Victorian purple prose, a device that Dickens often used and which tends to be among the weaker parts of his books.‘The disclosure of to-night,’—Harry began. ‘The disclosure of to-night,’ replied Rose softly, ‘leaves me in the same position, with reference to you, as that in which I stood before.’ ‘You harden your heart against me, Rose,’ urged her lover. ‘Oh Harry, Harry,’ said the young lady, bursting into tears; ‘I wish I could, and spare myself this pain.’ ‘Then why inflict it on yourself?’ said Harry, taking her hand. ‘Think, dear Rose, think what you have heard to-night.’ ‘And what have I heard! What have I heard!’ cried Rose. ‘That a sense of his deep disgrace so worked upon my own father that he shunned all—there, we have said enough, Harry, we have said enough.”Not yet, not yet,’ said the young man, detaining her as she rose. ‘My hopes, my wishes, prospects, feeling: every thought in life except my love for you: have undergone a change. I offer you, now, no distinction among a bustling crowd; no mingling with a world of malice and detraction, where the blood is called into honest cheeks by aught but real disgrace and shame; but a home—a heart and home—yes, dearest Rose, and those, and those alone, are all I have to offer.’

Nicholas_nickleby

Nicholas Nickleby (1839) was Dickens third novel and is vastly better than Oliver Twist. I was amazed at how much better it was and wondered if there was an explanation, as I wouldn’t expect a writer to improve so dramatically from one book to the next. It has a great cast – there are a dozen or so major characters, all of whom are compelling and three-dimensional. Although the book is ostensibly about Nicholas as the hero, I read it as there being two heroes, with his sister Kate the other. They are both typical Dickens heroes – young, basically decent people trying to make their way in the world and dealing with a series of obstacles. The problem with most Dickens heroes is that they are too good – they never have any character flaws. What I found refreshing about Nicholas and Kate is that both have character flaws (such as pride, foolishness and being quick to lose their temper), that sometimes add to their problems, a trait which made them more likeable for me.

It also has two of the great Dickens’ villains – the brutal Wackford Squeers who runs a school for boys where the pupils are exploited and mistreated, and Ralph Nickleby whose evil is worse than most villains as it is his own nephew whose life he seeks to ruin. There are also some great comic characters, such as the bottom dwelling gigolo Mr Mantalini and some of the theatre troupe that Nicholas falls in with. The Mr Mantalini voice characterisation by the narrator Alex Jennings is brilliant, so enjoyable that I looked forward to his regular appearances.

There are a few minor flaws; I found the Cheeryble brothers unlikely, they seem to exist as plot devices to be brought in to help various characters out of difficulties. There are also a couple of problematic romances involving Nicholas and Kate. It’s fairly predictable in a Dickens novel that if a noble young chap meets a beautiful young woman there will be some barriers but eventually they will declare their love and marry, after a lot of florid prose. One amusing episode occurs in chapter 28, where Kate reads part of a popular romance novel to the lady who has employed her. It’s funny to read him sending up one style of romantic narrative when he is also guilty of practising a similarly dull style at times.

It was four in the afternoon—that is, the vulgar afternoon of the sun and the clock—and Mrs. Wititterly reclined, according to custom, on the drawing-room sofa, while Kate read aloud a new novel in three volumes, entitled ‘The Lady Flabella,’ which Alphonse the doubtful had procured from the library that very morning. And it was a production admirably suited to a lady labouring under Mrs. Wititterly’s complaint, seeing that there was not a line in it, from beginning to end, which could, by the most remote contingency, awaken the smallest excitement in any person breathing.  Kate read on. ‘”Cherizette,” said the Lady Flabella, inserting her mouse-like feet in the blue satin slippers, which had unwittingly occasioned the half-playful half-angry altercation between herself and the youthful Colonel Befillaire, in the Duke of Mincefenille’s Salon De Danse on the previous night. “Cherizette, Ma Chere, Donnez-Moi De L’eau-De-Cologne, S’il Vous Plait, Mon Enfant.”  ‘”Mercie—thank you,” said the Lady Flabella, as the lively but devoted Cherizette plentifully besprinkled with the fragrant compound the Lady Flabella’s MOUCHOIR of finest cambric, edged with richest lace, and emblazoned at the four corners with the Flabella crest, and gorgeous heraldic bearings of that noble family. “Mercie—that will do.”  ‘At this instant, while the Lady Flabella yet inhaled that delicious fragrance by holding the mouchoir to her exquisite, but thoughtfully-chiselled nose, the door of the boudoir (artfully concealed by rich hangings of silken damask, the hue of Italy’s firmament) was thrown open, and with noiseless tread two valets-de-chambre, clad in sumptuous liveries of peach-blossom and gold, advanced into the room followed by a page in bas de soie—silk stockings—who, while they remained at some distance making the most graceful obeisances, advanced to the feet of his lovely mistress, and dropping on one knee presented, on a golden salver gorgeously chased, a scented billet.  ‘The Lady Flabella, with an agitation she could not repress, hastily tore off the envelope and broke the scented seal. It was from Befillaire—the young, the slim, the low-voiced—her own Befillaire.’ ‘Oh, charming!’ interrupted Kate’s patroness, who was sometimes taken literary. ‘Poetic, really. Read that description again, Miss Nickleby.’ Kate complied. ‘Sweet, indeed!’ said Mrs. Wititterly, with a sigh. ‘So voluptuous, is it not—so soft?’ ‘Yes, I think it is,’ replied Kate, gently; ‘very soft.’ ‘Close the book, Miss Nickleby,’ said Mrs. Wititterly. ‘I can hear nothing more today; I should be sorry to disturb the impression of that sweet description. Close the book.’

Most Dickens novels end in a predictable fashion, with a revelation concerning aspects of one or more characters, and with the wicked being punished and the good rewarded and living happily thereafter. Nicholas Nickleby has two shocking revelations at the end that took me by surprise and gave a more disturbing and serious conclusion than most of his books. Having listened to or read thirteen of his fifteen novels, I regard Nicholas Nickleby as his best by a fair margin. It has an abundance of the qualities that make Dickens great, and not too much of his weaknesses. The reading by Alex Jennings is superb.

 

 

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In late 2013 I started looking at the audio book sections of my local libraries for stuff to listen to in the car. I’d never really bothered with this section in the past, being someone who reads a lot of books I thought that listening to someone reading aloud would be second best. Perhaps listening to podcasts in the car brought me around to what an efficient use of time it can be. At first I caught up with a few of the classics – The Aeneid, The Odyssey and the Iliad, as recounted here. Early in 2014 I decided to work through all of Charles Dickens’ novels, realising that although he is regarded as one of the great novelists I had only read one of his novels – Great Expectations, and even that was decades ago. Here is a brief summary of my thoughts regarding both the story and the readings of the first three I listened to.

Hard Times – was written in 1854 and like all Dickens’ novels was published in serial form. It was his tenth novel and also the shortest, being about one quarter the length of his major works. The brevity is a weakness as it doesn’t allow for much character development, which is generally one of his strong points. The characters are a bit one-dimensional and when a couple of them undergo major changes in character it does not feel justified (e.g. when the stern, utilitarian father Thomas Gradgrind becomes kind and empathetic towards his daughter.) The plot is also formulaic and predictable – there were no surprises. An enjoyable enough story but far from a great Dickens. Another aspect that Dickens is known for is having outlandish character names that also describe the characters. Hard Times has some excellent names, such as Josiah Bounderby the swaggering industrialist; Mrs Sparsit the unpleasant snob; and Mr. McChoakumchild the teacher at the utilitarian school. The reading by Martin Jarvis is excellent, he has a warm, rich tone that is suited to Dickens, and comes up with a good range of character voices.

Little Dorrit – was Dickens’ eleventh novel, serialised between 1855 and ’57. My library has it as 28 traditional audio CDs with a playing time of 35 hours; I spend about one hour a day in my car so it took about one month to listen to the complete story. It’s an excellent novel with lots of good characters, complex plotting and character development. The storyline is unpredictable, although the ending is somewhat neat and simple. The main theme is money and how people behave in relation to wealth or the lack of it, and how most people want more, even those who are already well off. In a later reversal we see character changes in poor people who come into wealth, and wealthy people who suffer losses and become poor. One of the great plot devices is the family who live in a debtors prison, with the father so hopeless that they stay there for decades, including a daughter who is born in the prison, the Little Dorrit of the title. Compared to Hard Times, the length of the novel allows Dickens to create believable, three dimensional characters whose changes, both subtle and major are credible and well explained. This book has some of his most interesting characters, such as Miss Wade, the bitter and mysterious woman who lures the proud maid Tattycoram away from her employers; Mr Pancks the superficially hard nosed debt collector who reveals his kinder and more complex nature as the story proceeds; and Arthur Clennam the main character who comes from a wealthy background but is conflicted due to his strict religious upbringing and knowledge that the family fortune was built on money lending that often ruined the borrowers. He is in conflict with his tyrannical mother who despises his empathy towards others as a weakness. The reading by Anton Lesser is superb.

Our Mutual Friend – serialised from 1864 to ’65 was Dickens’ last completed novel. The main theme is identity, with many characters pretending to be someone other than they are. In some cases this is part of a confidence trick to swindle money, in others it is done by wealthy characters to see how others will treat them. The novel is also concerned with social standing and how the different levels of society view themselves and others. Unfortunately the book struggles because the two major characters are dull and annoying, while the main plot line is clunky and predictable. Even on first publication the novel was not hugely popular with readers, with sales figures declining over the course of the serialisation. The best characters and storylines are the minor ones, such as Silas Wegg the street hustler with a wooden leg – barely literate, he hires himself out as a book reader to the even more illiterate Noddy Boffin; Bradley Headstone the schoolteacher who simultaneously lusts after and looks down upon Lizzie Hexam, the beautiful daughter of a Thames boatman. The best scene in the book is when he declares his desire for her in the city one night, and his disbelieving rage and despair when she emphatically rejects him. This is far more interesting than the main romance between the vapid John Harmon and the annoying Bella Wilfer. Another superb reading by Anton Lesser.

Library books, Jan 2014

February 26, 2014

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28 items out at the end of January, 26 books and 2 audio books. I’d never really looked at the AV section but recently I had the idea it would be a good idea to listen to audio books in the car, probably inspired by listening to podcasts. I can’t stand listening to the radio anymore – radio in Sydney is awful. Listening to audio books is also quite efficient – some of the readings of classics like The Iliad, Aeneid, Odyssey etc go for ten hours or more, but as I spend approximately one hour a day in my car I can get through one of these epics in a week or two. Sometimes I have already read the book but the live reading gives it a different feeling. I’ve become quite conscious of certain aspects of the readings, such as how the reader handles rhythm and character vocalisation. I prefer the reader to be fairly neutral in tone and consistent in rhythm, and not to go over the top with character voices. One reading of The Iliad I found unlistenable as the narrator performed it like amateur theatre – speeding up and slowing down, raising and lowering his voice, and putting on the most absurd character voices. It is my understanding that the Greek and Roman classics were to be recited with a consistent pace due to the dactylic hexameter structure, leading to the epic feel. Another minor annoyance is when a Greek classic is translated with Roman names for the Gods, e.g. the reading of the Odyssey used Jove rather than Zeuss. The best one I have listened to so far is The Aeneid of Virgil translated by W.F. Jackson Knight and read by Frederick Davidson.