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If you haven’t yet tried audiobooks, this “social distancing” period might be the perfect time to start!  One of the great advantages of an audiobook is that it can become a sort of soundtrack for your chores, exercise, and other activities — something to keep your mind engaged while your hands are occupied.  As a bonus, when cooped up and isolated it can be nice to have a person’s voice in your ear!  If you’ve run through your favorite podcasts, take a look at Librivox for free recordings of the books you’ve always been meaning to read.

Other suggested resources to find audiobooks:

  • Cloud Library – Listen to audiobooks, browse eBooks with your library card from your public librar
  • Hoopla – Borrow audiobooks (plus movies, music, ebooks, comics, and TV shows) after registering via your public library.
  • Internet Archive – Nearly 20,000 free audiobooks from various authors to listen.
  • Libby – Use Libby to borrow and read ebooks and audiobooks from your local public library for free
  • Open Culture – Hundreds of free titles streaming, mp3, iTunes, audible, and more.
  • RBDigital – Register with RBdigital through on your public library’s website to browse audiobooks (plus eBooks and magazines).

Below are a few suggestions; be aware that Librivox can only use public domain works, and so the collection skews towards classics rather than contemporary works.

MiddlemarchBook cover

Often called the greatest novel ever written in the English language!  George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans) was a prolific author, so if you like this check out her other works as well.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery to become one of the foremost public figures of the nineteenth century — his autobiography catapulted him to prominence and has shaped discussions of slavery ever since.  Douglass confirmed the fears of slaveholders who, he recounts, tried to stop him from learning to read and write: he became one of the powerful and persuasive champions for abolition.

Draculabook cover

Bram Stoker’s thriller has lingered in popular culture, directly inspiring or shaping horror stories that followed in books, film, and television.  Go right to the heart of the myth and experience the original for yourself!

Pride and Prejudice

If you haven’t read Jane Austen yet, Pride and Prejudice is the classic place to start: from the satisfaction of a good love story to the pure delight of the narrator’s witty style, here all the joys of reading Austen are on full display.  Her other novels (also highly recommended!) offer more complex pleasures: they are as gorgeous in style, but tend to have less satisfying conclusions — perhaps criticizing, consciously or unconsciously, the idea that marriage should be the goal of a woman’s life and the end of her story.

Moby Dick Book cover

While Herman Melville’s whaling saga is considered one of the greatest American novels, it’s also frequently funny, occasionally uncomfortable, and downright bizarre throughout!  The narrator, Ishmael, is just as eccentric as the rest of the Pequod‘s motley crew; whole chapters are taken up by tangents on cetaeology (the study of whales) and the spiritual significance of the color white.  (Marine biologists, brace yourselves — just about everything Ishmael/Melville thinks he knows about whales is wrong.)

Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift’s satirical travelogue still has the power to amuse, to shock, and even to make us wonder what it means to be human.  Often people associate the novel with the journeys to Lilliput (land of miniature people) and Brobdignag (land of giants), but the novel’s third part contains a hilarious satire of head-in-the-clouds intellectuals in a literal floating city — and the fourth part visits an unsettling world in which hyper-rational horses view humans as livestock or vermin, an experience that breaks Gulliver’s sanity for good.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Get lost in the original detective saga!  Once you’ve experienced Arthur Conan Doyle’s clever tales for yourself, you’ll catch all the subtle references in modern adaptations like the BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch (a solid streaming choice, by the way).

Frankenstein

In the dark and gloomy “Year Without a Summer” in 1816, a group of English writers held an informal scary story competition.  Mary Shelley’s tale of a sewn-together man hounding his creator won, and became one of the most important myths of modern times (as anticipated by her subtitle, “The Modern Prometheus”).

Journal of the Plague Year

If you’re the type of person who gets the urge to watch disaster movies at a time like this, don’t be ashamed — it’s another way to process what’s happening!  Daniel Defoe’s fictional diary of a real epidemic that took place in 1665-6 offers interesting parallels to our contemporary situation, from quarantines and diagnosis issues to the fundamental problem of imagining a threat that’s at once too microscopic and too far-reaching to see.

Anna Karenina

If you’ve got a lot of time at home ahead, why not get lost in an epic novel?  Leo Tolstoy’s tale of a doomed love affair takes place against the backdrop of a modernizing Russia, newly crisscrossed by railroad tracks (no spoilers).  It’s shorter than his gargantuan War and Peace, but should be plenty to keep you occupied!

Librivox logoCandide

“This is the best of all possible worlds, and so everything must be for the best” — by turns hilarious and scathing, Voltaire’s classic satire skewers those who try to explain away the world’s senselessness and suffering as part of some perfect plan.  As Voltaire’s writing points out the glaring flaws of his own eighteenth-century society that the pathologically optimistic Dr. Pangloss tries to ignore, he reminds never to confuse the way things are with the way things ought to be.

See the full list of online resources, such as eBooks, audiobooks, videos, and newspapers.