Friday, February 25, 2011

Most Popular Free Audio Stories

As promised, here's the most popular free audio short stories, as determined by average number of hits.
  1. "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner
  2. "The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane
  3. "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
  4. "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  5. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor
  6. "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury
  7. "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton
  8. "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway
  9. "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain
  10. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" by Bret Harte
Good stories, no doubt, but I suspect that most of these hits are students looking for help on their reading for English class. I'm sure that some of them are just looking for a quick summary of the story to get out of some schoolwork, thereby cheating themselves out of hearing some excellent literature. My hope is that the majority will actually listen to the stories and get a sense of how entertaining a well-written short story can be.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Most Popular Free Audiobooks

I won't be posting a new review this week, since I'm trying to catch up on work after the long Presidents' Day weekend. Instead, I'm posting the Top 10 most popular free audiobook reviews at Free Listens, as determined by the number of page visits. On Thursday or Friday, I'll do the same for short stories.
  1. The Tragedy of MacBeth by William Shakespeare
  2. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
  3. At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
  4. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  5. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  6. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  7. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  8. Jeeves in the Morning by P.G. Woodehouse
  9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  10. King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard 
Click on any of the book titles above to go to my review and download the audiobook.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Awakening of the Negro" by Booker T. Washington

Source:  (mp3)
Length: 24 minutes
Reader: uncredited

The essay: In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois criticizes Booker T. Washington for his emphasis on industrial education to the exclusion of a classical education for the black people. Since I reviewed Du Bois's work earlier this week, I thought I should give Washington a chance to respond here at Free Listens, since I want to be fair.

"Awaking of the Negro" dwells on the same question of education that Du Bois attacks Washington for in his book. Washington argues that a classical education is useless to those in poverty. An industrial education, on the other hand, not only teaches skills that will allow those in need to make money, it also teaches the benefits of using money wisely and the value of hard work. What Du Bois sees as patronizing comes across as practical.

I find Washington's arguments convincing, though his views of the white response to black success seems rather simplistic in retrospect. Du Bois's most convincing criticisms are at Washington's conciliatory views of civil rights, rather than his educational ideas, which still have importance today. Modern students need opportunities to work toward either a traditional college education or a technical college education. My fear for modern education is that in many parts of the country we've emphasized traditional college over getting the type of technical education that Washington advocates.

Rating: 8 / 10

The reader: The uncredited reader here does a good job with the reading. The enunciation is clear, and the pace is moderate. The reader does have a tendency to sound somewhat superior in his delivery, though that tone does fit well with the self-congratulatory message of the article. The recording itself is well-done and clear.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Literary Book Blog Hop

Literary Blog Hop The Literary Book Blog Hop features book bloggers who focus on books with literary merit. Every week a prompt is presented and bloggers answer it, leaving a link to their post at The Blue Bookcase. This week's prompt is:

If you were going off to war (or some other similarly horrific situation) and could only take one book with you, which book would you take and why?

The book I would chose in such a situation would have to satisfy at least two of the following three conditions: 1) it must be funny or uplifting 2) it must be long and 3) it must be something I haven't read before. To satisfy all three qualities, I'd choose something like Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. It's been on my to-read list for a long time. Even though I love Bryson and think he's hilarious, I haven't picked up a copy of this book yet.

Another possibility would be an anthology of short humor writing. I love David Foster Wallace, David Sedaris, P.G. Woodehouse, and Mark Twain. If I could find a good "Best Short Humor of the 20th Century" book, I think this would be a perfect way to get my mind off the horrors of war.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

Source: LibriVox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 7 hours, 59 min

The book: I chose this book as my reading for Black History Month. Du Bois was a civil rights leader and a professor at Atlanta University in the early 20th century. This work, one of his greatest, lays out his views on a wide range of subjects related to racial inequality in the United States, particularly in the South.

The book consists of a series of poetic essays with subjects ranging from a history of the Freedman's Bureau to a biography of Alexander Crummell, a black priest in the Episcopal Church who was rejected by the white church hierarchy and ignored by the black congregations he tried to reach.  Along the way, Du Bois paints a detailed picture of the black community of the late 1800's and early 1900's, arguing that although some of the stereotypes of the Negro have some element of truth, much of the perceived failings are due to the injustice and hopelessness of his condition. As is fitting for a college professor, he spends a good deal of time on education, rejecting Booker T. Washington's view that blacks should confine their studies to an industrial education and instead advocating the addition of a classical education to train leaders and educators.

For me, the book culminates in the thirteenth chapter, "Of the Coming of John," in which Du Bois tells the fictional story of a the life of a black man who gets a college education then returns to his town only to be rejected by both whites and blacks. The story seems to illustrate all the descriptions and arguments from previous chapters. Du Bois's prose here, as in the rest of the book, sings with melody while stating the most ugly truths.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader:  At first, I was a bit thrown off by description "music performed by toriasuncle," but later I realized that each chapter in the print version is introduced by a short musical passage from a Negro spiritual. The music is unobtrusive and is the perfect audio translation for the way it's presented in the book. The reader himself is superb. He reads with a slow, measured cadence, sounding remarkably similar to President Obama's narration of The Audacity of Hope.  When there is dialog or expressions in dialect, he performs an excellent Southern accent, varied for the race and education level of the speaker. There's a bit of background sound, but in an otherwise excellent reading, that's a minor complaint.

(Entered in the Book Review Wednesday contest at Cym Lowell. Follow the link for reviews of other books by various bloggers)

Friday, February 11, 2011

"The Seven of Hearts" by Maurice Leblanc

Source: LibriVox (mp3)
Length: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Reader: Tim Bulkeley

The story: Maurice Leblanc, a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle, created the character of Arsene Lupin, a character as popular in France as Sherlock Holmes is in the English-speaking world. In many ways Lupin is the anti-Holmes: where Holmes is English, analytical, and dedicated to catching criminals, Lupin is French, emotional, and is a criminal himself. Yet like Holmes, Lupin usually ends up on the side of good, stealing from the rich and unscrupulous with a style that is dashing and charming.

In this story, Leblanc, who is both the real-life author and the in-story character chronicalling the exploits of Monsieur Lupin, explains how he first met the Gentleman Thief. The tale, which begins with an unusual robbery and involves a hole-punched seven of hearts as a calling card, is as much a baffling mystery as any of Conan Doyle's creations. When we finally get to meet Lupin, the brains behind all the machinations, we are introduced to one of the great characters of fiction with many more stories to come.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: Bulkeley has a rich, pleasing British accent that gives this reading a sense of style. He performs each character with his or her distinctive voice, even doing a decent falsetto for the lone female character. Bulkeley does stumble a few times and seem caught off guard by the structure of a sentence here and there, but overall, this is an outstanding reading.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Source: Project Gutenberg, courtesy of (high-quality mp3s: parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15)
Length: 3 hours, 45 minutes
Reader: James Telfer

The book: This is my favorite Sherlock Holmes novel, and one of my favorite books of all time. Although I think that usually Holmes shines best in the short stories, this novel is the main exception, where Conan Doyle is able to extend the excitement of the short stories to a longer medium. In a bit of a departure from the usual Holmes stories, Conan Doyle combines a mystery with a seemingly supernatural horror story about the titular Hound, giving the tale an legendary feel.

Though it is the greatest of Holmes's mysteries, the detective is absent for much of the story, allowing Watson's character to take center stage. One of the many reasons I love the new BBC series Sherlock is that it revives Dr. James Watson as the intelligent and brave physician seen here, rather than the bumbling sidekick of many Holmes adaptations. In fact, Steven Moffat, the producer of that series, has hinted that "Adler, Hound, and Reichenbach" would feature in the upcoming season, so here's hoping to see the deadly beast come to screen.

Rating: 10 / 10

The reader: As a mentioned in my review of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and A Study In Scarlet, Telfer is a flawless narrator. His ability to imitate the different British accents, from Devonshire to Oxford, give the characters an added depth that doesn't appear on the printed page. I've linked the high-quality mp3 versions from Project Gutenberg above in parenthesis. I don't recommended the first 15 mp3's from the Gutenberg page nor the free version from, since even though they're the same recording, both are encoded at a low bitrate, leading to poor quality sound.

(Entered in the Book Review Wednesday contest at Cym Lowell. Follow the link for reviews of other books by various bloggers)

Friday, February 4, 2011

"The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant

Source: LibriVox (mp3)
Length: 18 minutes
Reader: Patti Cunningham

The story: In this story, one of Maupassant's most famous, the wife of a lowly clerk dreams of being one of the upper class. She gets her chance to live out this dream, if only temporarily, when her husband procures tickets to a fancy ball. Although she is able to get her husband to pay for a new dress, she has to borrow a diamond necklace from a friend, setting up a tragic misfortune.

Without giving away too much of the plot, I have to say this is one of the greatest examples of irony in a short story. The event she believes will lift her into higher class society has the opposite effect, and her attitudes toward her place in life change. Maupassant presents the characters with enough sympathy to not just be poking fun at them, but instead makes the irony hit home.

Rating: 8 / 10

The reader: Cunningham has an expressive style that brings out the humor and irony of the story. She doesn't try on other voices for the the speaking roles; instead her characters are clearly sketched by the tone and mood of her own voice. There are several other recordings of this story at LibriVox, but out of the three or four I listened to, this one was clearly the best.

(photo by Keven H. Creative Commons by attribution, non-commercial, no derivative works)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

Source: Lit2go (iTunes U link)
Length: Over 30 hours
Reader: Rick Kistner

The book: Set during the exile and return of Napoleon, The Count of Monte Cristo begins with the unjust imprisonment of Edmond Dantes. Dantes eventually escapes prison, and with the help of a massive fortune, becomes the Count of Monte Cristo. With his disguise in place, Dantes proceeds to find those from his former life, rewarding the families of those he loved and punishing those who betrayed him.

What a doorstopper! Reading The Count of Monte Cristo is a massive undertaking but one that is very rewarding. Getting through this novel would be a tedious chore if it weren't that the tale is so full of adventure and intrigue. Knowing a bit about the reign of Napoleon, especially the events of the Hundred Days, will help, since Dumas certainly assumed his audience in the mid 1800s was familiar with their own country's no-so-long ago history. Still, there are so many twists and subplots that it's easy to get lost. You just have to trust in Dumas's storytelling and know that everything will be explained in the end.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: This is an epic undertaking for any reader. Rick Kistner does a pretty good job with it, as usual. There are some audible lip smacks and slight noises, but that's easily overlooked for an unabridged free copy of such a large book read by a single reader. To be honest, I didn't listen to the entire book; I listened to some chapters and read some chapters.

(This review was entered in a contest for Book Review Wednesdays. Follow the link for other book reviews from other blogs.)