‘Good Omens’ by Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman, read by Martin Jarvis
I love the idea of audiobooks but often struggle to find one I like enough to finish. Good Omens was the first audiobook that I had no trouble sticking to. Neil Gailman and Terry Pratchet’s modern fantasy is comedy gold, thanks to both their witticisms and the sheer absurdity of the plot — the antichrist has been born, the four bikers of apocalypse have arrived, and the angel Aziraphale and the demon Cowley team up to prevent Armageddon. At the same time, the book opens up interesting questions about our perception of religion, with its portrayal of both Hell and Heaven riddled with middle management. Martin Jarvis’ voice acting is stellar, with a bizarre combination of gravitas and fantastic comic timing that really works. If you watched the Good Omens TV series on Amazon Prime last year and loved it, then I would definitely recommend picking up the audiobook and giving it a go.
Grace Horder, Third Year English, St. Anne’s College.
‘A Little History of Philosophy’ by Nigel Warburton, read by Kris Dyer
Always accessible, yet never patronising, Nigel Warburton’s A Little History of Philosophy achieves something I thought impossible from a lay-man’s philosophy book. Warburton summarises the most compelling arguments of all the great Western philosophers, from antiquity to the modern day, without evoking the boredom or confusion typically associated with entry-level philosophy. Each chapter is dedicated to one philosopher, with 40 chapters spanning from Socrates to Kierkegaard to Peter Singer. If I’d seen this contents page in a printed edition, I may have felt too intimidated to continue reading. But as an audiobook, this concise and punchy overview really triumphs. Averaging at 10 minutes each, the chapters are more approachable than they immediately appear, and contain just the right amount of humour and amusing biographical details about these famously idiosyncratic thinkers. The audiobook’s narrator, Kris Dyer, masterfully projects Warburton’s cheerful and relaxed approach to even the most complex of ideas. If, like me, you’ve taken up jogging for the first time, this offers a great alternative to a podcast for accompanying your pavement-pounding. But it works equally well for lazy afternoons, when lockdown has you pondering the BIG questions.
Fliss Miles, Masters in English (650-1550), Balliol College
‘Just William’ by Richmal Crompton, read by Martin Jarvis
The inevitable lockdown induced room-tidy upon which I embarked recently saw the rediscovery of a treasured childhood possession – my CD collection of Martin Jarvis reading Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories. The tales of 11-year-old schoolboy William’s ridiculous antics, are, I think, a welcome escape from the current climate. To dive back into mid-20th century Kent and hear about a band of boys entertaining themselves by playing in woods, putting on plays and generally getting into all sorts of trouble is an appreciated release from an increasingly online and dull existence. Martin Jarvis’ unabridged narration is phenomenal – his distinctive voices for each character are at once exceedingly impressive and consistently hilarious. The lisping-whining voice of entitled child Violet-Elizabeth Bott was a personal highlight. Oh, to live in William’s world, where the most pressing concern is learning how to make the perfect whistle or the latest scheme to source half a crown.
Rachael Moule, Second Year English, Trinity College.
‘Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold’ by Stephen Fry, read by Stephen Fry
A delightfully bizarre blend of the old and the new, with a hint of Fry’s whit and endearing charm thrown in for good measure. If mysterious stories, heroic battles, and fearful creatures get your heart racing that little bit faster (and let’s face it, how wouldn’t they) then this audiobook will be music to your ears. Spoken word is Fry’s great strength, and his witty personality shines through his retelling of these Greek classics, bringing Greek Gods and Goddesses into dialogue with modern day readers all around the globe. He pulls no punches (at one point telling of how the Greek God of War Ares was “monumentally dense”) and this gives his work a brutal, but utterly charming edge. Fry’s moving mission, to keep the beauty of the ancient Greeks alive in the modern day, is an admirable one, and I would urge anyone intrigued by this culture of mystery and wonder to take up his invitation. He will not disappoint.
Harry Twohig, First Year History, Mansfield College
‘A Perfect Sound Whatever’ by James Acaster, read by James Acaster
Basically, James Acaster being as witty and loveable as ever for 6 hours. He talks about 2017, which was an objectively sh*t year for the comic, what with a break-up, his agent quitting and struggles with mental health. His coping strategy was to download as much music as he could from the previous year of 2016, which in his own words was “a mild distraction [which] gradually grew into an obsession that ultimately changed my life”. In total he bought 366 albums from 2016, ranging from mainstream Beyonce’s Lemonade to obscure Ethiopian folk-rock. The breadth of knowledge and insight with which he describes each artist and their album is truly fascinating. The book is emotionally honest, really interesting, but also full of hilarious anecdotes so the narrative never gets too heavy. In my opinion, the book is enhanced in audio format, as James’ reading of his own story is much more funny and real.
Bridget Stuart, Second Year Psychology, St. John’s College
‘The Iliad’ translated by Ian Johnston, read by Anton Lesser
Alright, you caught me – I’m a classics student. But what’s not to love about the tense, vaguely upper-class breathiness of an Anton Lesser narration to one of the greatest works of literature (that no one actually has time to read)? Ian Johnston’s 2000 translation is clean and direct; though it’s not quite as sharp as Stephen Mitchell’s recent abridged version, it’s a perfect way to get into the meat of the story and all its quirks without trying to drag yourself through impenetrable 20th-century prose. Highlights include any time there’s a dramatic speech, the spicy Homeric insults, and Anton Lesser’s emotional delivery of all the sad parts (money back if you don’t get misty-eyed at the end). I’d recommend this one to anyone wanting to break into the classics, who (like me) lacks the actual motivation to sit down and read them. In quarantine, it’s been ideal for dramatic solitary walks in the countryside or for some proper escapism while enjoying the pseudo-Mediterranean sunshine.
Jemima Sinclair, Second Year Classics, New College
‘Call Me by Your Name’ by Andre Aciman, read by Armie Hammer
If any readers have ever done a stint as a retail worker over winter holidays, they will be familiar with the utter lack of festive cheer I experienced on my early commute, alone with my thoughts that ran to the effect of; god this is grim. I wish I was anywhere but on this bus in the West of Scotland. Christmas is cancelled. And so on. But it must be said that, having downloaded my first audiobook to counter-act this, the exquisite summer romance of Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name did a pretty good job of transporting me to the sun-soaked cobbles of Northern Italy instead. I’d always held a vaguelly snobbish prejudice that audiobooks were a soft-touch substitute for the ‘proper’ way to read; on the contrary, oral story-telling proved a gorgeously immersive way to put forward a narrative. Especially for a novel like this which consists of a stream of consciousness of the protagonist, the already powerful depiction of bright and brief first love becomes more immediate and overwhelming. And although certain moments – you know which – were just a bit indecent for public transport, I cannot overstate the restorative properties that come with the experience of Armie Hammer whispering sweet nothings into your ear at the end of a high-stress day.
Jess Curry, Second Year Classics, St. Hugh’s College
‘No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference’ by Greta Thunburg, read by Greta Thunburg
“Our lives are in your hands”. Greta Thunberg sends a bold and unflinching message in her book No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference. Read by the Swedish activist herself, it collates her most poignant speeches from the last two years and is proof that dystopian writing in the 21st century is often non-fiction. Throughout the concise hour-long runtime Thunberg paints a bleak picture of our planet’s future without immediate and all-encompassing measures to counter climate change. With eloquent but angry calls for greater awareness and accountability, you are forced to reflect on your personal role in the impending environmental crisis and what you can do to stop it. Short, powerful and pleading, No One Is Too Small shows the uncomfortable truth about our short-sighted policies and unsustainable lifestyle. Whether climate change denier or Extinction Rebellion member, it is impossible not to be affected by a child’s voice begging for their future.
Lizzie Harvey, History and French, Hertford College