1227117635-librivox_coverLooking for a good audiobook? Free public domain audiobook service LibriVox has been around for some time, and Wired’s John Adamian finds it puts an interesting new spin on audiobook listening. He has written a lengthy profile of the service, its listeners, and its participants.

Because people can rerecord particular works as often as they like, many of the more popular titles on LibriVox have multiple recordings, and Adamian finds that the different recordings are like different interpretations of the book. Each reader puts his own spin on it, and while some may be better than others, they all have something unique to bring to the work.

Listening to a too-fast reader burn through Don Quixote is a little like having a firehose of fine wine blasted at your open mouth: You can hold on to some of the good stuff, but it’s a mess. It’s beer-bonging something meant for sipping and savoring, which isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable in its own rapid-fire way. The original text starts to take on another secondary context, the one mediated by the narrator—the whole thing gets meta real fast. And, particularly when listening to Don Quixote, a book about books and what they do to our heads, it brings to mind a Borgesian hall of mirrors, one where every reading of every book becomes its own individual work of art, one shaped by the collaboration between author and reader.

Adamian notes that there is a long literary tradition of reading works aloud—and, recursively, many of these classic books themselves involve people reading aloud to others.

LibriVox is a great service—we’ve written about it a number of times ourselves. It’s terrific to know that recordings of so many public-domain works are freely available.


  1. Ah, you’ve touched on one of my great loves, all those free audiobooks from Librivox. They make my daily walks more fun. They ease me into dreamland. They even help me do otherwise dull work around the house.

    Even the varying quality of the readers adds interest. Listening to The Riddle of the Sands, I became convinced that, while she spoke well, the reader was not an native English speaker. Then she came to a passage on German and her speed and fluency with that passage told me she was a native German speaker.

    There’s even been some experimentation with getting beyond mere reading. I’ve listened to a couple of books where a group of readers worked together, with a particular person providing the spoken speech of one character and someone else handing the narration.

    As the linked article notes, there are even apps that let you download these audiobooks either directly from Librivox (the iOS Librivox app) or from one of the sites that repackage Librivox audios (the Loyal Books app). That makes downloading and managing them easy.

    Alas, there is a negative. These public domain audiobooks are stuck in the pre-1923 era, rather than advancing as they ought by one year each year. That reminds me, if any reminder is necessary, to continue my boycott of all things Disney, the vile source of that copyright extension. At Disney, greed rules supreme.

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