As recently as May 2014, Spotify had 40 million users. At his peak popularity, Charles Dickens had an estimated readership of 1.5 million. Obviously, Dickens – and perhaps other writerly types – could use a little streaming-music-style exposure. Literature lovers should stop over at the “Word” section of Spotify, which has all things spoken word, from stand up comedy performances to lectures to audiobooks to the collected works of Dickens and others. Of particular note are the playlists of poets and authors reading their works. You almost feel as though Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, and Allen Ginsburg are on the treadmill, subway seat, sofa, or line at Starbucks next to you, whispering their immortal words in your ears. Of course, as with all things digital, there’s some dross amongst the silver, so here is our guide to the best of Spotify for literary folk.
It takes Allen Ginsberg twenty-one minutes to read “Howl,” the poem that made him briefly a criminal, and forever an icon of the Beat generation. Here you can listen to a live recording: “This seems to be going reasonably well,” he says in the introduction. Along with his poems are more entries from Beat-ania including Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, and Ginsberg’s lover, Peter Orlovsky.
The Jane Austen Collection
Here you’ll find Austen’s novels Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey, as well as poems and letters written by Austen. But the real treat of the collection might be British actor Michael Sheen reading the “I have loved none but you” passage from Persuasion: “I am half agony, half hope.” Full swoon!
The Poetry of Sylvia Plath
When a poet becomes so much larger than life as Plath has, it can be easy to forget that behind the legend there was a real woman, with a real voice. Here she is, patrician, New England, and her tones modulated yet rich with emotion. Her delivery is equal parts rage and relish. Listen and its hard not to be converted to her cause.
The Essential Edgar Allan Poe
While it’s great to hear a writer reading her own work, it can also be instructive to hear the pieces interpreted by various artists. On this playlist, several readers lend their voices to famous Poe poems and stories, including The Fall of the House of Usher, The Telltale Heart, and “Annabel Lee.” Which is the creepiest? You decide.
Charles Dickens’ Classics
Even if you don’t like Dickens – really? Not even Great Expectations? Have you no heart? – you’ll enjoy hearing his stories read by theater royalty including Sir Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton. David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby, and, of course, our boy Pip: all present and accounted for.
The Robert Frost Reading Room
It is delicious to hear Frost’s poems read by the singularly patient, sonorous poet: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” Beyond this, half the poems in this playlist are read by his daughter, Lesley. Her brief, personal introductions, remind us the poet was a real man, with a life, and family, who was writing about daily events making these equally, if not more, touching.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Shmumberbatch. Here, Sir John Gielguld reads several of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of suspense and intrigue, roiling the rich stew of overheated characters and unnatural coincidences as only a Shakespearean-trained actor can. It’s elementary, dear listener.