From The Depths Of Self-Isolation and WFH: 4 Literary Classics You Need To Read
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“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” – Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 

This quote should actually be employed when teaching someone to read, from child to adult.

Do you remember when we were forced to bring a book to read during morning assembly sessions in school? I may be the exception (I loved those assemblies!) but wouldn’t it be great to have that emotional connection with a book once more?

These days, reading has become far more challenging for me. I find myself busier and it gets harder to pick a book up, let alone read one from cover to cover. I decided to multitask. Storytel’s audiobooks help me do that, especially now that most of us are working from home and I am constantly looking for new things to keep me entertained. These audiobooks have helped enhance my reading (and listening experience), while getting something done, which makes me appreciate the author’s voice and passion even more.

I’ve curated a list of my favourite classics, or the books I remember reading during those school assemblies (I was growing up!). The ones I’ve picked here are great for any situation, from avoiding social interaction (social distancing everyone!), to addressing plain old nostalgia (stay-at-home melodramas).

Just give it a try, your classics don’t have to be too hardcore or involve death to be cool.

The books featured are available as audiobooks on Storytel, a subscription-based audiobook platform. 
Rice readers get a 30-day free trial, so download their app to get started.

If You Believe In Magic (or Witchcraft): J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

This was one of the first few books that spurred me to finish a complete series. Most of you know the premise of this book, even if you didn’t get around to reading it, watching the films would have had you covered. What I will say here, though, is that you probably wouldn’t get access to as much detail via the film as compared to the actual book here. 

I found myself smiling fondly as I got re-introduced to the characters I fell in love with as a child, quite like the scene in Ratatouille when Anton Ego, the food critic, got brought back to his childhood years. I might be exaggerating, but it was rather surreal reliving the emotions I felt when I first read this book. 

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is my all-time favourite, it’s where we get introduced to the titular character’s journey. Through a magical universe, the story speaks of his existence as something of a myth until it sets its sights on him. Having grown up ill-treated and much like a regular human child, it would naturally come as a shock to him when a large, burly, and bearded man tells Harry that he’s a wizard. A pigtail for the terrible cousin, Dudley Dursley, included.

The audiobook was brilliantly executed by the absolutely talented Stephen Fry who made sure to translate whatever was on these pages into an audio screenplay. I did enjoy this quite a bit more than the actual film—there’s something to say about tapping into your creativity while reading (or rather listening) to a book. 

Imagine reorganising your wardrobe while getting transported right into the middle of a Quidditch game. I’d have given anything to watch something like that in person. Be it on the stands watching the Bludgers whizz by and take a player out, or to be on the Nimbus 2000 flying broomstick with my teammates, hoping to catch the Golden Snitch. All right, I’m rather biased here since I loved his voice acting in the Alice in Wonderland films as the Cheshire cat.

Remember, it’s leviOsa, not levioSAR.

If You’d Prefer Legit Poetry: Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi’s The Essential Rumi

I first got introduced to Rumi’s beautiful poetry through an Indian film called Rockstar, which featured his poem A Great Wagon, specifically this line:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Beyond being just a poet, Rumi was also seen as a spiritual teacher who talked about everything that is important to us in this lifetime. From love, to even appreciating one’s existence in the ecosystem, there are many things I have learnt from this collection that has many unpublished pieces translated from Urdu to English. 

In a time where pretty much anyone can be considered a poet as long as they write a couple of abstract lines and scribble accompanying words (ahem, Nicole Choo, I’m looking at you)–Rumi took on a very different approach to poetry. His work does have mentions of spiritual beings and gods from a gamut of religions and cultures: from Iran, Greece, India, to even the United States. 

So if you’re looking for some words of wisdom but seem to be in a dilemma as to whether you should seek a tarot reading for clarity or read a self-help book, I urge you to give this book a try. The poems you listen to cover themes like humanity, love, and even pain—they bring a sense of hope and positivity in the worst of situations. Yes, the book is rather long, over 9-hours-audio-length long, but its beauty lies in not having to listen to everything in just one sitting. Finish a chapter, gain an insight or two, then come back a week later, and the next chapter may unfold new insights you’d never thought to see or learn before.

With that, let me leave you a poem by yours truly:

You said I was priceless, like caviar

But I wanted to be your cai fan

If You’re Dreaming About Cats That Float With A Creepy Smile: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

I’m so sure that this book was a result of a fever dream. One Lewis Carroll had back in 1865. Not that I am complaining at all, because this book opened up a whole new world for me. While I’ve always found Alice to be rather annoying—all she does is whine and cry about everything around her—the other characters have always captured my attention. 

On a more shallow front, one of my favourites would be The Mad Hatter, who has issues to unpack but refuses by hiding behind tea parties and mindless chatter. Sounds pretty much like something I’d indulge in when I am running from emotions or uncomfortable situations.

But the character I’d like to meet the most is the Caterpillar. In which alternate universe would you catch one with a hookah blowing circles of smoke in your face while spilling the facts? He talks in short and abrupt sentences that remind me of the poetry we tend to see these days. Nothing he says makes sense. But if you sit down and dissect each line, you might catch some relevance to your life experience.

The audiobook, read by Shannon Parks, is a revisit of this classic through her youthful narration. It’s a soothing experience for a close-to-3-hour read. One thing I did think about though, was if they allowed for Helena Bonham Carter to make a small cameo as the Queen of Hearts. Her on-screen rendition in the film version was an amalgamation of the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts, which I really liked. 

No offense to Shannon at all, she did great work with this but the variations of her voices for the characters weren’t that great in a way that they sounded quite similar to me. Perhaps we should make a petition for audiobooks read by two people who sound complementary to each other?

I’m going to spend the week screaming ‘off with their heads!’ at anyone who crosses me. 

If You Wish You Had A Face That Launched A Thousand Ships: Homer’s The Iliad and Odyssey

One of the first few books my father brought me was a simplified guide to Greek Mythology. That was the beginning of a life-long adoration for anything and everything related to it. This includes the terrible films adapted from the tales and poems that have crossed generations to reach us. 

The Iliad is basically a Greek poem that sets the scene for the Trojan war, sparked by the elopement of Helen, the wife of Greecian king Menelaus, with Paris of Troy. So basically, the woman is unhappy in her marriage and runs away with a young and beautiful prince, her husband follows her to Troy with an army and a war starts because she refuses to go home. A mess? I know. 

Now, one must not forget that amongst all of this alleged debauchery with Helen, we have the Trojan horse that brought down the city of Troy through subterfuge. It still bothers me to this very day that the Trojans thought that the Greeks would leave the horse at their doorstep as a trophy for ‘winning’ the war without bloodshed. Shouldn’t they have checked to see if the horse came with booby traps (like a group of Grecian soldiers) or something?

After many failed attempts to read the physical book, I found redemption with this audiobook. Voiced by Anthony Heald, the narration does a decent job at holding your attention through tales of wanton lust, mind-boggling deception and undying loyalty. It might get a little difficult to keep track of the names of the minor characters, but the winning quality here is the tale itself—akin to an ironic comedy celebrated by the Olympians in heaven.

It’s not every day you get to hear the gods themselves get so heavily invested in the tragedy of this war epic, especially when they start pledging their loyalties to the opposing sides. Think punters betting on football teams at Barclay’s Premier League, and you’ll see me chuckling along. Same, same, but different setting.

With that, I leave you with an afterthought: why not dip the whole baby (Achilles) in the River Styx with a basket, instead of holding him by his left heel?


This post was brought to you by Storytel

All the books featured are available as audiobooks on Storytel, a subscription-based platform. RICE readers get a 30-day free trial, so download their app to get started, and check out over 110,000 titles they have available for streaming or download.

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