Adding drama to a holiday

Audiobooks and podcasts these days are like mini theatre productions, and are perfect for holiday listening


Each episode of the Criminal podcast is of 20 minutes.
Each episode of the Criminal podcast is of 20 minutes.

I’m planning to go on a longish holiday. The place I am going to has nice parks and lakes and I intend to sit on a bench by a river, enjoy the fresh air, watch the swans and the rowboats, and read a book.

So I’m in the process of loading my iPad with stuff I would like to read or listen to—e-books, audiobooks and podcasts.

I am a print person but I find myself increasingly using the iPad at night. If I don’t feel like reading an e-book, I switch to a podcast. I don’t have any audiobooks. I often wonder if listening to a book is as satisfying as reading it. I have a couple of old BBC radio dramas that were ripped from CDs, and while they are interesting to listen to, I prefer the books.

But audiobooks and podcasts these days are like mini theatre productions: There are actors as narrators, and there is music and other effects. The reporter of the popular podcast, Serial, teamed up with the makers of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker for the second season of Serial. And technology ensures that you can listen to them on any device—a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop.

And so I have decided to try out an audiobook: A Delicate Truth, written and narrated by John le Carré (bought from Audible). The Telegraph, London, ranked it last year as the best audiobook of all time. It’s 10 hours, 31 minutes long, and I just love the way Le Carré narrates the story.

These days I also find myself listening to podcasts. Good podcasts are like audiobooks, but they are shorter, true stories, presented in periodic episodes. I recently listened to several podcasts from Modern Love, the popular New York Times series that has short, personal anecdotes of love and loss, hope and vulnerability, and happy and sad endings.

These stories are “reader-submitted” and very well written, like the one called When The Doorman Is Your Man, a tale of a bond between a girl who becomes a single mother and the kind and caring doorman of the building she lives in.

Earlier this year, The New York Times (NYT) tied up with Boston’s WBUR radio station to turn the Modern Love stories into weekly podcasts—they call it “movie for your ears”. These stand-alone stories (available on iTunes, or in the Style section of the NYT website) are read out by well-known Broadway stars, and have music and other effects that give a touch of drama to the plot.

After romance comes crime (though not in that order). It’s a pity that the Scandinavians haven’t yet produced Nordic Noir podcasts. Their books and TV series (the Wallander series and Trapped, for instance) are brilliant. I wonder why they don’t have good crime fiction podcasts. That would have been perfect for holiday listening.

For my fix of crime, I trawled the Net and the obvious podcast choices were the widely popular Serial (two seasons) and Criminal. The first season of Serial (available free on iTunes or at Serialpodcast.org) is the true story of the murder of a teenager in 1999, and the arrest and conviction of her former boyfriend. The young boy said he didn’t do it. The podcast is a fresh investigation of the case by a reporter. You don’t know what turn it’s going to take in the next episode. It’s also very good investigative journalism.

The second season is about an American soldier imprisoned by the Taliban for five years, and this is what the website says: When he was released, President Obama made the announcement. And then suddenly he was called a deserter and a traitor. Through his entire trial he has been quiet. In season two of Serial, “we get to hear what he has to say”.

My second crime podcast choice, Criminal (Thiscriminal.com), is about “stories of people who have done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle”. In the first episode, a woman has been found dead in a pool of blood. Her husband is convicted of her murder. But the neighbour has a different theory. Each episode is of 20 minutes, and is quite riveting. Time magazine calls it “true crime at its finest”.

I don’t think I will travel with a printed book this time but I will most certainly buy the digital version of The Big Book Of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, when it is released in mid-July. This is in addition to the several unread books I already have on the iPad.

I know it’s a long list, but that’s my idea of a laid-back holiday.

Shekhar Bhatia is a science buff and a geek at heart.

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