Listen Up, Book Nerds
It’s time for another edition of the irregular Top Ten Tuesday that is almost never published on a Tuesday!
Audio books are the perfect way to get in your reading time without having to turn a page. Maybe your hands are busy (knitting, sewing, baking, chores, petting dogs…maybe this is just me), maybe you drive a lot or have a long commute, or maybe you just don’t like reading physical books. Whatever the reason, audiobooks can be a lifesaver. My husband and I keep a subscription to Audible and routinely check our local public library for new listens. I use audiobooks when I’m walking the dog, baking, or knitting. He uses audiobooks when he’s at the gym. We both love audiobooks for when we have long car trips, even if we don’t always agree on what to listen to next.
While deciding which books are “good” books is incredibly subjective, audiobooks are even more so. Trying to get the balance of a good story and a good narrator and having it hold your interest for ten to thirty hours is very difficult. More than once, I’ve been turned completely off to a good book because of poor narration. On the other hand, I’ve been introduced to books that I would have never read if I hadn’t listened to them. Here is a list of some of my favorite audiobooks (in no particular order) to listen to. I hope you’ll give them a try.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale or Stephen Fry
Like many of my generation, I am obsessed with Harry Potter. I grew up reading the book series and own not only the first edition of all of the novels, but also the movies, the new illustrated editions, and the audiobooks. We could argue all day over who is the better narrator (Fry vs Dale), but either way you simply cannot go wrong listening to Harry Potter on audiobook. The books are as spellbinding (see what I did there?) narrated as they are in paper. There is a reason Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is one of the most repeated listens on audible. In fact, I have a friend who is such a keen listener to the Jim Dale version, she just listens to the series on endless loop. Don’t believe me? Give it a go; you’ll rediscover Harry Potter in a whole new way.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, narrated by Scott Brick
I sound like a broken record because this is the first audiobook I recommend to everyone when they’re looking for something new, good, and interesting. The story is timeless and exhilarating, and the narration is perfect. Scott Brick is one of the most recognizable names in audiobook narration, but this book is one of his finest performances. I spent a few months driving back and forth between Indiana and Michigan every other week and this book was how I survived the long, straight, boring drive. I mean, what’s not to love about listening to a book where dinosaurs eat everyone during a dark, stormy night?? (I’d say spoiler alert, but guys–it’s been almost 30 years since the book was published.)
The Shining by Stephen King, narrated by Campbell Scott
Ahh, The Shining. I listened to this book on my lunch break at work. In the beginning of the book, it was a nice quiet distraction from number crunching but by the end I had to hide my phone so I would actually work. I went home at the end of the day and finished the last quarter while cooking dinner, baking macarons, and cleaning the kitchen. I found any excuse to keep my headphones in until the book was finished. Campbell Scott’s performance masterfully captures the quiet, steady beginning of the book and builds up to the raging crescendo at the end. His reading is not dramatic or exuberant, but instead exactly like the character of Jack Torrence: a regular guy. If you are used to the Kubrick/Jack Nicholson version of the story, you’ll be amazed at how vastly different this book is. After listening, I understood completely why King was not satisfied by the film adaptation.
Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, narrated by Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is probably most famous for his performance in Parks and Recreation as the unflappable Ron Swanson, but his audio narration should be equally as popular. I believe that Mark Twain would have adored Offerman’s slow, midwestern interpretation of this classic novel. His voice does an excellent job of conveying both the serious and mischievous nature of Tom Sawyer. He does such a great job, you almost wonder if Offerman was a Tom Sawyer back in his childhood. I, for one, would not be surprised in the slightest.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, narrated by Stephen Fry
Even if you preferred Jim Dale to Stephen Fry for Harry Potter, there is no denying that Fry’s performance for this Douglas Adams classic is masterful and enthralling. I grew up listening to the BBC radio drama version of HGTTG (GO LISTEN RIGHT NOW) and I didn’t think it was possible to have an audio performance that I would enjoy as much. Fry is superb. His droll wit and expressive voice is perfect for this absolutely absurd novel.
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, narrated by Lenny Henry
Despite being the sequel to American Gods, it’s not necessary to read that book before Anansi Boys. In fact, it’s quite a different read than the sprawling classic that American Gods is. This tightly-woven story is about a single character, Charlie, and is brought to life by the clever reading of Lenny Henry. He has a real touch for voicing characters in such a unique way that keeps you completely immersed in the story, and his stellar performance captures the wit and subtly of Gaiman’s storytelling of what many argue is actually Gaiman’s finest work.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, written and narrated by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson has exactly the voice that audio producers reject: a squeaky and sweet Texas drawl. Luckily she fought to be the narrator because I have never enjoyed a book like I enjoyed Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Jenny reads her own story about her own life, imbuing her own words with a wry sense of humor and deep felt emotions. I laughed with her, cried with her, and above all, I didn’t turn this book off from pushing play until the last page of the book.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Davina Porter
An epic time-traveling, Scottish historical romance, really?! And yet, there is a reason this audiobook is a consistent top-seller on audible. It’s a beautifully written story with lush descriptions, gorgeous and clever characters, and it is wonderfully narrated by the ever-popular Davina Porter. Whether you’ve seen the TV adaption or not, it’s still an excellent book worth reading. Be forewarned, it is a long audiobook (over 32 hours!), so be prepared to settle into this story for a while.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, narrated by Robert Glenister
Robert Galbraith is a penname for J.K. Rowling, but before you think I have an obsession with her (I do), let me preface this summary by saying that there are several reasons why the author’s name is Robert Galbraith and not my beloved Joanne. For starters, this story is nothing like Harry Potter. Just ignore Harry Potter completely when diving into this story. The Cuckoo’s Calling is a slow-paced, modern detective noir starring a grumpy veteran detective and his new secretary, Robin, that he definitely cannot afford to keep on. The writing is lyrical and slow as the mystery unfolds. The book captures the drudgery of detective work exceedingly well and the voice actor brings this mystery to life.
Dune by Frank Herbert, narrated by Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, Simon Vance, Ilyana Kadushin
Dune is a full-cast audio narration and dramatization of the classic and award-winning Herbert novel. When die-hard audiobook aficionados discuss books, Dune is routinely mentioned as one of the best. The cast are all known individually for their work and when brought together, they breathe life into this classic science fiction epic novel that tackles everything from adventure and environmentalism to politics.
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, narrated by Stephen Crossley
The Book of Lost Things is an interesting and eerie slant on fairy tales, books, and the roles books play in our lives. Crossley’s wealth of accents and voices gives depth to this tale of a grieving ten-year-old boy who find himself on an adventure through a twisted fantasy land after a WWII bomber crashes onto his house. He learns about himself and the unusual characters that populate this land as he journeys through the story. Despite the protagonist being a child, this book isn’t a light read. Some have found it too dark for them, but as a lover of the macabre I adored it. I suspect I would have loved it as a child.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, narrated by Bahni Turpin
Bahni Turpin is an excellent and well-regarded narrator (The Hate U Give, The Underground Railroad, The Help, Bad Feminist). She pushes the boundaries of what I thought she could do as the narrator of this book. Children of Blood and Bone is a debut YA novel that is both a stunning fantasy novel and a literary allegory of some of the current political issues (e.g. the BLM movement). The story rotates between multiple perspectives, but each voice is distinct and vibrant. I didn’t include this in my top ten because while both a great story AND a good listen, apparently some of the Yorùbá words are mispronounced. I didn’t notice since I don’t speak Yorùbá, but that is something to keep in mind.
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