Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sandy's Best of 2010: Audiobooks


Day 3 of the 2010 bests! Today, I'm revealing my five (six) favorite audiobooks, a particular passion of mine. Of the 140-ish books I read this year, 57 (or 40%) of them were audios. There are many people out there (I was one of them five years ago) that believe listening to an audiobook doesn't really count as reading. Maybe it isn't reading with your eyes, but your ears and brain certainly get a workout! For a person that may not sit down until 8:00 at night, this is a solution that changed my literary life. The ultimate multi-task! Not only that, but I often don't want to quit walking or weeding the yard. And I look forward to cleaning day!

I have even found that audio can provide the best possible media option. For example, I've read all of the Harry Potter books multiple times, and seen the movies multiple times, but it is the audiobooks that offers a far superior form of entertainment. No important scenes are cut or changed, and the narration of Jim Dale is much better than anything I could conjure in my mind. I would offer that same opinion about the Stieg Larsson trilogy...you haven't listen to audio until you have experienced Simon Vance.

I apologize for getting on this tangent, but it is one of my favorite topics.

I willingly acknowledge that an average book can be improved by a great narrator, and an excellent book can be ruined by a bad one. I suspect, however, that the books listed below would be memorable, no matter what.


1. Love Walked In/Belong To Me - Marisa De Los Santos




OK, OK, I am sort of cheating on this one. But I can't consider one book without the other (Love Walked In being the first of the two). What might be initially considered "women's fiction" really extends far beyond it, covering very serious issues with grace and more love than my heart could almost take. You will fall in love with the characters, and want them to be a part of your life. Narrator Julia Gibson embodies these likable people, and is always a pleasure to listen to.



2. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides



Nothing prepared me for what I would consider the Great American novel that I found in Middlesex. When Jenners and I read this book and were discussing how to review such a gem, we likened it to a recipe involving many different ingredients. Greek immigrants. Incestuous relationships. Multi-generational legends. Coming of age from the perspective of a hermaphrodite. The drug culture. Detroit in the 60's. All written in a colorful, conversational voice. I believe the narrator, Kristoffer Tabori, might possibly be the only person who could have pulled this one off. It is masterful.


3. Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann



Upon finishing this one, I decided that this is what it is all about. Beautiful prose, heartbreaking humanity, interrelated stories all taking place while a tightrope walker negotiates between the Twin Towers. Each character in the book had their own narrator of the highest caliber, which always seems to accentuate the personalities and character development. The whole experience left me standing in the middle of my living room with my mouth hanging open...you could have knocked me down with the flick of a finger. This is an absolute must read.



4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot



It doesn't get any more real than this - a poor black woman with terminal cervical cancer is biopsied, and her cells end up revolutionizing medicine as we know it today. Yet Henrietta's family couldn't afford to buy a headstone for her grave, or afford health insurance. Skloot, a scientific journalist, introduces us to the Lacks family, their life and struggles as a result of the HeLa cells, and at the same time educates us on the miracle that these cells brought to the world. This is sort of a mind-blowing experience that also teaches you a thing or two. The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, is another favorite of mine. I get excited when I see her name associated with any audiobook.

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston



Ever the spiritual storyteller and folklorist, Hurston incorporates the history of Florida and the establishment of African American communities there in the 1920's, with a lyrical coming- of-age tale about a young women. Hurston provides flavor through her rich, poetic, dialectic prose. It is an absolute thing of beauty, and as a Central Floridian, I'm proud that she called it home for many years and is widely celebrated here. Ruby Dee, who actually starred in the made-for-tv-movie based on the book, is the narrator. And she gets it. You may relax and enjoy this one in her capable hands.



Notable audios that didn't quite make the cut: So more cheating. While these weren't quite as exceptional as the five (six) mentioned above, they are worth recommending for their audio appeal:

The Millennium Trilogy - Stieg Larsson: While there might not be too many people out there that haven't read the series, the audios are sublime because of the narrator Simon Vance.

The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling: We all love Harry, but Jim Dale brings this phenomenal series to a whole new level. Better than reading it, and way better than the movies.


Are you tired of my lists yet? One more! Tomorrow, I discuss my favorite literary fiction.


23 comments:

caite said...

I have seen Middlesex on several 'best' lists and it sounds like it is really something.

Julie P. said...

I am trying to "read" more audio books so your list is absolutely perfect!

Zibilee said...

I have not read any of the books on this list, except for Middlesex, which I totally loved. I also heard that the Henrietta Lacks book was Amazon's top pick of the year, so I am glad you agree! This year I finally got back into audiobooks thanks to you and your enthusiasm for them, and I do have to agree that a good narrator can make or break a tale. We are listening to Life by Keith Richards right now, and it is a wild ride!!

Avid Reader said...

I've read your #2, 3, 4 and 5 (all in audio), all wonderful! Which of course means I need to read the first two books you listed. Thanks!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I tried Let the Great World Spin and I couldn't get past about page 3! Maybe I should try it on audiotape!

Molly said...

I never tire of your lists - and I think this is a great way to review "the best of 2010" for an avid reader.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Henrietta Lacks is SO good in audio. I haven't listened to any of the other books you mention, but I did read a couple of them in the past few years.

marthalama said...

I read Middlesex a while ago and remembered loving it. I may have to try it in audiobook. I'm really looking forward to Henrietta Lacks, I may just have to listen to that one too.

Carrie K. said...

Yes, Yes, Yes to Middlesex! So very good. And I will be listening to Let the Great World Spin in 2011.

Matt said...

I'm so so so excited to see Their Eyes Were Watching God and Middlesex make your list! I just adore Middlesex and it leaves an indelible mark in me. I know how much you enjoy Let The Great World Spin and I won't provoke that sore nerve in me, but, right when I was ready to compile the list of my most memorable books of the year, The Imperfectionists, which is very similar to Spin in writing and style, sneaks into my pile.

Melissa M said...

I haven't read, or listened!, to any of the books on your list even though I own quite a few of them. Since I haven't gotten to these in print form, I'll give them a try in audio instead. And no, I'm never tired of your lists!

heidenkind said...

The way Jim Dale does Hermione's voice always bugs the heck out of me. But otherwise he is pretty good. :)

A former truck driver told me I should look into the Amelia Peabody audiobooks that were his favorite to listen to while on the road for hours on end. I think I'll try that series after I finish Harry Potter.

Trisha said...

I am so glad Middlesex made your list. I loved that book!

Iliana said...

I thought for sure I'd find a Sedaris on this list :)

Wonderful list Sandy. I must read the Skloot book soon. It just sounds fascinating.

JoAnn said...

No, I will never tire of these lists! Your #3, 4, and 5 have all been favorites of mine, too. I'm thinking I should probably try the first two :-)

Lisa@ButteryBooks said...

I love audiobooks as well. I have not read or seen any Harry Potter books/movies so thanks for the audio recommendation.

Literate Housewife said...

I'm glad to know that Let the Great World Spin translated well to audiobok. It was such a wonderful read.

farmlanebooks said...

You're almost making me sad that I've read Middlesex and own a print copy of Let the Great World Spin. I love your audio recommendations so will ensure I get hold of Love Walked In as soon as I've finished the wonderful Henrietta Lacks.

Beth F said...

Excellent choices. MIddlesex was an amazing audio.

Happy, happy new year to you!

Swapna said...

I love, love, love Marisa de los Santos. If I ever reread her books, I'll definitely consider them in audio!

Jenners said...

Thanks to you, I've started giving audiobooks a try toward the end of the year. I think I'll go with Henrietta Lacks as my next book -- thanks for the tips!

Marg said...

Very late to comment I know, but I just have to say that I agree with you re the narrator of Middlesex. It was one of the first audio books I listened too but it is still one of my audio book favourites because the narrator was just so amazing!

John Braine said...

Have had this page bookmarked for the last month with other best of lists and I'm compiling a big reading list.

HELA, is the first one I bought from your list. Nearly finished and loving it, fantastic story and yes the narrator has a great voice. Any other recommendations for non-fiction audio?

Everything else on your list I've either already listened to (Let the great world spin) already read (Middlesex - one of my favourite novels) or can't get via audible.co.uk yet.