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.