Back in my twenties, I walked a mile every day to work (uphill, both ways!), and to pass the time, I would listen to audiobooks on my trusty discman. They were an awesome way to jumpstart the morning, and I got really sucked into the stories. These days, in my thirties, I’ve been trying to walk or even run (!) a little more, and I figured audiobooks might entice me to get going. Here are a few of my old favorites, plus new ones I want to try…
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book tells the story of Calliope, a student in Detroit, who starts to wonder if she is really a girl. The narrator is AMAZING and nails the Greek accents and range of characters. Listening to this book felt thrilling.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. Reichl recalls her days as the New York Times food critic, when she would dress up as different characters (an English teacher from Michigan, a blonde divorcée from the south, etc.) so restaurateurs wouldn’t recognize her. I listened to this on a walkman during a layover at the Vegas airport, while knitting a scarf. Definitely one of my cooler moments.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. I LOVED this smart, stirring portrait of a marriage. Oprah Magazine says calls it “one of those rare novels that’s almost more bewitching as an audiobook than as a printed one” and describes the author’s voice as “melodic and tender.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. A funny, moving novel, about a teenage boy with Asperger’s who strives to figure out who killed the neighbor’s dog. One cool part of this audiobook: “Peripheral sounds – thuds on the stairs, the roar of a Tube train – suggest the sensitivity to noise” of the boy, says The Guardian.
The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz. I’m reading the actual book right now, in which a psychoanalyst shares 22 true case studies from his London office. Each chapter reveals the personal story of a patient, plus what they figured out together during therapy. You feel like a fly on the wall, and it’s a total page turner.
Another great type of audiobook is when the story is read by its comedian author. They nail the delivery of the jokes, and they often ad lib. Some favorites: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, and Yes Please, read by Amy Poehler, along with Seth Meyers, Carol Burnett and her parents. Tina Fey recorded Bossypants with her older daughter in the sound booth. According to Oprah Magazine, “the audiobook is full of ad libs… and unprompted riffs and rants on breastfeeding, eating food off the floor, and being an older virgin.”
Side note: One fascinating thing about audiobooks is that you realize how much your interpretation affects the story. When I was reading Middlesex, I would listen to the audiobook on my commute but read the actual book at night. The book felt phenomenally different: On my own, I interpreted the Greek relatives as being quite earnest and serious, but the narrator of the audiobook made them sound jovial and histrionic. It’s amazing to realize how much your inner monologue and tone affects your reading of the book and characters. Therefore, needless to say, the narrator is HUGELY important; they can make or break a book.
And a reader here named Clare made an interesting point: “I actually really like Austen and Dickens on audiobook. Dickens wrote with the expectation his work would be read aloud, and a lot of the jokes in the text are more obvious when you hear them. It’s easier to get past the ‘old-fashioned’ language and giggle at the silly bits when it’s not text on a page.”