Audiobooks


Audiobooks (iStockphoto)I wrote about my love for audiobooks in 2007, but it’s long past time for an update. At last count I had 96 audiobooks on my iPod, which seems a bit much even to me.

I started out only listening to audiobooks while I was driving. It made long trips more bearable to have a story to concentrate on, rather than just music. Later, I had a job that involved night shifts, a lot of mindless busywork and a lot of waiting on copy editors. It didn’t require my full attention, so I began listening to audiobooks while I was at work. Now I listen to audiobooks as I fall asleep at night, because it lets me drift off without the boring part of waiting to fall asleep.

In the beginning, I would only listen to an audiobook if I had read its paper version, but that’s changed. The thought behind it was that if my attention drifted, I wouldn’t be lost when my mind returned to the story. It was solid reasoning, but then I started branching out to books that iTunes recommended based on my purchase history. (Darn you, marketing wizards!) Now I have no problem buying audiobooks that I haven’t read before, but if it’s new to me, I can’t listen to it while falling asleep. I save that for the old classics.

Here are 10 more audiobooks that I highly recommend:

  • The Big Over Easy – I mentioned this Jasper Fforde book in an earlier post. Nursery Crime Detective Jack Spratt solves the murder of Humpty Dumpty. It’s fantastic. I’d listen to his Thursday Next series too, but they’re abridged recordings, and I am completely opposed to abridged recordings.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – This is the first Mark Twain book I ever read, about a 19th-century blacksmith who time travels back to King Arthur’s Court and makes himself the power behind the throne. Listening to it as an adult makes me realize how many 19th-century allusions and social commentaries I missed when I read it as a 9-year-old.
  • Ghost Map: The Story of London ’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – This is about an 1854 cholera epidemic that was halted by John Snow, a father of epidemiology. My favorite section explains the miasma theory of disease and why people clung to it for so long.
  • Good Omens – This just came out as an audiobook, and I was thrilled. It’s the hysterical collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, following the last days before Armageddon and the various angels, demons and people trying to prevent it.
  • In a Sunburned Country – This is Bill Bryson’s affectionate account of traveling in Australia. He’s enthralled by the myriad ways the country has to kill you, including the world’s most poisonous snakes, spiders and jellyfish. My favorite parts are when he travels with a companion, one of whom makes the vow that if stranded in the murderous desert, he will let Bryson drink his urine. Screamingly funny in places, and it makes me want to travel there, which is after all the point of a travel book.
  • Into Thin Air – Author Jon Krakauer reads his first-person account of the 1996 Everest disaster that killed eight people. He can’t do accents at all, so everything is mostly read in the same voice.
  • The Lightning Thief – This is the first book of an entertaining children/teen series about a boy who discovers that he’s the son of Poseidon and is sent to a hero-training summer camp with other children of Greek gods. It’s being made into a movie, and I am cringing in anticipation of the final product.
  • The Man in the Brown Suit – One of Agatha Christie’s lesser-known works, this is the story of Ann Beddingfeld, a recent orphan who longs for adventure. Seeing herself as a movie heroine, she follows cryptic clues to hunt down a murderer and travels to South Africa on the trail of the Man in the Brown Suit. It has a colonialist mindset, but it’s very entertaining.
  • The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why – A journalist looks at disaster dynamics and how people cope in life-or-death catastrophes. I don’t listen to this one when I’m trying to fall asleep.
  • The Westing Game – If you left childhood without reading this whodunnit mystery, then I pity you. But it’s not too late!

Thanks, stock.xchng!Aside from Disney’s read-along books and cassettes (Oh, The Fox and the Hound! How you made me cry!), I was never that into audiobooks as a kid. I think it was mostly that I can read in my head a lot faster than anyone can read aloud, and I have attention-span issues. I remember a long car trip where we brought an audiobook of The Jungle Book along, and my opinion of Rudyard Kipling has suffered as a consequence.

But in 2002 I got into them, and Harry Potter was my gateway drug. The Potter series was perfect for long drives in the car, because I already knew the stories and if I zoned out in the middle, it was no big deal.

Pre-iPod, this meant carrying around the 26-CD box set (which I did when I lived in Prague) and it was a tad cumbersome. But my darling iPod set me free.

So, here are my top 10 audiobook picks, in alphabetical order:

  • America (The Audiobook) – The Daily Show’s hilarious civics “textbook” on the American political system. Narrated by John Stewart and the Daily Show cast. Bonus: Unlike the printed edition, there are no nude depictions of Supreme Court justices.
  • Assassination Vacation – Sarah Vowell travels to sites connected to the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, offering a humerous but informative history lesson. You have to hear her voice, she sounds like a three-year-old with a head cold. But in a good way.
  • The Demon Under the Microscope – The subtitle is “From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug,” and it’s awesome non-fiction.
  • Don’t Get too Comfortable – Another author with a unique and nasal voice, David Rakoff talks about Log Cabin Republicans, becoming a U.S. citizen, and midnight scavenger hunts in NYC.
  • Half Moon Investigations – This is a children’s book written in the style of 1950s detective-noir, and it’s hysterical. Kids’ books make for great audiobooks because it’s easy to follow the plot.
  • The Horse and His Boy – One of my favorite C. S. Lewis books.
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris’ essays are best enjoyed aloud. Another unique and very nasal voice.
  • The Partly Cloudy Patriot – Collection of Sarah Vowell’s essays on ‘pop-a-shot’ basketball, how the Dallas Cowboys introduced her to existentialism, the ethos of the modern nerd, etc.
  • The Secret Garden – One of the few classic kids books where the children are difficult and ill-behaved. This is essentially pleasant background noise.
  • Size 14 is Not Fat Either – Fun chick lit by Meg Cabot. A former pop star now working as a college RA becomes embroiled in the investigation into the murder of one of the college’s cheerleaders.