Some habits might be good to recover, post vaccine – walking a few more blocks to hear the end of a story or driving another mile to hear the next chapter on audio. This year’s list of audiobook winners from the Audio Publishers Association has a few I may listen to, but also gave me some ideas for books I may order online to read.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke won Audiobook of the Year. When I asked my local librarian about it, she said she “liked it but it is different.” Piranesi is a fantasy novel by English author Susanna Clarke, her second novel and her first since her debut Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, published sixteen years earlier. It’s about wizardry and magic, and Ron Charles for the Washington Post says “Susanna Clarke’s infinitely clever ‘Piranesi’ is enough to make you appreciate life in quarantine – about a man trapped forever indoors…” Sounds deliciously weird, and I plan to try reading it.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte, won both the 2021 Young Adult Audie Award and the Multi-Voiced Performance Award. The title is intriguing and this novel, in verse, about two sisters losing their father, their hero, and finding each other along the way, caught my interest. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam champion, and she won a National Book Award for her first book, The Poet X.
A Very Punchable Face by Colin Yost of SNL fame won the Humor award.
The Push by Ashley Audrain – nothing like listening to a psychological thriller. This one follows a new mom, Blythe Connor, whose concerns about her children are repeatedly dismissed—until a devastating incident sends the entire family reeling.
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel – five members of a family that left their roots in Colombia for a better life in the U.S., only to be met with an entire new set of challenges with being undocumented in this country. Written by Patricia Engel, a daughter of Colombian immigrants.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – with a trio of narrators, flipping back and forth between the 18th century, when a London apothecary sold poison to women solely to be used on men, to the present, as a young historian finds herself tracking down a series of clues to solve the infamous centuries-old “apothecary murders.”
Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – author of Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. This story follows follows four famous siblings over the span of one all-night, ultimately disastrous party.
My Audible credits are piling up, and I decided to use them all before I cancel my subscription. Although my library is full of books I have yet to hear, I am not discouraged. Short British mysteries, Maggie Smith and Julia Child biographies have kept me company as I walk, but heavy plots requiring attention tend to collect moss – started, stopped, ignored, replaced by a library book in print. Flanagan’s Road to the Deep North still lingers – waiting to be heard on a long flight with no escape.
Five credits – five books:
Joanna Kavenna called Ali Smith’s first in a four-part series – Autumn – “a beautiful, poignant symphony of memories, dreams and transient realities…” in her review for The Guardian. A symphony? A candidate for an audiobook.
Recently published Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders has a cast of 166 voices, including David Sedaris.
Since I am number 279 on the library wait list, John Grisham’s The Whistler is a good candidate, promising fast-paced thrills.
Melk Wiking’s Little Book of Hygge looked like a quick way to get life-style advice when I skimmed it in the bookstore, especially coupled with Rinzler’s The Buddha Walks into a Bar (already on my iPod).
Finally (possibly because I have been reading articles about challenging the brain to prevent Alzheimer’s lately), the last book is French Short Stories (in French, of course).
Now I am ready to cancel my subscription. But wait, those clever marketers have offered me a reprieve – 90 days on hold, a pause instead of a stop. If I have not listened to my last five books by Spring, I may have the courage to really cancel.
With the world gone mad, reading can be a relief from the news. Last night I turned to an old favorite by Lois Lowry, The Giver, with its ambiguous ending of hope for a dystopian world. Then, I read Michael Faber’s Under the Skin, a chilling tale yet curiously connected to civilization. Published in 2000 and later made into a movie, the story is better if you have not heard of its premise, and I won’t spoil it here, but clearly not everyone is as they seem.
Reading books about how horrible the world has yet to become makes today seem not so bad – despite the dire ramblings of politicians and pundits. Sometimes listening on Audible makes the misery more palatable and the hope for a changed future more possible. Two I have on my iPhone to keep me properly alert –
“…offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and that when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.” from the Sigrid Nunez review for the New York Times
“…Perhaps the world as we know it will indeed end this way for many Americans: terrified of porcupines, longing for the sound of S.U.V.s, unable to distinguish between an artifact and a keepsake, helped to find temporary sanctuary by the last black man on earth. If it does, we won’t be able to say that “California” didn’t warn us.” from Jeff Vandermeer’s review for the New York Times.
If the apocalypse is upon us, books have already outlined what we can expect.
This weekend the 11th National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress, is on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Meet authors and illustrators – or just celebrate the festival theme, “Celebrating the Joys of Reading Aloud,” by reading a book to someone. Even adults like to listen to a story sometimes.
Jim Trelease first published his Read Aloud Handbook in 1979, listing resources for reading aloud – now in its sixth edition. Skip the narrative and go straight for the lists at the back of the book. The lists range from picture books to short and full-length novels, anthologies, and folk tales. He includes the number of pages for each, as well as a short summary, and grade level recommendations (which you should override for interest level). If you like the book, he also offers others by the author and books on related themes. For each section, Trelease also includes a list of his favorites.
If you can’t get anyone to read to you, KatherinePowers of the Washington Post suggests listening to Scaramouche, for 12 hours of “swashbuckling adventure,” narrated by Simon Vance, sometimes known as Robert Whitfield. For me, the voice of the narrator is more important than the content. Vance’s mellow tones and characterizations create a whole other experience, and I look for audiobooks with his “Golden Voice.”