I’m one of those readers that’s resisted buying a Nook or Kindle for eye-rolling reasons (“I like the smell of books,” I say while instagramming my un-opened copy of Anna Karenina next to a gorgeous chai latte on a reclaimed wood cafe table). Vomitous pretense aside, I do actually prefer physical books to reading devices, but I can set my snobbiness aside when it comes to audiobooks. As a commuter by car and bicycle, there’s nothing like a gripping audiobook to pull you through hours of highway.
And IMHO, not all audiobooks are created equal. (Looking at you, crowd-sourced Librovox reading of The Tempest that I downloaded so I could complete my assignments for Shakespeare class while on long runs.) Freebies aside, most professional audiobooks are good and enjoyable, but some are simply effervescent. These are the rare books that I believe should be listened to and not read.
Have you encountered these? I’m sure you have. Here are my top 3 recommendations for books that are better on audiobook.
1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The story itself is great: it follows Bod, a baby who narrowly escapes being killed with the rest of his family by crawling into a graveyard. The ghosts of the graveyard take pity on him and raise him in the graveyard themselves. Bod learns the ways of ghouls and ghosts
in the graveyard, and just a little tiny bit about human girls–but his knowledge of the living and the dead is challenged when The Man Jack returns to hunt him down.
But what makes listening to The Graveyard Book so delightful is that it’s masterfully narrated by Neil Gaiman himself. Gaiman’s rich and versatile voice navigates the dozens of characters perfectly, and his narration literally sent chills up my spine. Every intonation and accent was perfect. Plus, there’s incredible inter-track original music by Bela Fleck. I can’t recommend this one enough as an audiobook. (Good for children ages 12+.)
2. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
If you want an audiobook that will have you chortling on the train to work, this is it. The story follows a young techie who finds himself newly unemployed in San Francisco, and picks up a night job at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Mr. Penumbra’s shop is as odd as its name, and entertains a seeming non-stop stream of extremely odd customers. What ensues is Clay’s hilarious quest to get to the bottom of the secrets of the bookstore and the mysterious clan that seems to be using it as its meeting place.
Not only was Robin Sloan’s writing fresh and witty, the audiobook narrator Ari Fliakos had me in stitches. He brought the perfect inflection of ‘eager displaces San Francisco nerd’ to Sloan’s writing, and I can’t imagine it any other way. I’ve listened to it several times, and would recommend it 100x over. (Good for young adults, esp. those who are fans of Ready Player One, or who have spent any time in San Francisco.)
3. Room by Emma Donoghue
And now, for something completely different! Room, made popular by the heartbreaking 2015 film adaptation of the same title, is the horrifying story of a mother and her son held captive in an 11 x 11 garden shed for years, and their terrifying bid for freedom. What makes the novel particularly unique and heartbreaking is that it’s narrated by Jack, the 5-year-old son who was born in the shed and has never seen the outside world. Through his innocent narration, we come to discern the terrifying reality of his mother’s abduction.
While listening to Room is obviously wrenching, the actress (Michal Friedman) who narrates this audiobook as Jack is remarkable. Her childlike narration is so convincing, I honestly didn’t know it was an adult woman until looking her up today; sadly, I also discovered that she passed away giving birth several years ago. If anything, the performance heightened the emotional impact of the book, and brought a real magic to the story. (Good for adults who are feeling emotionally capable.)