One of the things I miss most about childhood is the way that reading was such a phantasmically engrossing experience. I knew a girl in middle school who claimed that she became so engrossed by reading that she would have out-of-body experiences and actually hallucinate the books’ contents. While I never quite hallucinated books, it sort of felt that way sometimes. Books were not the sum of their words, they became real. In my teenage years, though, I became increasingly cerebral and analytical, to the point where I now have trouble recapturing the joy of reading. I find myself analyzing sentences and recurring motifs- so much so that it’s hard to “get lost” in a book. To quote Dawson Leery, television’s most famously over-analytical teen, “I’m so busy analyzing everything that I’m not enjoying anything!” Dawson, the antidote is at hand: audiobooks! Audiobooks provide a much-needed escape from the machinations of your brain. You surrender the reading experience to a narrator, who does not pause for you to examine the author’s use of a semi-colon. You can just relax, and enjoy the story. You can also multi-task, and listen while you make friendship bracelets or clean your room, or just stare at the ceiling fan. They’re perfect for long car trips, or boring summer days when it’s too hot to lift a finger to turn a page.
Now let me share some of my favorite audiobooks, which are all bound to enhance your summer:
By Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, read by Tracey Childs
2009, Fantom Films Limited
This is a great story to listen to in the dark at night before you fall asleep. It’s a spooky and sexy tale about an immortal teenage vampiress who stalks young girls in the Austrian countryside. The sexual charge of the story is barely contained by its prudent, Victorian writing: “…Her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, ‘You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.’ Then she has thrown herself back in her chair, with her small hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling.” Beware, listening to this story will leave you trembling as well!
Angels and Demons
By Dan Brown, read by Richard Poe
2004, Simon & Schuster Audio
This is a fairly ridiculous book that I wholly recommend for long car trips. Angels and Demons is Dan Brown’s lesser-known precursor to The Da Vinci Code. It is a tale unencumbered by things like “character development” or, you know, “good writing.” It’s just an awesome story about an improbably kick-ass Harvard symbologist who is recruited by the Vatican to thwart an imminent terrorist attack. The plot will quickly suck you in, no matter how hard you resist. Long car rides will go by in a flash, as our hero Professor Langdon extemporizes about ancient symbology while dodging gunfire and random explosions.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
By Susan Cain, read by Kathe Mazur
2012, Random House Audio
This is a very cool book that reveals the multitude of ways in which introverts are penalized and marginalized by our society’s “Extrovert Ideal.” Cain’s earnest and well-researched concepts regarding the recent shift from a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality” will appeal to anyone experiencing Tumblr fatigue. Kathe Mazur reads the text with an appropriately sedate and calming voice. But while this certainly suits the mood of the book, I wouldn’t recommend it for a car trip—her soothing tone can be a sleep inducer!
The Harry Potter series
By JK Rowling, read by Jim Dale
2007, Listening Library
Have you read Harry Potter so many times that you are able to recite whole passages at random? Do you regard your collection of Harry Potter books with the sadness of one whose love has worn itself out? Then this is the audiobook is for you. It’s a great way to revisit the series without feeling like you are causing your brain to atrophy. Narrator Jim Dale gives an invigorating performance, with a variety of voices that will breathe new life into Hogwarts’ halls. Note: There is also a Stephen Fry version of the audiobook, which I do not recommend. I know we have a lot of Stephen Fry maniacs here at Rookie, and I fully expect the comments section to blow up in bitter controversy, but I really think that Stephen Fry’s narration is lame and uninspired. His “Voldemort” voice is shrill and ridiculous, and kills the drama completely.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster
By Jon Krakauer, read by the author
2007, Random House Audio
I read/listen to this book a lot. I am morbidly fascinated by the disastrous 1997 Everest climb, which set a world-record for number of deaths in a single summit. People freeze to death, people plummet to their deaths, everything that could go wrong does go wrong. Krakauer chose to record the book himself, and I could deduct a few points for his somewhat monotonous delivery—but the events that unfold are so harrowing and intense that his matter-of-fact tone can be a relief.
By E.M. Forster, read by Nadia May
1999, Blackstone Audio
A Room With a View is the “fun” E.M. Forster book. This is the depressing one. It’s about the rigid class constructs of turn-of-the-century England, and how people attempt, and ultimately fail, to connect with one another across these boundaries. If you are looking for a erudite-seeming book to fulfill your summer reading requirement, this one will definitely do the trick. Just make sure you get the British version read by Nadia May (whose voice is pleasantly reminiscent of Angela Lansbury’s). The American recording is terrible.
A Game of Thrones
By George R.R. Martin, read by Roy Dotrice
2011, Random House Audio
If you’re interested in reading George R.R. Martin’s The Song of Fire and Ice, but find those 1000-page tomes to be somewhat daunting, this audiobook is a great way to gain entry to the series. Roy Dotrice speaks clearly and energetically, and has surely set a world-record for most character voices in any audiobook ever recorded!
The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
By Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat
2003, Recorded Books
This is the audiobook I recommend if you are enclosed in a vehicle with a dainty grandmother. Everyone will enjoy the quaint-yet-shrewd Mma Romotswe as she solves mysteries in her town of Gaborone, Botswana. Lisette Lecat provides truly outstanding narration. Her accents are delightful and convincing, never over the top. Your grandmother will think you are wonderful, and it won’t even be a lie.
The Secret History
By Donna Tartt, read by the author
2007, Harper Audio
This book has been recommended before on Rookie, but I think it’s worth plugging again in its audio format. Donna made the bold choice to read the book herself, although the book’s narrator, Richard Papen, is male. You might expect this to be distracting, but it’s not. You will quickly adjust to the timber and tone of Tartt’s voice, and in the end it feels like no one could have read it better.
The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest
Taught by Jennifer Paxton
2010, The Teaching Company
The Teaching Company produces and records fantastic lecture series delivered by the world’s most knowledgeable professors. They have lectures about mathematics, philosophy, theater—pretty much any academic subject you want to learn about. History lovers and Anglophiles are sure to enjoy this series about Medieval England. Professor Paxton, a sharp and witty lecturer, guides us through the long, muddled time from the fall of Rome up through the War of the Roses—a period that contains some of the most violent, dramatic, and back-stabby events in British history.
Not all great books make great audiobooks. Here are some to avoid:
By Stephenie Meyer, read by Ilyana Kadushin
2008, Random House Audio
I love Twilight—but I hate this audiobook. Ilyana Kadushin’s narration is prissy and cloying. And she barely makes any effort to differentiate the characters’ voices, so Bella, Edward, and Jacob all sound like the same breathy, annoying person. The true vampire in this story is Kadushen—she really succeeds in sucking the life out of Twilight.
The Boyfriend List
By E. Lockhart, read by Mandy Siegfried
2005, Listening Library
I also love this book, and would highly recommend it in its book form. But as a book on tape, it just doesn’t work. The narrative is peppered with amusing footnotes—a device that seems clever and inventive on the page, but which majorly bogs down the audio recording. The constant “asides” are distracting and annoying, and do not enhance the reading in any way. Stick to the book version!
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
By John Le Carré, read by Frederick Davidson
2010, Blackstone Audiobooks
This book is way too subtle and intricately plotted to make an enjoyable audiobook. About two CDs in, I realized I had virtually no idea what was happening.
Anything by Stephen King
You’d think Stephen King would make excellent road-trip material (suspenseful plotlines, not too heavy), but I have repeatedly found this not to be the case. For one thing, Stephen King books are LONG and tend to spend way too much time exploring characters’ boring inner monologues. You’ll be popping in the sixth CD and realize that NOTHING has happened yet. I think the ability to skim is essential for Stephen King-type fare, and the one disadvantage of audiobooks is that you can’t go at your own pace. ♦