Lis­ten up: Here are crit­ics’ favourite au­dio books

Times Colonist - - Islander / Books -

A good au­dio­book can ease the pain of hol­i­day travel, a bad com­mute or a bor­ing work­out, but a great one is worth lis­ten­ing to purely for its own sake. Here are some re­cent favourites.

The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell

Adrian’s third wife, Maya, has just been hit by a bus, pos­si­bly an act of sui­cide. Thus Adrian’s self-jus­ti­fy­ing view of his life be­gins to dis­in­te­grate. Wives, past and present, and their chil­dren have spent va­ca­tions together, but was it all re­ally sweet­ness and light? Adrian finds ugly emails on Maya’s lap­top, clearly the work of some­one with in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the fam­ily. Jewell slowly ex­ca­vates the true state of af­fairs, and the re­sult is a mas­ter­ful ex­po­sure of the un­der­cur­rents of a sup­pos­edly happy fam­ily. Read by Joe Jame­son. (Dream­scape Me­dia, nine hours and 22 min­utes) — Kather­ine A. Pow­ers

There There by Tommy Or­ange

This de­but novel set in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, is told through the per­spec­tives of 12 dif­fer­ent na­tive char­ac­ters, all head­ing to­ward the Big Oak­land Pow­wow. One is an as­pir­ing doc­u­men­tary film­maker. One is a boy who has taught him­self tra­di­tional dance by watch­ing YouTube. Two young men are plan­ning to rob the pow­wow to pay off their debt to a drug dealer. Sev­eral char­ac­ters are search­ing for lost par­ents, chil­dren or grand­chil­dren. The grow­ing sense that some­thing ter­ri­ble is go­ing to happen at the pow­wow will keep you glued your au­dio­player. Read by Dar­rell Den­nis, Shaun Tay­lor-Cor­bett, Alma Cuervo and Kyla Gar­cia. (Ran­dom House Au­dio, eight hours) — Mar­ion Winik

The Great Be­liev­ers by Re­becca Makkai

In 1985, Yale Tis­chman and his boyfriend, Char­lie, are the cen­tre of a cir­cle of gay friends in Chicago, both fly­ing high in their ca­reers. But they have just buried their first friend to die of AIDS and now are eye­ing one an­other, won­der­ing who will be next. A sec­ond nar­ra­tive, set in 2015, fo­cuses on the younger sis­ter of that first lost friend. She is in Paris, search­ing for her es­tranged daugh­ter, stay­ing with one of the few sur­vivors of the Chicago group. Makkai gets the AIDS ma­te­rial right down to the small­est de­tail, and brings her in­ter­twined sto­ries to a dev­as­tat­ing, painfully beau­ti­ful end. Read by Michael Crouch. (Pen­guin Au­dio, 18 hours and 17 min­utes) — Mar­ion Winik

Martin Chuz­zle­wit by Charles Dickens

There are at least five unabridged au­dio ver­sions of Dickens’ ex­u­ber­antly comic tale of selfish­ness, greed and ex­ploita­tion, but this one stands out for its bril­liant nar­ra­tion by Derek Ja­cobi. Nov­el­ist Wil­liam Boyd reads his own in­tro­duc­tion, not­ing that al­though the book has its faults, it is still “the most sheerly funny of all Dickens’s nov­els.” Not the least of its joys are two of Dickens’ most in­spired scoundrels, the self-styled friend to mankind, Seth Peck­sniff, and the ghoul­ish, bibu­lous Mrs. Gamp (“Leave the bot­tle on the chim­ley piece, and . . . let me put my lips to it when I am so dis­poged.”) (Au­di­ble Stu­dios, 41 hours, and 33 min­utes) — Kather­ine A. Pow­ers

A Well-Be­haved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

Set in New York’s Gilded Age, this is a fic­tional ac­count of the life of Alva Smith, daugh­ter of old but im­pov­er­ished South­ern gen­try. It is Alva’s duty to re­pair the fam­ily’s for­tunes through mar­riage to money; thus she nabs Wil­liam Van­der­bilt, grand­son of the com­modore. Shunned as war prof­i­teers by the Knicker­bocker elite, the Van­der­bilts hope the al­liance will re­deem them. Much hard-nosed so­cial in­trigue fol­lows, af­ter which the novel turns its at­ten­tion to Alva’s un­ful­fill­ing mar­riage to her play­boy hus­band, her scan­dalous in­sis­tence on a divorce, a sub­se­quent love af­fair and her even­tual cam­paign for women’s rights. Read by Bar­rie Kreinik. (Macmil­lan Au­dio, 14 hours and 20 min­utes) — Kather­ine A. Pow­ers

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

This true story fol­lows a boy named Joe Rantz from a mis­er­able De­pres­sion-era child­hood to the row­ing team at Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, where he and his team­mates — all work­ing-class kids from around the state — fought their way to the na­tional cham­pi­onship, then went on to Ber­lin to com­pete in the Olympics against the team row­ing for Hitler. In Brown’s stir­ring ac­count, the boys, their coach and the British boat builder who fash­ioned their shells are un­for­get­table char­ac­ters and true he­roes. The sport of row­ing is evoked in all its phys­i­cal and meta­phys­i­cal el­e­gance, the em­bod­i­ment of all for one and one for all. Read by Ed­ward Her­rmann. (Pen­guin Au­dio, 14 hours and 24 min­utes) — Mar­ion Winik

The Woman in the Wa­ter by Charles Finch

Al­though this is the 11th in­stal­ment in the ad­ven­tures of Vic­to­rian sleuth Charles Lenox, it is a “pre­quel” to the se­ries and a fine place to be­gin. English ac­tor James Lang­don nar­rates the tale in a calm, el­e­gantly tai­lored voice. It is 1850, and Lenox, 23, has set up house with his valet and as­sist­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Gra­ham. The two live in the thrall of a for­mi­da­ble house­keeper who is a source of ex­cel­lent com­edy — as is the whole Deuteron­omy of what be­fits a gen­tle­man. The crime to be solved in­volves dead women found by the River Thames. Mem­bers of Scot­land Yard — some of the re­sent­ful dun­der­head class — are on the scene. The investigation in­volves sev­eral twists, and the so­lu­tion is agree­ably di­a­bolic. (Read by James Lang­ton. Tan­tor Au­dio, eight hours and 48 min­utes) — Kather­ine A. Pow­ers

Hunger Makes Me a Mod­ern Girl by Car­rie Brown­stein

A mem­oir is the ul­ti­mate type of book to hear read by the au­thor be­cause, of course, it is the writer’s own true story. Of Sleater-Kin­ney and Port­landia fame, Brown­stein is a gui­tarist and song­writer who grew up as a fan and fiercely co-opted rock’s all-male “archetypes, stage moves and rep­re­sen­ta­tions of re­bel­lion and de­bauch­ery.” She has in­sight­ful things to say not just about rock but about grow­ing up with a clos­eted gay fa­ther and an anorexic mother, about how the cre­ative process works, about the “per­for­mance” of the au­di­ence at a con­cert, about the punk es­thetic, even about the value of Christ­mas or­na­ments. (Read by the au­thor. Pen­guin Au­dio, seven hours and four min­utes) — Mar­ion Winik

True Grit by Charles Por­tis

This year marks the 50th an­niver­sary of Por­tis’ most fa­mous novel. Set in the 1870s, it tells the ac­tion-filled story of iron-willed, hard-bar­gain­ing Mat­tie Ross of Yell County, Arkansas, who, at 14, sets off to avenge her fa­ther’s mur­der. With her are Mar­shall Rooster Cog­burn, “an old one-eyed jasper,” and LaBoeuf, a fop­pish Texas Ranger. Mat­tie de­scribes events from a dis­tance of some 50 years on, and her man­ner is that of the strict Pres­by­te­rian spin­ster she has be­come. Tartt’s solemn voice and Por­tis’ ge­nius com­bine to de­liver an im­pec­ca­bly dead­pan style, one filled with as much in­ad­ver­tent hu­mor as high ad­ven­ture. (Read by Donna Tartt. Recorded Books, six hours and 19 min­utes) — Kather­ine A. Pow­ers

This Could Hurt by Jil­lian Med­off

This savvy slice of cor­po­rate life finds heart and hu­mor in a hu­man re­sources bu­reau­cracy. When HR chief Ros­alita Guer­rero has a stroke, the co-work­ers she has men­tored rally around to pro­tect her health ben­e­fits and re­tire­ment. While some at the com­pany jockey for ad­vance­ment, oth­ers find them­selves out on the street. Read­ers of This Could Hurt in print raved about the hu­mor­ous org charts that pre­cede each sec­tion; these are sup­plied in PDF for­mat to au­dio lis­ten­ers be­cause they don’t work when read aloud. On the plus side, the round robin of nar­ra­tors makes Med­off’s ex­pertly de­vel­oped char­ac­ters even more real. (Read by the au­thor and oth­ers. Harper Au­dio, 12 hours and 52 min­utes) — Mar­ion Winik

Hap­pi­ness by An­i­matta Forna

Ac­tor Robin Miles rises to the chal­lenge of ren­der­ing the ac­cents and ca­dences of sev­eral na­tion­al­i­ties in this mov­ing, abun­dantly peo­pled story. Jean is an Amer­i­can sci­en­tist come to Lon­don to track the pop­u­la­tion of ur­ban foxes; At­tila is a Ghana­ian psy­chi­a­trist in Lon­don to present a paper on the men­tal dis­or­ders of vic­tims of war. Theirs is the main story, but it comes to in­volve the lives of many oth­ers, in­clud­ing im­mi­grants work­ing me­nial jobs, each with a his­tory, all band­ing together to find a miss­ing child. The do­ings of mi­grant foxes, para­keets and coy­otes cre­ate a tale of in­ter­sec­tions — not al­ways friendly — be­tween im­mi­grants and na­tives, hu­mans and na­ture. (Recorded Books, 13 hours and nine min­utes) — Kather­ine A. Pow­ers

Is Ev­ery­one Hang­ing Out With­out Me? (and other con­cerns) by Mindy Kal­ing

Kal­ing’s big show­biz break — which came when she and her room­mate turned their par­lor-trick im­i­ta­tion of Ben Af­fleck and Matt Da­mon into an avant-garde Off-Broad­way show — might be one of the great­est ex­am­ples of the “fol­low your bliss” school of ca­reer ad­vice you’ll ever en­counter. Though se­ri­ous top­ics such as bul­ly­ing and body im­age make an ap­pear­ance in this fluffy mem­oir, this is largely a silly, light­hearted col­lec­tion of sto­ries, lists and shticks that goes in one ear and out the other, pro­vid­ing gig­gles along the way. Per­fect for road trips with off­spring who love The Of­fice: B.J. No­vak and Michael Schur make cameo ap­pear­ances. (Read by the au­thor. Ran­dom House Au­dio, four hours and 37 min­utes.) — Mar­ion Winik

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

The first au­dio­book in Kevin Kwan’s tril­ogy, a hit in print and at the movies, is a whirling lazy Su­san buf­fet of de­lights. Kwan’s hi­lar­i­ously de­tailed stud­ies of the life­styles and pec­ca­dil­loes of Sin­ga­pore bil­lion­aires are even bet­ter in au­dio, with gifted nar­ra­tor Lynn Chen do­ing all the dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can, English and Chi­nese ac­cents. Kwan is Jane Austen meets Bret Eas­ton El­lis meets Ruth Re­ichl — he knows his love and money, he knows his de­sign­ers, and Ala­mak! (some­thing like “Damn!” in Malay), can he write about food. You end up des­per­ate to fly to Sin­ga­pore and hit an open-air food mar­ket, then move on to Shang­hai for six cour­ses in a pri­vate din­ing room. All the brand names fi­nally be­came a dis­trac­tion, but for less fancy read­ers, there’s an ad­dic­tive plot de­vel­op­ment ev­ery minute. The se­ries con­tin­ues with

China Rich Girl­friend and Rich Peo­ple Prob­lems, both avail­able in au­dio­books read by Ly­dia Look. (Ran­dom House Au­dio, 13 hours and 53 min­utes) — Mar­ion Winik

Lin­coln in the Bardo by Ge­orge Saun­ders

Press play on the au­dio edi­tion of Saun­ders’ ac­claimed first novel, and you’ll en­ter a teem­ing nether­world of voices from the other side. They are the voices of ghosts in­hab­it­ing the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., grave­yard where Abra­ham Lin­coln comes to visit his cher­ished, newly dead son, Wil­lie. They are voices you’ll rec­og­nize: Su­san Saran­don, Bill Hader and Me­gan Mul­lally (as a foul-mouthed cou­ple), David Sedaris, Ju­lianne Moore, Nick Of­fer­man and Don Chea­dle, along with the au­thor and 158 oth­ers. They are still alive, sort of, with all their grudges, hopes and feel­ing for the pres­i­dent as he mov­ingly ex­presses his unimag­in­able loss (Read by the au­thor, Nick Of­fer­man, David Sedaris and a full cast. Ran­dom House Au­dio, seven hours and 25 min­utes.) — Estelle Lan­der

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Os­age Mur­ders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Three fine nar­ra­tors de­liver this ac­count of the cold­blooded killings of the mem­bers of an Os­age In­dian fam­ily in the 1920s, crimes whose in­ves­ti­ga­tions were nonex­is­tent or tainted by deep-seated racism. The Os­age be­came mil­lion­aires with the dis­cov­ery of oil un­der their Ok­la­homa reser­va­tion, mak­ing them tar­gets of mur­der­ous op­er­a­tors. A sweet-voiced Ann Marie Lee reads the sec­tion con­cerned chiefly with Mol­lie Burkhart, an Os­age woman who mirac­u­lously sur­vived at­tempts on her life; coun­try­growler Will Pat­ton cov­ers the sec­tion on the FBI agent who broke the case; and Danny Camp­bell fin­ishes as the voice of the au­thor who un­cov­ered fur­ther mur­ders. (Read by Will Pat­ton, Ann Marie Lee and Danny Camp­bell. Ran­dom House Au­dio, nine hours.) — Kather­ine A. Pow­ers

4321 by Paul Auster

Eight hun­dred fifty pages in print means 37 hours of au­dio — but lis­ten­ing to 4 3 2 1 in au­dio is worth the com­mit­ment, thanks to the au­thor’s easyon-the-ears bari­tone. Auster takes one char­ac­ter, Archie Fer­gu­son, born in Jewish Ne­wark in the 1940s, and tells his story four ways, each with cer­tain dif­fer­ences in his child­hood that lead to four to­tally dif­fer­ent out­comes. In one, his fa­ther’s fam­ily busi­ness is robbed, in an­other it burns down, in an­other it’s a wild suc­cess. In one of the sto­ries, Archie dies young. (Read by the au­thor. Macmil­lan Au­dio, 37 hours) — Mar­ion Winik

Kevin Kwan at the Golden Globes last Sun­day.

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