By Amy Finnegan - writer, reader, Bookshop Talk host
I have a problem: I’m addicted to reading.
No WAIT, that isn’t exactly true. Reading itself isn’t the thing I’m addicted to—it’s good storytelling that I can’t tear myself away from.
But as much as I’d like to, I can’t read a book while I’m running errands, or on a long drive. Or cleaning. Or working out. So several years ago, I discovered audio books, and I’ve been madly in love ever since.
The first audio book I remember listening to was John Grisham’s THE FIRM, way back in the day when my library had . . . oh, just 50 or so “Books on Tape” to borrow. And I was blown away!
Over the past decade or so, I’ve listened to—literally—hundreds of audio books, and many of them have been fantastic. But today, I’m only going to tell you about the audio books that I find myself recommending over and over and over again, because both the story and the narration are simply AMAZING.
In my opinion, the far-and-away king of all audio books is HARRY POTTER (any or all of them). This also happens to be the best novel series ever, so adding the most entertaining narration in history quadruples the magic of these stories!
Jim Dale’s narration is so excellent that if you’re already a fan of HP, trust me when I say that you’ll enjoy HARRY POTTER even more if you listen to the audio books. And if you’ve never read the series, “kid’s books” or not, you are missing out on a literary adventure that you can’t begin to imagine. And I must also add that, yes, the movies are GREAT, but they hardly touch the full scope of the stories, or the lovability of these very real characters. One way or another, READ/LISTEN to these books (again, and again)!
My next favorite narration is THE HELP, written by Kathryn Stockett, and narrated by four excellent readers. The story itself is too wonderful for a quick plug here, so if you need convincing, you can read Jessica Day George’s review of it here on Bookshop Talk. The audio version brings the story ALIVE, and again, adds a 3-D dimension to the novel (I also loved the recently released movie, although it didn’t quite do the book justice).
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society . . . Wow, and wow again. The audio version of this novel is performed by several different narrators, giving each character a life of its own. You can find a glowing review of this very unique novel on Bookshop Talk.
The Book Thief will make you smile, break your heart, and leave you in awe. And the audio narration is miraculously worthy of the story. Read a review of the novel here.
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is read by the author himself, the incomparable Neil Gaiman, and what a treat!! (Read review here). Author narrations can sometimes be a disaster, but Gaiman is spectacular, throwing a whimsical spin on his characters that only he can do. Other excellent author-narrators include Sara Zarr & Libba Bray.
As far as Classics go, there are audio books aplenty. But in my experience, it’s difficult to find a narration that isn’t either too dry or overdramatized. Here are a handful of audio versions with just the right tone:
I CAPTURE THE CASTLE (Abridged - ugh! – but still amazing)
For rough and tough guys, both my dad and my husband LOVE Louis L’Amour audio books.
Nonfiction books can be profoundly easier to get through if you’re listening to an audio version. The best example I can think of is Churchill’s massive volumes of documenting his own history: CHURCHILL. Over 37 hours of listening. No kidding.
I also think that educational/motivational books are usually much more helpful when the author is talking right to you (“Yes, you CAN do it! I know you can! Get off that couch and . . . ”). Want both entertainment and education? Listen to FREAKONOMICS by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, which is filled to the brim with some completely engrossing, crazy stuff.
Are there some crappy narrations out there? For sure. Some narrations totally kill the book for me, and I can’t even finish them (The audio version of THE HUNGER GAMES is awful!! But the book itself is one of my all-time favorites).
Excellent narrations have often made a normally labor intensive read for me much easier to get through (Kate Morton’s THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN, for example, or ROMANCING MISS BRONTE by Juliet Gael). Both have great stories, but I'll admit that I often develop "literary ADHD" after a book passes 400 pages.
Despite my love for audio books, I DO still read books. I’d never want to give up the awesome satisfaction in that. But when I really can’t wait to sit down again and finish up a book, I get the audio book version as well, so I don’t HAVE to wait for that next bit of quiet time.
So where do I get all my audio books? Usually Audible.com (and fyi, no one associated with Bookshop Talk, including myself, benefits from me promoting this site. So this is all 100% honest praise). I freaking LOVE Audible! It is generally way less expensive than other sources such as iTunes (especially if you buy several credits at a time), and you can now buy Audible audio books through Amazon.
Also, your local library likely has a nice stockpile of audio books, so give them a try!
Anyone else out there listening to audio books on a regular basis? If so, please share a few of your favorites! Or does anyone out there not like audio books? Why not?