Go the Distance with Audiobooks

Yes Please coverFor those of you who don’t keep up with obscure monthly observances, June happens to be National Audiobook Month. This, in my opinion, is excellent timing. What better month to celebrate a form of reading that allows us to enjoy the best of summer? We can safely read while we run, garden, hike, or embark on long road trips. It should come as no surprise that our library employees are avid consumers of the audiobook in its many forms. In order to help you choose your next ear-read (I’m making that a word), we’ve asked our staff to review some of their favorite audiobooks. Place your holds now!

Leslie

Harold Fry coverThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel  Joyce (CD and eAudio).  This novel is about a man who is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance. I enjoyed listening to it partly because of the narrator’s British accent but mostly because of the well written and compelling story.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is also by Rachel Joyce (CD) and it is the story told from the perspective of the woman who Harold Fry is walking to visit. It features another charming British accent and there’s a surprise at the end.

Short Nights coverShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan (CD and eAudio) is the story of photographer Edward S. Curtis and his passionate project of documenting the remaining Native American tribes in stunning photographs. An incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, Egan’s book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis’s iconic photographs. You obviously don’t see the photos while listening to this book, but the images created by this author are still vivid in my memory. I associate it with painting our basement as that’s what I did while ‘reading’ this fabulous story. Now if I could just have a Curtis photograph for my basement walls…

These Few Precious Days by Christopher Andersen (CD) will amaze you with the whole story of Jack and Jackie’s final year together. This book is a glimpse into the twilight days of Camelot.


One Summer coverYes, Please! By Amy Poehler (CD) is simply hilarious and made even better by being read by the author herself. Listen to this one if you need a good laugh, and who doesn’t? (Lisa here – I have to second this choice – it’s fantastic!)


One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson (CD and Playaway) is about just that: America in the summer of 1927. This is a big story about the big personalities of the day: Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Charles Lindbergh, Al Jolson and more. Do yourself a favor and let someone else read it to you! It’s fascinating.

Alan

Grapes of Wrath coverThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (CD)
I had always meant to read this and once I had a long commute, I was able to find the time. The book about the plight of American farmers who were forced off their farms by drought and foreclosure during the 1930’s is everything you’d expect. But the narration adds so much to the story. When you finish the audiobook, cue up Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads, which the library also owns.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak (CD and eAudio)
Very funny, well worth hearing B. J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Mindy Kaling, and many, many others perform the occasionally brilliant, sometimes underdeveloped, always funny pieces on the audiobook version of this short story collection from a writer of the American version of “The Office.”

Fighting Chance coverA Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (CD and eAudio)
Elizabeth Warren’s story of her bumpy rise to fame and political power not only sets the stage for (likely) a higher office, but serves to inspire and make her as relatable as she appears in interviews and speeches. Read by the author/politician, Warren has a wonderfully rich voice, elevating the telling nicely.

Joyce

Born Standing Up coverBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, written and read by Steve Martin (CD). Listening to the long-time writer/producer/actor/musician/comic’s audiobook gave me a jolt of intimacy and pleasure that his book—no matter how well written—could not have delivered on. Born Standing Up had me marveling at not just the words, but his voice: the tone and timbre, and timing, and Martin’s is impeccable. Martin’s memoir about growing up in southern California, working and learning magic at Disneyland, playing banjo in coffeehouses, his unusual, breakthrough comedy routines and becoming hugely popular on Saturday Night Live was a funny, enthralling life story.

Eileen

I have become an audiobook fanatic since acquiring an MP3 player several years ago. I listen when I’m gardening, walking, cooking (sometimes this is not a good thing), ironing—in other words whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t take a lot of concentration.

I have several favorites. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (CD and Playaway) is one I heard early in my career as a book listener, and it still comes back to haunt me. The reader’s voice was perfect for conveying Didion’s sense of loss and hopelessness as first her husband then her daughter die in the same year.

Bringing Up the Bodies coverI listened to both of Hilary Mantel’s books about the life of Thomas Cromwell and his association with Henry VIII.  Several people had told me that they found it difficult to track who was who when they attempted to read Wolf Hall (CD and eAudio), the first book in what is expected to be a trilogy. Listening to it there was no such difficulty. The right reader is critical to my enjoyment of an audiobook, and Simon Slater was the perfect choice for my ears. But then I also enjoyed hearing Simon Vance read Bring up the Bodies (CD and eAudio), Mantel’s sequel.

Dance with Dragons coverLastly I thoroughly enjoyed all of the George R. R. Martin series, Song of Ice and Fire (CD and eAudio).  I didn’t expect this to be true because I don’t normally read fantasy or science fiction, but I was hearing rave reviews from library patrons, and thought listening to the audio version would be easier than reading all 694 pages of A Game of Thrones. Many hours later—and I mean many hours since each of the books in the series so far run more than 30 hours—I came to the end of the fifth book,  A Dance with Dragons, and all I could think of was when would he finish writing the next book so I could find out what happened!

Julie

Misty imageMy all-time favorite audio book has to be Misty of Chincoteague read by Edward Hermann (Playaway). His voice is so great and friendly, making me feel like a grandpa is reading it. I also like that it is a playaway so I can walk around with it. My commute is only 1.5 miles, so a book on disc would take me ages!

Me

I blogged a little while back about some excellent non-fiction audiobooks that I really enjoyed; you can find that post here. More recent favorites include:

The Road coverThe Road by Cormac McCarthy (CD). Imagine the Walking Dead, sans walkers. The world as we know it has been obliterated by an unspecified disaster. Father and son find themselves on a furtive journey to the sea. What they hope to find there is unclear, but it has to be better than where they’ve come from. Doesn’t it? Haunting, anxiety-ridden, but strangely beautiful at times.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (CD). Young love is rough and often prone to failure. What happens if it never truly dies? Love in the Time of Cholera is a fairly humorous and slightly dark look at one man’s 1/2-a-century struggle to overcome his first heartbreak. It may leave you asking: does love ever truly die?

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

unlikelypilgrimageThere are some days when I drive in to work and I think “What if I just keep driving? What if I don’t make that left-hand turn into the library parking lot and I just keep going?”

I’m a creature of habit and I thrive on my routine. But what if I did keep driving? What if I changed my life by making the decision to drive a few more miles to an unfamiliar place? I’m a slave to my own predictability but I crave something, some event, some place, that will light up my life like the Fourth of July. Or even a 75 watt light bulb in a dim basement.

Harold Fry, the main character in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, is also a man of routine. He worked for over forty years in a brewery and has recently retired. He and his wife of 47 years sleep in separate rooms and barely have anything to say to one another. He has a son named David who he doesn’t speak to. He spends much of his retirement wondering where he went wrong with his son and wife and what he could have done to change the past.

20 years ago he became close to a co-worker named Queenie Hennessy. They weren’t romantically involved but they formed a special bond. She was fired and he hasn’t seen her since. One day he gets a letter from her. She’s dying in a hospice and doesn’t have much time left. Harold writes a letter to her and walks to the mailbox a block away from his house to mail it. He passes it and decides to walk on to the next mailbox. 

This simple chain of events sets into motion Harold’s journey. He decides to walk a little further. And then a little further. And further. Eventually he decides he’s going to walk the 600 miles to where Queenie lays dying. All he has are the clothes he’s wearing and his wallet. His first stop is at convenience store where the young woman behind the counter tells him her aunt had cancer. The clerk decided that her aunt wasn’t going to die because she had enough faith to keep her aunt alive. Harold believes that by walking the hundreds of miles Queenie will stay alive, waiting for him.

In the beginning he stays at cheap hotels, dining with the other guests who all start confiding things to him, things you wouldn’t even tell your priest during confession. He hears stories of disappointment and joy, tragedy, triumph, love, and hate:

And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.

Amen to that.

Soon, his journey becomes news and television stations run his story. People begin to walk alongside him. Many of Harold’s fellow walkers drop away, however, and he begins to deteriorate rapidly. He sleeps outside under the stars. He grows a beard and confuses the present day with the past. He obsesses over being a bad father to his son David and thinks about giving up, quitting the walk and having his wife come and get him. But he doesn’t give up, especially when he hears he’s only ten miles away from the hospice. 

Needless to say, the Queenie he finds is not the same Queenie he knew twenty years ago. Then again, if I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in twenty years we’d probably both agree we weren’t the same people anymore. And then we’d say in what’s supposed to be an inside voice but somehow comes out in loud gleeful disgust:  “She got fat!”

At times touching, hilarious and downright heartbreaking, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will suck you in and leave you asking yourself these questions: to what lengths would I go to in order to change my life and how long will I let the past haunt me?

I’m still being haunted by the things I’ve done in the past and so far the only length I’ve gone to to change my life is to cut out all dairy from my diet. It’s a start. Baby steps, baby steps.

Jennifer