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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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?

Come Playaway with Me

I have a reputation at the library. I am a picky reader. But when you look deeper you will see I’m even worse than that. And what’s worse than a picky reader? That’s right. I’m an even pickier listener. I turn up my nose at most audiobooks, preferring a very few types to experience: humor and memoirs, or even better, humorous memoirs. And almost all the ones I enjoy are read by the author.

Usually I prefer to check out a book-on-CD to listen to on my commute. However, there are certain times, cleaning the house or working on a special project at the library, where I prefer to take my story with me. And that’s where a Playaway shines.

A Playaway is a pre-loaded audio player. The only thing required to listen is an AAA battery and earphones. That’s it. No downloading, switching CDs or tapes, or lugging extra equipment around. A Playaway will fit into your pocket or through a loop in a lanyard around your neck. Convenient? Oh yes. And the audio quality is as good as the earbuds you use.

Have I gotten your attention yet? Are you intrigued by what Playaway has to offer? Then let me tell you about my shameless self-promotion. The Everett Public Library, your hometown library and mine, has a shot at winning $10,000 in a national display contest sponsored by Playaway. Please vote for our displays here. Share it on Facebook, tweet it, shout it from the rooftops. Voting ends December 17th and the winners will be announced early next year.

Here are a few of my most favorite Playaways. Check one out, pop in a battery, and experience the convenience first-hand.

Listening to the author read her first memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, I was swept away by Haven Kimmel’s depiction of her childhood in the late 1960s. Born in a tiny town in Indiana, population 300, Kimmel relates anecdotes from her early childhood that brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. I ended up buying a copy of the book for myself and I pick it up any time I feel homesick for my own tiny Midwestern hometown. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to check out other titles by Haven Kimmel, including the memoir’s sequel, She Got Up Off the Couch.  

When I picked up the Worst-Case Scenario Survial Handbook : Travel Playaway, I have to admit I was not particularly interested in the topics. Neither book was a memoir. What caught my eye, however, were the narrators for these two books in one: Burt Reynolds and Penn Jillette. If you know anything about the Worst Case Scenario series, you know not to take these books too seriously. They’re tongue-in-cheek at best, riotous at worst, and always hit the comedy mark. Listening to two of my most favorite voices read how to survive a shark attack and stop a runaway train was music to my ears.

When my mom visited me last spring, she introduced me to Craig Ferguson. The man is hilarious. Anyone who watches his late-night talk show knows that almost nothing he says or does on his show is scripted. All that comedy gold comes from Mr. Ferguson himself. So when I saw he had written a book called American On Purpose : The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot I was immediately intrigued. Here would be that gem of an audiobook that is my most favorite sub-genre: humorous memoir. Right? Wrong.

Oh sure, it’s peppered with Ferguson’s signature self-depreciating wit. But his was a life that was extraordinary, and not often in a good way. Throughout the book Ferguson, who narrates, draws a parallel between his personal struggles with drugs, jobs, women, and freedom with the struggle of all American immigrants. Again, if you watch his show you already know that he has become an American citizen, so you know how the book will end. But along the way you will be constantly amazed at the deep sensitivity (and sometimes deep insensitivity) of the man who always wanted to become an American. On purpose.


Meet Brad at the Evergreen Branch

The Evergreen Branch recently welcomed a new manager, Brad Allen. Brad comes to us from Kansas, where he worked at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. We’re happy to introduce him to you here. Be sure to say hello next time you’re at the Evergreen Branch.

Brad Allen
Welcome to Everett! You drove here from Topeka. That’s a long drive. Did you listen to any cool music or audiobooks?
book coverWarren ZevonIt is a long drive indeed, but I’m a fan of road trips. I listened to two great audiobooks: I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb and T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain. I also listened to some of my favorite music including Pavement, Wilco, Radiohead, R.E.M., Neil Young, Warren Zevon, and The xx.

Kansas makes me think of The Wizard of Oz. Can you recommend any favorite Kansas authors or books or movies about Kansas?
Wizard of OzWildwood BoysI’ve yet to travel from Kansas and not heard, “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” It’s an irresistible response to learning someone is from Kansas. Two great authors more or less from Kansas are Gordon Parks and Langston Hughes. A great book is James Carlos Blake’s Wildwood Boys, a historical novel about the pre-Civil War Kansas-Missouri Border Wars told from the perspective of Bloody Bill Anderson. I love John Williams’ Butcher’s Crossing, set in both Kansas and Colorado. John Williams’ wonderful book Stoner is one of my absolute favorites, but it’s set in Missouri.

Do you have any favorite books or shows with a Washington setting or author?
Financial Lives of the PoetsTwo of my favorite television shows are closely associated with Washington: Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure. As for books, I’ve recently become a fan of Spokane author Jess Walter and Olympia author Jim Lynch. The Financial Lives of the Poets and Border Songs are two of the best books I’ve read in the past year.

What’s your favorite book?
StonerRevolutionary RoadMy all time favorite is Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. Yates is an incredibly underrated writer. My previous favorite book was David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The aforementioned Stoner is a recent favorite.

What was your favorite book growing up?
Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyTo Kill a MockingbirdThe book that blew my mind as a youngster was Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its meditation on the great expanses of time and the universe changed the way I thought about the world. The other seminal book of my childhood was To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it the summer after sixth grade and it hooked me on a life of reading.

What’s your favorite movie?
Nurse BettyThe Big LebowskiThe Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski is the greatest movie of the last 25 years. Other favorites are Mulholland Drive, Nurse Betty, Ghostbusters, and No Country For Old Men.

Infinite JestIf you were stranded on Jetty Island and could only take three books, what would you take?
Infinite JestI’ve been meaning to reread it and it’s really long. Charles Willeford’s Sideswipe. And Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow — it might be quiet enough to actually concentrate to read it.

Listen Up!

Headphones and book

I’ve temporarily traded my bus pass for a steering wheel. One of my favorite things about riding the bus was the chance to read twice a day. So when I needed to start driving more, I was bummed. Then I found audio books.

Listening to an audio book instead of reading the printed version is a different experience. Both formats have strengths, and they challenge the audience to engage with the material in distinctive ways. I was surprised to discover that I—a dedicated lifelong book reader—had room in my heart for both.
Audio books satisfy my compulsion for multi-tasking. I can read several chapters while navigating the highway. Audio books make my commute feel more tolerable and much less lonely. But beware: even the most realistic characters and liveliest narrators do not count as passengers for purposes of using the HOV lane.

I Like You by Amy SedarisNow that I have the audio book bug, I get to enjoy a new part of the library. I browse our Books-on-CD collections at least once a week and always find something interesting. I’ve become so hooked that I want to listen even when I’m not in the car. Luckily, Overdrive lets me download audio books to my iPod. Boring chores are now a lot more fun. I suspect I’ll be visiting the Playaway collection more once I get back on the bus and want to continue listening in an easy, portable way.Lost City of Z by David Grann

In addition to the format choices, audio books have encouraged me to push beyond my normal reading fare of literary domestic fiction and memoirs. I’m listening to more narrative non-fiction and essay collections, young adult novels, and even the occasional science fiction selection. My listening tastes and my reading tastes are not necessarily the same, and I think that’s a great thing.

My favorite listens lately are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, Amy Sedaris’s I Like You, David Grann’s The Lost City of Z, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Man without a Country. These are not books I’d necessarily pick up and read cover to cover, but I was completely captivated by the content and vocal performances of each.

What about you? Do you prefer your book in print or audio? Do your listening and reading habits align? Talk to me. I’m listening.