Monday, September 19, 2016

Ten Books Best Experienced on Audio

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is all about audiobooks! I have become a frequent consumer of audiobooks since learning how to download them from the library, and previously I shared my thoughts on what makes a book good or bad for audio. Here are ten books that I highly recommend experiencing as audiobooks if you're going to read them.

1. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, narrated by Mark Bramhall
This story of a couple in the western United States in the late 1800s is narrated (in-story) by the couple's grandson, and due to his physical limitations he is dictating the story into some recording device, along with his present-day, stream-of-consciousness thoughts. This makes it a perfect fit for audio, and Bramhall perfectly captures the tone of a crotchety old man piecing together this family story while muttering comments about his meddling son and his weird caretaker.

2. The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan, narrated by the author and Joan Chen
This story is told from alternate viewpoints, those of a mother and daughter, and the two narrators allow these two characters to speak with unique voices. The fact that they are separated generationally and culturally, a key part of the story, is emphasized on audio by the mother's Chinese accent (Chen) and the daughter's American one (Tan).

3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, narrated by Martin Jarvis
I struggled to read this in print and finally switched over to the audio version, and I'm extremely glad I did. The characters all came to life with Jarvis' masterful narration, which provided distinct and recognizable voices for at least 30 different characters. That is especially helpful in a fairly long book where characters pop in and out of the story with long breaks between appearances.

4. Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry, narrated by Martin Jarvis
After picking up David Copperfield on audio, I realized the narrator was the same as another audiobook I'd enjoyed previously, Family Matters. This novel about a family in Mumbai shows how people are at their best and their worst with their family members, and Jarvis again brings the characters of all ages to life with his narration.

5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett, narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell
I was surprised to learn after reading this about the controversy of how Stockett wrote out the characters' voices (briefly: the black characters were written using heavy dialect while the white characters' Southern accents were not indicated typographically in any way). On audio, the characters' voices were all distinct in their own way, and the three primary audio narrators distinguished the three primary first-person narrators in the story. And how cool that Octavia Spencer also played Minny in the movie and won an Oscar for it!

6. Middlemarch by George Eliot, narrated by Juliet Stevenson
This is another case where I was able to keep many characters straight throughout a long story due to the excellent narration on the audiobook. This is especially important in a book where the first half is just about getting to know all the various inhabitants of the town of Middlemarch before we really get to dive into the drama of their families, relationships, and mistakes.

7. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, narrated by Joe Barrett
I picked this up on audio after seeing the Irving had handpicked Barrett to narrate this book. I honestly can't imagine getting the full impact of this book if it wasn't on audio, as a key component of the story is Owen Meany's voice. This is also another one that's quite long with a large cast of characters, and having those distinct voices is helpful for me.

8. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, narrated by Simon Prebble
This story is told by a 1950s English butler reflecting over his career, which sounds kind of boring but is actually funny, sweet, and sad as we're forced to read between the lines of his very proper and professional narrative. I don't think I would have enjoyed this nearly as much if it hadn't been read to me in the butler's posh English accent by the talented Simon Prebble.

9. Room by Emma Donoghue, narrated by Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff, and Suzanne Toren
People seem to have very strong feelings about whether hearing Jack's 5-year-old narration in a "child's" voice was better or worse than reading it, but I personally loved it. I'm glad that they chose to have other narrators for the adults in the story — it's rare to have multiple audio narrators just to break in briefly for character dialogue when there's a single first-person narrator, but I thought it worked well for this book. Some people have said that the way Jack's voice was written didn't always sound like a kid, but the woman who voiced him made everything sound natural and child-like.

10. Yes Please by Amy Poehler, narrated by the author (with cameos from others)
It's not common for audiobooks to go off-script from the written text, but Poehler made the most of the medium to include jokes, songs, and guest voices just because she could. Although the book itself didn't blow me away, it was delightful to hear it narrated by her along with as many celebrities and family members as she could drag into the recording booth.

Which books have you found particularly suited to audio?

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