Wishing you all a very happy and safe holiday season! In 2022, at least half of my reading was by audiobook (occasionally I combined audio and print versions). I generally listen to audiobooks while walking, doing household chores, and driving. My dad lives an hour’s drive away, which lends itself to a good audiobook, provided it’s not one you need to concentrate on too much.
I continue to be surprised by how much a good audiobook resonates with me. I think a good audiobook can have a lot more emotional impact, but at the same time I definitely find I’m less able to follow and remember complex details. My mind processes the written word differently, which makes comparing the two formats all the more interesting. Sometimes a not-so-great narrator lessens my enjoyment of a book, and sometimes the reverse is true and the narrator brings a heightened impact to a book.
What makes a good audio narrator? For me, it’s one who brings a lot of emotion to their reading and heightens your understanding of the characters. I also love accents and books that have a lot of dialect or foreign language, so a knowledgeable narrator is really important. An audio narrator needs to be able to voice different characters well, so the different voices are distinctive and I’m not trying to figure out who is doing the talking. In particular, an audio narrator needs to be able to voice both male and female characters well. Obviously a narrator whose voice distracts from the story is a negative. And I become annoyed by audiobook narrators who always sound the same across multiple books (this is my issue with Julia Whelan, for example, even though she’s a beloved narrator).
In general, I prefer one or two narrators to a larger cast. I know many people like a big theatrical cast for audiobooks, but I like it to feel more like reading and less like you’re listening to a play or movie.
I’ve organized my favorite audiobooks into four categories:
Best books (these are books I think would be fantastic whether in book or audio form):
- Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, narrated by Lauren J. Daggett
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles narrated by Rebecca Lowman
- Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller narrated by Frazer Douglas
- Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, narrated by Miranda Raison and Pandora Sykes
- Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, narrated by Charlie Thurston
Better by audio (these are books that I think were enhanced by audio):
- Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson, narrated by Guy Lockard
- The 100 Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin, narrated by Rebecca Benson and Sheila Reid
- Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith, narrated by Quyen Ngo
- Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoiki narrated by Cindy Kay
Fun reads (these are romances and mysteries that were really elevated by strong narration):
- Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto narrated by Risa Mei
- Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews narrated by Vidish Athavale and Lydia Hanman
- Down a Dark River by Karen Odden, narrated by Joshua Manning
- The Bodyguard by Katherine Center narrated by Patti Murin
Read by author (sometimes hearing about an author’s experiences in their own voice really makes a difference):
- The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Doug Abrams, narrated by authors
- We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union, narrated by author
Those are a few of my favorite audiobooks from this year. If you listen to audiobooks, what makes an audiobook really memorable for you, and what were some of your favorites this year?