When I was younger I went through a phase where I turned up my nose at the thought of audiobooks. “That isn’t real reading” I recall my smug self thinking. Well, younger self, here I am today, writing a dedication to audiobooks.
For me an audiobook is many things. They’re a way to multitask, listening to a book while I cook, clean, exercise, pretty much any daily task that has my mind wandering or thinking “it’d be really nice to know what happens next in my book.” They’re a companion in the car or on a walk. But what I’ve found most is audiobooks are a performance and a connection with the story. Anyone that listens to audiobooks has likely experienced the ones that do not have ideal narrators, an otherwise good book falling flat because of the narration. To that end what follows are three audiobooks I listened to this year that are not only good books, but good audiobooks.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Set in Minneapolis and spanning from November 2019 to November 2020 The Sentence follows Tookie, a woman who has recently been released from federal prison for a laugh-worthy crime. Becoming an avid reader during her time in prison, Tookie takes a job in a bookstore upon her release. Tookie soon discovers the bookstore is haunted by the ghost of Flora, the store’s most dedicated and annoying customer, even in death. What begins as a crime caper, ghost story mashup soon turns into a deep contemplation on the Covid-19 pandemic, George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the historic horrors and culture of Native Americans that often permeates Erdrich’s novels. While this might sound like a confusing culmination of themes it is executed expertly in the moving fashion common for the Pulitzer Prize winning author. Erdrich herself narrated the audiobook I listened to, and if there is ever an opportunity to listen to an audio with the author as narrator I will happily take it. Erdrich is the best person to bring the story to life, invoking Tookie’s experiences through one of the most tumultuous years of modern history with the soul she wrote into this novel.
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The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
Kate Quinn is an author of historical fiction, her novels generally focused upon a female protagonist. In The Diamond Eye Quinn fictionalizes the true story of Russian female sniper Lyudmila “Mila” Pavlichenko. Mila is a single mother studying as a history student in Kyiv when Hitler invades Ukraine and Russia. Mila’s life forever changes, as she leaves behind her history books for a sniper school. Mila soon rises to be one of the best and well known Russian snipers, with over 300 kills to her name; this earns Mila the nickname Lady Death. Her country decides to use Mila’s renown by sending her on a goodwill tour to Washington, D.C., where she spends time at the White House and befriends First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. However, it doesn’t take long for danger to once again find Mila. This novel is full of history and Mila was a person I greatly enjoyed getting to know, full of strength, determination, and hope in a struggling time. The audiobook I listened to is narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, a prolific narrator in the audiobook world. What I particularly enjoyed about the narration is the seemingly easy transitions from the various accents and languages in the novel. Listening to this made me want to read more of Quinn’s novels.
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The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet by John Green
I haven’t picked up a John Green book since several of his novels made a mockery of my teenage heart (I’m looking at you, The Fault in Our Stars), but I was interested in Green’s recent essay collection The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet. The collection contains numerous essays reviewing various topics within our current geological age, such as the Lascaux Cave Paintings, Viral Meningitis, Canada Geese, and Teddy Bears. Whatever the topic, Green fills the reviews with humor, personal tidbits about experiences with the chosen topic, factual information, and insightful reflections. The essays demonstrate a masterful ability to begin with what seems like a straightforward topic (for example, Wintry Mix) and take the reader through an empathetic reminder to wonder, to pay attention to what is around us and our part in it. At the end of each essay Green gives a rating for what he reviewed based on a 5 star scale. I listened to the version narrated by Green, and while I enjoyed the collection as is, Green’s narration took it to a different level, pulling me along his introspective journey through the Anthropocene. And, as a seasoned reader of Green’s novels, I couldn’t help slightly fangirling over the deep dive into his mind. I give The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet 4.5 stars.
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Audiobooks can be checked out from the Joplin Public Library in CD form, as well as electronically from the digital borrowing platforms Libby and Hoopla.
Review by Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator