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Top 10 Favorite Audiobooks

JuneHeaderIn honor of June is Audiobook Month (JIAM), I’ve decided to share a list of my favorite audiobooks. This was hard! There are a lot of good ones out there. If you haven’t tried an audiobook before, here are a few you might want to try.

1. Three Junes by Julia Glass. What I said: “The narrator, John Keating, was nearly perfect. I loved his brogue and his Fenno was wonderful.”

2. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. What I said: “The three performers -Nick Sullivan, Lorna Raver, and Mark Bramhall – were absolutely perfect; I felt like I was listening to a script reading. The voice of Clem, in particular, was superb. This may be the best audio production I’ve ever listened to.”

3. Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout. What I said: “The performer, Bernadette Dunne, had the accents down perfectly and really imbued the voices with personality and character. She brought Strout’s words to life so convincingly that at times I felt as though the characters were in the room with me. This is one of the best audiobook narrations I’ve listened to, ever.”

4. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. What I said: “[T]he narration by Peter Altschuler is one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Great delivery and perfect accents. Mrs. Ali was the weak link, the errant thread of the Turkish rug. But the others were great.”

5. A Good American by Alex George. What I said: “The audio is terrific. Great narrator – Gibson Frazier. In fact, I think it was the audio version that kept me interested – I am not sure I would have stuck with this book if I hadn’t been listening to it.”

6. Faith by Jennifer Haigh. What I said: “The narrator, Therese Plummer, has a perfect Boston accent, and she vividly brought Faith‘s characters, male and female, to life. The audiobook forced me to ingest this novel more slowly than if I had read it, prolonging the pleasure of experiencing the book.”

7. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: What I said: “Hope Davis is an excellent narrator. She conveys a range of voices perfectly – from Marina’s terror brought on by drug-induced nightmares to the infallible tone of Dr. Swenson.”

8. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. What I said: “I highly recommend the audio. It was narrated by Ferris, and he’s a great reader. I love listening to authors read their own works – who understands the words better than they do? Who else knows exactly where the emphasis lands in a sentence, and the tone of voice a character should take when talking to someone else?”

9. The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta. What I said: “It didn’t hurt that I listened to this book on audio narrated by the sublime Campbell Scott. I wouldn’t complain if he narrated every single audiobook in the library. His deep voice, which verges on (but never reaches) flatness, was the perfect vehicle for Perrotta’s understated sarcasm and jabs. I especially enjoyed Scott’s narration of Pastor Dennis – just perfect.”

And finally, the audiobook that got me into audiobooks…

10. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. What I said: “This book is narrated by Kristoffer Tabori, an accomplished actor, and I give him credit for embodying so many diverse voices throughout the 21 hours of Middlesex. His narration is fluid and vibrant, his voice highly capable of conveying the range from humor to desperation. To me, the weak link was his female voices, especially that of Cal’s grandmother Desdemona, who bordered on caricature. But this is a minor complaint. There were times when I was tempted to read ahead in my print copy of Middlesex, but I developed a strong appreciation for and loyalty to Tabori as I was reading, and felt that it would be betraying him NOT to experience every word through his narration.”

What are your favorite audiobooks? Please share them!

ABIDE WITH ME by Elizabeth Strout

I’ve read a number of books in recent memory set in Maine – Red Hook Road, Maine, Olive Kitteridge – and this month added Elizabeth Strout’s Abide With Me to the mix. Maine is a good setting for a novel, with its long, unforgiving winters; its sturdy, unsentimental citizens; and its disdain for the fancy summer people from Massachusetts. Each of those play a role in Abide With Me, which is about Tyler Caskey, a young minister, who settles in a rural Maine town with his wife Lauren in the late 1950s. Lauren is a materialistic young woman who is uninterested in religion, and feels trapped and bored in West Annett, while Tyler is trying to build up a congregation and meet the needs of his community. Two little daughters are born, and then Lauren is diagnosed with cancer and passes away. Abide With Me is about Tyler’s grief and loneliness and the challenges he faces in raising his daughters and maintaining faith in God in the face of his loss. It is also about gossip and secrets, and the judgmental nature of small towns.

This is the third novel I have read by Elizabeth Strout (in addition to Amy and Isabelle and Olive Kitteridge) and once again I was struck by the power of her spare, unemotional writing. The book progressed a little slowly at times, but I like the way Strout dipped and weaved among different characters and subplots, as well as her slow teasing out of backstories. There is a lot of pain and sadness here, and Strout doesn’t shy away from it, especially where Tyler’s daughter Katherine is concerned. Strout adeptly conveys the loneliness and frankly the boredom in these small town lives, and the silent resentments and fury that builds up between spouses over time.

The ending was a little pat, and I could have done without some of the religious discussion throughout the book (particularly around a saint – or someone like a saint – that Tyler had read about and invoked in times of stress). But there was some good exploration of faith and forgiveness – and what role they each play when one has lost a loved one or has been wronged.

I listened to Abide With Me on audio and the narration was perfect. The performer,  Bernadette Dunne, had the accents down perfectly and really imbued the voices with personality and character. She brought Strout’s words to life so convincingly that at times I felt as though the characters were in the room with me. This is one of the best audiobook narrations I’ve listened to, ever.

ABIDE WITH ME by Elizabeth Strout

I read Elizabeth Strout’s debut novel Amy and Isabelle a few years ago for a book club. I remember liking it, not loving it. It’s the story of an estranged mother and adolescent daughter living in New England sometime in the past… the daughter has fallen in love with her cad of a math teacher, her single mother has a big secret from her past that she’s never told her daughter, and the residents of their small town like to gossip about both of them. Not a bad book.

StroutStrout’s second novel, Abide with Me, looks like it takes some of those same themes — single parenthood, small towns, secrets — but explores them more deeply and with more substance.  It’s the story of Tyler, a recently-widowed minister struggling to raise two small daughters, and how his loss and inability to cope force him to question his faith and his calling.  From the Washington Post review:

Dark as much of this beautiful novel is, there’s finally healing here, and, as Tyler should have known, it comes not from strength and self-sufficiency but from accepting the inexplicable love of others. In one beautiful page after another, Strout captures the mysterious combination of hope and sorrow. She sees all these wounded people with heartbreaking clarity, but she has managed to write a story that cradles them in understanding and that, somehow, seems like a foretaste of salvation.

More magazine calls it a "wise" book.  From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Strout continues her astute and moving explorations into the curious nature of human beings in her second novel, Abide With Me. She offers another rich, communal portrait of a small town, with its petty, hurtful gossip offset by the astonishing power of kindness and friendship…. Strout tackles "serious stuff" in Abide With Me — including delicate moral distinctions between euthanasia, suicide and abortion. Like Amy and Isabelle, her second novel radiates a humane, life-affirming warmth even after acknowledging that it is a "sad world." Abide With Me is a book to curl up with on a bleak day, a book that isn’t embarrassed to assert that "where there are people, there is always the hope of love."

I also just searched through a number of blog posts on this book and they were almost all positive, though several note that the book is depressing. (What else is new?) 

Has anyone read this book?