Audiobooks So Good, You’d Listen Twice

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 8th, 2010

For anyone who works in the book world, re-visiting books one has already read (or listened to) is a luxury rarely afforded. There are piles of new titles to be ordered, as well as that stack of last year’s darlings you meant to get around to, not to mention classics you can’t believe you haven’t read yet — and so on. Deciding to dive back into a favorite book feels like an act of secret rebellion; it’s extremely pleasurable, if only because it cannot be tied to work. The re-read is a tiny party of pure decadence.

The same is true for audiobooks, and more so. Because a narrator delivers the story at the pace of human speech, it takes much longer to experience a book aurally than to read it. Therefore, to listen to an audiobook twice means that book must be supernally good. (In my world, audiobooks exist always and only in the unabridged version; I’d rather skip one than listen to pieces of it, no matter how well-sewn- together it claims to be.)

There are only a few audiobooks I’ve succumbed to more than once. These are titles I read and loved in book form first, so in effect I’ve experienced these books fully at least three times. (O fabulous sin!) My guilty pleasures?

  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. This is a nonstop ride of an adult book, funny and wild and fantastic. A middle-management schmo, inaccurately nicknamed Fat Charlie by his dynamic father, has been slogging through his boring work life and tepid romance (complete with virgin fiancee). Adventure comes knocking, literally, as a brother Charlie never knew existed pays a visit and drags him on a life-changing journey. The father they share, a ladies’ man who lives to have a good time, is none other than Anansi, the spider god, a trickster of the first degree. This feels more like a comic novel than a fantasy, though, appealing even to readers who prefer realism in their fiction. Lenny Henry, the actor narrator, does a beautiful job bringing the characters to life in all their variety, and with several authoritative dialects/accents. This is our bestselling audiobook at the store. Older teens love it, too.
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. How does anyone narrate a book this exquisite, funny and heartbreaking — and told, no less, from the point of view of Death itself? I don’t know, but narrator Allan Corduner pulls it off gloriously. A resonant (but never ponderous or pompous) British accent helps, as does a narrator who immerses himself so fully in the story that he seems to become the story, if that makes sense. His emotional range — wisdom, humor, anger, surprise, etc. — is as broad and deep as the wide human world of the book, but also manages to embody the sorrowful omniscience and necessary distance of Zusak’s storyteller, Death. A magnificent book, beautifully read. Truth be told? I’d listen to it again.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt; narrated by Jeff Woodman. I can’t remember when or where I first listened to this riveting real-life suspense story/Savannah moodpiece, but I enjoyed it so much that first time that I chose it again years later to be my car-ride companion at a difficult time, driving back and forth between one small town in Indiana and a hospital 45 minutes away in another. Something appealed to me about the oppressive heat in the book, the snobbish socialite parties and late-night impromptu honkeytonks, the gorgeous antiques and misfit dangerous young men, summer Georgia nights spent in cemeteries, the author’s brief foray into voodoo, the flirtatious, outrageous drag queen he befriends, the cafe characters and restless beauties he comes upon in his southern sojourn. Berendt is a little like the main character in Styron’s Sophie’s Choice: always an outsider, grateful to be included, an observant and literary satellite recounting tales of tawdry glamor and ruined lives. Good stuff.
  • David Sedaris’s Live at Carnegie Hall. This last is short enough that it may not officially count as an indulgence, but I can make an argument for it — and will, since I’ve listened to the entire CD at least ten times, usually when I walk the dogs. Sure, my neighbors think I’m a little odd, weeping with laughter in the farmer’s field while I march along and my dogs run around sniffing cow dung, but I don’t care; “Stadium Pal” alone is worth the reputation of eccentricity.

Audiobooks I’ve heard once and would love to hear again? Both Because of Winn-Dixie (narrator: the inimitable Cherry Jones) and The Tale of Despereaux (narrator: the marvelous Graeme Malcolm) by Kate DiCamillo; The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, narrated by Dean Robertson; The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx (the unabridged version narrated by Kimberly Schraf is now OP, sadly — it’s a pity, because this was a book I kept trying and failing to like, until I turned to the audio in desperation because of its near-universal accolades. I was so glad I did).

What do these books have in common, aside from marvelous writing and gifted narrators? What makes them worth experiencing, over many long hours, more than once? Anything hinging on surprise won’t cut it; most whodunits are a one-time read.  I suppose it has something to do with the human truths at the hearts of the stories, and the language that reveals, and revels, in them, that make me want to live in those worlds again.

Are there audiobooks you’ve listened to more than once? And any you’ve heard once that are beckoning to you for a second audience?

63 thoughts on “Audiobooks So Good, You’d Listen Twice

  1. Laura Caprini

    A book I never get tired of listening to is Edwin de Waal’s “The hare with the amber eyes”. I have listened to it at least 20 times and have just bought the hardcopy version as I want to look at the illustrations. Another one is “Rococco” by Adriana Trigiani but it must be the vesion read by Adam Gruper. Both are fantastic~!!!

  2. Sohara

    I’ve listened to a few hundred books in the last few years, and my absolute favorite has been _Anansi Boys_. That said, I’ve listened to none of them twice. _Anansi Boys_ will be getting a second listen, as will the short (and beautifully read) _The Education of Little Tree_. I truly enjoyed and will relisten to _Going Postal_ by Terry Pratchett. I’ve enjoyed many Dickens novels, chiefly read by Martin Jarvis. _Nicholas Nickleby_ was an absolute delight, and I had previously read and disliked _David Copperfield_, but enjoyed listening to it. A book I thought was greatly improved by its narrator was _Artemis Fowl_, read by Nathaniel Parker (Inspector Lynley.) The book was a weak imitation of Harry Potter, but Parker made it exciting and far more interesting than the material itself.

  3. Jimmy

    I commute 2 hours a day and owe my sanity to audio books. My favorites are:

    Hatchet series read by Peter Coyote
    Harry Potter read by Jim Dale (of course)
    The Night Circus read by Jim Dale
    Seal Team Six read by Ray Porter I thought he sounded like Tom Hanks
    A Long Way From Chicago (very funny)
    Inkheart read by Lynn Redgrave
    Stumbling on Happiness read by the author Daniel Gilbert
    Spin by Robert Charles Wilson and read by Scott Brick

  4. DOGBY

    I usually prefer reading books more than listening to them. I listen to audio books so that I can get through boring tasks such as housework. Even if a story is good, the audio-book fails if the narrator is not good. I recently truly enjoyed the narration of “The Help” and “Sarah’s Key”

  5. Kristine Kopp

    I had the same experience with The Poisonwood Bible. Everyone in my book group loved it, but I just couldn’t get into it. When I borrowed the audio version from the library, I was immediately enchanted by the language of the book as narrated by Dean Robertson. Amazing book!

  6. Justin

    I listened to a couple of the books I found from this string of comments. The first book I tried was “I Know This Much is True” by Wally Lamb. I made it through the first three CD’s and found myself extremely depressed due to the awful life the main character leads and then stopped listening. The second book I listened to was “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follet. This book was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone. All the characters became almost real to me.

    The next book I’m going to try is “Ready Player One” as when I wore a younger man’s clothes I enjoyed video games quite a bit.

    I was extremely interested in how rich people became rich and listened to “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas Stanley and William Danko and “The Millionaire Mind” by Thomas Stanley. I listened to each about six or seven times.

    I loved the books “Ender’s Game” and “Ender’s Shadow” written by Orson Scott Card. As well as “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest” by Steig Larsson. The main character in these books is at genius level intelligence and I love imagining a far and away brilliant person as a main character.

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