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Find more The Listen List
The Listen List highlights extraordinary narrators and listening experiences that merit special attention by a general adult audience and the librarians who advise them. Recordings are selected because they are engaging and make one reluctant to stop listening; because the narration creates a new experience, offering listeners something they could not create by their own visual reading; and because the narrator achieves an outstanding performance in terms of voice, accent, pitch, tone, inflection, rhythm, and pace. This juried list, designed for avid listeners and those new to the pleasures of stories read aloud, includes fiction and nonfiction and features voices that enthrall, delight, and inspire.
The Book of Polly. By Kathy Hepinstall. Narrated by Jenna Lamia. Books on Tape, DD, $76.
Senior-citizen Polly and teen Willow are an unforgettable southern mother-daughter duo tackling family secrets and mortality with irreverent and sassy style. Lamia captures Willow’s naïveté and determination to protect her mother, who is as salty, tart, and sweet as her favorite margarita.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. By Trevor Noah. Narrated by the author. Brilliance Audio, CD, $19.99.
By turns comic and horrific, Noah’s animated storytelling pulls back the curtain on his childhood years in apartheid-era South Africa. His astonishing command of dialects entertains and inspires in a memoir that combines recent history and a personal cultural perspective.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. By Jennifer Ryan. Narrated by Gabrielle Glaister and others. Books on Tape, CD, $45.
Ethereal choral interludes enhance Ryan’s charming epistolary tale of the ladies left behind in a British village as WWII dawns. An ensemble cast evokes every class and rank of Chilbury’s residents, who, through courage and hymns, unite to defend the home front.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. By Gail Honeyman. Narrated by Cathleen McCarron. Books on Tape, CD, $40.
Listeners hear a socially awkward woman’s transformation from brusque and friendless to someone able to confront her traumatic childhood. Enhanced by a native Scottish accent, McCarron’s empathetic portrayal of prickly Eleanor and her newly acquired social circle traces the change from so not fine to completely fine.
The Force. By Don Winslow. Narrated by Dion Graham. Blackstone Audio, CD, $39.95.
Winslow exposes the fall of dirty-cop Denny Malone as he desperately tries to salvage his family, friends, and honor. Graham taps into the seamy core of New York City, expertly bringing forth its many accents and identities, creating a visceral listening experience that thrums with grit and tension.
The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen. By Victoria Alexander. Narrated by Marian Hussey. Harlequin Audio, DD, $24.99.
This series opener follows a priggish British spinster to fin de siècle Paris as she falls for the irresistible charm of a roguish duke. Hussey’s witty tone and expert comedic timing nail the high-spirited verbal sparring and cheeky banter in this romantic romp.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. By Kathleen Rooney. Narrated by Xe Sands. Macmillan Audio, CD, $39.99.
Octogenarian Lillian takes a sentimental journey on New Year’s Eve 1984, strolling across Manhattan wearing her poetry-loving heart on her fur-coated sleeve. Sands channels this venerable working girl’s wit with nuance and creates a host of distinct supporting voices, concluding with a conversation between author and narrator.
Lincoln in the Bardo. By George Saunders. Narrated by Nick Offerman and others. Books on Tape, CD, $35.
Abraham Lincoln pays one last visit to son Willie, laid to rest in Oak Hill Cemetery amid a host of spirits keeping watch as the boy makes his final passage. An unprecedented cast of 166 narrators combines in a spectral chorus, telling their stories in an astonishing gabble of voices that teem with pathos, tragicomedy, and the tenderest love.
The Reason You’re Alive. By Matthew Quick. Narrated by R. C. Bray. HarperAudio, DD, $18.99.
Crusty Vietnam veteran David Granger recounts his life story, a testimony to a sometimes violent and maverick past. Bray embodies this in-your-face character’s charged language and attitude via gravelly tone and staccato inflection with a hidden compassion that reveals Granger’s humanity.
Sourdough. By Robin Sloan. Narrated by Thérèse Plummer. Macmillan Audio, CD, $29.99.
Plummer captures Sloan’s sprightly tone in the odyssey of an unlikely recipient of a sourdough starter infused with ancient epicurean power. Deliciously quirky voicings and bubbly sound effects concoct a listening treat seasoned with a soupçon of magic realism and original musical compositions.
Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. By Michael Finkel. Narrated by Mark Bramhall. Books on Tape, CD, $32.
Journalist Finkel investigates the life of a recluse who lived in the Maine woods for 27 years. With a subtle down-easter accent and documentary-like reportage, Bramhall captures the author’s curiosity and Christopher Knight’s quiet humanity in a performance as unobtrusive as the hermit himself.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. By Sherman Alexie. Narrated by the author. Hachette Audio, CD, $30.
With his characteristic tribal cadence, Alexie offers a lyrical, episodic memoir, augmented by his own poems and songs. He reveals his complicated urban-Indian relationship with res and family, sharing heartfelt grief and angst over his mother’s life and death.
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