A few years ago, one of my exes threw a pair of my pants into the washing machine without checking the pockets first and inadvertently laundered my iPod. She was doing a good deed, but it was a costly accident since I had no choice but to go buy new iPod. It turns out there was an offer from Audible.com included which offered 2 audiobooks for free to any new customers. I had never listened to an audiobook before, but I figured that the price couldn’t be better, so I took some friends’ advice and bought Ender’s Game, and my love affair with audiobooks was kindled.
That was February 2006, and I have been a monthly subscriber to Audible ever since. Sometimes I’ve not had the top-level membership, but I’ve bought at least one audiobook every month for over three years. Since then, I’ve become pretty versed in what passes for standard audiobook fare, what is considered incredible, and what is simply incoherent. I’ve got a few favorite narrators now whom I will branch out for and listen to untested authors if I know who the narrator is.
I figured I would go through a short list of the top 5 audiobooks (or series of audiobooks) that I have discovered and enjoyed over the years, in no particular order. Note that these are unabridged recommendations; abridged versions are silly.
My friend had told me to read Ender’s Game since we were in high school, and I never listened. It sounded interesting, a child prodigy in a military academy in space, but I never made the time. Eventually, though, I gave in, and this was the first audiobook I ever listened to. I was immediately hooked on the medium. The narrator is talented, the story is interesting, and there is even an audiobook-exclusive afterword by the author which was almost as enjoyable as the novel itself. The production values on this book are so high that I went ahead and bought the rest of the series (though I only finished Speaker for the Dead, the sequel; Xenocide, the third in the series, barely interested me, and I have not read any farther).
Again, this was recommended by a friend who had gone through a deep depression, and his girlfriend actually wrote Dean Kootnz for help because of how much of a fan my friend was, and he sent a personalized, autographed copy of Odd Thomas to try and cheer my friend up. That speaks a lot about how Koontz feels about his fans, and since Odd Thomas came so highly recommended, I picked up the audiobook. Never in my three years of audiophilia have I found a series so well-cast for a first-person narrator. To me, David Aaron Baker is Odd Thomas, and while I own a signed first edition of the book myself and hard copies of the rest of the series, I cannot make myself read them and not listen. He is that good. While the series is sporadic in quality, the high points are so high that I cannot help but put this on my list. Odd Thomas and Brother Odd are stunning, while Forever Odd and Odd Hours leave a bit to be lacking. Because it is every other book that is stunning, I hope the series continues with a fantastic fifth installment…which I intend to listen to before I read it.
Occasionally, Audible sends out newsletters with lists of audiobooks they want to promote for one reason or another. These aren’t intrusive, as they’re generally themed and put together based on what I’ve already purchased. I found out about Altered Carbon in one of these emails about movies
I had long heard things about The Time Traveler’s Wife, but never thought it was my kind of book. It was a romance with a slightly sci-fi premise. I had never heard of the author, and I generally don’t enjoy books which try to entertain sci-fi conventions in an otherwise realistic setting. Audrey Niffenegger comes up with an entertaining and very tight narrative that has a logical basis for the sci-fi aspects of the novel. The novel is entirely character-based, and the narrator really brings it to life. I thought for the first few minutes that the audiobook was going to be very hard to follow because it, obviously, jumped around in time and did not present things linearly, but by the time I finished, I was more than glad I had given it a chance. There are a few scenes in here that make the reader question the true nature of love (which is a good thing here, and not clichéd in the slightest) as well as presents some very interesting takes on what would generally be considered as time-travel no-nos concerning paradox.
Few authors have prose voice as unique as Chuck Palahniuk. Even fewer are able to garner such high quality audio performances for every novel. I have listened to all of Palahniuk’s novels on audiobook except for Fight Club and Choke (well, and Pygmy, but that’s another story), and I have to admit that Survivor is by far the best one (though, I think Rant is exceptionally well done with its full cast presenting a complete oral biography). There is just something about Survivor that takes the disturbing, postmodern cynicism Palahniuk is so good at and puts it together with a fantastic plot that is just magic. I consider this to be Palahniuk’s finest novel, and the audio presentation is just as good as the writing itself. There are few things that Palahniuk doesn’t comment on in some way in at least one of his novels, but Survivor seems to do so in a way that even when he’s attacking something sensitive that it comes across as light-hearted (as much as it can, anyway). This is probably the most well-rounded of Palahniuk’s novels, and I think it is every bit as high quality as Fight Club.
I almost left this one off the list, but I just couldn’t bring myself to wrap up without it. It’s good enough to be considered one of my top 5 audiobooks without actually being included in the top 5. It’s just that transcendent. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Stardust is exceptional. It is exactly what it bills itself to be: a fairy-tale for adults. By adults, it just means that it is darker than Disney, not that it is pornographic in nature. There is a real sense of the fantastic that is captured because the book is read by the author himself. There is rarely a dull moment in the novel, and Neil Gaiman’s voice is perfect for the surreal plot. I could say it’s just his accent that makes it special because of the cliché that anything said in a British accent sounds sophisticated, but I’ve heard enough narrators at this point to know that accent or not, it is clear that he knows this story inside and out. (I’ve heard some terrible narrators with beautiful accents). It is also obvious in the way he carefully presents the story to listeners that he cares about it. This care transfers, and it makes Stardust really stand out as one of the top audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. I could listen to this one over and over again, had I but world enough and time. As good as the film adaptation was, if you’re looking for a multimedia presentation of Stardust, I suggest this as being the best non-print version.
This is hardly a comprehensive list of the audiobooks I can recommend to you. At some unspecified point in the future, I will likely make a “Part II” to this post with a few other gems that have held my attention during long commutes, but given that many of the books I listed here are part of series, there should be plenty of listening goodness here to satisfy you until I get around to that.
Are there any books that I missed, that I should have listed but didn’t? Are there any that you think I should listen to?