The audiobook category is expanding every day, and we certainly can’t listen to everything. The goal of this monthly column is to steer you toward audiobooks that we hope will provide the best experiences, pop-culture value, and something to talk about at your cocktail party.
Read by: Zadie Smith and Bahni Turpin
Length: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Speed I listened: Smith’s intro at 1.5x, Morrison’s short story at 1x
One of the lasting results of the genre of audiobooks is there’s almost an entire oeuvre of Toni Morrison read by Morrison herself. Her diction, her phrasing, her majestic speaking voice — it gives you goose bumps. Recitatif is, apparently, the only short story Morrison ever wrote. Since it’s being published posthumously as a stand-alone, I was concerned the narration would be lacking. But Turpin reads beautifully, somehow channeling Morrison’s uneasy but authoritative tone. I wanted to get through Smith’s introduction (which takes up half of the running time) as quickly as possible to get to the story here. And once I did, unusually for me, I didn’t want to speed up Morrison’s words. I almost considered slowing them down.
Read by: A bunch of peeps
Length: 12 hours, 27 minutes
Speed I listened: 1.8x
I gave up early into Foley’s last thriller, The Guest List, about a wedding gone awry in Ireland. It was such a huge best seller — thanks in part to Reese Witherspoon and her book club — that I thought I’d give the author another chance. The Paris Apartment grabbed me from the get-go, in part because of the multitude of gripping voices that set the scene. A woman leaves a shameful incident in the U.K. to visit her brother in Paris. When she gets there, he’s nowhere to be found. The tension lasts for a few hours until Foley introduces the concept of “la petite mort.” For the seven of you that have never seen anything French, that means orgasm. We’re led to plenty of family secrets via a seedy nightclub also called La Petit Morte, which felt a little bit Emily in Paris meets Rear Window to me. It’s totalement satisfying in the end, even if the number of references to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was a head-scratcher.
Read by: The author
Length: 4 hours, 35 minutes
Speed I listened: 2.2x
I wouldn’t say Selling Sunset is my guilty pleasure because I don’t feel guilty about it. Stause, a onetime soap actress formerly married to Justin Hartley of This Is Us, is positioned as the country bumpkin among the cast of jawbreaking Heathers real-estate agents. It’s a standing she continues to propagate here. “I love you for life — thank you — if you’re listening to this,” Stause says at the beginning of this memoir, which has little “construction tips” on how to make your life better. One includes: “Go dead behind the eyes” when someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer. (I started to try it. It works.) I was also impressed when (1) Stause tells Matthew Morrison of Glee, “You’re a dick, sorry,” and (2) when she divulges her blood type is B positive, “but you could argue it’s B stupid.” How to Be a Boss B•tch by co-star Christine Quinn comes out in May. I can’t wait.
Read by: The author and Dion Graham
Length: 12 hours, 39 minutes
Speed I listened: 2.1x
It’s been a month since I listened to Klosterman’s latest treatise about the decade I grew up in. I can’t remember many complete thoughts from the book, but I remember regularly nodding my head in agreement, recognition, wonder, and delight as Klosterman cannily discussed Leonardo DiCaprio, Reality Bites, Alanis Morrissette, and a host of other subjects. (Graham does the footnotes.) I told both my younger brother and my older brother to give it a shot, which only happens a couple times a year in the Heyman family.
Read by: Michael Crouch, Graham Halstead, and a couple other folks
Length: 8 hours, 46 minutes
Speed I listened: 2x
According to the author’s website, this is the first book in Stamper’s “young adult rom-com duology.” If I’d seen that description before I started Golden Boys, it probably would have been a hard pass for me. Duology? That’s just a super annoying word. Yet Golden Boys is surprisingly not annoying. Though I don’t do much YA fiction these days, I was in the mood for something featherlight, life-affirming, and, apparently, about a bunch of gay high-school BFFs a tenth of my age just trying to make it through the summer of their junior year. Even though the narrators are warmly distinct, I didn’t always know whose story I was dropping in on. One studies fashion in France. Another works for a government official. The third visits a long-lost family member and learns how to make stuffed cabbage. Sign me up for the sequel — you can’t leave a duology incomplete.
Read by: The author
Length: 8 hours, 29 minutes
Speed I listened: I honestly don’t remember.
In her latest book, the best-selling podcast host defines and explores 87 of the emotions that make us human. What I can say to that is I think I have a lot more emotions than 87. Much of Atlas of the Heart involves Brown reading (and then rereading) quotes and aphorisms that she has found magically helpful over the years. I had trouble ingesting and ultimately even understanding most of these thoughts. After Brown sent me to take a quiz at self-compassion.org, I did learn that I needed to be nicer to myself. (I regularly need a reminder.) Still, there is something bewitching about Brown’s narration. It’s so conversational and off-the-cuff that it’s as if she’s learning and explaining things to you in real time. It’s a refreshing feeling no matter how much of the content you actually wind up absorbing.
Read by: Traci Kato-Krivama
Length: 4 hours, 6 minutes
Speed I listened: 2.2x
If I had known that this novel was about the death of the narrator’s mom, I probably wouldn’t have started it. Frankly, I just thought it was about a sinkhole that appears at the bottom of a pool and how it affects the various swimmers who use it. I’d love it if someone could explain the underpinnings of our fascination with sinkholes, but it’s probably just that our culture is collapsing. Until then, I enjoyed Kato-Krivama’s deft narration, of at least the first half of Otsuka’s novel. That part delineates how the strange happenings at this community pool affect the varied population of armchair athletes who use it. By the time The Swimmers became a narrative of death and dying in 2022, the book had already butterfly-stroked its way into my consciousness, and I couldn’t turn it off.
Read by: The author and J.D. Jackson
Length: 12 hours, 4 minutes
Speed I listened: 1.9x
This novel is billed as a thriller about a violinist searching for the rare, inherited “fiddle” (as he continually refers to it) stolen right out from under his, well, bow. I kept waiting for the book to turn into a Jason Bourne vehicle set in the underbelly of classical music crime. I was thinking, like, Amadeus meets The Departed. The Violin Conspiracy is more of a social critique of the elitist scene of international philharmonics. Though Jackson’s narration never quite reaches the crescendo of, say, Ravel’s “Boléro,” I still didn’t want the rattling train ride to end. A minor quibble: The violin concertos between chapters are kind of annoying.
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