Crucial Listens: The Best Audiobook Experiences

I’ve had an Audible membership for a few years now, and although I’d enjoyed audiobooks before I started my membership, it wasn’t until I started listening regularly and widely to audiobooks that I began to understand how much difference a great audio production can make when it comes to reading. I’d argue that some books only truly come alive when you hear them read aloud; humor comes across more clearly, characters become more vivid, and good books transform into great ones.

The Blade Itself audiobook, read by Steven PaceyThe First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, read by Steven Pacey

The Blade Itself was one of the first books I picked up with a credit, and Steven Pacey’s performance blew me away. Like many epic fantasy series, The First Law has a huge cast of characters, and Pacey accomplishes the rare feat of giving each character a unique voice and accent that makes them immediately stand out. After a certain point, Abercrombie could have forgone character identification and I would always have known which character was speaking. It also helps that the series is bloody, subversive and thoroughly entertaining.

Redshirts audiobook, read by Wil WheatonRedshirts by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton

If you’re going to tell a metafictional story about a starship crew that realizes they’re actually characters on a terrible sci-fi TV show, you really can’t pick anyone else to read it but Wil Wheaton. Luckily Wheaton isn’t just a former sci-fi TV star, he’s also an excellent narrator with a flair for reading comic novels like this and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Wheaton doesn’t do too much with character voices, but he understands the emotional core of this and other books I’ve heard him read, and I’d easily pick up any new book read by him on that criteria alone.

Bandits audiobook, read by Frank MullerBandits by Elmore Leonard, read by Frank Muller

I picked Bandits because it’s one of my favorite books by Leonard, but really anything read by Muller is worth picking up. He’s the perfect narrator for Leonard’s casts of characters on both sides of the law (but usually the wrong one). Muller growls and drawls with the best of them, giving Leonard’s minimalist prose the exact right amounts of menace and wry humor. I recently went on a Leonard listening spree, and Muller immediately became one of my favorite narrators.

Middlemarch audiobook, read by Kate ReadingMiddlemarch by George Elliot, read by Kate Reading

Middlemarch is a massive tome about life in a small British town at the turn of the century. One of the main characters, Dorothea, is a pious woman who enters into a loveless marriage with a shriveled old academic named Casaubon. It might seem intimidating and potentially dry, but it’s actually gently satirical, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny and wonderfully emotional. I feel like Reading’s arch delivery went a long way in aiding my comprehension and enjoyment of the book. Some of my favorite parts are her readings of Casaubon’s meandering writings. Until I listened to this audiobook, I would never have imagined that Middlemarch would become one of my all-time favorite books, but as soon as I finished, I wanted to listen to more classics.

Skippy Dies audiobook, read by a full castSkippy Dies by Paul Murray, read by a full cast

Most audiobooks have one or maybe two narrators, but Skippy Dies boasts almost a dozen men and women who play students, teachers and administrators at an Irish private school. The book is sprawling, and the huge cast of characters is well-served by the tag-team narration style. I couldn’t imagine reading this hilarious, sad story any other way.

The Night Circus audiobook, read by Jim DaleAnything read by Jim Dale

Best known for narrating the Harry Potter books and Pushing Daisies, Dale brings an impeccably British whimsy to everything he narrates. When I started my Harry Potter re-read, I decided to pick up the audio versions just so I could enjoy his narration. Dale’s narration is a perfect fit for anything with a bit of magic and humor in the mix.

Hello and Welcome!

Hi there! I’m your host, Jeff, and I’ve started this blog as a place to discuss books and reading. I’ve been writing occasional reviews for the past year or so of books that I’ve received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, and I thought it might be nice to put together someplace a bit more official to host those reviews. I’m planning on expanding my reviews to cover more of the books I’m reading, including new and older works, in physical, digital, and audiobook formats.

I’m constantly reading one or more books, and for the past few years I’ve had a goal to read at least 52 books in a year. It seems to keep me on my toes to have a goal and a deadline all combined in one, not to mention it’s one of the more enjoyable goals I’ve set for myself. I read a variety of things, although my taste tends generally towards science fiction and fantasy of a slightly surrealist or unsettling variety. I don’t limit myself to one genre, however, and happily read mysteries, thrillers, young adult, literary fiction, short stories, westerns, graphic novels, and even the occasional romance (as long as I can pretend it’s actually another genre).

I’m also especially fascinated with the book cover design process, and will fully admit to regularly and shamelessly judging books by their covers. After all, I’m much more likely to pick up a book and read the blurb on the back if it has a well-designed cover. I may occasionally point out or discuss book covers that I find particularly well designed or interesting, although I don’t begin to consider myself an expert.

Some of my favorite authors include: Jonathan Carroll, Iain M. Banks, Dan Simmons, Philip K. Dick, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Diana Wynne Jones, Haruki Murakami, Charlie Huston, Joe Abercrombie, and more.

I look forward to discussing my favorite habit/obsession in this space. Happy reading!