The pleasures of having a story read to us resonate from childhood through old age. Here, the committee members of the Reference & User Services Association’s (RUSA) Listen List share six audiobooks that reward listening and showcase the artistry of skilled narrators.
One needn’t be a fan of short stories to appreciate Emma Donoghue’s marvelous collection, ASTRAY (6 CDs. library ed. unabridged. AudioGO. 2012. ISBN 9781619695313. $54.99). She sets her studies of characters gone astray in North America across the centuries from Puritan Massachusetts to 1960s Canada. Each is based on an actual incident, as explained at the story’s close and by Donoghue herself in a concluding author’s note. Individual narrators, including Khristine Hvam, James Langton, Robert Petkoff, Suzanne Toren, and Dion Graham, read each gem of a tale; thus all receive special treatment from readers whose voices perfectly complement the stories’ haunting, imaginative, and provocative tone.
In A.J. Kazinski’s dark Danish thriller, THE LAST GOOD MAN (12 CDs. library ed. unabridged. HighBridge Audio. 2012. ISBN 9781611747591. $84), 34 righteous individuals have died around the world and only three people understand the implications of two more deaths. Tommaso, a beleaguered Italian detective, is the first to connect the deaths to the Talmudic claim that 36 righteous people protect the earth. He is joined by Danish cop Niels Bentzon and Hannah Lund, a scientist who brings her knowledge of numbers and patterns to the investigation. Simon Vance’s superb narration exhibits a masterly command of accents and pacing. His exemplary control of the complex plot keeps listeners oriented and engaged.
More than a baseball story, Chad Harbach’s THE ART OF FIELDING (12 CDs. library ed. unabridged. AudioGO. 2011. ISBN 9781611131840. $89.99) is about the connections among an unlikely community brought together by the small college they all love and can’t bear to leave. A disastrous wild throw from Westish College baseball phenom Henry Skrimshander shakes his confidence, threatens the future of his best friend, and has other repercussions for his roommate and the college president. Narrator Holter Graham manages the wide cast in this complex character study with aplomb. Each character is distinctly voiced, and Graham keeps the pace lively, pausing in all the right places to allow the reader, and characters, time to reflect.
On the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne vanishes. The police quickly zero in on her husband, Nick, as the usual suspect. In alternating first-person accounts, narrators Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne adeptly combine forces to keep a tight rein on the pace of Gillian Flynn’s intricately plotted GONE GIRL (15 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Books on Tape. 2012. ISBN 9780307990419. $55) while simultaneously amplifying its sublime tension. Whelan’s performance as the disillusioned former Manhattanite Amy, quietly stagnating in a small Midwest town, is pitch-perfect, while Heyborne brilliantly inhabits the unemotional and increasingly unsympathetic Nick’s growing panic as the evidence builds against him. Adding to the tautly honed suspense is Nick’s realization that his wife, too, kept secrets.
Louise Penny sets the eighth Inspector Gamache investigation, THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY (11 CDs. library ed. unabridged. AudioGO. 2012. ISBN 9781427226099. $39.99) in a monastery. Bound by a vow of silence, the monks speak rarely but sing beautiful Gregorian chants. When a murder occurs within their order, Gamache learns silence holds in its own distinctive voice. Narrator Ralph Cosham brings Penny’s vivid descriptions and lyrical writing to life. His hypnotic voice and unhurried pace combine to draw the listener into the seemingly tranquil world of the monastery and its inhabitants. Cosham deftly handles the Québécois accents and intricate plot twists, balancing the emotional tensions of this multilayered story.
RAGNAROK: THE END OF THE GODS (4 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Brilliance Audio. 2012. ISBN 9781455852437. $54.97) is A.S. Byatt’s entry in the Canongate series of reworked myths and joins such titles as Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. It is an astounding mashup: a lush and rollicking rendition of the destruction of the world as recounted in Norse mythology, the reactions of a young girl to these stories, and a brief lecture on mythology. In reading the myths, narrator Harriet Walter transports listeners, evoking something akin to a wise woman weaving a story-spell. With a compelling emotional tone, masterly inflection, and exquisite pacing, Walter captures the wild wonder of Byatt’s creation.
This column was contributed by Joyce Saricks, Downers Grove, IL; Bonnie Kunzel, Germantown, TN; Kaite Stover, Kansas City Public Library, MO; Renee Young, Durham, NC; Jodi L. Israel, Birmingham, AL; and Neal Wyatt, Richmond, VA.