Good Listening! Outstanding Audiobook Narration | The Reader’s Shelf, March 1, 2012

The pleasures of listening to a story are instilled in readers during childhood. But as we become adults, audiobooks are the only way we have to recapture the incalculable pleasure of being read to. Skilled narrators step into the void once filled by parents who tried to alter their voices to be Eeyore or Sam-I-Am. To honor the narrators who bring books to life, RUSA/CODES created The Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration. The 12 winning titles for 2012, with annotations and listen-alikes, can be found online ( Here, the committee members suggest additional titles well worth the attention of audiophiles.

In Stewart O’Nan’s finely observed Emily, Alone (9 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Recorded Bks. 2011. ISBN 9781456121006. $102.75; 1 MP3-CD; Playaway digital), widowed Emily Maxwell has stopped driving. Her children and grandchildren have their own lives, and she has elected to mark time and fade away. But when her sister-in-law has a medical emergency, Emily is forced to rethink what aging really means. She discovers that blooming isn’t solely the domain of youth. Narrator Andrea Gallo initially projects a hunched, nondescript timidity in her reading, for while Emily is hardly ancient, her self-image is. When Emily decides to buy a car, Gallo unearths Emily’s inner strength. Once Emily begins to see life in colors again, Gallo steps up the pace, expressing that life with warmth, happiness, pettiness, frustration, and the other emotions that living fully embraces.

Kerry Greenwood’s delightful Dead Man’s Chest: A Phryne Fisher Mystery (7 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Bolinda. 2010. ISBN 9781742148953. $83.95) finds indefatigable Jazz Age flapper/private detective Phryne Fisher on holiday with her household: maid/companion Dot, adopted daughters Jane and Ruth, and family dog Molly. Upon arrival at their loaner seaside home, the group discovers the caretakers have decamped under suspicious circumstances, leaving barely a breadcrumb in the kitchen. With their usual witty aplomb and Aussie can-do spirit, Phryne’s family take over kitchen and household duties with help from Tinker, a local boy whose connections to the wharfies and fishos turn up some interesting clues as to the caretakers’ reasons for disappearing into the night. Stephanie Daniel has been the faithful narrator of all the Fisher mysteries and has mastered the numerous accents and voices required for this large cast. Daniel maintains a lively pace that suits the unique characters and expertly manages a tone that is in keeping with the time period.

Jim Dale’s dexterous talent for building character and atmosphere is in full force as he weaves his way through the enchanting black-and-white tents of Le Cirque des R√™ves. In Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (11 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Books on Tape. 2011. ISBN 9780307938923. $45), two magician combatants are set to battle within the confines of a fantastical circus. As the duo create impressive wonders individually and then later collaborate and fall in love, their puppet masters worry that a game invented long ago is about to be rescripted. Dale, long practiced with the rich descriptive phrasing of magic, brilliantly matches Morgenstern’s revels and brings to life the ice garden, the bottles of memories, emotion-flushed dresses, and the color-changing bonfire. The story is a fancy, a mix of the dark dangers of magic and the enticing allure of a love affair, all highlighted with lush and lovely detail. The audio experience is no less a delight.

In his narration of Mary Doria Russell’s moving novel, Doc (14 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Books on Tape. 2011. ISBN 9780307877888. $50), Mark Bramhall masters cowboys, Doc Holliday’s Georgia drawl, the accent of Kate, his Hungarian princess‚ turned‚ prostitute mistress, a Chinese landlord, an Irish singer, and more characters, as he navigates the story of Doc’s hopeless struggle to maintain the life of a gentleman while battling tuberculosis. This is not the infamous gunman who backed up Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ. This is the younger Doc Holliday, who tried to open a dental practice in Dodge City, KS. Bramhall’s treatment of male and female voices, a multicultural cast, and a number of accents all complement a stunning story of politics and mayhem, disease and violence, and the struggle to survive in the Old West.

In S.J. Watson’s haunting Before I Go to Sleep (10 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Recorded Bks. 2011. ISBN 9781456121082. $123.75; 1 MP3-CD; Playaway digital), Christine Lucas wakes every morning with no memory until her husband patiently fills in her past. This is her life, until a doctor encourages her to keep a secret journal of what she learns each day. As she begins to form real memories and recall them, she discovers inconsistencies in her husband’s story‚ and begins a harrowing journey from doubt and dread to pure terror. Orlagh Cassidy’s moving performance of Christine’s first-person narrative chronicles this journey. Each returned memory, each startling discovery ratchets up the tension, and Cassidy takes listeners there, into a mind struggling between joy and paranoia, into a menacing, nightmare world where one never knows whom to trust.

On bleak mid-21st-century Earth, virtual reality allows escape from the world’s ills for billions of gamers. Narrator Wil Wheaton transports listeners to this ruined society in Ernest Cline’s geeky and imaginative Ready Player One (1 CD. retail ed. unabridged. Random Audio. 2011. ISBN 9780307970060. $40). When the creator of the virtual world Oasis dies, he challenges gamers to a quest, with the winner becoming heir to his company and vast fortune. Wade Watt, as his avatar Parzival, takes the challenge, which requires, among other things, a vast knowledge of 1980s pop culture. Wheaton expertly captures the exuberant tone of the quest, the informal gamer jargon, and the voice of a vulnerable teen boy occasionally dosed with a healthy skepticism of his environment and the lippy humor of intelligent adolescents everywhere. Dramatic, earnest, hopeful, this is addictive listening at its best.




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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at