Whether out and about in my car, puttering around my house or yard, or listening at night with the covers pulled tight, I plunged into audiobooks last year. We as a species are hardwired to hearken our ears to stories, and I found this to be true as I tuned in to some exceptional listens. Mixed in are gems that are format-defining—envisioned and created specifically to be listened to.
Here are my Top 10, in no particular order:
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery
Even though The Road Back to You came out three years ago, the audio version of the book remains a bestseller, and for good reason. This winsome and story-driven book was my introduction to the Enneagram, and my husband and I decided to listen to it as opposed to reading it. Co-author Cron narrates the book, and I was drawn to his warm, homespun and “real guy” voice. Since the main takeaway is to be yourself—and let others be themselves—Cron’s authenticity as a narrator works. And when the author reads their own work, something special and genuine transpires that simply cannot be replicated.
After a year and a half on the market, Becoming by Michelle Obama has sold more than 10 million copies. The audiobook is still one of Audible’s bestsellers, and booksellers say they can hardly keep the book in stock. Apparently, even now readers cannot get enough of one woman’s story of coming to be who she is. Listening to the audiobook, narrated by the author, is a different, richer experience. My kids jokingly began to call Obama my “invisible friend,” so often did they hear wafts of the former first lady, in a rich, genial tone, relating Becoming in all corners of our home. I began to look forward to the little snatches of time I spent not only reading one of the most popular books of our day but also listening to Obama’s well-paced, warmly delivered narration.
Canada Is Awesome: A Little Book About a Big Country
How can you summarize a country’s character in just 34 minutes? Well, that is exactly what author and speaker Neil Pasricha aims at doing in this audiobook. While Pasricha avoids entering into any great detail about the various conflicts in Canadian society, he distills Canadian pride in poutine, butter tarts, social services, and a population where 40% were born outside of the country: “We give people a home and let them succeed.” It is possible that Pasricha’s image of Canada is not yours. He succeeds, however, in presenting a winsome snapshot of Canadian pride. (Review was written by Otto Selles)
The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships
“This book from Suzanne Stabile on the nine Enneagram types and how they behave and experience relationships will guide listeners into deeper insights about themselves, their types, and others' personalities so that they can have healthier, more life-giving relationships,” reads the editorial copy of this shorter, more relationship-focused follow up to The Road Back to You.
Stabile’s warm, Southern drawl lends a kindly and inviting element to this worthy book about fostering a more loving, mature, and compassionate relationship with everyone in our lives.
The Hiding Place
Millions of people have read this nearly fifty-year-old Christian classic about a Dutch watchmaker who became a heroine of the Resistance in World War II, a survivor of Hitler's concentration camps, and a woman whose influence endures beyond the grave. Listening to this book, lovingly narrated by Bernadette Dunne, brought back to mind stories and details in a vivid, cinematic way. Even if you’ve read The Hiding Place more than once, listening adds something special.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel
I half-read this, half-listened to this wonderful “blue” gem of a book about a gritty heroine named Cussy Mary Carter who delivers books to mountain folk under the auspices of Roosevelt's Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. Cussy Mary is a “Blue,” the last of her kind to have a congenital abnormality which renders her white skin a shade of blueberry. This made the book enthralling and led me down the Google rabbit hole to read about the historical blue people of Kentucky. Katie Schorr’s narration nails the Kentucky drawl and ably differentiates between the voices in this memorable, often gut-wrenching story.
Twisted: The Story of Larry Nassar and the Women Who Took Him Down
Twisted is one of two listens on my list that is not a traditional audiobook. This 5-hour documentary, an Audible Original, is like a long-form podcast, and utterly absorbing. If you think you know all about Larry Nassar, the doctor who sexually abused hundreds of young gymnasts in one of the biggest scandals in sports history, think again. Yes, its raw and sometimes graphic content is hard to listen to. But it was the united voices of the many survivors, including first accuser Rachael den Hollander, who spoke out on this documentary that makes this ultimately inspiring. The audio format makes a deep emotional impression with first-person accounts courageously shared. The scope of Nassar’s horrifying crimes is staggering, but the wondrous resilience of those who would not be silenced makes Twisted essential listening.
This short “audio play” is something I overlooked when it first came out last year. “Evil Eye” sounded like a horror piece—not my favorite genre. Yet when Audible named this (and Twisted above) as one of their Top 10 most worthy listens of the year, I decided to give it an aural spin. After listening twice, once by myself and once with my husband, I can concur with Audible—Evil Eye is brilliant, truly a “play” complete with sound effects. The pitch-perfect cast all deserve Audie Awards. At first, it’s quite funny—a tale as old as time about an Indian mother in Delhi obsessing about her American daughter’s single status. Told entirely in phone calls and voicemails, the story seamlessly becomes something else—a heart-stopping thriller. Along the way, Christian listeners can learn about their Hindu neighbors and what motivates them; a belief in reincarnation propels the plot.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
By Betty Smith
Narrated by: Kate Burton
Length: 14 hrs and 55 mins
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an American classic, a coming of age story about poverty, class, resilience, and reading. Through the compelling narration of actress Kate Burton we get to know 11-year-old Francie Nolan, her younger brother Neely, and their parents—Irish immigrants who have settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Francie faces grief, loss, hunger, and want, yet she rises up with a determination and grit that have made her a beloved heroine through a century and beyond. Burton handles all the accents—Irish, German, Brooklyn—with style and ease. Jazz music of the era delineates chapters and enhances the storytelling.
Anne of Green Gables
With the advent of the controversial CBC/Netflix series Anne with an E, Canada’s best-loved literary heroine—Anne of Green Gables—has experienced a resurgence that Edwardian author Lucy Maud Montgomery could hardly have imagined occuring 112 years after she wrote it. With all of the feist and beguilement of the lead character she voices, Canadian actress Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Spotlight, Midnight in Paris) delivers a dazzling yet intimate reading of Montgomery's beloved novel. Her narration is filled with Anne’s joy, humor, warmth, and spark; it’s obvious this reading is a labour (Canadian spelling) of love for her.
About the Author
Lorilee Craker, a native of Winnipeg, Man., lives in Grand Rapids, Mich. The author of 15 books, she is the Mixed Media editor of The Banner. Find her on Instagram @thebooksellersdaughter or on her podcast Eat Like a Heroine.