Audiobooks are more important than ever as a unique format for storytelling that makes books accessible to readers, wherever they may be. With many people working and learning from home, audiobooks can be a welcome reprieve from the screens we’re constantly using. We asked our Ears of the Odyssey contributors what they are listening to now, which we hope will offer ideas for your listening plans. Whether you’re seeking a comforting read, an old favorite, a book to serve as remote professional development, an immersive distraction, or a recommendation you can share with young people, there’s something for everyone.
A story about an aspiring stand-up comedian is the perfect candidate for an outstanding audiobook. I love listening to the Stand Up, Yumi Chung by debut author Jessica Kim, narrated by Greta Jung. It is a contemporary middle grade book that is full of clever writing and heart. Through a case of mistaken identity, Yumi ends up joining a comedy camp for kids, while her parents think she’s studying for the high school entrance exam. Caught between the expectations of her Korean immigrant parents and her dreams of becoming a stand-up comic, things do not go the way Yumi plans. Greta Jung is able to hilariously deliver pointed punchlines and witty dialogue – and make you feel deeply at the very real emotions and challenges in the story, which reflects both her skill as a narrator and the quality of Jessica Kim’s writing. I laughed aloud so much while listening to this book – and I know you will, too.
After attending Julie Fogliano’s livestreams on instagram where she read from her book, Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School, I couldn’t wait to hear the rest of the story, so I borrowed the audiobook from Hoopla, expertly narrated by Oliver Wyman. This lighthearted, hilarious production is about two very good dogs, Waldo and Sassy, who attend their boy Stewart’s school to help him out. The audiobook feels like a full-cast production with the many different voices that Oliver Wyman is somehow able to produce. I’m constantly recommending this series to young readers, but hadn’t listened to the audiobook myself – and it was exactly what I needed at this time.
Shorter audio works are especially helpful right now when I’m bouncing between working from home tasks. I’m so glad Grace Lin launched her Kids Ask Authors podcast, where kids ask guest authors one question about their creative process. Kids can submit a question, a book review, short story, poem or joke, so they can be on the podcast! (Detailed information is on the Kids Ask Authors website.) I’m grateful that Brené Brown launched her podcast, Unlocking Us, at this time, which I find helpful for dealing with my emotions. I especially appreciate the invaluable informative journalism from the Unreserved, Code Switch and Nancy Podcasts.
This month, all my listening has been assigned! My county holds a Battle of the Books every August – an intense, book-centered trivia bowl wherein kids spend several months memorizing facts about eight carefully-chosen titles, then face off against each other in teams of six to see who is the Battle champion. Usually around 40-45 libraries participate. Unfortunately our venue, a state university in our area with a hospital on campus, just announced they have to cancel the event. But we can use what we prepare this year for next year! I’ve been listening to our chosen titles to prepare for question editing. We have a set of judges who write a hundred or so questions for each book that we spend several hours picking over, fact-checking and perfecting. Since we’ve been at home I’ve listened to four upper middle grade/young teen titles, and I have two more to go! (Believe it or not, the titles are a secret!) I’m also in a management course that’s assigned some interesting titles on decision making that I’ve tackled on audio so I can multitask while plowing through them. Right now I’m in the middle of Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. I’m looking forward to a time soon when I can listen to titles of my choosing! In the evenings I switch to podcasts while I play Animal Crossing to shake things up a bit. I’ve been attempting (though definitely failing) to keep up with some of my favorites, like Judge John Hodgman, Dear Prudence, Fanti, and My Brother, My Brother and Me.
Well, I can tell you what I have not been listening to during my time at home–anything about pandemics, apocalypses, horror, or anything that has been remotely feel-bad. I feel like the news and social media has enough of that, and I’ve been needing some comfort reads!
I listened to Yes, No, Maybe So, by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed, narrated by Michael Crouch and Tiya Circar way back at the beginning of March, when it seemed like the big news was going to be about the election…what a difference a few weeks makes. But this book, which focuses on two Georgia teenagers caught in the middle of a big election and confronted with issues of race, cultural identity, and activism, really has sticking power. I love this book because it speaks to the many young adults out there who have ideas and passions that are sometimes not being heard. Crouch and Circar’s narration is spot-on–awkward and sweet all at the same time. I’m planning on writing a longer review of this one, so I’ll stop for now, but stay tuned!
I just finished Rebecca Stead’s The List of Things That Will Not Change, which is just about the perfect quarantine listen, as far as I can tell. Bea’s parents are divorced, but it’s okay, because she knows that there is one thing that will never change–they both love Bea, and they love each other, too. Bea’s dad is getting remarried, and Bea is delighted. She loves her dad’s fiancee, Jesse, and she’s also delighted because Jesse has a daughter which means…Bea will soon have a sister! Of course, things are not quite as easy as that, and some hard realizations lie ahead. The important thing, however, is that throughout it all, Bea knows that her parents still love her, and they love each other, too. Narrator Rachel Jacobs has become my new favorite narrator. With a perfectly youthful voice (not syrupy or sweet or baby-ish), she captures all of Bea’s enthusiasm, hesitation, and fierce love. Don’t miss this one!
I usually do my audiobook listening when commuting or cooking late at night, and both of those categories have pretty much evaporated, so I’m listening less. I’m doing the brunt of the parenting of an 18 month old, as my partner currently has more work, so while I’ll be introducing him to more audiobooks again soon (we listened to tons before he was 6 months old), it’s been a lot of Baby Beluga. Between that and my pandemic-destroyed attention span, I’ve been finding comfort in re-listening to old favorites, including some 90s era recordings of Robertson Davies books, and mostly a long, slow read of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, narrated by Lee Horsely. It’s both calming and perspective-making, as the one thing it makes clear is that life is confusing and precarious! But also, just rambling…
Although my commuting time to and from work is reduced to zero for the time being, the hours spent listening to audiobooks has increased thanks to more time spent cleaning the house and cooking heartier (if not healthier) meals. Frequent walks to the park as well as logging in considerable time on Animal Crossing: New Horizons results in more listening time as well.
Benefiting from the escapism, I’m halfway through Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance, a sequel to her much lauded Children of Blood and Bone. The story itself is an amazing installment of fantasy fiction that doesn’t rely on Eurocentrism for its foundations. Afrocentrically inspired, I often summarize this book as Avatar: the Last Airbender with a West African flavor. If that’s not enough for you, it’s also narrated by the woman, myth, and narration legend, Bahni Turpin. Her voice is melted butter and brown sugar for your ears. Needless to say, I highly recommend the Children of Virtue and Vengeance.
Along the way I’ve also listened to Angie Sage’s Enchanter’s Child, Book One: Twilight Hauntings, a solid, if not ground-breaking juvenile entry into the fantasy fiction genre. Perhaps the most magical aspect of my listening experience was Fiona Hardinham’s performance, something really worth writing home about (I am writing about it, too). Other audiobooks that I enjoyed but can’t really rave about include David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World and Michael Pollan’s Caffeine. Narrations to both were decent, but on par with an informative podcast where dramatic delivery isn’t necessary. Nevertheless, both were profoundly interesting and insightful, though I remain unashamedly addicted to caffeine. Take that, Michael Pollan.
What are you listening to? Feel free to let us know!