I listened to more audiobooks this year than any other year of my life, and I suspect the trend will continue. The first three titles below are my top three favorites of 2015; everything else is in alphabetical order.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, read by Rosamund Pike (1813)
Someone get Rosamund Pike an Audie (or all the Audies). I’ve long loved her velvety voice, and I think that’s what finally pushed me to “read” Pride and Prejudice after all these years; I pre-ordered this audiobook as soon as I saw she was the narrator. It’s a story Pike has a history with; she played Jane in the 2005 film adaptation. She does an amazing job with all the voices in this production; all of her characterizations are spot on.
The Martian by Andrew Weir, read by R. C. Bray (2013)
I don’t know if I would have loved The Martian as much as if I had read a print version of the book, but I’m head-over-heels in love with R. C. Bray’s narration. He does a great job of channeling Mark Watney’s smartass attitude, and he makes all the science jargon-filled sections fly by. When Watney says he’ll “science the shit” out of something and proceeds to describe how, Bray makes it all very entertaining.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, read by the author (2015)
I’m sure I would have loved this book anyway had I read it in print, but I think there was an added poignancy in listening to Coates speak to his son. I’m sure a narrator would have done a wonderful job with the book, but it felt more meaningful with Coates reading his own words; there’s a special wistfulness when he talks about France, and added gravity when he’s recounting some of his past traumas.
Today’s dating landscape is completely different from that of previous generations’. Heck, it’s even different from my high school years! We are now living in a time where there are more options than ever before. Our grandparents’ generation tended to marry people they grew up with; even in big cities, it wasn’t uncommon for people to marry people from their same neighborhood or apartment building. Previous generations tended to marry and start a family early in life. That was the status quo.
These days, the concept of settling down with one’s high school sweetheart sounds quaint and unlikely (although, for the record, I actually do have a few friends who have been married for a decade+ to the people they were with in high school). Thanks largely to technology, we are inundated with more options than ever before, and whether we’re looking for a one night stand or a long-term relationship, we now have countless resources at our fingertips to facilitate our search for The One. As a society, our values have also changed. A career outside the home was not a possibility for either of my grandmothers. My parents married at twenty-one while they were finishing college and began having children at twenty-four. When I was little, I thought I would wait until twenty-four to get married. (Why twenty-four? No idea.) Now I’m thirty-four, and the idea of getting married now, much less at twenty-four, just makes me go, “LOLOLOL. No.”
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2013
Narrator: Meryl Streep
Length: 5 hours, 30 minutes
What it is: Seven months pregnant, cookbook writer and food personality Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband has been having an affair with someone she knows. Meanwhile, her well-heeled friends spend their time planning events and gossiping about The Other Woman; they suspect she’s having an affair, but they can’t figure out with whom. Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes for Rachel’s various comfort foods. Rachel just doesn’t know what to do: she wants to make things work with her husband, but she also wants him to drop dead. The book was originally published in 1983.
Why I listened to it: I was looking for a short, light-hearted audiobook. I’d been meaning to read this for a while now because it seems to be universally loved, and it didn’t hurt that Meryl Streep was the narrator (she also starred in the 1986 film adaptation).
What I thought: I think I might have to come to terms that I love Nora Ephron the screenwriter and director, but not Nora Ephron the author. Heartburn is indeed light and entertaining — I can see why people seem to love it so much, and there were moments that genuinely made me laugh — but it felt very one-note/stand-up comedy routine.
Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans
Publisher/Year: Verso, 2015
What it is: A graphic novel about Rosa Luxemburg, who was born into a poor Jewish family in Poland. She was tiny (probably from malnourishment) and sickly (she would walk with a limp for her whole life), but by the age of fifteen, she was rabble rousing on behalf of the working class. She fought to be sent away to receive an education and grappled with Communism in a way that would make it accessible to the people. By her twenties, in a time when women still lacked any authority in important matters, Luxemburg had earned a PhD and made a name for herself in Germany as an important theorist, organizer, and writer whose ideas are still relevant to this day.
Why I read it: I love books on women’s history, and I loved that this one was presented as a graphic biography.
What I thought: First off, I commend Kate Evans for being able to work so much theory into the text in an accessible way! It was still a little clunky at times, but…have you ever read Marx? Overall, though, Evans did a wonderful job of showing Luxemburg as a person — someone with a fiery determination to make her ideas known, but also someone with a rich and fascinating private life. I’d never heard of Luxemburg before reading this, and I am grateful for the introduction.
You can view some of the artwork from the book after the jump. You can also read an excerpt at The Nation.
During Nonfiction November, I came across a recommendation of David Sax’s last book, The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue on Paper Breathers‘s blog. It had all the markers of something I thought I’d like, so I decided to listen to it on audiobook during a recent road trip. As I suspected, I ended up loving the book.
The Tastemakers explores food trends of the last few decades. David Sax begins the book by exploring the recent cupcake trend. It seems that everywhere you look there’s a cupcake store, even where I live in South Texas. Gone are the days of the humble cupcake. Gourmet cupcakes, cupcake bakeries, cupcake blogs, and cupcake cookbooks now abound, and we have Sex and the City to thank (see also: Manolo Blahniks, rabbit vibrators, and Cosmos). It’s an intriguing and accessible way to open the book; you’d have to be living under a rock to not know how popular cupcakes are.
Born into the lowest caste of her hive’s hierarchy, Flora 717 is destined to be a sanitation worker for her entire life, mindlessly tending to the dirty work assigned to her by the hive’s higher-ups. Everything in the hive is done to serve the queen, who is immortal and loves all of her children. Accept. Obey. Serve. Those are the mandates Flora must religiously follow.
It’s a fraught time for the hive; a strange sickness keeps appearing, and any bee determined to be unhealthy or useless is immediately put to death. This potentially spells danger for Flora: she’s certainly ugly like the other sanitation workers, but she looks different from everyone else. And there’s something even more dangerous about her: unlike the other sanitation workers, who cannot speak and mostly spend their lives with their minds dulled, Flora has the ability to speak and think for herself. She can also has the ability to produce Flow, the royal jelly used to feed babies in the nursery. It’s unheard of for a lowly sanitation worker.
Because of her unique abilities, The Sages (the hive’s high priestesses) allow Flora to move up in the ranks and work in the nursery. Later, because of her strength and intellect, she’s allowed to become a forager and leave the hive to collect pollen. As many bees never even see the outside of the hive in their lifetime, Flora’s experiences are unheard of. Yet since she’s so different, a lot of eyes are also on her and she must tread lightly; she harbors a secret that would mean certain death if discovered.