2017 was my BIG year for audiobooks. In 2016, I listened to 13% of my total book count. This year, it was 36%. In this post, I’m going to highlight the 8 best audiobooks I heard this year + two more that weren’t for me, but should be recognized for their outstanding narration.
The 8 Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Complimentary copies of some of the audiobooks listed below were provided by the publishers.
8. Brown Girl Dreaming, Written & Narrated by Jacqueline Woodson
Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir in verse of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood. She shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in South Carolina and New York during the final days of Jim Crow and the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement.
Last year, I read Another Brooklyn, Woodson’s much-lauded coming-of-age novel that wrestles with race, religion, and the meaning of friendship. I didn’t enjoy it half as much as I had hoped to, but decided to give Brown Girl Dreaming a chance because the reviews were so outstanding–much more so than the reviews for Another Brooklyn.
Whereas Another Brooklyn was hazy, disjointed, and distant, Brown Girl Dreaming is raw and eloquent. When speaking of her childhood, Woodson is uninhibited and paints her life with vivid imagery. Brown Girl Dreaming is a priceless snippet of personal and national history.
7. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, Narrated by Jeff Harding
If you love books, you’ll love Books for Living, a clever, thoughtful, and engaging celebration of the bookish life. In each chapter, Schwalbe discusses a particular book and how it changed his understanding of the world. He answers questions such as: Why do we read? How do we find time to read in a modern world full of distractions? And what can we learn from books spanning centuries, cultures, and continents?
The result is a series of essays that are full of humor and humanity, and as moving as they are delightful.
6. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Written & Narrated by Warsan Shire
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth is only thirty minutes long, but oh, does it pack a punch. Kenyan-British poet Warsan Shire vividly captures the dueling sensuality and violence at the heart of women’s experience.
Shire is not only a gifted poet, but an outstanding narrator. Listening to her read her work is a bit like standing under a gentle waterfall, punctuated by falling ice. She lulls you into a trance and then hits you with disturbing and unforgettable imagery.
Make time to listen to this one on your lunch break. You won’t regret it.
5. What Happened, Written & Narrated by Hillary Clinton
At the time of this writing, I’m only about 62% of the way through What Happened, but already I am quite sure of its place on this list. In it, almost-president Hillary Clinton recounts the events of the 2016 election and the many factors that contributed to her devastating loss.
I rarely read politician memoirs because I am quite jaded about the fact that political types almost never tell the full truth and do their utmost to portray themselves as more upstanding than they really are. As such, I approach this book with caution and no small amount of skepticism.
At times, Hillary seems a little too polished and political, sweeping things under the rug or telling stories that sound like they belong in a scripted campaign speech. At other times, she is surprisingly raw and unabashedly honest.
I will say this though: she is dead-on when she describes how misogyny played a role Trump’s victory. She is dead-on when she talks about the media’s unbalanced coverage of her email scandal. And she is dead-on when she excoriates Trump for his abject racism, misogyny, authoritarianism, and complete lack of intellect.
I like the fact that Hillary takes the time to share the details of her proposed policies and the process that went into developing them. I wish the media had facilitated more intellectual debate to give her a chance to convey these ideas to voters.
Listening to this memoir is hard. I feel angry and sad, but it’s also cathartic in a way. Granted, Hillary isn’t the most engaging of narrators. She still suffers from a restrained and stilted tone that doesn’t always convey her emotions effectively. But boy does listening to this book make me wish we could go back to November 8th and change history.
4. As You Wish, Written & Narrated by Cary Elwes
As You Wish is a first-person behind-the-scenes account of the making of the cult classic film, The Princess Bride. In it, beloved actor Cary Elwes (Wesley) shares never-before-told stories and interviews with costars Robin Wright (Buttercup), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), Christopher Guest (Count Rugen), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.
As a longtime die-hard fan of The Princess Bride, this audiobook was a delightful accompaniment to my morning routine. (I usually listen to audiobooks when I’m eating breakfast, getting read for the day, etc.)
Cary Elwes is a wonderful narrator–warm, jovial, and refreshingly humble. Other actors from the film narrate their own contributions to the book, so this one you definitely have to hear to enjoy the full experience. It just wouldn’t be the same reading it on paper.The Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2017Click To Tweet
3. A Brief History of Misogyny by Jack Holland, Narrated by Cameron Stewart
In A Brief History of Misogyny, the late journalist Jack Holland documents the historical and mythological roots of misogyny in the ancient world and tracks their enduring influence throughout history and all the way up to modern times.
I think this book could be more accurately called A Brief WESTERN History of Misogyny, since it primarily documents misogyny’s evolution in ancient Rome, Greece, and the Judeo-Christian tradition, only briefly touching on Eastern and Middle Eastern cultures. Still, narrow scope aside, it provides remarkable insight into the roots of sexism in Western culture.
For a dense historical treatise narrated by a guy with a stuffy British accent, A Brief History is surprisingly engaging. In fact, I sped through it at a much faster rate than I normally listen to audiobooks. I attribute this to the excellent research, sound logic, and righteous fury that permeates every page. It’s a must-read for your feminist syllabus.
2. Ghostland by Colin Dickey, Narrated by Jon Lindstrom
In Ghostland, author Colin Dickey gives readers a whirlwind tour of some of America’s most famous haunted houses, hotels, brothels, bars, asylums, and graveyards. But it is not the alleged hauntings themselves that drive the narrative. Rather, it is what these ghost stories say about our cultural anxieties, fears, and obsessions that Dickey seeks to uncover.
In the process, he takes readers back in time to the madness of the Salem Witch Trials, the horror of southern slave plantations, and the parlors where the women of the 19th-century spiritualist movement found power before suffrage.
If you enjoy solid history flavored with a hint of mystery and the paranormal, you will LOVE this audiobook!
1. Born a Crime, Written & Narrated by Trevor Noah
Born a Crime is Trevor Noah’s memoir of growing up biracial in South Africa under apartheid, when interracial relationships like that of his parents were outlawed.
His memories are poignant, funny, and heart-wrenching in equal measure. The real star of the book is Noah’s mother, an inspiring, larger-than-life characters who fearlessly marches to the beat of her own drum, facing down robbers, racism, and a violent gun-wielding husband with poise and defiant fortitude.
Noah is a phenomenal narrator with a gift for imitating accents. He does a magnificent job bringing South Africa to life for readers who have never had the opportunity to visit.
Add this one to the top of your audiobook TBR list!
Two More Audiobooks with Outstanding Narrators
The following books weren’t for me; however, I want to recognize the outstanding narrators whose skill brought them to life. If you’re planning to read either of these books, be sure to listen to the audio versions.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Narrated by Nick Offerman + a Full Cast
Lincoln in the Bardo is an audiobook like no other. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an audiobook with more than a dozen narrators tops. This audiobook features no less than 166 narrators. Nick Offerman leads as the ghost of Hans Vollman. Other members of the all-star cast include Megan Mullally, Bill Hader, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, David Sedaris, and Don Cheadle.
Though I found it difficult to keep track of all the voices and characters, I have to hand it to Offerman and company for an outstanding performance.
American War by Omar El Akkad, Narrated by Dion Graham
It’s no secret that I found American War to be a crushingly depressing book, but Dion Graham deserves accolades for his compelling deep-throated narration. I hope he does commercials, movie trailers, and radio too because that voice is seriously impressive.
What was the best audiobook you listened to this year?