Editor’s note: Long work days, social commitments and family time. There are plenty of good reasons why many of us struggle to read a good book. So why don’t you listen to one instead? Give your tired eyes a rest with these excellent choices.
A list of great literary listens
Written by: Sooraj Rajmohan
A collection of good fiction
‘Project Hail Mary’ by Andy Weir (narrated by Ray Porter): ‘Man stuck far away from Earth must use science to solve problems’ is clearly Andy Weir’s favourite genre. After enjoying success with this theme in ‘The Martian’, Weir employs it again in ‘Project Hail Mary’. In this book, high school teacher Ryland Grace is on a mission to save humanity from certain extinction, armed only with a high-tech spaceship and a foggy memory.
While Weir is in his element here, it is the narration by Ray Porter that elevates this book to a whole new level (it won Audiobook of the Year at the 2022 Audie Awards). Porter infuses the cast with humour and humanity, and makes the long drawn science exposition fun to listen to. Weir, Porter, and some nifty sound design turn what could have read like a science textbook into a surprisingly moving interstellar odyssey.
‘Norse Mythology’ by Neil Gaiman (narrated by Neil Gaiman): There are people whose first exposure to the Norse God Thor was through the character played by Chris Hemsworth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are also some who were introduced to a darker, grittier version of Thor in the ‘God of War’ video games. In ‘Norse Mythology’, Neil Gaiman shows that much of how we perceive mythology is warped by the sources of the stories.
Through narrated exposition and tales of triumph and tragedy, Gaiman puts together fragments of myth and legend, passing on knowledge from the nine realms. The fact that he delivers them directly to your ears in his own voice is even more reason to check out this audiobook.
‘The Dutch House’ by Ann Patchett (narrated by Tom Hanks): A finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and Audiobook of the Year, ‘The Dutch House’ deals with childhood pain, resentment, and the unreasonable human urge to attach sentiment to a place. The book follows the lives of siblings Danny and Maeve—who have to leave their childhood home—and their adult journey making sense of their feelings for it and the people who inhabit it.
Coming of age fiction is a tough act to get right, but in the capable hands (voice?) of Tom Hanks, ‘The Dutch House’ translates perfectly into a soothing, at times melancholy listen that never quite descends into outright despair. Hanks’ familiar voice does run the risk of lulling you to sleep if you listen to this in bed, so this one is best played in the background while taking care of undemanding tasks.
‘Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection’ by Arthur Conan Doyle (narrated by Stephen Fry): I’ll be honest, reading older books has been a challenge for me. I even bought the entire Holmes collection, but found some of the stories a little slow compared to the racier reimaginations shown in TV and film adaptations of the stories.
What it took to finally enjoy the world created by Doyle, was a little help from Stephen Fry. Over the course of 70 odd hours, the famed English actor brings to life the world of Holmes and Watson, complete with introductions written and narrated by him to give the stories more context. The collection is laid out largely chronologically, so you can forget about figuring out what to read in what order, and drop by 221B Baker Street to embark on new adventures at your leisure. Side note: if you like yourself some Fry, he’s also narrated the entire ‘Harry Potter’ series, and it’s ‘bloody brilliant’ too.
A selection of good nonfiction
‘Cosmos’ by Carl Sagan (narrated by Ann Druyan, LeVar Burton, Seth MacFarlane, and Neil deGrasse Tyson): After years of dreading the subject, I remember the moment I realised physics could be fun, while watching a clip from astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s documentary series ‘Cosmos’. The book of the same name that inspired the series makes for a fantastic listen too. Sagan puts the fleeting nature of all human existence into perspective as he demystifies topics ranging from the origin to the eventual end of the universe.
The audiobook features the voices of Sagan’s wife and documentary producer Ann Druyan, LeVar Burton of ‘Star Trek’ fame, Seth MacFarlane, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Pro tip: If you don’t have 14 hours to devote to this book, Tyson’s ‘Astrophysics for People in a Hurry’ (which he also narrates) should be right up your alley.
‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama (narrated by Michelle Obama): Being the First Lady of the USA isn’t exactly an enviable task. How do you use the position in a meaningful way, navigate the media glare, and raise impressionable children without compromising on your values? In ‘Becoming’, Michelle Obama provides answers to a lot of these questions, reflecting upon her childhood and work, and the challenges of being a person of colour.
Obama herself narrates her story, showing how staying true to yourself and letting your lived experiences make you stronger is the key to navigating a difficult world. The narration adds an extra dimension to her story, conveying both her graceful outward demeanour and iron will, and totally justifies winning the 2020 Audie Award for Autobiography / Memoir.