Recs for Audiobook Month
June is apparently Audiobook Month. I’m not sure if this is really a thing, or if Audible made it up, but it seems as good a time as any for some audiobook recs! There are so many factors that make an audiobook good (or not so good): all the stuff that makes e- or print books good plus the quality of the narrator and—let’s be real—the quality of the app you’re using to listen to the audiobook. Let’s just say some are better than others. (I’m looking at you, Overdrive.)
But without further ado, here are some of my favorite audiobooks.
“The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander.
True story: This audiobook made me ugly cry in my car. I sat in the parking lot of my old job sobbing for 20 minutes after the start of my shift. When I finally went in, my face red and puffy (I am not one of those people who looks beautiful when they cry), my colleagues all thought something terrible had happened to me. Alas, it was just Kwame Alexander’s beautiful poetry about basketball and family and being a teenager and (spoiler alert but also trigger warning) grief. Narrator Corey Allen nailed the delivery of this Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Book Award-winning book. Despite my book brand being despair, sports books—especially poetry about sports—are not normally in my wheelhouse. Kwame Alexander makes basketball relatable, even to someone like me, who could not care less about the sport.
“The Clancys of Queens: A Memoir” by Tara Clancy.
If you only read one memoir about growing up in three completely different environments—a converted boat shed in working-class Queens, in several homes among a group of elderly Italians, and on a sprawling Hamptons estate—make it this one. This rollicking memoir chronicles Tara Clancy’s childhood shuttled among those three worlds after her parents’ divorce. It follows her through her mother’s subsequent long-term relationship with the owner of said Hamptons estate and her difficult coming out to her father, who struggled to come to terms with the fact that his daughter is gay. (The story of her mother trying to nudge teenage Tara towards knowing she’s gay by taking her to visit an old friend who is a lesbian had me laughing so hard I cried.) Tara Clancy narrates this one herself and, y’all, her voice is just amazing.
“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Science! Neil deGrasse Tyson (who also narrates the audiobook) breaks down astrophysics for those of us who don’t know as much about it as we’d like. Tyson makes the science was super interesting and easy to understand. The one drawback is that he gets a bit sanctimonious at times. We get it—he thinks religion is pointless and people of faith foolish—but other than that, it’s an enjoyable, interesting book that’s great for short trips to the grocery store and the like.
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Saenz.
My good friend Lin-Manuel Miranda narrates this multiple award-winning book; it received the Stonewall Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Michael L. Prinz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Set in the 1980s, the book follows the relationship between Ari, an angry Mexican American teen with a brother in prison his parents and sisters refuse to talk about, and Dante, whose warm and big-hearted personality gives him a different perspective on the world. Saenz’s positive portrayal of Mexican American families, queer relationships, and male friendship make this YA novel a must read; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance makes it perfect on audio. (I’ve read it both ways, and the audio is seriously incredible.)
“Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching” by Mychal Denzel Smith.
The opening of this book—part memoir, part political education—felt like a punch to the gut. (I won’t spoil it because it is so, so good, and you should just pick this one up.) Smith recounts his personal and political education growing up as a young Black man. He examines respectability politics, Barack Obama, comedy, hip-hop, misogyny and homophobia, and more. As a white woman, I am not the intended audience of this book, but it was an important one for me to sit with and listen to. Kevin R. Free (who will be familiar to “Welcome to Night Vale” fans as the voice of Kevin from Desert Bluffs) delivers a blistering and nuanced performance that heightens the impact of Smith’s words. This is a must read.
Here’s what I’ve got queued up to listen to next:
“Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America” by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson.
Structured as a sermon, “Tears We Cannot Stop” seeks to get us to confront America’s culture of white supremacy, which undergirds the violence against Black people. Dyson is both an academic—he is a professor of sociology at Georgetown University—and an ordained Baptist minister, and both of those inform this treatise on what it means to be Black in America and what white people need to do to begin dismantling white supremacy.
“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay.
This memoir requires a lot of trigger warnings—including for rape, food and weight—so please read with care. But from what I have heard, it is well worth delving into. Gay explores food, weight, self-care, and the gang rape that altered the course of her life with the vulnerability, candor, and wit that have become her trademark.
“Born with Teeth: A Memoir” by Kate Mulgrew.
I love Kate Mulgrew, and I look forward to spending 10 hours with her and learning more about her life and what she went through to get where she is today.