Our friends at AudioFile Magazine present the best audiobooks of the year:
Audiobooks now have eight years of double-digit sales growth, and the average number of books listened to by individuals increased to more than eight per year according to the Audio Publishers Association. This year audiobooks have provided a balm, a diversion, and an escape for countless listeners. Families have found new value and entertainment with shared audiobook listening. Essential workers have put the world aside as they put on their headphones after a long shift. When new data is released, it's likely to show listening at home moving to the top of listening locations, and a jump in the use of home devices.
Top choices for escape of AudioFile's 2020 Best list include Louise Penny's mystery All the Devils Are Here--set in Paris and finely narrated by Robert Bathurst (Macmillan Audio); The Yosemite, John Muir's 1912 journals given a nice reading by Nick McArdle--in a Scottish brogue like Muir's own (Naxos Audiobooks); and Vesper Flights, naturalist Helen Macdonald's essays and observations (Recorded Books).
Audiobooks that illuminate many of today's important topics and cultural conversations are standouts on the list: Jon Meacham's tribute to John Lewis, His Truth Is Marching On, narrated by Golden Voice narrator JD Jackson (Random House Audio); Jason Reynolds's accessible narration of Stamped (Hachette Audio); Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and read by Robin Miles (Random House Audio); and Alistair Gee and Dani Anguiano's remarkable look at individual heroism, fire science, and climate change in Fire in Paradise (Recorded Books).
The audiobook most talked about this month, Barack Obama's A Promised Land, read by President Obama (Random House Audio), is an honorary "best" since our list was compiled before publication, and we were not able to hear the production in advance.
For readers who might want to get their recommendations in a podcast format, Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine features narrator guests whose audiobooks were chosen as Best of the Year: Hear Marin Ireland, David Pittu, Frankie Corzo, and Robert Bathurst, among others.
Highlights from the nine subject categories, including fiction, history, contemporary culture, science fiction & fantasy, and young adult, are featured below. All titles are available from Libro.fm.
Intimations by Zadie Smith, read by Zadie Smith (Penguin Audio) Listening to award-winning author Zadie Smith read her collection of six personal essays about life in the year 2020 is a transcendent experience. That voice--London-born, smooth, warm, well modulated with a hint of gravel and exquisite articulation. The witty, observant, thoughtful essays touch on the pandemic, womanhood, America, families, work, classism and racism, reading and writing, and what makes life worthwhile.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, read by Marin Ireland (Harper Audio) Marin Ireland narrates a stunning audiobook that explores race, class, family, and global catastrophe. A married couple and their teenage children are on summer vacation at a rented secluded home in the Hamptons. However, the house's owners arrive unexpectedly after fleeing New York City during a mysterious blackout. While the situation is uncomfortable, the two families--one white and middle class, the other Black and wealthy--cohabitate and try to figure out what's happened. Ireland portrays all the characters with pitch-perfect nuances.
The Fragile Earth by David Remnick, Henry Finder, editors, read by Kaleo Griffith, Gabra Zackman, Cat Gould (Harper Audio) Kaleo Griffith, Gabra Zackman, and Cat Gould narrate this timely collection of climate-change nonfiction from the New Yorker with engagement, clarity, and an admirable mix of insistence and calm. Written by many of the magazine's most well-known authors, including Elizabeth Kolbert, Bill McKibben, Burkhard Bilger, Kathryn Schulz, and Ian Frazer, the pieces focus on "how we got here, where we are, and what we can do now."
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Dirk Maggs, read by Riz Ahmed, Kat Dennings, Taron Egerton, Neil Gaiman, James McAvoy, Samantha Morton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andy Serkis, Michael Sheen, and a Full Cast (Audible) James McAvoy leads an all-star cast in narrating this magnificent audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman's iconic graphic novel series, The Sandman. As listeners are swept up in a saga in which cats talk and nightmares walk, McAvoy's steady characterization reminds them that it's all in a day's work for him. The sound effects are immersive, and there is a wonderful cinematic score. Listeners won't be able to pause once they hit play.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, read by Frankie Corzo (Random House Audio) Frankie Corzo's velvety voice puts listeners under her spell as she narrates this horror audiobook. Noemí Taboada is a clever 22-year-old anthropology student buzzing between parties in 1950s Mexico City. She is quite put out when her father sends her to the countryside to check on her recently married cousin, Catalina. Listeners share Noemí's developing terror as she unravels the many mysteries of High Place and its enigmatic inhabitants. A suspenseful and atmospheric narration makes this an audiobook listeners won't soon forget.
A Most Beautiful Thing by Arshay Cooper, read by Adam Lazarre-White (Macmillan Audio) In the 1990s, Arshay Cooper attends a crew recruiting meeting at his high school for the free pizza. He ends up joining the first Black high school rowing team in the country. Narrator Adam Lazarre-White conveys Cooper's youth and aspirations in a rich, steady voice that suggests emotional authenticity and humor. Cooper and his teammates create something great with the help of a philanthropic businessman and former college rowers. Lazarre-White captures Cooper's developing emotional maturity.