Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island, VA, is home to the wild Chincoteague ponies made famous in Marguerite Henry’s children’s book “Misty of Chincoteague.”

When my children and I planned a vacation to the island, I wanted them to know about the place, so on the way we listened to Henry’s book on CD.   Years later, listening to that story is one of our shared memories of that great weekend.

Audiobooks have kept me company on many road trips, to the point that I often remember the trip by the book I listened to along the way.  I’ve learned to take a selection of audiobooks with me – just in case I don’t like the story or don’t like the narrator.  The person who reads the book can make or break it.

Recently fellow Milton Library staff member Meagan Oliver recommended I listen to “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie,” Alan Bradley’s 2009 debut novel and first in his Flavia de Luce mystery series.  Meagan said the narrator — Jayne Entwistle — made the story, and she was right.   Great narrators make the characters in books come alive.

I smile just thinking about Cherry Jones’ parrot voice yell “Dawg” when Winn-Dixie walks into the pet store in the children’s book “Because of Winn-Dixie” by Kate Dicamillo.

I laugh aloud when I recall C. J. Critt as Grandma Mazer, Stephanie Plum’s maternal grandmother in Janet Evanovich’s series about the zany bounty hunter.

Dr. Kay Scarpetta has become a real person to me in Kate Reading’s brilliant portrayal of the medical examiner in Patricia Cornwell’s series.

But, you ask, isn’t listening to a book on audio cheating?

No, says University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham.  “For most books, for most purposes, listening and reading are more or less the same thing,” he wrote in a 2016 blog post on the subject. Our brains process language the same way for reading and listening, he said.

Besides, listening to an audiobook while I drive has the added benefit of keeping me awake!

Here are just a few of my all-time favorite audiobooks, for your consideration.

“Great Catherine: The Life of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia” by Carolly Erickson (1994. Biography.) Narrated by Davina Porter.

Ya-Ya Sisterhood series by Rebecca Wells (1996 – 2004. Women’s fiction.)  Narrated by Judith Ivey.

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (1997 – 2007. Fantasy.)  The narrator of the U.S. editions is Jim Dale.

“Atonement” by Ian McEwan (2001. Metafiction novel.) Narrated by Jill Tanner.

“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King (2002. Memoir.)  Read by the author.

“The Red Hat Club” by Haywood Smith (2003.Women’s fiction.)  Read by Cynthia Darlow.

“A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly (2004. Young adult historical fiction, coming-of-age novel.)  Narrated by Hope Davis.

“Lucky” trilogy by Susan Patron (2006 – 2012. Children’s fiction.) Narrated by Cassandra Campbell.

“Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” by S. C. Gwynne (2011. History.) Narrated by David Drummond.

“The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd. (2015. Historical fiction.)  Read by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye.

“A Gentleman from Moscow” by Amor Towles. (2016. Historical fiction.) Narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith.

“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng. (2017. Fiction.) Narrated by Jennifer Lim.

“The Girl Before” by J. P. Delaney (2017. Psychological thriller.) Narrated by Emilia Fox, Finty Williams, and Lise Aagaard Knudsen.

Book Bits August 2018
By Susan Larson, director, Milton Public Library
First published in the Milton Independent. Reprinted here with permission.