A big story in publishing these days is the stupendous growth in the once-sleepy category of audiobooks. Sales are through the roof; catalogs are exploding; libraries are having to rewrite their budgets to accommodate the demands of their users. So, in this season of giving, why not consider an audiobook (or a gift card with suggestions) not just for your ancient aunt or retired father but for almost anyone on your list. To get you started, here are a few recent releases.
Here’s a great pairing, especially for people who like to be educated while they are being entertained. “Astrophysics’’ was written and is narrated here by astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of the TV series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.’’ Tyson has a marvelous voice, deep and calming, and as anyone who has ever watched him knows, he has the science popularizer’s gift of being able to make even the most abstruse material fascinating and easy to understand. Add to this the original 1980 Carl Sagan classic, “Cosmos,’’ narrated by Tyson among others, and you have a perfect package for the science buff in your life.
“Call Me By Your Name’’ (Macmillan)
André Aciman’s “exceptionally beautiful” novel of sexual awakening made just about everyone’s best books list for 2007, and the film version, just released in the United States, looks set to do the same. The audiobook is read in a rich, honeyed voice by Armie Hammer, who, in the movie, plays not the book’s 17-year-old narrator but the visiting American with whom he falls in love.
“The Handmaid’s Tale’’ (Audible)
This 1985 classic by Margaret Atwood was turned into an acclaimed Hulu series starring Elisabeth Moss. The audiobook, originally recorded in 2012 in a strong, even voice by Clare Danes (whose calm, collected delivery bears basically no relationship to her high-octane performance in “Homeland’’), it has been rereleased in an updated edition with new material, including a previously unpublished afterword by the author.
“Lincoln in the Bardo’’ (Random House)
This edition of George Saunders’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son has been described as a “wildly surreal audiobook.” A full cast performance, it features 166 different voices (including Saunders himself, several of his friends and family, and members of his publishing team), in a phantasmagorical rendition of the transitory state between death and rebirth.
“Murder on the Orient Express’’ (Audible)
Another timely release, “Murder on the Orient Express’’ is the most famous of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries. This story of murder on a snowed-in train debuted in 1934 and has been dramatized countless times, including the film version directed by Kenneth Branagh in theaters now. This recently released audio version features an all-star cast that includes Tom Conti (“The Dark Knight Rises’’) as Poirot, Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda’’) as a silky Mary Debenham, and the wonderfully recognizable Art Malik (“Indian Summers’’) as the narrator.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray’’ (Audible)
There are many fine audio versions of this gothic tale of beauty and the seductions of youth, but this new edition of Oscar Wilde’s homoerotic classic is attractively and languidly performed by the actor Russell Tovey (“Angels in America’’). This year marks a half-century since the passage of the Sexual Offences Act in Britain, and a portion of the sales of this special issue will be donated to Britain’s leading LGBT charity, Stonewall.
At just under 63 hours, this might be more Holmes and Watson than anyone really needs, but this new production is a tour de force — the entire catalog lovingly and heroically read by actor and author Stephen Fry, whose affection for Doyle’s creation comes through in every line.
“Silence: In the Age of Noise’’ (Random House)
Following the news that the Earth itself is humming (and the powerful sense we all have that there is too much clatter in our lives), one book worth thinking about is Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge’s “Silence: In the Age of Noise.’’ Read in suitably Scandinavian tones by Atli Gunnarsson, this book attempts to answer three basic questions: What is silence? Where is it? And why is it more important now than ever? There is some irony in the fact that you have to listen to it, but at least you can do it while you drive.
“The Unconsoled’’ (Tantor)
Another ambitious, though utterly different, choice might be “The Unconsoled’’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. Ishiguro’s first novel after “The Remains of the Day’’ (1989), which catapulted him to fame, “The Unconsoled’’ (1995) tells the story of a famous pianist who gets waylaid by a series of inexplicable encounters. Read by the consummate professional Simon Vance and clocking in at more than 19 hours, it is a virtuoso performance on all counts.
Anne Fadiman is the daughter of Clifton Fadiman, the celebrated critic and literary personality whose hugely popular radio quiz show “Information Please’’ attracted an audience of 15 million listeners at its peak in the 1940s. Fadiman the younger is a marvelous writer and her memoir of her wine-loving father beautifully captures a place (New York) and a moment (the mid-20th century) in time. For an added treat, try tuning in to the man himself, the Toscanini of Quiz, in two volumes of the collected “Information Please’’ shows.
Christina Thompson, editor of the Harvard Review, is author of the memoir “Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All’’ and the forthcoming history of Polynesia, “Sea People.’’
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