Journeys: four audiobooks for summer road trips

Step into one-of-a-kind life journeys in Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ and ‘In the Land of Invisible Women’ by Qanta A. Ahmed.

Random House Audio
‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama, read by the author, Random House Audio, 16 CDs, 19 hours.

The voices of women writers ring out from this quartet of audiobooks, including those of a popular first lady, a Liberian American novelist, a Muslim doctor, and an essayist on cooking. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Read by Michelle Obama; Random House Audio; 16 CDs; 19 hours

This is one audiobook you may have trouble turning off. Listeners will be immediately drawn in by Obama’s narration, as she sounds polished and professional. She is warm and inviting, her timbre is moderately deep and her pacing is natural. Her memoir is revelatory without dwelling on sordid details, but she does not sidestep sad or difficult events. Obama describes herself as a “striver” while detailing her youth, education, and courtship with Barack Obama, then childbirth and loss before tackling the political side of her life. The writing is sharp and descriptive and the content is compelling – a winner all around. Grade: A+

She Would be King by Wayétu Moore

Read by Wayétu Moore; Brilliance Audio; nine hours and 38 minutes

When Americans tackle magical realism the result is often little better than “Herbie the Love Bug.” Moore, A Liberian American, has changed that vista forever. Her ambitious novel relies on history, romance, and magical realism to weave together the stories of three people caught up in the drama and warfare surrounding the founding of Liberia in the 1800s. Moore reads with an energy and clarity that enhances an already captivating story. She not only reels us in with her expressive dialogue and descriptive prose, but she is on equal footing with the most experienced audiobook narrators working today. Her African dialects are superb and she manages a passable British accent. (This novel contains adult themes, though sparingly so.) Grade: A

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed

Read by Nicola Barber; Brilliance Audio; 14 hours and 45 minutes

This is a few years old, having been published in 2012, but is more relevant than ever these days. Ahmed is a Muslim doctor who left the relative freedom of life in Great Britain and the United States to work in Saudi Arabia. While some time is spent discussing her profession, the bulk of this memoir is a fascinating account of life behind the veil, both socially and from a religious standpoint, offering insight into a culture whose traditions and beliefs are little known in the West. It does lack some focus, however, leaving us wanting to know more about some subjects, such as the Saudi reaction to September 11. Nicola Barber, a British actress with a lovely voice, conjures up many accents, both regional and international. Grade: B+

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood

Read by Nina Alvamar; Recorded Books; six hours and 15 minutes

The only misstep in this collection of 27 essays is that it is not very interesting, or useful, to hear someone read a recipe aloud. Otherwise, this is a touching account of a life as seen through favorite foods. Ann Hood reveals that cooking, and eating, helped her through some very tough times. What delights is her complete lack of snobbery. She enjoys some very homey recipes that evoke her father, even though many of his meals were the opposite of “gourmet.” Let’s just say he, and his daughter, lack embarrassment over their use of American cheese. Nina Alvamar has an easy, soothing manner, and she highlights the emotions that Hood attaches to her cooking. The result is relaxing and entertaining, though you may find yourself searching for Hood’s recipes online. Grade: B

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