Sound advice: Audiobooks to thrill, delight, and spread hope

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The ability to see humor in any situation is a gift. Four authors tap into quirky characters and amusing circumstances in these four recommended audiobooks.

Two of the books, a novel by Native American writer Louise Erdrich and a memoir by Chinese Canadian comic Simu Liu, are read by the authors themselves. They bring an unmatched authority and authenticity to the recordings. 

Listening to these audiobooks offers an opportunity to enter the stories by a different route than reading words on a page. Instead, the aural landscape envelopes us and carries us deeper into our imaginations. 

Why We Wrote This

Humor, inspiration, and hope resound throughout a quartet of outstanding audiobooks. Listening to stories evokes the days of radio plays or campfire storytelling, making the experience immediate and absorbing.

Whether you’re in the mood for science fiction with heart, a memoir that uplifts, a celebration of books and reading, or a story about a family’s struggle to connect, these four titles are worth a listen.      

“Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir
Narrated by Ray Porter; Audible Studios; 16 hours

Andy Weir delivers an inspiring and suspenseful interstellar thriller in which a confused man, Ryland Grace, awakens on a spaceship not knowing his identity or purpose. As our intrepid and good-natured astronaut comes back to life, he slowly remembers his raison d’être – which is only to save all humankind as the sun is slowly devoured by “astrophage,” a microscopic life-form.

Why We Wrote This

Humor, inspiration, and hope resound throughout a quartet of outstanding audiobooks. Listening to stories evokes the days of radio plays or campfire storytelling, making the experience immediate and absorbing.

Hard-core science fiction fans should eat up this tale of adventure and hope, masterly read by Ray Porter, who conjures a variety of accents as well as giving voice to a realistic protagonist whose optimism (or despair) is heard in his voice. Especially clever are interactions with a delightfully complex alien creature that communicates through musical notes. Grade: A+

“We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story” by Simu Liu
Narrated by author; HarperAudio; 8 hours

Simu Liu, star of Marvel’s first Asian superhero movie, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” is a convivial narrator who draws us into his life with an easy, conversational manner and charming self-deprecation. Raised in Canada by engineer parents, the Chinese-born Liu speaks candidly of the difficulty in both assimilating to a new country and navigating his way through a rocky relationship with parents whose traditional ways clashed with Liu’s Western experiences.

His was a long and unlikely slog from business school to acting jobs found on Craigslist and birthday party gigs as Spider-Man, to finally, international fame. Liu captivates with his sturdy optimism and his ability to see humor in every situation. Grade: A 

“The Sentence” by Louise Erdrich
Narrated by author; HarperAudio; 12 hours

Books are at the heart of this engrossing and poignant tale told by Tookie, a Native American woman living in Minneapolis. Louise Erdrich, in her pleasant, low voice, delivers the humor and consternation that round out this character-driven tale. Listeners can chart Tookie’s personal growth, from the laughable crime caper that lands her in jail to the books that give her both education and purpose. Tookie delights us with observations about the pandemic, social injustice, love, motherhood, the ghost that is both haunting and annoying her, and an unadulterated love of the written word. Grade: A-

“French Braid,” by Anne Tyler
Narrated by Kimberly Farr; Random House Audio; 9 hours

Anne Tyler, known for stories in which quirky characters find a way to connect to those around them, somewhat misses the mark with her latest endeavor. In it, a seemingly close-knit family never quite comes together. While she cleverly builds the rationale for their inability to communicate, “French Braid” lacks the sparkle that usually permeates her novels.

Narrator Kimberly Farr clearly identifies each character using changes in accent, timbre, and pacing. Both Farr and Tyler are at their best delivering the inner thoughts, frustrations, and sly humor of the main character, Mercy Garratt, a woman trapped in her matriarchal role by both family ties and custom. Grade: B 


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