Ignore the little “look inside” things…I had to borrow audiobook images from Amazon. And I don’t even think the My Antonia is the right one. Huzzah!
Having just recently returned from a cross-country road trip that involved lots of audiobook listening to pass the hours in the car, I thought I’d do a little round-up of mini-reviews. Summer is drawing to a close in most places (not the place in which I reside!), but in case you’ve got one last trip planned or are just looking for something to make the commute to work go a little quicker, maybe my experiences can help you choose a new book to listen to (or avoid!).
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Published by Random House Audio (2011), read by Wil Wheaton
Listened to (most recently) in July 2013; I own it
Book Rating: 4.5 Stars
Audiobook Rating: 5 Stars
Quick plot summary: In a near, bleak future, Wade Watts escapes the crappy reality of life in the virtual reality of the OASIS. He becomes involved in an online treasure hunt with the prize being the fortune of the deceased creator of the OASIS—much ‘80s nostalgia and geeklove ensues. (Quick plot summaries don’t really do it justice, so go read a real plot summary on Amazon!)
If you know me, you probably already know how much I heart this book. Which is A LOT. It’s just so much fun! I don’t often come across books with such an unbridled, bubbling fun to them, and this is just such a joy to read. The ‘80s pop culture references and nostalgia are great—you don’t have to have been involved in them at the time to appreciate them now in the book. I wasn’t alive for over half of the decade, and I still found it all very interesting and exciting. The author explains enough for you to get a general understanding and appreciate it in the story, but without become pedantic. It’s such a geekfest, and in all the best ways. But I don’t think you have to be a geek to enjoy the book—if you love a good treasure hunt, if you have ever loved some aspect of pop culture, be it a movie, a book, a band, a TV show—you can appreciate what this novel is about.
As for the audiobook version, Wil Wheaton was the perfect choice for narration. A famous geek to read a book about geekery! He portrays Wade so well. This is one where I can say I actually love the audiobook pretty much at the same level as I love the book itself. Go track down a copy. Or better yet, just go buy it. It’s that good.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Published by Random House Audio (2005), read by Stephen Fry
Listened to (most recently) in July 2013; I own it
Book Rating: 5 Stars
Audiobook Rating: 4 Stars
Quick plot summary: Arthur Dent, hapless human, manages to escape Earth with his apparently alien friend Ford Prefect right before the planet is demolished to make room for a space freeway. They set off traveling the galaxy, getting into all kinds of trouble and ridiculous situations. Sci-fi parody/satire at its best.
Let’s be clear—these are some of the funniest books I have ever read. Books don’t often make me laugh out loud, but these ones do. They are just so ridiculous, and clever, and amazing. I don’t care if you don’t like sci-fi—you should read these books anyway. At the same time as they parody sci-fi tropes, they also show affection for the genre, and they do it all so intelligently. I can’t praise them enough.
I own an audio copy of the book narrated by Stephen Fry, who delivers all the one-liners and zany shenanigans with the appropriate Brit wit and aplomb. He does a great job. And yet—for me, it is so much funnier to read the book personally than to listen to someone else reading it to me. I don’t know why it’s so much funnier that way, but it just is. So, by all means, listen to the audiobook, because it’s great. But make sure you try reading it, too.
Motor Mouth, by Janet Evanovich
Published by HarperAudio (2007), read by C.J. Critt
Listened to in July 2013; I own(ed) it
Book Rating: 2.5 Stars
Audiobook Rating: 2.5 Stars
Quick plot summary: In this second entry in the Alex Barnaby series, Barney is working for NASCAR racer Sam Hooker, though they’ve broken up in the interim between books. When the two begin investigating one of the other competitors, they find a dead body and become involved in a mystery involving illegal racing tech and more murders.
This one had the usual Evanovich humor and a lot of the hallmarks of her other books—some parts were very funny, but I just didn't enjoy it as much as the Stephanie Plum series or even the Lizzy and Diesel series. The story itself was okay, but it didn't really hold my attention. On top of that, I wasn't a big fan of the narrator for the audiobook. I eventually got used to her, even though the voice for Sam Hooker made me cringe. Overall, it wasn’t horrible, but I can see why there are only 2 books (not counting the graphic novel) in this series.
My Antonia, by Willa Cather
Published by Blackstone Audio (2007), read by Jeff Cummings
Listened to in August 2013; borrowed from digital library
Book Rating: 4 Stars
Audiobook Rating: 3.5 Stars
Quick plot summary: Written from the perspective of Jim, who moved to Nebraska as a boy to live with his grandparents after the death of his parent-parents, this novel tells the story of his own life and also that of Antonia Shimerda, his Bohemian emigrant neighbor. Quiet, with a surface simplicity that belies its depth, this book shines a light on the strength of the pioneers and immigrants who went through so much to build lives for themselves and also to help build America.
Hey look, one of the 100 greatest novels of all time! And I quite enjoyed this one. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect book to listen to as you’re driving across the prairies of Kansas. As I looked out the window I tried to imagine what it must’ve looked like in Antonia’s time, as most of the prairie is gone now. Even in the book, the narrator notes that the prairie is already less than it had been, and the author describes it with such loving beauty. The book was vaguely Little House-ish, in that it covered the daily lives of pioneers, but it also shows how very rough it could be for immigrant pioneers. And yet, despite all the adversity life had to throw Antonia’s way, she managed to be happy. I really appreciated that—so many classics are utterly depressing, and I was glad that this one ended with a happy sort of contentedness. You go, Antonia—we can all take something from her example.
As for the audiobook, I wasn’t a big fan of the narrator at first, but then I grew to enjoy the accents he did for various characters. Couldn’t tell you if they were accurate accents, but they worked well in the story and helped me differentiate between characters.
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Published by AudioGO Ltd (2013), performed by cast
Listened to in August 2013; found on the YouTubes
Book Rating: 4.5 Stars
Performance Rating: 5 Stars
Quick plot summary: Richard Mayhew helps a mysterious girl on the street and finds himself drawn into the world of London Below, full of markets and rat-speakers and angels and assassins and all manner of shadowy things. In his quest to help the girl called Door and find his way back to his ordinary life, he will have to learn to survive in this world so different from and so much darker than his own.
Okay, to be fair, this isn’t actually an audiobook. BBC 4 did a radio play of Neverwhere back in March, and I never got to finish listening to it before they took it off their website. After My Antonia, the narrator of The Brothers Karamazov audiobook was too difficult to understand and Beloved was too quiet to hear, so I tracked this down on YouTube to stream through my phone and listen to during the last leg of our journey. I love this story (it was my first Neil Gaiman, in fact, back in high school), and I love the campy BBC TV series he wrote that led to him writing the novel (a little change-up from the usual flow of things, yes?), so it’s no surprise that I would love the radio play. The story itself is great urban fantasy, and the cast and production team did a great job with the performance. The cast includes such talent as James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Anthony Head, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Christopher Lee, and all the sound effects and things added to the background made it feel very immersive. Great work—why aren’t there more radio plays these days? In my huntings for it to listen to on the ride, I didn’t see anywhere to purchase it, but logging on to Amazon today I saw that it is being released on audible.com on September 5th. Check it out!