You Love Audiobooks — Or Don’t

I’ve got three books that will make your ears, and brains, happy

Hi friends,

There are many great things about having a dog: The companionship, the snuggles, the time outside — and in my case — more time listening to audiobooks. My dog, Ellie, may have short legs, but she can go for a long walk. We take two 45-minute walks each day and I use the time to plow through audiobooks. (I’ve included a picture of Ellie at the bottom for anyone who needs a dog fix this Monday morning.)

 This week I’m spotlighting a few of my favorite listens, and while they’re all great on audio, I’m sure they’d be fantastic to read too. (Or you can embrace my patented method of jumping back and forth between audio and print to finish as quickly as possible.) 

And now what to read (or listen to) if …

You Want a Cozy, Fall Read 

Still Life by Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books are the perfect reads for a lazy fall Saturday spent under a blanket with a cup of tea (or the hot beverage of your choice). The majority of the books take place in the tiny, idyllic village of Three Pines in Quebec, and while they all feature a tightly plotted mystery, they are also so much more. In the words of Penny, “The books are about terror - but they are also about belonging. About love and community. About kindness. And goodness. And the consequences of the choices we make.” In short, about the things that make life worth living.

The series opens with Still Life. Over Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, beloved former art teacher Jane Neal is found dead in the woods. The residents of Three Pines are convinced Jane was the victim of a hunting accident, but Inspector Gamache and his team believe it was murder. Gamache is a detective in the vein of Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot but focuses on emotions the way Poirot obsesses over his “little gray cells.” The residents of Three Pines are quirky, fully-drawn delightful side characters that I would love to join for a café au lait the town’s bistro. 

The Inspector Gamache books shine in the audio format. Ralph Cosham, a British-born actor, narrated the first ten books until his death in 2014. Since then, Robert Bathurst, who played Sir Anthony Strallan in “Dowton Abbey,” has served as the series narrator. Both men excel at bringing to life the warmth and goodness Penny has carefully written into her stories. If you have access to Hoopla through your library, all of the audiobooks except for the latest release are available there for free.

You Loved “Get Out” Or “The Devil Wears Prada” 

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris’ debut, was marketed as “Get Out” meets “The Devil Wears Prada.” I will admit that I was skeptical, but The Other Black Girl lives up to the hype. It’s simultaneously a propulsive, juicy thriller and a takedown of the publishing industry’s lack of diversity. (A 2020 New York Times analysis found that 89% of the books published by major publishing houses in 2018 were by white authors.)

The Other Black Girl follows Nella Rogers, the sole Black employee at Wagner Books, a prestigious New York publishing house, until Hazel, the titular other Black girl, begins working at the desk next to hers. Hazel quickly begins to outshine Nella, formerly the office’s star employee. As Nella attempts to regain the top spot, mysterious notes urging her to “LEAVE WAGNER. NOW” appear on her desk. Suddenly, instead of just focusing on keeping her job, Nella is caught up in a sinister conspiracy. I’m hesitant to say much more for fear of spoiling the book’s many twists.

The audiobook of The Other Black Girl is a full-cast recording featuring all-stars Aja Naomi King, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Heather Alicia Simms and Bahni Turpin. Each narrator voices chapters from one character’s perspective. King, in particular, does an excellent job portraying Nella’s increasing paranoia and fear as more and more disturbing things happen to her. It’s a wild ride, perfect for fans of Such a Fun Age or Detransition, Baby. 

The Latest Twitter Pile-on Makes You Squeamish

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

There’s a joke about Twitter: There’s a main character on the social media site each day. The goal is to not become the main character. 

Jon Ronson, a self-described “humorous journalist,” spent three years interviewing people who had become “main characters,” working to understand what the experience, and its aftermath, was like. He talks with Justine Sacco, who infamously tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” (Sacco argues her tweet was intended to mock Americans) and hikes with Jonah Lehrer, a journalist who fabricated quotes. In between recounting their conversations, he documents the history of public shaming as a punishment. 

Ronson argues that these events aren’t just bad for the shamed, but for the shamers, writing, “destroys souls, brutalizing everyone, the onlookers included.” Published in 2016, years before the phrase “cancel culture” came to dominate our conversationsSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a prescient book and one I often find myself reflecting on (most recently during the Bad Art Friend discourse). Ronson narrates the audiobook, drawing on his experience developing stories for This American Life, imbuing it with humor and empathy for those who have survived shamings.

That’s it for me this week. You can catch up on last week’s recs here and my Q&A with author and translator Rohini Chowdhury here. And, if you missed the Q&A I did with audiobook narrator Channie Waites earlier this year, you can read it here.

This week, we have a guest rec from Gayla Gray, who writes the SoNovelicious newsletter about books and reading:

“In With the Fire on High, Elizabeth Acevedo writes about teens in real-life situations so different from my own life experiences. Her ability to write such engaging stories while capturing the essence of each character is magic.  These teens have hopes and dreams as we all do, and she shows them navigating all of this while mesmerizing the readers with her gorgeous prose. The hopes and dreams of each character and their determination to follow their dreams make my heart smile. Her books are best consumed as audiobooks; her voice is authentic to the characters she writes about.  Acevedo has two other books, Poet X and Clap When You Land, that she narrates too. If you still need more of her poetic voice, she also narrates Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix by Ibi Zoboi. All of these books will stay with you long after you read or listen to them.”

And finally, here’s the promised picture of Ellie:

Have a great week!

What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.

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