Audiobooks – Part 2: Many favorites

As promised in my last installment in which I introduced my hobby of Audiobooks, I shall now go through a long list of my favorites recommendations. This post may be a bit all over the place but I perhaps you’ll find something you may like and it was worth it~

(Here is my full Goodreads list for those interested, and links to specific bookshelves shall be shared intermittently below)

 

First off, this doesn’t even technically count as audiobook but sometimes there’s nothing like a BBC radio drama–well, not always BBC but usually the BBC. Instead of one actor reading an entire book, the lost art of the radio drama employs multiple actors and gets rid of those pesky “he said” and “she said”s to efficiently tell the tale in a manner best suited to this particular medium. They are often much quicker listens than the unabridged texts and more entertaining.

Several classics come to mind, but above all The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stands out as the greatest. Trippy sci-fi and trippy comedy, nobody does it better than Douglas Adams! Interestingly, before any other iteration it was meant to be a radio show originally and that was always Adams’ preference. The saga started way back in 1978, and do check out the 2004 and 2005 series too.

Other noteworthy radio dramas include The Hobbit by Tolkien, Neverwhere and Good Omens by Gaiman, Foundation by Asimov, and Neuromancer by Gibson.

If you ask very nicely I may even send you the files but you didn’t hear that from me; support your local BBC and buy legit whenever possible 😉

 

Next I feel I must continue on the subject of Neal StephensonSnow Crash as said is my the best ever, but pretty much any Stephenson tome will give hours upon hours of thought-provoking big ideas and exciting writing.

The pseudo-sequel postcyberpunk The Diamond Age is quite well done, but my second favorites are tied with the epic hacker thriller Cryptonomicon and philosophical extreme geek discourse that is Anathem. I am due to even listen to those a third or fourth time eventually. Reamde is another fun tech thriller, and by the way next on my list whenever I find the time is Seveneves.

 

On the subject of quality science fiction, I’d be remiss if I did not mention the late great Philip K. Dick. A powerful and timeless author who prediction the confusion of reality-questing modernity more than anyone else, P.K. Dick’s novels are not too long and pack quite a punch hence well suited to the audio format.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is an obvious recommendation (and Blade Runner is indeed currently back in the public consciousness!), but my ultimate top pick is the theological tale of madness VALIS. That one needs to be reabsorbed every few years for maximum pondering. Other listens include the also-currently-back-in-the-public-consciousness tragic nazism of The Man in the High Castle, and the random enjoyable mindfuckness of Counter-Clock World.

What should I listen to next? I was thinking either Ubik or A Scanner Darkly. 

 

If I may feel more literary, there’s always acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. The dreamy magical realism style makes for gooood listening on those long melancholic nights of travel and introspection…

So far I have only listened to a few favorites The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood, with the former being a slightly superior book in my opinion but the latter’s more grounded nom de plum stylings a better fit in the audio format. Kafka on the Shore made for an interesting production employing multiple actors but it just doesn’t seem to work as well. Honestly, as my reading tastes evolve, I find Murakami becoming more hit or miss. But the hits when hitting are still amazing.

 

Next up is my ‘not even reread’ section. What I mean is, because of my low-attention span I am a quirky yet stubborn reader so I have figured out my best method for audiobooks is to listen to one of my favorite novels that I have already read. It’s a great way to reread and absorb the content more deeply.

However, some audiobooks are so engaging even I can listen to an entire book for the first time and actually pay attention to most of it. These are the not-even rereads.

Often, that especially goes for books written by performers in which the performers say aloud their own works. Especially with comedy books. Yes Please by Amy Poehler was a great surprise in one of the best memoirs I had come across. A lot of charm and heart, with guest speakers. So far it’s the only audiobook I’ve gotten others to listen to! Bossypants by Tina Fey was also wonderful in a similar vein, and The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer didn’t quite work as well but did showcase a perspective worth listening to. And now I have just noticed that pattern has emerged with regards to comedian demographics. I should mix it up. So how about next on my list is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

 

Just a few more of my very favorite favorites to round it out:

There are the nonfiction social justice books, such as Life Inc. and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by Douglas Rushkoff. I learned a hell of a lot about the system, man. The controversial Going Clear by Lawrence Wright displays a fascinating study of the Scientology Cult, an unbelievable true story of American insanity that left me on the edge of my toes.

Some newer science fiction such as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline which may not always be as smart as it strives but is eminently entertaining. Gun Machine by graphic novelist Warren Ellis was a wild ride told in the grittiest of grit.

Lastly, the absolute most interesting book of them all is certainly Sapiens by Professor Yuval Noah Hareri. A sprawling history of the human race that gives a new light to all that makes us human, expressed in myth-busting factoid after myth-busting factoid. The entire anthropological record always in readable prose. It has since impacted me more than any other book I’ve read in years, giving me so much to think about with where humanity has gone and where to go next. I recommend this book to everyone, from cynics who need to get the proper big picture to naive optimists who don’t truly understand the past. An incredible book, and I just hope I learned as much as I can from initially listening instead of reading. (I did purchase the paperback of Hareri’s followup, Home Deus, so I should be all around good.)

 

That’ll have to be about it. So many memories of walking around the neighborhood and experiencing other worlds, sights and sounds and smells reminding me of the voices who told me stories…

What have I left out? So much! Classics like Orwell, or of the beat era like Burroughs, and important contemporary American authors Bret Easton Ellis and Janet Fitch. I can only fit so much in one organized blog posting, but in any case I hope you will consider some of these brief introductions and enjoy the possibilities of literature in whole new ways.

What are you going to read/listen to next?

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Audiobooks: Part 1 – How it all started…

As everyone should know by now, I am something of a reader. At least I try to be. It’s not always easy to find the time, and I am admittedly a slow reader, but the important thing is to somehow schedule enough freedom to carry on the exploration of enough of the world’s fascinating books… and thus certain strategies have evolved with which I can make the most of my limited lifespan and still absorb as much as possible…

Well, on this blog I have thoroughly gone over my love of comics, and occasionally I like to share various reviews. Now the time has come to express my love of yet another literary medium: Audiobooks!

I currently have a special love for the audio format of storytelling, and it’s only been a few years since I have gotten into it. The brilliant thing about it is that you can listen while waiting in line at customs, or squished on a subway car, or jogging, or any number of transit platforms for a life ever on the go.

Personally, I have a rather low attention span and it is still something of a surprise that I have become so into audiobooks. I don’t recommend it for everyone. But if you do grow out of listening to the same songs on your shuffle endlessly, it’s a good method to mix it up and keep the mind active on boring commutes.

My best advice is to simply download a favorite book that you’ve already read–and only the best books are worth rereading–and experience it anew via a talented actor reading you a story.

Besides, isn’t that the purest form of storytelling? Oral traditions are how it all started for humanity, long before the invention of writing. Right?

 

Anyway, a cursory glance at my Goodreads audio shelf shows that I have apparently listened to about 80 separate works. Some shortened, some lengthy—

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=audio

 

Not bad, or so I should hope. But, you may ask, how did I start upon this path?

I believe it was in that 2012/2013 era, when I thought I had grown up and established all the hobbies I would have in my adult life. Fortunately there was still more to learn, new habits still yet unfounded.

Now, before I even got into the more book-length audio format (after a brief interest in talk radio) I used to listen to a variety of fascinating psychedelic lectures. This was during my mid-to-late twenties, back in California. I was especially interested in Terence McKenna and his take on psilocybin mushrooms as per extraterrestrial intelligence and the like. That sort of thing.

(Somehow I did miss the boat on podcasts. From time to time some good ones are recommended and I listen, such as Hardcore History or a good NPR story, but for the most part I am an audiobooks boy)

So there I was, and I had in my possession a digital library of the complete series by noted author Robert Anton Wilson. I enjoyed listening to his “maybe logic” philosophy, his take on reality tunnels and the mystical secrets of the mind, but eventually I had run out. However, there on the entirety of the set, I noticed that the great Illuminatus! Trilogy was included. Unabridged.

Hmmmm.

Back then, the only audiobook I had ever finished to was a CD of Neil Gaiman’s youthful tale Coraline, which I listened to on a cross-country train trip in my youth. It didn’t work at all; I was constantly distracted and had to rewind. Didn’t seem to be for me.

But surely the legendary epic that is the Illuminatus! Trilogy would be different? The classic conspiratorial farce is a series that I revisit from time to time in my life, gaining new wisdom, and I was about ready for another reread.

And reread, or rather first-listen, I did. The whole thing. And it was awesome. The first installment of the trilogy was best, even after they changed narrators for the final two thirds. The grand appendix was just like a psychedelic lecture anyhow, and from that day on to today I carry with me the memories of productively learning much secret knowledge of the universe while walking around the neighborhood.

 

 

It gave me such an interesting perspective to hear fresh voices which had previously existed only been in my head . The timing, the intonation, such a different interpretation compared to what had come before. I really loved it. My mind was sharp on many a long otherwise boring bicycle ride back in those months. I retained the whole info-space in a new way, and I dare say–at least temporarily–I was as much an expert on RAW as anyone.

Here, you don’t have to listen to the entire piece but a random skim may give an idea here:

 

 

I had discovered a whole new time-consuming hobby. The next step was to I had to figure out what to listen to next. There were a few options. Abridged books or short novels, poetry or radio dramas, so much to choose from.

I decided to go big, and the next major listen was the crucial postcyberpunk novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. At 17 hours I still contend that this is the greatest audiobook of all time, as read by actor Jonathan Davis. Hilarious, entertaining, exciting, and simulteneously shockingly intelligent.

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