Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, read by Lindsay Duncan -- I just finished my approximately annual listen of this audiobook. Austen is difficult to get just right aloud: you have to have a feel for her dry humor, and be able to be true to the characters without making the annoying ones too much of a burden to the listener. I have audiobooks of all Austen’s finished novels, and this is my favorite narrator (as well as my favorite Austen novel!) Duncan does all of the above, and her Lizzie is perfect, smart and mischievous and warm.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, read by Robin Miles -- Speaking of favorite narrators, Robin Miles is my favorite audiobook reader of all time. Her accents and character voices are amazing, she has a beautiful voice, and she makes sentences intelligible as well as emotional. I first was blown away with Miles's work on the Nigerian historical epic Half of a Yellow Sun, and was so excited when I found out she was going to be reading this series, the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. These books are set on a planet that is tectonically superactive: the 'Fifth Season' of the title is what the human inhabitants call a period of volcanic apocalypse -- often involving an ash-cloud winter. These Seasons interrupt and reset their civilization periodically, in different ways. Rules for surviving have been passed down as 'Stone Lore', and are almost the only history they have for sure past a certain point. Some humans are born with an ability to channel energy on a geological scale, but they're hated and feared by the others, especially since their powers untrained can easily save them from geological threats at the expense of those around them or nearby. When the books open, a civilization has lasted an unusually long time by training and enslaving these people to suppress earthquakes and volcanoes. The worldbuilding is intense and fascinating, and Jemisin's writing is always strong and evocative. These are the books that won her three 'Best Novel' Hugos in a row, an unheard of feat.
Dracula by Bram Stoker, read by Fredric Scadron, Mary Beth Quillen Gregor, et al (unabridged Brilliance audio version with 5 readers) -- Dracula is cheesy, and you have to love this particular kind of Victorian cheese to love Dracula. The heroes are square and earnest, the underlying themes and fears are so 19th century (railroads, shorthand, and typewriters will save us from ancient magic!) This unabridged version embraces the cheese beautifully. The readers are earnest and well chosen, and they coordinate well, so a diary entry from Dr. Seward will be read complete with Van Helsing's lines in a good impression of the Van Helsing accent the other reader does. Dracula doesn't need bells and whistles and music: it needs to be a pile of diary entries, newspaper articles, and so on, performed with complete conviction. This is it, and I find it so much fun to return to again and again!
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki, read by the author -- Oh, this book. When I finished listening, I almost started over again immediately, because the book's voices had become my friend and I missed them already. My sister, who recommended the book, is aghast that I listened to it, missing out on the wealth of footnotes with which the print version is apparently enriched. But the author included an afterword on the audiobook about the differences, which encouraged me to see the two as both having their own special charms. I'll read the paper book too, eventually. This is a literary mystery, in a way: the first narrator, a writer living on a remote island, finds a teenage girl's diary in a lunchbox on the beach, apparently washed all the way from Japan. As she reads the diary, she becomes more worried about the girl's fate. That's the bare bones. The meat of the story is...the two voices, of the diary and of the finder; their observations and inquiries into the world, the things they learn and wonder. It was my favorite novel of 2017, and I read some doozies. It's about alienation and connection; language, Zen Buddhism, and crows. It's deep but intensely charming, and I can't wait to have the author speak it in my ear again someday.
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, read by Robin Miles -- My other favorite book of 2017, this one non-fiction! This sprawling history book worked great read aloud, which makes sense, as the author did hundreds of oral history interviews to assemble the story of the Great Migration of Black Americans from the rural South in the 20th century. She chose one migrant's story to focus on for each decade of the height of the migration, and masterfully weaves those together with others' stories and the overall view. The result has the scope of Tolstoy but the intimacy of your oldest relatives telling stories -- but for me, as a white American, stories I'd never heard, texture and weight on the bare paragraphs of a history book. (Plus, read by the divine Robin Miles!)