2019 Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration for Adult Listeners revealed

Seattle—The Listen List Council of the Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) has announced the 2019 selections of the Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration. This year’s committee evaluated 261 titles with a total listening time of more than 2,806 hours.  The final deliberation produced a list of thirteen winners. This award highlights extraordinary narrators and listening experiences that merit special attention by a general adult audience and the librarians who advise them.

Adhering to established criteria, these benchmarks of excellence are available for purchase by libraries. Committee members matched the thirteen titles on the list with three listen-alikes each which match in some way the tone, theme or style of the title on the list.  None of these titles have appeared on any previous Listen Lists. Titles are named to the list because the narration creates a new experience with an outstanding performance in terms of voice, accents, pitch, tone, inflection, rhythm and pace, offering listeners something they could not create by their own visual reading. This juried list, designed for both avid listeners and those new to the pleasures of stories read aloud, includes fiction and nonfiction and features voices that enthrall, delight, and inspire.

The 2019 selections are:

“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” by Hank Green. Narrated by Kristen Sieh and Hank Green. Penguin Audio/Books on Tape. Forced into adulting when her YouTube video of an exterrestrial goes viral, April May leaps into the international spotlight and becomes humanity’s spokesperson in this sci-fi crossover romp. Sieh energetically creates a host of characters from fast-talking April’s point-of-view, while Green himself narrates the conclusion of this debut novel with the deftness of an experienced vlogger.

Listen-Alikes:

“Anatomy of a Miracle” by Jonathan Miles. Narrated by Eduardo Ballerini. Random House Audio.

“Grasshopper Jungle” by Andrew Smith. Narrated by Philip Church. Listening Library.

“Soon I Will be Invincible” by Austin Grossman. Narrated by J. Paul Boehmer and Coleen Marlo. Highbridge Audio.

The Darkest Child” by Delores Phillips. Narrated by Bahni Turpin. Recorded Books/Griot Audio. In this stunning new recording of Phillips’ unsparing novel, Turpin embodies resilient 13-year-old Tangy Mae Quinn, a smart, resourceful girl who lives in abject poverty, at the mercy of her terrifyingly abusive mother. The nuanced portrayal of Tangy Mae, capturing both her sorrow and generous spirit, provides a glimpse of hope amidst the nearly crushing violence.

Listen-Alikes:

“God Help the Child” by Toni Morrison. Narrated by Toni Morrison. Random House Audio.

“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. Narrated by Joe Morton. Random House Audio.

“Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward. Narrated by Cherise Booth. Recorded Books.

“Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” by Jose Antonio Vargas. Narrated by Jose Antonio Vargas. HarperCollins/HarperAudio. With openness and informed approachability, award-winning journalist Vargas recounts his complex life as an undocumented Filipino-American. Peppered with native Tagalog, this audio draws listeners into Vargas’ personal immigrant experience while he relates anecdotes to the broader national context, resulting in a listen that is brief but impactful, trenchant yet inviting.

Listen-Alikes:

“American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures” by America Ferrera. Narrated by America Ferrera. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“In the Country We Love: a Family Divided” by Diane Guerrero. Narrated by Diane Guerrero. Brilliance Audio.

“Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions” by Valeria Luiselli. Narrated by Laurence Bouvard. Random House Audio.

“Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover. Narrated by Julia Whelan. Random House Audio/Books on Tape. In this intense, unforgettable survivor’s story, Westover relates how she defied her isolationist Mormon family, overcame tremendous educational odds and entered the larger world to eventually become a well-respected scholar. Whelan’s unembellished narration deftly communicates this intriguing, horrifying, and inspiring tale.

Listen-Alikes:

“Born Bright: A Young Girl’s Journey from Nothing to Something in America” by C. Nicole Mason. Narrated by Robin Eller. Tantor Audio.

“Breaking Night” by Liz Murray. Narrated by Liz Murray. Tantor Audio.

“The Sound of Gravel” by Ruth Wariner. Narrated by Ruth Wariner. Macmillan Audio.

“A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America” by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. Narrated by Helen Huber, T. Christian Miller, and Ken Armstrong. Random House Audio/Books on Tape. With precision and impassioned storytelling, two reporters expose one emblematic case which mirrors the state of rape investigation today. Huber’s steady pacing and subtle narration balance how enraged listeners will feel learning about the many ways these women were wronged.

Listen-Alikes:

“Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America” by Beth Macy. Narrated Beth Macy. Hachette Audio.

“Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” by Sheri Fink. Narrated by Kirsten Potter. Random House Audio.

“I’ll Be Gone In the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” by Michelle McNamara. Narrated by Gabra Zackman. HarperAudio.

“The Feather Thief : Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century” by Kirk Wallace Johnson. Narrated by MacLeod Andrews. Penguin Audio. Amateur detective Johnson takes on the underground community of obsessive salmon fly-tyers in pursuit of an unlikely criminal. Andrews’ measured narration handily captures this quirky cast of feather zealots in a stranger-than-fiction heist.

Listen-Alikes:

“A Burglar’s Guide to the City” by Geoff Manaugh. Narrated by Scott Aiello. Random House Audio.

“Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter” by Ben Goldfarb. Narrated by Will Damron. Chelsea Green Publishing.

“West” by Carys Davies. Narrated by Robert Fass. HighBridge/Recorded Books.

“The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea. Narrated by Luis Alberto Urrea. Hachette Audio/Blackstone Audio. Miguel Angel de la Cruz—Big Angel–is dying, but before he does, he must have one last birthday bash, surrounded by his magnificently rowdy Mexican-American family. With a knowing smile in his voice and a leisurely, welcoming cadence, author-narrator Urrea skillfully delivers a celebration that is a riot of laughter, sorrow, and redemption.

Listen-Alikes:

“Delicious Foods” by James Hannaham. Narrated by James Hannaham. Hachette Audio.

“Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir” by Eddie Huang. Narrated by Eddie Huang. Random House Audio.

“The Turner House” by Angela Flournoy. Narrated by Adenrele Ojo. Blackstone Audio.

“I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death” by Maggie O’Farrell. Narrated by Daisy Donovan. Books on Tape. Delivered by narrator Donovan with empathetic humility, this episodic memoir devotes each chapter to a potentially fatal event in O’Farrell’s life. Listeners will find themselves meditating on the author’s fierce determination not only to survive, but to embrace her own vulnerability.

Listen-Alikes:

“Every Note Played” by Lisa Genova. Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris, Dagmara Dominczyk, Lisa Genova. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine” by Alan Lightman. Narrated by Bronson Pinchot. Blackstone Audio.

“You Think It, I’ll Say It” by Curtis Sittenfeld. Narrated by Emily Rankin and Mark Deakins. Books on Tape/Random House Audio.

“The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish. Narrated by Tiffany Haddish. Simon & Schuster Audio. With indomitable spirit, Haddish shares her life story from illiterate foster kid to comedian to break-out movie star. She reads movingly with authentic real-time reactions and her tenacious attitude makes this a sincere, unblushing memoir.

Listen-Alikes:

“Maeve in America: Essays by a Girl from Somewhere Else” by Maeve Higgins. Narrated by Maeve Higgins. Penguin Audio.

“We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays” by Samantha Irby. Read by Samantha Irby. Random House Audio.

“You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain” by Phoebe Robinson. Narrated by Phoebe Robinson. Penguin Audio.

The Monk of Mokha” by Dave Eggers. Narrated by Dion Graham. Random House Audio/Books on Tape. Eggers blends high adventure with high culture in this true tale of the specialty coffee trade. With his rich, espressolike voice, narrator Graham channels Yemeni-American entrepreneur Alkhanshani’s youthful enthusiasm across the whole of his incredible quest to brew the perfect cup.

Listen-Alikes:

“Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts” by Joshua Hammer. Narrated by Paul Boehmer. HighBridge Audio.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope” by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer. Narrated by Chike Johnson. HarperAudio.

“Obroni and the Chocolate Factory: an Unlikely Story of Globalization and Ghana’s First Gourmet Chocolate Bar” by Steven Wallace. Narrated by Tom Parks. Brilliance Audio.

The Secrets Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar. Narrated by Sneha Mathan. HarperAudio. This luminous story of the plight of women in modern-day Mumbai centers on Bhima, a former servant to the rich, and Parvati, a homeless widow, both striving to improve their perilous situations. Mathan exquisitely crafts character voices, immersing listeners in this journey of female friendship, heartbreak and discovery.

Listen-Alikes:

“America for Beginners” by Leah Franqui. Narrated by Soneela Nankani. HarperAudio.

“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arundhati Roy. Narrated by Arundhati Roy. Random House Audio

“Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan. Narrated by Dion Graham. Random House Audio.

“The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker. Narrated by Kristin Atherton and Michael Fox. Random House Audio. Listeners experience the Trojan War through the anguished eyes of Briseis, a former queen reduced now to a spoil of war, property of the legendary Achilles. Told in two voices, the narration vividly conveys the pain and excitement of war along with the hate and desperation of the vanquished slaves.

Listen-Alikes:

“Circe” by Madeline Miller. Narrated by Perdita Weeks. Hachette Audio.

“House of Names” by Colm Toibin. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson, Charlie Anson, Pippa Nixon. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman. Narrated by Neil Gaiman. HarperAudio.

“The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster” by Sarah Krasnostein. Narrated by Rachel Tidd. Blackstone Audio. Australian author Krasnostein’s candid depiction and Tidd’s unflinching, yet loving, voice invite listeners to follow Sandra Pankhurst’s extraordinary transformation. From surviving an abusive boyhood to becoming an independent woman, Pankhurst stays true to herself, while empathetically managing the messy business of being a trauma cleaner.

Listen-Alikes:

“Mr. Flood’s Last Resort” by Jess Kidd. Narrated by Aoife McMahon. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“She’s Not There: A Life in two Genders” by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Narrated by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Books on Tape/Random House Audio.

“Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner” by Judy Melinek and T. J. Mitchell. Narrated by Tanya Eby. Tantor Media.

The Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration Council includes: Danise Hoover, NY (chair); Ron Block, Cuyahoga County Public Library, OH;  Sarah Hashimoto, Jackson District Library, MI;  Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, IL; Lauren Kage, NoveList, Durham, NC; Lucy M. Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library, MO; Dodie Ownes, Denver Public Library, CO; Christa Van Herreweghe, University City Public Library, MO.

The Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, represents librarians and library staff in the fields of reference, specialized reference, collection development, readers’ advisory and resource sharing. RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need. Learn more about the association at www.rusaupdate.org.

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