2020 Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration for Adult Listeners revealed

The Listen List Council of the Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) has announced the 2020 selections of the Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration. The final juried list of thirteen titles 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, the 2020 committee evaluated 294 titles with a total listening time of 2,936 hours. They narrowed the field to 53 nominated audiobooks, from which they selected thirteen winners that are benchmarks of excellence and are available for purchase by libraries. Committee members matched the thirteen titles on the list with three listen-alikes, which mirror the tone, theme, or production style of the winning audiobooks. The juried list, designed for both avid listeners and those new to the pleasures of stories read aloud, includes fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and graphic novels and features voices that enthrall, delight, and inspire.

The 2020 selections are:

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama. Narrated by Michelle Obama. Books on Tape. In an honest and inspiring autobiography, Michelle Obama shares her journey from a middle-class Chicago childhood to becoming the First Lady. Her narration is clear and poignant, bringing a level of intimacy rarely heard.


“My Life, My Love, My Legacy” by Coretta Scott King, Barbara Reynolds. Narrated by  January LaVoy, Phylicia Rashad. Macmillan Audio.

“Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina” by Misty Copeland. Narrated by Lisa Reneé Pitts. Tantor Audio.

“My Beloved World” by Sonia Sotomayor. Narrated by Rita Moreno. Books on Tape.

“The Bride Test” by Helen Hoang. Narrated by Emily Woo Zeller. Dreamscape Media. Voicing an endearing Vietnamese American couple, Zeller treats listeners to a steamy-sweet romance. With skill and sensitivity, she crafts both autistic Khai’s reserved tenor and immigrant Esme’s beginner’s English, as they negotiate a potential arranged marriage and Esme’s desire to remain in the U.S.


“Re Jane: A Novel” by Patricia Park. Narrated by Diana Bang. Books on Tape.

“The Girl He Used to Know: A Novel” by Tracey Garvis Graves. Narrated by Fred Berman, Kathleen McInerney. Macmillan Audio.

“The Flatshare: A Novel” by Beth O’Leary. Narrated by Carrie Hope Fletcher, Kwaku Fortune. Macmillan Audio.

“The Chain” by Adrian McKinty. Narrated by January LaVoy. Hachette Audio. In McKinty’s gripping thriller, Rachel is horrified to learn that the only way she can get her kidnapped daughter back is by abducting a child herself and continuing the chain. LaVoy expertly narrates this intense thrill-ride of a story, giving a cinematic performance to the driving plotline.


“Alice Isn’t Dead: A Novel” by Joseph Fink. Narrated by Jasika Nicole. HarperAudio.

“The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware. Narrated by Imogen Church. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“Freefall: A Novel” by Jessica Barry. Narrated by Hillary Huber, Karissa Vacker, MacLeod Andrews. HarperAudio.

“Daisy Jones & the Six: A Novel” by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Narrated by Jennifer Beals, Pablo Schreiber, Benjamin Bratt, Judy Greer, Fred Berman, Ari Fliakos, January LaVoy, Robinne Lee, Julia Whelan, Jonathan Davis, Henry Leyva, Oliver Wyman, Nancy Wu, P.J. Ochlan, Arthur Bishop, Holter Graham, Brendan Wayne, Pete Larkin, Alex Jenkins Reid, Robert Petkoff, Sara Arrington. Books on Tape. Reid’s behind-the-scenes oral history of a fictional 70’s rock band is so convincing that listeners may be fooled into looking for their records. The all-star cast creates an engrossing drama filled with gossipy details and a spot-on view of band life.


“Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.” by Jeff Tweedy. Narrated by Jeff Tweedy. Books on Tape.

“More Fun In The New World: The Unmaking And Legacy Of L.A. Punk” by John Doe, Tom Desavia. Narrated by John Doe, Tom Desavia, Dave Alvin, Allison Anders, Charlotte Caffey, Peter Case, Shepard Fairey, Norwood Fisher, Pleasant Gehman, Terry Graham, Sid Griffin, Jack Grisham, Tony Hawk, Chip Kinman, Maria McKee, Angelo Moore, W.T. Morgan, Chris Morris, Keith Morris, Mike Ness, Louie Peréz, Tim Robbins, Henry Rollins, Jane Wiedlin, Annette Zilinskas, Billy Zoom. Books on Tape.

“Girl in a Band: A Memoir” by Kim Gordon. Narrated by Kim Gordon. HarperAudio.

“Full Throttle: Stories” by Joe Hill. Narrated by Zachary Quinto, Wil Wheaton, Kate Mulgrew, Neil Gaiman, Ashleigh Cummings, Joe Hill, Laysla De Oliveira, Nate Corddry, Connor Jessup, Stephen Lang, George Guidall. HarperAudio. Each perfectly cast narrator of these thirteen stories superbly constructs disturbing instances as well as surprisingly tender moments–there’s more than just horror here. Audio extras including Hill reading his own introduction and story notes further enhance the audio.


“We Live in Water: Stories” by Jess Walter. Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, Jess Walter. HarperAudio.

“Exhalation: Stories” by Ted Chiang. Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, Dominic Hoffman, Amy Landon, Ted Chiang. Books on Tape.

“Kabu Kabu” by Nnedi Okorafor. Narrated by Yetide Badaki. Tantor Audio.

“Ghost Wall: A Novel” by Sarah Moss. Narrated by Christine Hewitt. Macmillan Audio. Teenaged Silvie, accompanied by her cruelly oppressive father and browbeaten mother, takes part in a British Iron Age reenactment that raises unsettling questions as it descends into primitive violence. Hewitt masterfully employs accents to signal privilege and education, conveying the taut momentum of this increasingly disturbing tale.


“My Absolute Darling: A Novel” by Gabriel Tallent. Narrated by Alex McKenna. Books on Tape.

“The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: A Novel” by Juliet Grames. Narrated by Lisa Flanagan. HarperAudio.

“Copperhead” by Alexi Zentner. Narrated by Kirby Heyborne. Books on Tape.

“Good Talk: a Memoir in Conversations” by Mira Jacob. Narrated by Mira Jacob, Vikas Adam, Shiromi Arserio, McCartney Birdwell, Donte Bonner, Bill Cheng, Nicole Counts, Margaret Dunham, Chris Edmund, Alison Fraser, Cecila Flores, Kaitlyn Greenridge, Alison Hart, Chris Jackson, Soneela Nankani, Victory Matsui, Kivlighan de Montebello, Meera Nair, Lorna Raver, Rajiv Surendra, Oliver Wyman, and an ensemble cast. Books on Tape. Jacob’s candid conversations with her young son about race and identity illuminate insecurities faced by people of color in contemporary America. Multiple voices and sound effects make this groundbreaking audio graphic memoir a treat for the ears.


“Sisters Matsumoto” by Philip Kan Gotanda. Narrated by Keiko Agena, June Angela, Ron Bottitta, Kurt Kanazawa, Suzy Nakamura, Greg Watanabe, Ryun Yu. L.A. Theatre Works.

“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo. Narrated by Bahni Turpin. Blackstone Audio.

“I Miss You When I Blink: Essays” by Mary Laura Philpott. Narrated by Mary Laura Philpott. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“Notes from a Young Black Chef: a Memoir” by Kwame Onwuachi and Joshua David Stein. Narrated by Kwame Onwuachi. Books on Tape. How do you make it as a chef? Hard work and a willingness to be bold and embrace failure. Onwuachi forges his own path from his mother’s kitchen in the Bronx to high-end D.C. dining with a raw, authentic self-narrated memoir that will appeal to listeners beyond the foodie.


“The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South” by Michael W. Twitty. Narrated by Michael W. Twitty. Tantor Audio.

“Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football” by John Urschel, Louisa Thomas. Narrated by Sullivan Jones. Books on Tape.

“Girl on the Block: A True Story of Coming of Age Behind the Counter” by Jessica Wragg. Narrated by Billie Fulford-Brown. HarperAudio.

“The Poison Thread: A Novel” by Laura Purcell. Narrated by Jayne Entwistle and Elizabeth Knowelden. Books on Tape. Amidst the dismal poverty of Victorian England, 16-year-old accused murderer Ruth Butterham reveals her tragic past to wealthy phrenologist Dorothea Truelove. Dual narrators Knowelden and Entwistle use accents to highlight class divides, communicating a palpable atmosphere of misery and menace.


“Once Upon a River” by Diane Setterfield. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“The Confessions of Frannie Langton: A Novel” by Sara Collins. Narrated by Sara Collins, Roy McMillan. HarperAudio.

“Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters. Narrated by Juanita McMahon. Recorded Books.

“Queenie” by Candice Carty-Williams. Narrated by Shvorne Marks. Simon & Schuster Audio. Reeling from a dramatic breakup, British-Jamaican Queenie makes a series of questionable decisions and leans on her friends for support. Marks captures a variety of accents and tones, adding further depth to this vivid, engaging story about a 25-year-old woman trapped between cultures and trying to fit in.


“The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” by Issa Rae. Narrated by Issa Rae. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“Get a Life, Chloe Brown” by Talia Hibbert. Narrated by Adjoa Andoh. HarperAudio.

“I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays” by Bassey Ikpi. Narrated by Bassey Ikpi. HarperAudio.

“Red at the Bone: A Novel” by Jacqueline Woodson. Narrated by Jacqueline Woodson, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Peter Francis James, Shayna Small, Bahni Turpin. Books on Tape. The effects of a teenage pregnancy ripple through a Brooklyn family as they celebrate that child’s coming of age in 2001. Multiple narrators, including the author, evoke the complexities of race, class, religion and sexuality in this heartfelt tale of choices and their aftermath.


“Speak No Evil: A Novel” by Uzodinma Iweala. Narrated by Prentice Onayemi, Julia Whelan. HarperAudio.

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

“No One Is Coming To Save Us: A Novel” by Stephanie Powell Watts. Narrated by Janina Edwards. HarperAudio.

“Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know” by Malcolm Gladwell. Narrated by Malcolm Gladwell. Hachette Audio. Gladwell’s thought-provoking work explores interactions between strangers and how the assumptions we make about others’ intentions are often wrong. Audio clips of interviews, the recording of the roadside arrest of Sandra Bland, and a theme song elevate a recording that will be of special interest to podcast listeners.


“Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language” by Gretchen McCulloch. Narrated by Gretchen McCulloch. Books on Tape.

“The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis. Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“The Way I Heard It” by Mike Rowe. Narrated by Mike Rowe. Simon & Schuster Audio.

“We Cast a Shadow: A Novel” by Maurice Carlos Ruffin. Narrated by Dion Graham. Books on Tape. Veteran narrator Graham throws himself into a performance that fully embodies this dystopian debut’s brooding, complex lead. With acute emotion and sly humor, he invites listeners into the mind of an African American father in the satirical, segregated, near-future South–where anyone with too much melanin faces a life of impossible odds.



“The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Narrated by Joe Morton. Books on Tape.

“The Sellout: A Novel” by Paul Beatty. Narrated by Prentice Onayemi. Brilliance Audio.

“Blackass” by A. Igoni Barrett. Narrated by Mirron Willis. Brilliance Audio.

The Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration Council includes: Sarah Hashimoto (chair), Jackson District Library, MI; Ron Block, Cuyahoga County Public Library, OH; Katie Corrigan, Seekonk Public Library, MA; Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, IL; Danise Hoover, NY; Lauren Kage, NC; Nanette Donohue, Champaign Public Library, IL; Christa Van Herreweghe, University City Public Library, MO

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), 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 at www.rusaupdate.org.