There’s no doubt about it, 2021 hasn’t been the best of years. But there have been positives – some have learnt to make sourdough, others have worked in trackies and slippers for the past six months. For those who invested in Zoom, it’s been a very good year.
The highlight of my year has been the discovery of audiobooks. I know I’m not the first to have recognised the convenience of ‘reading’ books in this way, but I have definitely embraced the format with gusto.
My favourite audiobooks so far
My audiobook experience started well, with the Booker Prize-winning The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The dulcet tones of the narrator made taking a walk with my earphones irresistible, especially when it provided an escape from a full house that was multitasking as a home, an office and a school.
The times in which I took a walk with Whitehead was a saviour.
One of my next books was Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the fascinating characters cope with the mad fervour of the owner of the retreat where they are staying.
I adored listening to Elisabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls – the perfect escapism during the strangest of times. While I strolled the Botanical Gardens, I listened to Vivian tell of her arrival in New York and her experience in the cutthroat world of Broadway.
The Erratics by Vicki Laveau Harvie was a more sedate experience, but equally mesmerising as the author narrated her ordeal travelling to Canada to save her father from her cruel mother. The beautiful Canadian landscape loomed large over this story of family.
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler was another gently moving novel that was ideal for the audiobook format. It was a love story with a difference, between a computer repairman who is unsure of where he is going wrong, and a teacher.
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain centred on the childhood of two boys, and was a relaxing read about loyalty, friendship and love.
Jess Hill’s See What You Made Me Do set a very different tone, but was just as engaging as its fictional counterparts. It was alarming to hear about the reality of domestic abuse in Australia, but also enlightening to gain an understanding of why it has become such a widespread and devastating problem.
Another extraordinary nonfiction listen was The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein. After listening, I felt I had gained insight into an entirely different life, and broadened my understanding of the issues faced by trans woman Sandra. Sandra’s triumph over prejudice, a difficult childhood and grief was nothing short of heroic.
I’ve listened to two Ian McEwan novels during the year: The Children Act and Machines Like Me. Both reminded me of why I like McEwan’s work so much. They were clever and accessible, and as suited to the audiobook as they would be to traditional books.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo was an absolute delight. I had worried that this would be too hard to listen to, as I had heard that the structure of the novel was unusual. But it was a breeze, and I clung to every one of the Evaristo’s words, enjoying both feeling as if I was sipping bubbles at a premier or being challenged by a bright and edgy young thing.
When we were allowed to escape to South Australia, my family turned to audiobooks. We all enjoyed listening to Louis Sachar’s Holes, and Neil Gaiman’s zany Fortunately, the Milk.
I’m currently listening to Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, and worrying that it has almost finished.
Not all great books make great audiobooks
One thing I have found during the year is that not all novels lend themselves to the audiobook format. I couldn’t get into Eimer McBride’s award winning The Lesser Bohemians, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin or Patrick White’s The Eye of the Storm.
I feel that the best audiobooks have simple and accessible plots, and any novels that were too self-consciously literary were just too difficult to follow. There are also some chores that don’t lend themselves to audiobooks as it is too easy to get distracted – I tried grocery shopping while listening, but always missed too much of what was happening.
I haven’t tried vacuuming the house while listening to an audiobook, but if I can get hold of some noise cancelling earphones, I think I’ll find a whole new interest in cleaning.
Sometimes, I tried cooking while listening to an audiobook, but the minute I pressed play, one of the kids would sense that I was distracted and leave their games to tell me they were hungry/bored/getting picked on. Until the kids are older, I won’t bother trying this again.
I’ve loved the free Bolinda app, which offers access to books from Central Highlands Libraries. The only downside is that I get through audiobooks so much more quickly than traditional books, so I’m way behind on my reviews. Something to catch up on in the New Year … if I can resist the lure of a walk with my next favourite book.