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Best titles for audiobook listening, by Mindy Kaling, Cheryl Strayed, George Saunders, more

A good audiobook can ease the pain of a bad commute or a boring workout, but a great one is worth listening to purely for its own sake. Here are some recent favorites. 

'Crazy Rich Asians' by Kevin Kwan

The first audiobook in Kevin Kwan's trilogy, a
Photo Credit: Random House Audio

The first audiobook in Kevin Kwan's trilogy, a hit in print and at the movies, is a whirling lazy Susan buffet of delights. Kwan’s hilariously detailed studies of the lifestyles and peccadilloes of Singapore billionaires are even better in audio, with gifted narrator Lynn Chen doing all the different American, English and Chinese accents. Kwan is Jane Austen meets Bret Easton Ellis meets Ruth Reichl — he knows his love and money, he knows his designers, and Alamak! (something like "Damn!" in Malay), can he write about food. You end up desperate to fly to Singapore and hit an open-air food market, then move on to Shanghai for six courses in a private dining room. All the brand names finally became a distraction, but for less fancy readers, there’s an addictive plot development every minute. The series continues with "China Rich Girlfriend" and "Rich People Problems," both available in audiobooks read by Lydia Look. (Random House Audio, 13 hours 53 minutes) — MARION WINIK



'Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl' by Carrie Brownstein

The audio edition of "Hunger Makes Me a
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House Audio

A memoir is the ultimate type of book to hear read by the author because, of course, it is the writer’s own true story. Of Sleater-Kinney and “Portlandia” fame, Brownstein is a guitarist and songwriter who came up as a fan and fiercely co-opted rock’s all-male “archetypes, stage moves and representations of rebellion and debauchery.” She has insightful things to say not just about rock but about growing up with a closeted gay father and an anorexic mother, about how the creative process works, about the “performance” of the audience at a concert, about the punk aesthetic, even about the value of Christmas ornaments. (Read by the author. Penguin Audio, 7 hours and 4 minutes) — MARION WINIK 

'True Grit' by Charles Portis

The audio edition of "True Grit" by Charles
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Portis’ most famous novel. Set in the 1870s, it tells the action-filled story of iron-willed, hard-bargaining Mattie Ross of Yell County, Arkansas, who, at 14, sets off into Indian Territory to avenge her father’s murder. With her are Marshall Rooster Cogburn, “an old one-eyed jasper,” and LaBoeuf, a foppish Texas Ranger. Mattie describes events from a distance of some 50 years on, and her manner is that of the strict Presbyterian spinster she has become. Tartt’s solemn voice and Portis’ genius combine to deliver an impeccably deadpan style, one filled with as much inadvertent humor as high adventure. (Read by read by Donna Tartt. Recorded Books, 6 hours and 19 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS 

'This Could Hurt' by Jillian Medoff

The audio edition of "This Could Hurt" by
Photo Credit: Harper Audio

This savvy slice of corporate life finds heart and humor in a human resources bureaucracy. When HR chief Rosalita Guerrero has a stroke, the co-workers she has mentored rally around to protect her health benefits and retirement. While some at the company jockey for advancement, others find themselves out on the street. Readers of “This Could Hurt” in print raved about the humorous org charts that precede each section; these are supplied in PDF format to audio listeners because they don’t work when read aloud. On the plus side, the round robin of narrators makes Medoff’s expertly developed characters even more real. (Read by the author and others. Harper Audio, 12 hours and 52 minutes) — MARION WINIK 


'Happiness' by Animatta Forna

The audio edition of "Happiness" by Animatta Forna
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

Actor Robin Miles rises to the challenge of rendering the accents and cadences of several nationalities in this moving, abundantly peopled story. Jean is an American scientist come to London to track the population of urban foxes; Attila is a Ghanaian psychiatrist in London to present a paper on the mental disorders of victims of war. Theirs is the main story, but it comes to involve the lives of many others, including immigrants working menial jobs, each with a history, all banding together to find a missing child. The doings of migrant foxes, parakeets and coyotes create a tale of intersections — not always friendly — between immigrants and natives, humans and nature. (Recorded Books, 13 hours and 9 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS 

'4 3 2 1' by Paul Auster

The audiobook edition of "4 3 2 1"
Photo Credit: Macmillan Audio

Eight hundred fifty pages in print means 37 hours of audio — but listening to “4 3 2 1” in audio is worth the commitment, thanks to the author’s easy-on-the-ears baritone. Auster takes one character, Archie Ferguson, born in Jewish Newark in the 1940s, and tells his story four different ways, each with certain differences in his childhood that lead to four totally different outcomes. In one, his father’s family business is robbed, in another it burns down, in another it’s a wild success. In one of the stories, Archie dies young. Vivid descriptions of various historical events of the 1960s and ’70s abound. (Read by the author. Macmillan Audio, 37 hours) — MARION WINIK 

'The Woman in the Water' by Charles Finch

The audiobook edition of "The Woman in the
Photo Credit: Tantor Audio

Although this is the 11th installment in the adventures of Victorian sleuth Charles Lenox, it is a “prequel” to the series and a fine place to begin. English actor James Langdon narrates the tale in a calm, elegantly tailored voice. It is 1850, and Lenox, 23, has set up house with his valet and assisting investigator, Graham. The two live in the thrall of a formidable housekeeper who is a source of excellent comedy — as is the whole Deuteronomy of what befits a gentleman. The crime to be solved involves dead women found by the River Thames. Members of Scotland Yard — some of the resentful dunderhead class — are on the scene. The investigation involves several twists, and the solution is agreeably diabolic. (Read by James Langton. Tantor Audio, 8 hours and 48 minutes) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'Lincoln in the Bardo' by George Saunders

The audiobook edition of George Saunders' "Lincoln in
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Press play on the audio edition of Saunders’ acclaimed first novel, and you’ll enter a teeming netherworld of voices from the other side. They are the voices of ghosts inhabiting the Washington, D.C., graveyard where Abraham Lincoln comes to visit his cherished, newly dead son, Willie. They are voices you’ll recognize: Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader and Megan Mullally (as a foul-mouthed couple), David Sedaris, Julianne Moore, Nick Offerman and Don Cheadle, along with the author and 158 others. They are still alive, sort of, with all their grudges, hopes and feeling for the president as he movingly expresses his unimaginable loss. The author was reportedly delighted to have such a cast bringing his characters to life (so to speak), and you will be, too. (Read by the author, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris and a full cast. Random House Audio, 7 hours and 25 minutes.)   — ESTELLE LANDER

'Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI' by David Grann

The audiobook edition of "Killers of the Flower
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Three fine narrators deliver this account of the coldblooded killings of the members of an Osage Indian family in the 1920s, crimes whose investigations were nonexistent or tainted by deep-seated racism. The Osage became millionaires with the discovery of oil under their Oklahoma reservation, making them targets of murderous operators. A sweet-voiced Ann Marie Lee reads the section concerned chiefly with Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman who miraculously survived attempts on her life; country-growler Will Patton covers the section on the FBI agent who broke the case; and Danny Campbell finishes as the voice of the author who uncovered further murders. (Read by Will Patton, Ann Marie Lee and Danny Campbell. Random House Audio, 9 hours.)   — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)' by Mindy Kaling

The audiobook edition of Mindy Kaling's "Is Everybody
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Kaling’s big showbiz break — which came when she and her roommate turned their parlor-trick imitation of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon into an avant-garde Off-Broadway show — may be one of the greatest examples of the “follow your bliss” school of career advice you’ll ever encounter. Though serious topics like bullying and body image make an appearance in this fluffy memoir, this is largely a silly, lighthearted collection of stories, lists, and shticks that goes in one ear and out the other, providing giggles along the way. Perfect for road trips with offspring who love “The Office”: B.J. Novak and Michael Schur make cameo appearances. (Read by the author. Random House Audio, 4 hours and 37 minutes.) — MARION WINIK

'A Separation' by Katie Kitamura

The audiobook edition of Katie Kitamura's "A Separation"
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

A chill wind blows through this enigmatic literary mystery, narrated by a woman whose charming but adulterous husband — from whom she has been separated for several months — has disappeared to a Greek village to do research. The wife, read with perfect dispassion by actress Katherine Waterston, checks in at Christopher’s hotel, where the staff quietly seethes with secrets and class resentments and the landscape has been razed by forest fires. Our narrator has resolved to ask Christopher for a divorce, but no one has seen him for days. The wait allows her ample time for reflections on marriage and fidelity, absence and loss. Whodunit readers looking for a neat resolution to the mystery may not be satisfied, but “A Separation” sure succeeds as a mood piece. (Read by Katherine Waterston. Penguin Audio, 6 hours and 53 minutes.) — TOM BEER

'Spook Street' by Mick Herron

Photo Credit: Recorded Books

No one is more gifted than Gerard Doyle in giving voice to crime novels in which irony and black humor abound. He is superb in Herron’s fifth installment in the adventures of the “slow horses,” a group of losers and addicts who make up a pariah section of Britain’s intelligence service lodged in the gloom and decay of Slough House. The plot is a tasty can of worms and enough back story is provided for this novel to stand alone. Doyle maintains disciplined deadpan in conveying the wry humor with which author Mick Herron presents this rum bunch of ne’er-do-wells — and the result is intoxicating. (Read by Gerard Doyle. Recorded Books, 10 hours and 30 minutes.)  — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'The Sympathizer' by Viet Thanh Nguyen

If François Chau, the narrator of this fictional
Photo Credit: Audible

If François Chau, the narrator of this fictional “confession,” is not a brilliant, tortured, half-Vietnamese operative who went to college in the United States and then worked as a Communist mole in the South Vietnamese top command during the war — then he sure fooled me. The very slight accent and huskiness in Chau’s voice adds an intensity and immediacy to Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which combines an edgy espionage plot with lethally sharp cultural commentary and moments of startling lyricism. Favorite part: when he’s a consultant on an idiotic American film about the war, filmed in the Philippines. (Audible, 13 hours 53 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail' by Cheryl Strayed

At first I was skeptical -- why was
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

At first I was skeptical — why was someone named Bernadette Dunne narrating Cheryl Strayed's account of her life-changing 1,100-mile solo hike and not the author herself? But as I listened, Dunne's voice took over and I was caught up in the drama of this story about a young woman's physical and emotional journey. Now I can't think of Cheryl's ridiculously heavy backpack or those too-small hiking boots — let alone the sensual pleasures of Snapple lemonade — without hearing Dunne's knowing delivery in my head. (Random House Audio, 13 hours.) — TOM BEER

'LaRose' by Louise Erdrich

Perhaps you have heard: This book begins when
Photo Credit: HarperAudio

Perhaps you have heard: This book begins when a man accidentally shoots the 5-year-old son of his neighbor on the border of a North Dakota reservation. That tragic premise unfolds into a rich, knowing, sometimes mystical, often funny story of family, friendship, morality and healing. There is no better way to make sure you don’t miss a nuance of dialogue or description than to hear it in author Louise Erdrich’s warm, understated, regionally inflected tones, her voice filled with tenderness for these blighted and beautiful characters. (HarperAudio, 14 hours 37 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain' by Bill Bryson

Some books are better listened to than read,
Photo Credit: Random House Audio

Some books are better listened to than read, and Bryson’s acerbic, slapdash “The Road to Little Dribbling,” narrated by Nathan Osgood, is one. It’s a book to enjoy while doing something else, as its scattershot approach requires little readerly concentration but is abundant in historical tidbits, curmudgeonly wit and inspired fulmination against the plagues of present-day Britain. Among these are litter; cellphone loudmouths; misspelled, ill-punctuated public notices; urban renewal; and cars. Osgood’s sandy-textured voice, at times affable but more often affronted, provides an entertaining, like-minded companion for the listener stuck in traffic. (Random House Audio, 14 hours) — KATHERINE A. POWERS

'Beautiful Ruins' by Jess Walter

A wonderful way to reexperience a favorite book
Photo Credit: HarperAudio

A wonderful way to re-experience a favorite book is to listen to the audio edition. Jess Walter’s sweeping, big-hearted novel — about an American actress in Italy for the making of the 1963 film “Cleopatra” and the Italian hotelier who falls for her — was already one of my favorite books of 2012. The audio edition made me love it even more. With its many characters and globetrotting plot, “Beautiful Ruins” is tailor-made for a cast of readers. But the entire novel is narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, who deftly juggles accents (Italian, Welsh, Scottish) and emotional registers both comic and romantic. Ballerini’s performance is a work of beauty in and of itself. (HarperAudio, 12 hours and 53 minutes) — TOM BEER

'Arcadia' by Lauren Groff

This enthralling novel -- the predecessor
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

This enthralling novel — the predecessor to “Fates and Furies,” Groff’s 2015 hit — follows its main character, Bit Stone, from his childhood on a hippie commune in New York State in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, in several jumps to the year 2018. Never setting foot outside Arcadia until his teens, Bit’s world takes the shape of the Grimms' fairy tales he reads at 5: He is struck mute by his mother’s sadness, he is lost in a snowy forest, he is caught up in the dramas that rage in the land, complete with potions, midwives and a power-drunk king. The narrator is Andrew Garman, whose understated reading style works perfectly with Lauren Groff’s gorgeous prose. (Recorded Books, 11 hours 8 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'The Ocean at the End of the Lane' by Neil Gaiman

Listening to Neil Gaiman read "The Ocean at
Photo Credit: Harper Audio

Listening to Neil Gaiman read "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," I stopped every so often to remind myself that this was the voice of the man who had actually written the novel — a first in my audiobook consumption, and it brought another level to the experience. The fantasy — and to be sure, this story involves a "willing suspension of disbelief" — seemed easier to accept hearing it from the guy who actually thought up such frightening creatures (a monster in the form of a nanny — what could be more terrifying than that?) (HarperAudio, 5 hours 48 minutes) — BARBARA SCHULER

'Eligible' by Curtis Sittenfeld

You'll look forward to traffic jams if you've
Photo Credit: Random House Audio

You’ll look forward to traffic jams if you’ve got this delicious “Pride and Prejudice” update to listen to, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, one of the voices on the award-winning audio of “The Help.” Transporting the Bennett family and their supporting characters to Cincinnati, giving them a reality-TV show and modern complications galore, Sittenfeld doesn’t sacrifice the heart-throbbing energy of the love story. Oh, Liz! Oh, Darcy! (Random House Audio, 13 hours 22 minutes) — MARION WINIK

‘The Wright Brothers’ by David McCullough

How much do you really know about the
Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster

How much do you really know about the Wright brothers? There’s more to the Dayton, Ohio, bicycle mechanics than the groundbreaking 1903 airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. David McCullough’s book puts their story — one of thoughtful study, rigorous scientific experimentation and calm persistence, founded on sober Midwestern values — into sharper focus. The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian brings to his account an attention to detail and no-nonsense tone that Wilbur (born 1867) and Orville (1871) themselves would have admired. That tone comes through clearly on the audiobook, narrated by the author, sounding like a professor emeritus at perfect ease with his material. (Simon & Schuster Audio, 10 hours 2 minutes) — TOM BEER

'Room' by Emma Donoghue

This powerful bestseller was read by the ensemble
Photo Credit: Hachette Audio

This powerful bestseller was read by the ensemble of Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff and Suzanne Toren. The late Friedman, a woman in her 40s, read the part of 5-year-old Jack so convincingly that I found myself uttering words of comfort to the fictional little boy whose world is defined by the room where he and his mother are held captive. Friedman died after delivering healthy twins in 2011, an irony almost too painful to bear. (Little, Brown and Company; 11 hours) — MARJORIE ROBINS

'Nobody's Fool' by Richard Russo

Set in the fictional town of North Bath,
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Set in the fictional town of North Bath, New York — a blue-collar backwater whose prospects dried up with its hot springs years ago — this big-hearted comedy from 1993 zeros in on Russo’s signature demographic: misfits, cranks, losers and dreamers fallen on hard times. Donald Sullivan, known as Sully, is a construction worker and practical joker dealing with a bum knee, a crumbling love affair, many long-standing feuds and frenemies, and a boomerang child who has left his wife and come home to plague his own divorced parents. Dangling over everyone is the dazzling possibility that a new theme park will be built on the edge of town and revive its prospects. As poor as they may be, you won’t want to leave North Bath when the book is over. The good news is you won’t have to — there’s a sequel, “Everybody’s Fool.” (Random House Audio, 24 hours 16 minutes) — MARION WINIK

"The Mirror Thief' by Martin Seay

You get Venice served three ways in this
Photo Credit: Recorded Books

You get Venice served three ways in this dizzying debut novel with a trio of linked stories and echoes of “Cloud Atlas,” “The Name of the Rose” and “The Goldfinch.” The mirror thief of the title is Crivano — a 16th century alchemist who has come to Venice to steal the closely guarded secret of mirror making. In the second story, Crivano’s tale is the subject of “The Mirror Thief” — a fictional book of poems that is the obsession of teenage Stanley Glass, a juvenile delinquent running boardwalk scams in Venice, California, in the 1950s. And in the novel’s framing story, set in 2003, a retired Marine named Curtis Stone searches Las Vegas — and its Venetian Hotel, of course — for Glass, now an old man involved in an elaborate casino heist. There’s a lot to keep track of — including criminal plots and metaphysical considerations of mirror images — but narrator Edoardo Ballerini, a master of accents, delivers it all with infectious brio. (Recorded Books, 22 hours 1 minute) — TOM BEER

'The City of Mirrors' by Justin Cronin

Bereft. That's me after finishing the final book
Photo Credit: Random House Audio

Bereft. That’s me after finishing the final book in Cronin’s vampire (here known as “virals”) trilogy. I will sorely miss these intricate, intriguing characters, having had a six-year relationship with the complex work that started in 2010 with “The Passage.” With four years between the second book, “The Twelve,” and this last one, the story was at first tough to recall, which explains the biblical-like prologue recounting the tale thus far. Narrated by Scott Brick, the book — a love story, really — time-travels with no regard for chronological order, from Harvard in the present day to some thousand years after the virals were at last destroyed. Or were they? Cronin leaves just a hint of doubt, which translates to a lingering hope that maybe, just maybe, Cronin will return here someday. (Random House Audio, 29 hours 30 minutes) — BARBARA SCHULER

'The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York' by Robert A. Caro

Combine former Newsday reporter Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

Combine former Newsday reporter Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning opus with Robertson Dean's narration and you have an audiobook that keeps you enthralled for its 66-plus-hour duration. At first awed by the accomplishments of this unelected "master builder" (responsible for Long Island's parkways and multiple New York City bridges), by the end I saw Robert Moses as an intolerant, manipulative, close-minded genius. The bonus was learning much I didn't know about the history of Long Island and New York State along the way. (Random House Audio, 66 hours 11 minutes) — RONNIE GILL

'Even This I Get to Experience' by Norman Lear

TV writer-producer extraordinaire Norman Lear, now in his
Photo Credit: Penguin Audio

TV writer-producer extraordinaire Norman Lear, now in his 90s, has talent, humor, insight and candor that match his longevity. Just as his ’70s sitcoms (“All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “Maude”) hooked the nation, his autobiography engages listeners with stories of his charming but frequently felonious father, a model for Archie Bunker; his World War II flying missions over Europe; his three wives and six children (born 48 years apart); his political and social activism; and, of course, the string of hits that changed television. (Penguin Audio, 19 hours) — ANN SILVERBERG

'The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls' by Anton DiSclafani

This girls'-school-gothic debut novel set in the 1930s
Photo Credit: Handout

This girls'-school-gothic debut novel set in the 1930s South takes flight like a stallion over a high jump thanks to a brilliant reading by Adina Verson, lately of Yale Drama School. As thrilling an invention as the unfurling plot is the narrator herself — fearless, selfish, singularly powerful 15-year-old from a Florida citrus farm, whose erotic awakening rocks first her family and then the boarding school for debutantes to which she is exiled. (Penguin Audio, 11 hours 36 minutes) — MARION WINIK

'The Light of the World' by Elizabeth Alexander

It is the rare grief memoir that one
Photo Credit: Hachette Audio

It is the rare grief memoir that one can recommend to people struggling with their own losses. But even the title of this exquisitely written book, one of Newsday’s Best Books of 2015 and a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, tells something of its true subject — which is love and beauty, more than loss and grief. Hearing poet Elizabeth Alexander (known for reading at President Obama’s first inauguration) tell in her clear, warm, deeply intelligent voice the story of her adored husband Fichre’s sudden death a few days after his 50th birthday somehow feels like receiving a blessing. The audio comes with a PDF of the late artist/chef’s delicious-sounding recipes. (Hachette Audio, 4 hours) — MARION WINIK

'Accelerated' by Bronwen Hruska

An ADD-medication conspiracy is killing third graders at
Photo Credit: Blackstone Publishing

An ADD-medication conspiracy is killing third-graders at an elite Manhattan private school. Narrator Mauro Hantman's nice-young-guy delivery works well for the main character, Sean Benning, a photo editor at a celebrity tabloid whose kid is nearly a victim, but the piece de resistance is Hantman's imitation of Bill Clinton in a party scene. Commercial fiction full of knowing New York status details — a temporary cure for adult ADD? (Blackstone Publishing, 10 hours 36 minutes).  — MARION WINIK

'Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World' by Matthew Goodman

In 1889, the New York World sent scrappy
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

In 1889, the New York World sent scrappy reporter Nellie Bly traveling east from New York while The Cosmopolitan magazine's Elizabeth Bisland headed west, racing each other in an attempt to circle the globe in fewer than 80 days. As these trailblazers faced the vagaries of train, steamship and ferry travel, Käthe Mazur's narration offered a picture window on international ports, stunt journalism and budding feminism. (Random House Audio, 18 hours 57 minutes) — ANN SILVERBERG

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