Best Audiobooks of 2018

Every year, through the Listen List Council of the American Library Association, librarians create the Listen List, selected for both avid listeners of audiobooks and those new to the pleasures of the fastest-growing format in publishing. This juried list of twelve newly-released titles features extraordinary narrators and listening experiences.

This past year jury members listened to 2,574 hours as they narrowed the field to 58 nominated audiobooks and selected winners that include fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and poetry, each an outstanding performance in terms of voice, accents, pitch, tone, inflection, rhythm and pace. Here’s the 12 that made the final cut:

The Book of Polly: A Novel by Kathy Hepinstall. Narrated by Jenna Lamia. Books on Tape. Senior citizen Polly and teen Willow are an unforgettable Southern mother-daughter duo tackling family secrets and mortality with irreverent and sassy style. Lamia captures Willow's naivete and determination to protect her mother, who is as salty, tart and sweet as her favorite margarita.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Narrated by Trevor Noah. Brilliance Audio. By turns comic and horrific, Noah’s animated story-telling pulls back the curtain on his childhood years in Apartheid-era South Africa. His astonishing command of dialects entertains and inspires in a memoir which combines recent history and a personal cultural perspective.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir: A Novel by Jennifer Ryan. Narrated by Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogen Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, Mike Grady. Books on Tape. Ethereal choral interludes enhance Ryan's charming epistolary tale of the ladies-left-behind in a British village as World War II dawns. An ensemble cast evokes every class and rank of Chilbury’s residents, who through courage and hymns, unite to defend the homefront.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Narrated by Cathleen McCarron. Books on Tape. Listeners hear a socially awkward woman’s transformation from brusque and friendless to someone able to confront her traumatic childhood. Enhanced by a native Scottish accent, McCarron’s empathetic portrayal of prickly Eleanor and her newly acquired social circle traces the change from so not fine to completely fine.
The Force: A Novel by Don Winslow. Narrated by Dion Graham. Blackstone Audio. Winslow exposes the fall of dirty cop Denny Malone as he desperately tries to salvage his family, friends, and honor. Graham taps into the seamy core of New York City, expertly bringing forth its many accents and identities, creating a visceral listening experience that thrums with grit and tension.
The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen by Victoria Alexander. Narrated by Marian Hussey. Harlequin Audio. This series opener follows a priggish British spinster to fin-de-siècle Paris as she falls for the irresistible charm of a roguish duke. Hussey’s witty tone and expert comedic timing nails the high-spirited verbal sparring and cheeky banter in this romantic romp.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk: A Novel by Kathleen Rooney. Narrated by Xe Sands. Macmillan Audio. Octogenarian Lillian partakes in a sentimental journey on New Year’s Eve 1984, strolling across Manhattan wearing her poetry-loving heart on her fur-coated sleeve. Sands channels this venerable working girl’s wit with nuance and creates a host of distinct supporting voices, concluding with a conversation between author and narrator.
Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel by George Saunders.
Narrated by Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, George Saunders, Carrie Brownstein, Miranda July, Lena Dunham, and a full cast. Books on Tape. Abraham Lincoln pays one last visit to son Willie, laid to rest in Oak Hill Cemetery amidst a host of spirits keeping watch as the boy makes his final passage. An unprecedented cast of 166 narrators combine in a spectral chorus, telling their stories in an astonishing gabble of voices that teems with pathos, tragicomedy, and the tenderest love.
The Reason You're Alive: A Novel by Matthew Quick. Narrated by R. C. Bray. HarperAudio. Crusty Vietnam veteran David Granger recounts his life story, a testimony of a sometimes violent and maverick past. Bray embodies this in-your-face character’s charged language and attitude via gravelly tone and staccato inflection with a hidden compassion that reveals Granger’s humanity.
Sourdough: A Novel by Robin Sloan. Narrated by Therese Plummer. Macmillan Audio. Plummer captures Sloan's sprightly tone in the odyssey of an unlikely recipient of a sourdough starter infused with ancient epicurean power. Deliciously quirky voicings and bubbly sound effects concoct a listening treat seasoned with a soupçon of magical realism and original musical compositions.
Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. Narrated by Mark Bramhall. Books on Tape. Journalist Finkel investigates the life of a recluse who lived in the Maine woods for 27 years. With a subtle Down-easter accent and documentary-like reportage, Bramhall captures the author’s curiosity and Christopher Knight’s quiet humanity in a performance as unobtrusive as the hermit himself.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie. Narrated by Sherman Alexie. Hachette Audio. With his characteristic tribal cadence, Alexie offers a lyrical, episodic memoir, augmented by his own poems and songs. He reveals his complicated urban Indian relationship with rez and family, sharing heartfelt grief and angst over his mother’s life and death.

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