My Four Favorite Audiobooks And How I Survived 2017

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Hello, 2018. I am recovering from the flu; I am recovering from 2017.

Some of you may have thought 2017 was a wonderful year. How nice for you.  For me, it was a year fraught with fear and loathing, angst and anger, confusion and pathos. Which made it a great year to escape into books. I walked countless miles and listened to almost a hundred audiobooks. Sometimes I listened to Podcasts—NPR, Pod Save America, Pod Save the World—but inevitably, the stench of reality would get  to be too much for me and I would find myself jonesing for a good story. There are worse addictions, I guess.

I no longer have any illusions that I can write recommendations for audiobooks for anyone and everyone. (One of the things I learned in 2017–much to my despair—is that there are many people whose values are so estranged from mine that I wonder if we can ever agree on anything. I suppose I used to live in a bubble, but I was happy there.) Anyway,  I enjoy Literary Fiction and most of the reviews I read report on such.

When I gleaned the end of the year lists (the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, GoodReads, NPR, Audible and BookPage) the fiction category was overwhelmingly dominated by Literary Fiction. I rather like the egalitarian method that GoodReads uses; they offer a variety of genres and ask their members to vote for their favorites. Nonetheless, the top popular vote-getter was also the choice of literary critics and editors.

Some of the lists included books I read, but for one reason or another I just didn’t like. Or, in a couple of cases, I felt might have been good in print, but didn’t translate well to audio. Nonetheless, I am continuing my policy of only writing positive reviews. Therefore, if a book receives acclaim and I did not care for it, I don’t write about it.  Furthermore, if you prefer a select genre of fiction—Romance, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Chick-Lit,  Western, Christian Literature, Dystopian, etc., I recommend using the library sub-genres system.

Oh! And by the way, if you haven’t downloaded the Library Overdrive LIBBY ap, I heartily recommend you do so. Libby makes borrowing audio and ebooks very easy and downloading them in your reader or on your phone even easier. Make it your 2018 resolution to look into it.  You can thank me later.

So, onto the lists. The novel mentioned in nearly everyone’s Best-of-the-Year-list, and the winner of both BookPage and GoodRead’s Reader’s Choice award is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.  A character-driven novel about relationships and chock-full of social issues, this is the kind of book beloved by book clubs that actually talk about their books.

A cautionary note about a popular novel that I saw on several lists of excellence. My book club chose it after reading the cursory description, “Coming of age novel about a 14-year-old girl in rural Northern California.” Why not, we thought? Later, after reading a few more reviews we learned there was a bit more to the story. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent is an exceptionally well-written novel about a teenage girl with an emotionally, physically and sexually abusive father. It is very hard to read/listen to, but equally hard to put-down/turn-off. The “ick” factor was too great for my book club and we de-selected it; only a few of us went on to read it on our own. But those of us who did read it agreed with the critics: a memorable and excellent book.

And yet another kind of coming-of-age tale is represented in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement, this is the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a police officer. This is categorized as the top Young Adult novel, but it has demonstrated wide appeal among all ages and is an important topic for our times.

I normally stick to fiction, but sometimes there is something so superior that even I will venture into the land of biography. And, I have to admit, this one was on nearly everyone’s top ten list—including Barack Obama’s. (It makes me wistful remembering that once upon a time we actually had a president that could read, and spoke in complete sentences, and didn’t use profanity and  . . . well, no sense belaboring the point.)

Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow’s Grant is an enormous investment in time—1100 pages and about 48 hours of listening. But if you thought you knew about Ulysses S. Grant and his impact on the Civil War and the Reconstruction years, you’ll find there is a lot more to know. I didn’t think presidential biographer extraordinaire Chernow could top Hamilton and I doubt we’ll get a Broadway musical out of this one, but who knows—maybe a movie? This is a comprehensive and well-researched tome that is not only a history of the Gilded Age, but given our own growing economic inequality combined with threats from white supremacists, it is also a mirror on our own current situation.

So, dear readers/listeners, I thank you for your time and attention.  I wish you a happy 2018 filled with many hours of literary entertainment and edification—or at the very least, a bit of pleasant distraction.  We can all use that.

Hollyn Chase
Since her retirement, Hollyn Chase has served as VP of operations at Chez Chase--she also cooks and vacuums. Darling Jack, her husband of forty-two years, gets to be President; they agree that this is because he works much harder than she does. Being the VP is not all glitz and glamour, she does many mundane things. But she does them happily since she discovered that listening to audiobooks makes the boring bearable. Because her mind is always occupied, she's stopped plotting to overthrow the government. Her children, who rarely agree on anything, are both happy about this. Besides her addiction to fiction, she's fairly normal and sometimes even nice.
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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Suzanne Prewitt says:

    Always a pleasure reading Hollyn’s lively book recommendations. I rarely disagree with her!

  2. Avatar Linnea Perrine says:

    Another well written and informative article Hollyn. A great way to start my morning..

  3. Avatar Patti Anderson, Redding, CA says:

    Hollyn Chase had me in her first paragraph where she said “Some of you may have thought 2017 was a wonderful year. How nice for you. For me, it was a year fraught with fear and loathing, angst and anger, confusion and pathos.” 2018 does not appear to be any better (nationally speaking), so I’ll definitely give her book recommendations & her Library Overdrive LIBBY ap some attention.

  4. Avatar Janet Tyrrel says:

    Thanks Hollyn…I love biographies and can’t wait to read “Grant”. Hopefully, it will take my mind off current political scene, especially the recent LOCAL political posturing, i.e., voting Shasta County to be non-sanctuary.

  5. Avatar Judy Salter says:

    Hoping this will make 2018 beareable too. Otherwise i think my head will explode

  6. Avatar sal says:

    tds is real.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      For those unfamiliar with “TDS.”

      Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS):

      Unhappiness caused by the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States. Sufferers display an inordinate loathing for and preoccupation with Donald Trump. The grief and distress they suffer are real.

      Steve: “But it doesn’t make any sense! This can’t be happening!”

      Elise (his wife): “Honey, stop posting and come to bed.”

      Steve: “God, he’s just so unbelievably stupid! What a pig! It’s f***ing embarrassing!”

      Elise (to the camera): “I wish there was something I could do to help Steve with his TDS. He just seems so unhappy. When is it going to end?”

  7. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I started “My Absolute Darling” after my wife finished it—I think it was her book club’s selection. I was enjoying the story, set in parts of Mendocino County that I’m intimately familiar with, when I crashed into the incest stuff—I hadn’t seen it coming. I went on and got about half way through, but lost the book. I’d hoped for a few weeks that it’d eventually turn up, but it didn’t. It’s a compelling enough story that I’ll probably buy a second copy to finish it.

    My knowledge of Grant is severely lacking. As a schoolboy I learned that he was a brilliant general and a drunk president—that about sums it up.

  8. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Thanks, Hollyn. I just bought the Kindle version. As Steve said, common knowledge is that “he was a brilliant general and a drunk president. ” Watching Ken Burns’ The Civil War put Grant in a much more favorable light. I’m slogging through “Fire and Fury” now. I’m certain “Grant” will be a good antidote to that.

    • Avatar Hollyn says:

      I have four friends plus a sister that all were extremely impressed with Grant. My husband is currently reading it and seems to like it quite a lot. (I can tell because he actually stays awake to read it.)

  9. Jon Lewis Jon Lewis says:

    As always, appreciate your reviews. A couple more titles to add my list for sure.

  10. Avatar Pam A says:

    Adding all these books to my list since I haven’t read any of them. Thanks, you never disappoint. Like you, escapism in literature has kept my sanity intact the last few years. Family members my disagree to the last statement.