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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

You Must Hear This: Great Fiction Audiobooks

If you haven’t tried audiobooks before, now is the time. A good audiobook can turn a bad commute into a decent drive, a long, sleepless night into a less troubled one and walking around the track into pleasurable exercise. Here are just a few of my favorites.{CKEY}&searchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^&user_id=WEBSERVERBilly Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain is narrated by Oliver Wyman, one of my favorite audio-narrators. Billy Lynn and his squadron are young, immature, irreverent Iraq War vets being showcased at the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game halftime show. Despite their silliness, they’ve been through a lot--witnessing atrocities abroad and ignorance at home. Numerous sub-plots (their families, lost dreams, intriguing pasts) echo the themes of loss, struggle and courage. Oliver Wyman’s inventive take on the characters’ voices will keep you laughing (and sometimes weeping).

In Dave Egger’s What is the What, we meet Valentino Achak Deng, a Lost Boy of Sudan. (Deng is a real person, but this novel is a fictionalized version of his life.) Valentino has seen horrors that most of us can barely imagine, yet his life in the United States is one struggle after another, whether financially, academically or practically. When we first encounter Valentino, he’s been taken hostage in his own apartment. Flashbacks to his previous life are expertly done, with Valentino’s “thought tale” giving us insight and understanding into his past and the past of his former country. The audio-narrator, Dion Graham, does a variety of accents and voices with skill and humor.

In the mood for something lighter? Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster chronicles the daily life of a manager at a Red Lobster, with surprisingly humane and profound insights. Manny DeLeon works hard to keep both his customers and staff happy, with limited results. He’s in love with one of the waitresses, his girlfriend is pregnant, the restaurant is being shut down, and his job is relocating. Yet, his sense of dignity is poignant, and his desire to serve is humbling. Steward O’Nan has been called the bard of the working class, and this novella is proof of that.  

 If you like social commentary disguised as beach reading, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple will definitely make you laugh. It will also make you deeply suspicious of parent-teacher associations, other parents and judgmental neighbors. Bernadette, a brilliant architect disguised as the well-dressed mother of a teenager, is at odds with virtually everyone she knows. It’s not necessarily all her fault either. Her husband, a Microsoft administrator, thinks she’s paranoid, and the mothers at her daughter’s private school think she’s an oddball. In fact, her only friend seems to be an offshore personal assistant hired to take care of tiresome personal business. When she vanishes – to a particularly surprising part of the world – you can hardly blame her.

-Carey Hagan, George Mason Regional Library

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