What a year for listening! Here, our editors and contributors share 14 of the most memorable audiobook experiences of 2022.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan, (Simon and Schuster Audio, 11 hours, 11 minutes): Building on the Pulitzer-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, in episodes stretching from the 1960s to the 2030s, Egan’s novel revolves around an invention that allows an individual’s memories to be uploaded and shared publicly. Told in a sparkling array of voices, including one chapter that’s all texts and emails and another that delivers instructions to an intelligence agent from a robotic device implanted in her brain, this award-winning audio includes 20 narrators, among them actors Michael Boatman and Lucy Liu.—Marion Winik
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperAudio, 21 hours, 2 minutes): Kingsolver's superstar collaboration with Charles Dickens reimagines David Copperfield in opioid-poisoned Appalachia. Young Demon’s life has not been easy up until his mother overdose on his 11th birthday, but as an orphan, his fortunes take a nose dive. Only his ferocious resilience can save him as he faces hunger, cruelty, addiction, and bigotry in the narrow world of Lee County, Virginia, his home sweet home. Narrator Charlie Thurston’s gentle Southern accent and boyish brio perfectly evoke the title character of this coming-of-age saga.—M.W.
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka (Random House Audio, 4 hours, 6 minutes): Otsuka uses a public pool as a universal stage to reflect the stages of loss. Narrator Traci Kato-Kiriyama captures each nuance of the changing narrative voice with precision, starting with a satirical tone to describe the swimmers visiting an underground community pool to escape aboveground problems. When the pool closes, Kato-Kiriyama shifts to a cold, officious tone, and in the emotional final segment, her subtle vocal fluctuations resonate with rueful observation, grief, and hard-won compassion. It’s an outstanding performance.—Connie Ogle
Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Penguin Random House Audio, 10 hours, 29 minutes): When Carrie Soto retired from tennis, she held the record for Grand Slam singles titles. Fifteen years later, a British player is about to surpass her. So, like the title says: She’s back. Stacy Gonzalez’s emotional performance as Carrie, including Spanish-sprinkled conversations with her Argentine father/coach, is excellent. The large supporting cast includes former tennis pros Patrick McEnroe and Mary Carillo, and all the news shows and pundit debates are cleverly produced with theme music.—M.W.
Thank You for Listening by Julia Whelan (HarperAudio, 11 hours and 16 minutes): Whelan is one of the best audiobook narrators around, and it feels like she wrote her second novel with her own vocal talents in mind. A romance between two audiobook narrators who fall in love with each other’s words long before they meet in person, it features male and female voices, various sexy accents, steamy love scenes, and plenty of fun with romance-novel tropes. A great introduction to audiobooks for people who’ve never tried them before.—Laurie Muchnick
In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Amy Bloom (Random House Audio, 4 hours and 49 minutes): “In love” describes the way Bloom feels about life with her husband, Brian, but it also describes the way she accompanied him to Switzerland for an assisted suicide when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 65. Listening to Bloom read her memoir is almost unbearably intimate—you’re with her during every step of this painful yet profound journey. An unforgettable listening experience.—L.M.
The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor—the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown (Random House Audio, 17 hours and 56 minutes): As she reads her own book, Brown is the gossipy friend you wish you had, the one who likes to say, “If you have nothing nice to say…come sit by me!” Let her whisper in your ear everything she knows about the Queen Mother’s love of excess, the Middleton family’s normality, and the culture clash between Meghan Markle’s Hollywood celebrity and the royal family’s very long game. The way she occasionally inserts herself into the story—having lunch with Princess Diana, assigning articles about Prince Andrew’s entanglement with Jeffrey Epstein—only makes it more fun.—L.M.
Finding Me by Viola Davis (Harper Audio, 9 hours and 15 minutes): This memoir by the Oscar winner is unforgettable thanks to the author’s fiery narration. She summons a simmering rage, often speaking in clipped tones as though with barely controlled fury as she describes a childhood of grinding poverty, bullying and abuse, and the racism and colorism that blocked her path to success for so long. But like any great performer, Davis can access other emotions, too: pride in her accomplishments, love for her family, deep gratitude for those who encouraged her.—C.O.
Ten Steps to Nanette: A Memoir Situation by Hannah Gadsby (Random House Audio, 13 hour and 47 minutes): Gadsby’s Netflix show Nanette was an unexpected tragicomic gut punch, and the comedian’s memoir explains how a “financially insecure, autistic Australian genderqueer vagina-wielding situation” reshaped personal and universal trauma into a stunning work of art. She excels at pulling stories together to form a cohesive and funny whole, and her pitch-perfect comic delivery and sly, quirky vocals serve her well as a narrator. The performance shows great humor—and real heart.—C.O.
This Body I Wore by Diana Goetsch (Tantor Media, 10 hours, 50 minutes): Goetsch’s memoir describes the decades she spent coming to terms with being transgender before the language had even evolved to clearly describe it, an experience that was literally unspeakable and unbearably isolating. After a difficult childhood, she became a teacher, a poet, a Buddhist, a club-hopping cross-dresser, and, ultimately, the woman she was meant to be. The intense candor, anger, and wit of this memoir are best appreciated by hearing Goetsch read it in the voice she went through so much to claim.—M.W.
Caprice by Coe Booth (OrangeSky Audio, 7 hours and 17 minutes): Addressing family sexual abuse in a sensitive, developmentally appropriate way for middle-grade readers is no small feat. And narrator Bahni Turpin is a legend in audiobook circles for good reason: Her warm, reassuring voice captures the essence of this story that gently presents important but harrowing truths and will linger in listeners’ hearts and minds. Turpin successfully expresses protagonist Caprice’s seesawing feelings—from her excitement over her new school and fondness for her old friends and beloved community to trepidation, dawning fear, and resolve as she begins to understand the meaning of her childhood memories.—Laura Simeon
That’s Debatable by Jen Doll (Recorded Books, 9 hours and 11 minutes): The narrators of this YA novel, Justis Bolding and Nick Mills, do a fantastic job drawing listeners into a tale set on the high school debate circuit in Alabama. Along the path to falling in love, Millie and Tag face down parental and societal expectations and failings. Bolding’s wryly self-aware performance accentuates Millie’s intelligence, humor, and passion. Mills’ earnest, deadpan delivery is just right for Tag, a naïve boy with the best of intentions. The duo’s coming-of-age journeys cover a range of emotions, from flirtatious to deeply serious, all of which come alive in this audio production.—L.S.
Even When Your Voice Shakes by Ruby Yayra Goka (Recorded Books, 5 hours and 13 minutes): This YA novel set in contemporary Ghana deals with painful topics including parental abandonment, depression, poverty, housing insecurity, socio-economic inequality, and sexual assault as experienced by 16-year-old Amerley. Adjoa Andoh’s rich voice as she narrates in a grave and deliberate manner is a perfect match for the subject matter. Her pacing is spot-on, matching the story’s beats in a complementary way that allows listeners to reflect on the serious moments and become swept up by the suspenseful ones. Characters of different ages and genders are fleshed out through differentiated but completely natural voices.—L.S.
The Bluest Sky by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Listening Library, 7 hours and 47 minutes): Against the backdrop of the 1980 Mariel boatlift, during which thousands of Cubans fled to the U.S., this story about sixth grader Héctor juxtaposes the delightfully ordinary—an upcoming math competition, a friend who is like a brother—with violence, death, and desperation. Giordan Diaz’s sincere tone and nimble, fluid narration bring to life this moving middle-grade text and its multigenerational cast. His voice vividly conveys, in English interspersed with Cuban Spanish phrases, childhood innocence as well as the inner life of a young boy who is forced to grow up too quickly.—L.S.
Marion Winik is the host of NPR’s Weekly Reader podcast. Connie Ogle is a writer in Florida. Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor. Laura Simeon is a young readers’ editor.