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Audio books for a better quarantine experience

28 Apr

As we all continue to be cooped up at home, fingers crossed that the coronavirus’ assault on immune systems nationwide will slow soon, I thought some audio book recommendations might help pass the time. Although the public library is closed right now, you can still access audio books via the Overdrive app.

I like to listen to books while doing something else, such as cooking or folding laundry at home, or performing an experiment at work. Because my attention is divided, I generally prefer audio books that are plot rather than character driven and not overly complicated. The most essential component to a good audio book, however, is the reader: someone who can perform convincingly different voices for each character while also maintaining a distinct and captivating narrator’s voice.

I can’t say the following list is exhaustive, but it’s certainly eclectic.

Crime Fiction:

fullsizeoutput_2f0The Strike Series: J.K. Rowling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, has quietly written four gritty novels featuring Afghanistan war veteran and amputee, Cormoran Strike, as a private detective struggling to make ends meet. Highlights include the romantic tension between Cormoran and his brilliant assistant, Robin Ellacott, despite her long drawn out engagement to an insufferably selfish and jealous Matthew Cunliffe; the office couch which consistently makes farting sounds; and murders which reveal complicated relationships either within the victim’s family or Cormoran’s personal life. The narrator, British actor Robert Glenister, is spectacular.

51RDUmC2REL._SY304_BO1,204,203,200_Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Stieg Larsson will keep your attention with his bizarre heroine, the perplexing Lisbeth Salander, Sweden’s best hacker and worst conversationalist. Her partnership with journalist and Casanova Mikael Blomkvist, initiated in the first novel by a cold case murder that the two together solve, generates unexpected plot twists and humanizes the ofttimes vengeful Salander. I’m currently re-listening to these books, and am as delighted by Simon Vance’s narration as I was the first time around.

Light Fiction:

51K1OpT+v7LAuthor Liane MoriartyI’ve listened to or read all eight of her novels except for The Hypnotist’s Love Story. Moriarty’s novels typically contain some secret or major event which she makes you very much want to be revealed. She rarely describes what anyone looks like, nor does she create more than a vague sense of time and place. However, she’s quite good at exploring the complexities of human nature and friendship, particularly between females. My favorites are Three Wishes, What Alice Forgot, and The Husband’s Secret.

51laCRyZikLAuthor Laura LippmanBorn and raised in Baltimore, Lippman sets all of her books within the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. Street names, historical tidbits, and strong accents make the context come alive. She’s written both the Tess Monaghan series and stand-alone novels. Despite her dark subject matter, be it murder, prostitution, kidnap and rape, or a haunting childhood secret, she manages to incorporate humor, quirky characters, and astute observations about life. I especially recommend And When She Was Good and I’d Know You Anywhere.

Best Selling Novels:

617imZ75zSLThe Help: It’s 1962 in Jackson, MS, and fresh college grad Skeeter Phelan can’t seem to fit into the prescribed mold for white Southern young ladies. Instead of finding a husband, she pursues her dreams of becoming a writer, choosing a subversive topic to tackle, the experiences of black maids working for wealthy white families. Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel seamlessly interweaves fiction and civil rights history to portray an unlikely friendship between Skeeter and two black maids, Minny and Aibileen. The audio version is truly exquisite, mirroring the novel’s use of three separate narrators, including Octavia Spencer as Minny.

 

51vV-Rvl+RLWhere the Crawdads Sing: Kya, abandoned first by her mother, then by her siblings, and finally by her abusive, alcoholic father, learns to fend for herself in the marshlands of North Carolina’s coast. Her isolation, coupled with the townspeople’s rejection of her as the filthy and uncivilized “marsh girl,” make Kya’s situation desperately lonely. Delia Owen’s portrayal of Kya’s deep longing to love and be loved is reminiscent of Carson McCuller’s depiction of social misfits yearning for connection in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Classics:

51wHlhjCtkL._SL300_Lolita: Due to its unsavory subject matter, I anticipated at least disliking this book. But Nabokov’s lyrical prose, particularly in Jeremy Irons’ voice, has an almost trance-like effect, fixing the reader into a surreal state of fascination tinged with horror. Lolita is as disturbing as it is beautifully written, and its chief character, Humbert Humbert, as pathetic as he is monstrous.

51aKS+6StwL1984: George Orwell’s dystopian novel is all parts terrifying. In the opening chapter, Winston Smith is portrayed committing the worst of crimes. He’s illegally purchased a diary to transmit “thoughtcrime,” his negative and therefore forbidden perspectives on the government, punishable by death. Anticipation of repercussions for Winston Smith’s daring to defy Oceania’s totalitarian regime made it difficult for me to press pause.

61oWi5ky+oL._SL300_Brave New World: I recommend listening to Huxley’s dystopian masterpiece directly before or after 1984. The futuristic World State’s government takes great social engineering measures to regulate happiness, ensuring each constituent follows a comfortable, meaningless path. The stakes are deceptively high, however: those who don’t conform to free sex and pain-numbing drugs will be exiled!

Biography:

41Sqv1jNyIL._SX449_BO1,204,203,200_Losing Mum and Pup: This book introducted me to William F. Buckley Jr. and sparked an ongoing love affair with his writings and person. Christopher Buckley, author and narrator, reflects on growing up as the son of Bill Buckley, founder of National Review, and Pat, glamorous New York socialite. Although Christopher’s ability to put pen to paper is nothing in comparison to that of his father, he captures well the oftimes complicated and bittersweet relationship he had with his parents in various snapshots, and also gives honest, heartbreaking voice to the sadness we must all eventually face when a parent dies.

Just as we’ve covered a wide-range of book recommendations, the following recipe  extends Korean Beef Bulgogi into salad territory.

KOREAN BEEF BULGOGI SALAD

INGREDIENTS:

Beef Bulgogi (recipe credit: Olive & Mango) fullsizeoutput_2f1

1 lb. beef tenderloin or sirloin, cut into thin slices

1/2 cup peeled and grated pear

1/4 cup white wine

1 white onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. chili flakes

2 green onions, chopped

2 Tbs. soy sauce

2 Tbs. honey or brown sugar

1 Tbs sesame oil

Combine all ingredients of beef bulgogi marinade. Slice beef very thinly and add to marinade, tossing to fully coat. Marinate in fridge for one hour up to overnight. When ready, place beef in heated pan and cook until golden brown. Only a small portion of the beef bulgogi is needed per salad; store remaining beef in freezer.

Salad:

80 g cooked white rice (1/2 cup)

Romaine lettuce

Stir fried vegetables (i.e. mushrooms, celery, peppers, red onions, julienned carrots): season fullsizeoutput_2f3with sambal oelek chili sauce, soy sauce, salt, and pepper

1 Tbs. gochujang sauce

1 Tbs. ginger vinaigrette (i.e. ALDI’s)

2.5 oz. cooked beef bulgogi

ASSEMBLY:

Layer lettuce, rice, stir fried vegetables, gochujang sauce, vinaigrette, and beef in bowl. Eat!

CALORIES (per salad): 450

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