My favourite audio-books of 2019

Yesterday I published my list of my 10 favourite novels I read in 2019. If you missed that you can find it here. Today I am moving on to my 10 favourite audio-books of 2019.

After years of dismissing audio-books I am now a great fan and have one on the go all the time. I listen when driving, when cleaning and at other times when physical reading is not possible. I read more history and classics via audio than I do via physical books because I don’t find the length or size of the volume so off-putting in audio. My list is, therefore, made up of a mixture of genres – I have listened to them all in the last year although many of them have been around a lot longer. I will try and explain what made the audio rendering so enjoyable. These are in no particular order.

  1. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. I have never read Trollope before but I loved this book about Victorian society and its corruption. I was captivated by all the characters and the satire. I particularly enjoyed the way that people did and said one thing in public and behaved very differently in their private lives. It was definitely enhanced by the reading by Timothy West who managed to convey a raft of characters so that you could easily tell who was who. I shall be reading more Trollope now that I have discovered how enjoyable his writing is.
  2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I have to confess that I had never read any Russian literature before this. I have always been put off by the length and a feeling that maybe they were too “worthy” for me. This audio-book showed me otherwise. Read by Maggie Gyllenhaal in a totally accessible way I actually found the book absorbing. I obviously knew before I started that it has an unhappy ending but I enjoyed the way that the book developed and the tragedy became inevitable. More Russian literature for 2020 I think now I have started.
  3. Blitzed by Norman Ohler (translated by Shaun Whiteside) is a completely different type of book. It is a history of the use of drugs in Nazi Germany and especially by Hitler. I found this fascinating and it is a book I would not have read in print as I would have been put off by all the drug names. The narrator is Jonathan Keeble who has narrated a number of history books I have read. He reads in an authoritative manner which means that the complicated drug names and the German names and places are consistently pronounced and gave me no trouble. The story itself is fascinating and makes you wonder what other world leaders have taken in the past or are taking now.
  4. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. This book was a revelation to me. I have read the better known Rebecca by the same author which I didn’t really enjoy because of its Gothic overtones but I thought that I should give another of her books a try. I was absolutely gripped by this one and found myself looking for opportunities to listen in order to progress the story. It is narrated by Jonathan Pryce who I felt managed to convey the narrative voice of the young and frequently bemused Philip Ashley brilliantly. This book also has many Gothic overtones but I enjoyed them a lot and am now recommending this book to everyone.
  5. Fatherland by Robert Harris is a thriller set in an alternative 1960s after the Nazis have won the war. It is very cleverly written and the author combines actual history and imagined facts seamlessly making a well textured background for his thriller. This book is read by Michael Jayston who has narrated a few of the Dickens I have listened to and who manages to make it all very well paced without getting over dramatic. I adored this thriller and have now purchased virtually all the author’s other novels, some in book form and some on audio. Robert Harris will also appear in my final list of books for 2019 and will be the only author to have two books on my lists this year.
  6. Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene is set in Cuba and the audio-book has little snatches of Cuban music in between the chapters to give a sense of the country which I rather liked. It is a short book about a man who ends up spying for Britain but who is actually a vacuum cleaner salesman. It is a story about deceit and betrayal but also sharply amusing. This version is narrated by Jeremy Northam, another frequent narrator on audio-books I own, and it is light without being fluffy. I have read a few books by Graham Greene recently and find that he is an author that I appreciate more now that I am older.
  7. Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather written and narrated by Tessa Boase is a work of social history. It is about the formation of the RSPB and the work of its first female campaigners to eliminate the trade in bird feathers and bird parts for millinery. The author compares this with the work of the suffragettes and their campaigning. I enjoyed this informative book and liked the way that the author honoured female campaigners and what they achieved.
  8. Janesville by Amy Goldstein is also a work of social history but a more up to date one. It follows a number of people living in the Wisconsin town of Janesville after the General Motors plant closed down in 2008. The town was almost wholly reliant on the plant which was the oldest in the USA and generations of local families had worked there. Making this about the experiences of actual people helped the listener to understand better the effects of this local disaster and its impact on lives. The narrator is Joy Omanski who was clear but not too informal.
  9. Byron’s Women by Alexander Larman is a history of the poet told via the lives of significant women in his life (and there were many). I haven’t read much of Byron’s poetry but the book doesn’t concentrate on that and I really enjoyed this unusual way of telling his life story. He really was unspeakably horrible to women and used and discarded them at a whim or when they became “demanding”. The narrator is Kris Dyer who managed to read the book without sounding judgemental for which he is to be commended.
  10. Bookworm written and read by Lucy Mangan is the story of the author’s childhood as a reader. She talks about her life but also about the books that she loved. I am a bit older than her but I recognised many of the books that she talks about here and found her impressions of them and the other information she adds to be fascinating. The best bit for me though was her descriptions of what it means to be a bookworm and how it affects your life – I felt at times that the author was describing my childhood. A brilliant read.

I have read some excellent audio-books this year and highly commend all these above if you are looking for something to listen to in the year ahead.

Keep reading (listening) – yes, it all counts as reading.