This is the season when “best” lists bloom like gardens in spring and understanding who declares a publication as best of the year is the first step to deciding why that declaration deserves what amount of attention. Since AudioFile Magazine is the only publication that has been reviewing audiobooks only, and for 25 years, the accumulated experiences of their editors and reviewers puts them in the lead for a demonstrated capacity to judge the best from a year’s output of new audiobooks. AudioFile’s reviews concern themselves with the specifically audio format of the presentation: narration quality, suitability of the written work to audio performance, and directional and engineering attention during the publication process.
This year’s list of more than 100 best audiobooks is divided into topical areas, with Nonfiction and Culture audiobooks accounting for 11 titles on the full list. From the mathematical and molecular delights in the history of CAESAR’S LAST BREATH, written by Sam Kean and read by Ben Sullivan, through the all-the-rage Danish cosy movement discussed in THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE, written and read by Meik Wiking, to the fascination with language shared in WORD BY WORD, written and read by Kory Stamper, this category of Best Audiobooks offers delight for the omnivorous autodidact as well as for listeners seeking comfort or advice. There’s comedy in Paula Poundstone reading her own THE TOTALLY UNSCIENTIFIC STUDY OF THE SEARCH FOR HUMAN HAPPINESS. Contemproary racial bias in policing is examined in journalist Matt Taibbi’s I CAN’T BREATHE, read by Dominic Hoffman. Personal and professional development take center stage in OWN IT by Sallie Krawcheck, read by Ellen Archer, and FINISH written and read by Jon Acuff.
Powerful and empathetic women are at the fore in the 16 essays collected in THE MEANING OF MICHELLE, edited by Veronica Chambers, read by January LaVoy and Prentice Onayemi, and in Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s OPTION B, read by Elisa Donovan. And while professional narration and excellent writing don’t typically come from the same person, several have already been noted here. In addition, two authors celebrated for their fine writing also turn in powerful performances of their books about writing: John McPhee reads his DRAFT NO. 4 and Colum McCann his LETTERS TO A YOUNG WRITER.
Here’s a Best list that goes beyond closely related subjects or celebrity presence to encompass work undertaken by authors who can narrate well, actors who clearly understand the meaning and the mood of the texts they perform, and quality productions that demonstrate how audiobooks are much more than and different from simply reading written texts aloud. And if Nonfiction & Culture isn’t a listener’s thing, AudioFile’s Best Audiobooks 2017 list includes generous portions of genre fiction bests, bests for children and family listening, best memoir audiobooks, and more.