Audiobooks: The Joy of Being All Ears

NOTE: Before you plug in your earphones to listen to your favorite audio book, first take a look at our homepage. Hit the homepage button and see how two age-defiers--us--enjoy life!  Barbara and Margaret


Whether you drive often and far or are in a car for short trips or like to take walks, many find it more pleasurable to be accompanied on their journey with an audiobook (many can be checked out of a public library or available digitally) or from a podcast available on certain apps.

After being socially isolated, we recognize that our own thoughts can become quite boring. Therefore, we seek out others’ voices.

By listening to audio books and podcasts, we get a quick fix of  history, learn new ways to cook or exercise or feel a strong connection with “the voice in our ear” like we’ve become fast friends with Michelle Obama or Julia Child.  

We’re recent converts to these media tools. Barbara initially had a hard time, metaphorically speaking, staying on the page of different audiobooks since she found herself easily distracted by congestion and different sights when she drove. However, she adjusted after regularly spending at least two hours in her car going back and forth between New York City and Dutchess County, where she lives.

Along the way, she found some books so riveting that she didn’t want to get out of the car and stop listening when she arrived at her destination. In fact, sometimes, she sat in a parked car continuing to listen to the end of a disk or chapter.

She’s varied the subject matter and especially enjoyed books where the author read it, so she got the real voice, too. Conversely, she’s found some quite boring or read by somebody with an annoying voice. In these cases, she knows she won’t get through the entire book and puts it back in its case. It’s her time to decide how much to listen to; she knows she’s not in school.

Although she’s listened to some podcasts she’s found when she’s walking and might listen to them, she’d rather focus on her own thoughts or the houses and gardens she sees. She doesn’t need the extra chatter.  

Many of Barbara’s favorite audio books focus on food, a topic she regularly reads about in books because of her interest in cooking and entertaining.

Since moving to New York City and getting rid of her car, Margaret rarely listens to audiobooks or podcasts anymore (some on NPR used to be her faves). However, when she and her late husband would drive from St. Louis to California to see their daughter, they listened to the John Adams book by David Mccullough—and then had fodder for some good conversation on the long ride back to St. Louis. Another favorite was the bio of Albert Einstein by Walter Isaacson and The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz, which Margaret thought was a bore and slept through most of it as her husband was driving. On the other hand, her late husband really enjoyed it.

When she walks, which she does everywhere in the city, she prefers to listen to her own thoughts and have the space to look around and enjoy the new landscape.

Here are nine audiobook favorites.

Mike Nichols by Mark Harris. This is a book that Barbara recently finished reading but loved so much she plans to listen to it, too. And she convinced Margaret to read it, too. For any movie or play fan there’s a high probability that it might have been directed or produced by Nichols since he directed and produced more than 25 Broadway plays in his career. He also was an actor and comedian. He won his sixth Tony Award for Best Director with the revival of Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman. Organized in chronological order, Harris includes all sorts of nitty gritty juicy dirt on which actors and other professionals he developed a close rapport with—or disliked, how well the play or movie did from the point of view of reviewers and what was happening in his personal life at the time. He became addicted to cocaine and married four times—lastly to TV anchor Diane Sawyer.

Rating: It’s a 10 out of a 10-star-listen, according to both Barbara and Margaret.

Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Friends had raved about the book, a nonfiction novel, set in two locations, like the style of Devil in the White City, which was another favorite. The focus is the winter Olympics in Berlin in 1936 when Hitler was beginning to mass troops and invade countries. At the same time, the crew team at the University of Washington was working hard to do well and represent the U.S. at the Olympics. All were from lower-middle-class families and had to struggle to get through college during the Depression. The other story focuses on what Hitler constructed to dazzle the world when its athletes and others came to Germany for the Games. But it also portrays what was going on behind the scenes with the round-up of Jews and other minorities while at the same time, Germany invaded other countries. We won’t spoil the results of what occurs at the Games.

Rating: 10 out of 10, according to Barbara and Margaret.

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. Read by Samuelson, a prominent chef now in New York who owns Red Rooster in Harlem, was born in Ethiopia. His mother contracted tuberculosis and died leaving him an orphan. A year later, he was adopted by a Swedish couple who brought him to Sweden.  His adopted grandmother Helga sparked his interest in cooking, and he went on to study and work in kitchens of restaurants in Switzerland and France and eventually at Aquavit in New York where his food earned him a three-star rating. He eventually opened his own restaurant.

Rating: 9 out of 10, according to Barbara and Margaret.

The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters: The Tragic and Glamorous Lives of Jackie and Lee by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill continue to generate buzz about their individual lives as well as their complicated relationship. This book details their growing up years, multiple marriages, lives with their children, careers and adult relationship. It’s gossip backed up by fact, fun and sad, all rolled into one. Barbara loved that the Kirkus review says their relationship was a balance of love and envy. She thinks that’s true of many sibling bonds. 

Rating: 7 out of 10, according to Barbara.

Something Wonderful by Todd S. Purdum. All that’s missing is actual singing, many of the lyrics are included and read for some of the best-known musical theatrical shows produced by the iconic duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein: The Sound of Music, Carousel, South Pacific, Oklahoma, The King and I. The book is a good peek behind the curtain of their distant friendship and business partnership and why certain shows appealed at certain times—or not. They also had failures.

Rating: 7 out of 10, according to Barbara.

French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act and My Life in France, both by Alex Prud’homme. Written by Julia Child’s great-nephew, these books are delightful joyous accounts and explain her history of getting into cooking, becoming a famous cookbook author, a household celeb, known just by her first name of Julia and her high-pitched voice to millions of food-obsessed lovers of her recipes and techniques. She also became a TV star as well as the subject of comedians on shows such as Saturday Night Live. The books showcase her friendships with other well-known food personalities such as Jacques Pepin, co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Simone Beck, New York Times writer Craig Claiborne and dessert superstar cookbook author, Maida Heatter.

Rating: 10 out of 10 for both, according to Barbara.

Grant by Ron Chernow. A big book—more than 1,000 pages long, Barbara felt it was more likely she could listen to all the nitty-gritty about the late 18th President of the U.S., Ulysses S. Grant, than read through it. And she did, but very slowly since it offered so much history to absorb. In the end, she felt she understood this President so much better. And learning about him has been part of her own crash history course in U.S. Presidents. Both Barbara and Margaret highly recommend reading or listening to more Presidential histories in between other books, from Joseph Ellis’ His Excellency: George Washington to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama’s own A Promised Land.

Rating: 6 out of 10, according to Barbara and Margaret, who started the book but found it too dense to finish.

Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, recipes, and Stories by Nigella Lawson. Narrated by Lawson with her wonderful English accent, this book may make you want to head to the grocery store and then into your kitchen to make all sorts of wonderful dishes she lusciously and descriptively details. In fact, there’s almost too much—and too many ideas—on how to use rhubarb or beef cheeks and anchovies. But Barbara, for one, learned a lot as she listened about breads, including sandwich loaves, sauces for steaks, salad dressings and how to properly dress a salad, what kind of birthday cake Lawson’s own kids favor—a chocolate peanut butter cake-and so on. The only annoying part was that in the audio, she provides measurements in the English metric systems. But because Barbara had never cooked from a Lawson cookbook, she promptly went out and bought this one to try the cake for the next celebratory occasion, her lasagna of love as she calls it and her chocolate salty cookies.

Rating: 7 out of 10, according to Barbara.

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