Whether you have 38 minutes to spare or 14 hours, these audiobooks will immerse, enlighten and possibly terrify you.
Blood Orange Night: My Journey to the Edge of Madness
By Melissa Bond. Read by the author.
Bond has recently learned that her infant son has Down syndrome, that she’s pregnant with her second child and that she’s been laid off, when one night she stops sleeping. She chalks it up to stress and her “geriatric” pregnancy, but the insomnia lingers after her daughter is born. “Maybe I get an hour. Maybe I get 30 minutes or 10 or 12,”Bond says, her voice her a well of desperation for the duration of this engrossing audiobook. “I want to bang my head against the wall out of terror that it will happen again, that it will never end and I’ll go psychotic and have this feeling of glass in my body forever.”
Bond tries everything she can safely take while pregnant and then nursing — valerian root tea, yoga, Ambien — and nothing works for long, if at all. By the time she meets “Dr. Amazing,” we know things are going to get worse before they get better. Soon she’s taking six milligrams of Ativan every single night (“when having grand mal seizures in emergency rooms, people are shot up with two milligrams,” she explains, for scale). It’s this highly addictive, recklessly prescribed benzodiazepine, and not the insomnia, that is the real villain of this memoir that doubles as a kind of true-crime story, too.
On hearing her son speak his first sentence at 3½, on the fracturing of her marriage, on the facts of this lesser-known class of pharmaceutical dependence, on the sheer anguish of her withdrawal, Bond’s dogged self-analysis is like a skewer through her own heart — and ours.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 9 hours, 18 minutes
Olive Grove in Ends
By Moses McKenzie. Read by Louis McKenzie.
McKenzie’s coming-of-age debut is set in an area of Bristol, England, that locals call “Ends” — evoking the ends of the Earth, maybe, or the end of one’s rope; or, as the narrator surmises, simply “trying to make ends meet.” The British Jamaican secondary schooler Sayon Hughes crushes on a pastor’s daughter, works hard in classes and dreams of one day owning a house on a hill outside the city.
But by his early adulthood, as his predominantly Jamaican and Somali neighborhood “dilutes” with white people, Sayon has become jaded to the lie of upward mobility, has started dealing drugs, has even committed murder to defend his family. Slipping effortlessly between the layered accents and patois of this community, Louis McKenzie reads his brother’s soulful yet precise prose — at a carnival “trifling dreads stood upon sound systems bawling raw patois to nobody in particular”; a drunken couple “spilled onto the path like cornmeal over the side of a pan”— with a tough-guy tenor that periodically cracks to reveal the pure heart beneath Sayon ‘s impure actions his.
Little, Brown & Company, 9 hours, 49 minutes
By John Grisham. Read by Jeff Daniels, Ethan Hawke and January LaVoy.
Grisham says he wrote these three rare novella-length legal thrillers while “stuck at home with Covid,” and they feel suitably uncomplicated and diverting for listeners who might find themselves in similar straits. In “Homecoming,” Daniels harnesses his recent embodiment of Atticus Finch to revive Grisham’s longtime lawyer hero Jake Brigance, now engulfed in the extralegal plight of an old friend who’s gone missing. Hawke reads “Strawberry Moon,” about a death row inmate who has three hours left to live; and the celebrity audiobook narrator LaVoy reads the title story following two brothers — heirs to their imprisoned father’s law firm — and the one person who might be able to rescue them from mutual destruction. The expert voice acting makes these latest additions to a long oeuvre worthwhile.
Random House Audio, 9 hours, 57 minutes
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us
By Ed Yong. Read by the author.
“Umwelt”: Derived from the German word for “environment,” the zoological term doesn’t just mean an animal’s surroundings, the Pulitzer-winning science writer clarifies in his calmly authoritative Oxbridge accent, but “specifically the part of those surroundings that an animal can sense and experience — its perceptual world.” After devoting his 2016 book, “I Contain Multitudes,” to the trillions of microbes that make up the human body, Yong now turns his attention to the rest of the animal kingdom, rejecting our human tendency to anthropomorphize other animals, to frame their abilities and behaviors “in terms of our senses rather than theirs.”
Instead, Yong spends chapter after chapter deep-diving into the vast array of sensory perception across the animal kingdom, from dog olfaction to the “exceptional sensitivity of a barn owl’s hearing” to the hibernating ground squirrel’s high tolerance for freezing temperatures. Revealing the limits of human understanding, this humbling tour will leave you marveling at how much of the world that we cannot know.
Random House Audio, 14 hours, 18 minutes
By Lisa Taddeo. Read by a full cast.
In nine stories that swirl around unsavory female protagonists, the author of “Three Women” and “Animal” paints a portrait of contemporary white womanhood entrenched in celebrity culture, consumerism and narcissistic self-loathing. A “not hot” LA entrepreneur is famous for her successful business ghostwriting texts for potential lovers — while failing to hold down a relationship herself. Three women war for the attention of a politician at a fund-raiser at his LA mansion his. A middle-aged Irish immigrant falls delusionally in love with the figment of a man on an invitation-only dating app. ultimately unnecessary and yet — or therefore — guiltily entertaining, these amoral tales are thin enough to take on vacation; though some disturbing back stories pop in to give the listener something to hold onto.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 6 hours, 56 minutes
Choice: A Short Story
By Jodi Picoult. Read by Therese Plummer.
A divorced man named James wakes up on the most important morning of his career to find himself several months pregnant. He’s not alone; he finds a Dallas emergency clinic teeming with cisgender men at various stages of pregnancy, experiencing symptoms of nausea and abdominal distention. News anchors report the phenomenon has overtaken all 50 states, half of which have already abandoned abortion care after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. “But I don’t want a baby,” James tells the obstetrician. “You probably should’ve thought of that before you had sex,” she replies flatly. A speculative fable the length of a podcast, “Choice” is read by the professional narrator Plummer, whose voice toggles nimbly between the dull confusion in James’s head and the sharp knowing of the female characters around him, with an introductory note read by the author .
Audible Originals, 38 minutes
One Person, One Vote: A Surprising History of Gerrymandering in America
By Nick Seabrook. Read by Reynaldo Piniella.
Seabrook’s lucid account of the origins and evolution of gerrymandering — the deliberate and partisan doctoring of district borders for electoral advantage — makes a potentially dry, wonky subject accessible and engaging for a broad audience. In the Massachusetts gubernatorial election of 1812, the incumbent, Elbridge Gerry (pronounced, Seabrook says, with a hard G), tried to secure his re-election by drawing a “meandering, misshapen” state senate district around Essex County, where he knew his “Federalist foes” were planning a coup. Public lampooning ensued, and the term was born.
But though not yet named, the actual practice of gerrymandering dates further back to a “thin-skinned and intemperate” governor of colonial North Carolina in the 1730s, and long before that to the shady British tradition of “rotten boroughs” post-Magna Carta . The actor Piniella’s tone is appropriately spirited and at times even biting, like an amiable pundit who smells a rat.
Random House Audio, 12 hours, 25 minutes
Be My Baby: A Memoir
By Ronnie Spector with Vince Waldron. Read by Rosie Perez.
In this new recording of the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer’s 1990 memoir — which includes a 2021 postscript written by the author before she died in January, as well as a new introduction by Keith Richards — the actor and activist Rosie Perez draws us back into the 1960s heyday of the Ronettes, the all-female trio out of New York City’s Washington Heights who toured with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. The lead singer, Veronica Bennett, would become Ronnie Spector when she married the band’s producer, Phil Spector, who controlled and abused her for years. Channeled through Perez ‘s New York accent, Spector recounts her her resilient battle her to escape her husband ‘s grasp her, and emerge back into her own her. In the vein of the HBO documentary “Tina,” this audiobook is harrowing and inspiring.
Macmillan Audio, 10 hours, 43 minutes
Lauren Christensen is an editor at the Book Review.