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Suggested audiobooks for Thanksgiving travel
Podcasts are perfect for daily commutes, but if you’re facing a drive so long that a test cricket match could begin and end before you reach your destination, audiobooks are better.
Not all audiobooks! I’ve had the chance to explore just about every literary genre while covering nine Southeastern states for The Food Section and wouldn’t recommend tuning in to experimental fiction or theoretical science. If a printed book opens with pages of maps and family trees, it’s probably best to stick with the format that the author intended.
But I’ve found there are two types of audiobooks that are reliably good listens on the road, even when narrated by uninspired performers: Memoirs of artistic iconoclasts, and social justice reporting by experienced journalists. In both cases, the writers are invested in hammering home a point—either about their own greatness, or the world’s tragic flaws—so simple language and repetition are common devices. That’s ideal for someone at the wheel.
Depressingly, when I scanned my list of favorite titles, I found that all the memoirists were men, and all but one of the compassionate reporters were women. But the good news is I’m sure to log tens of thousands more miles in the year ahead, so feel free to send along your suggestions for less gender normative audiobooks.
In the meantime, here are my picks for recorded books that could help to shorten your Thanksgiving trips. (I checked each one out of my local library for free; many library systems offer similar services, but Libro.fm is also an option if you want your audiobook dollars to end up with an independent bookseller.)
Spoiler! There are no food-themed audiobooks on this list. For food coverage, become a paid subscriber to The Food Section today!
Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us, by Rachel Aviv. Most certainly not a book for breaking up rounds of family singalongs and Auto Bingo, Aviv’s crystalline study of the wavy line between sanity and insanity—and how official diagnoses affect those on both sides of it—is a triumph of contemporary nonfiction storytelling.
We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America, by Roxanna Asgarian. Ugh, let’s just get the tough ones out of the way first. In fact, I bet there are readers who left us as soon as they reached that subtitle. Trust that I wouldn’t endorse a book about the murder-suicide of two white women and their six adopted Black children if it wasn’t as respectful and thought-provoking as this book by Asgarian, who has a phenomenal knack for characterization.
The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir by Andre Leon Talley. Moving on to something lighter, the late Andre Leon Talley’s account of his fashion career is still a hot item at my library, three years after its publication. Of course: It’s dishy, name-droppy, and deeply felt.
Cheap Land Colorado: Off-Gridders at America’s Edge, by Ted Conover. Nothing really happens in this chronicle of life on the West’s literal fringes, where the luckless and damned can buy land for almost nothing. But Conover’s scene-setting is so compelling that I kept listening after I got home one night, and my husband, overhearing the book from the next room, asked whether he could listen too.
I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir, by Harvey Fierstein. I know I said up top that it doesn’t matter who narrates these books, but only Fierstein can do Fierstein. His memoir’s gossipy, fiercely funny, and surprisingly insightful.
Life’s Work: A Memoir of Storytelling and Self-Destruction, by David Milch. This isn’t the first time I’ve recommended Milch’s memoir, completed after the television writer’s Alzheimer’s had already taken hold of his razor-sharp mind (For that reason, actor Michael Harney fills in as narrator.) I was only a few chapters into this extraordinary book when I started talking up its wit and self-awareness. It just got better from there.