From the sexy to the searing, the metaphysical to the unabashedly depraved, horror to high camp, these recent audiobooks in a variety of genres are hard to turn off.
By Viola Davis. Read by the author.
There are many moments in this sobering memoir that are painful to hear, as when an 11-year-old Davis tries to physically stop her father from beating her mother, or when the family’s Rhode Island apartment is flooded, killing an entire litter of their dog’s puppies. “She tried to swim and swim, whimpering to save them,” Davis says of Cocoa, in the plain speech of an actor who is absolutely not acting. “Every time we tried to grab her, she growled, bit and jumped back into the flooded basement searching for her babies.”
The determination of maternal love runs throughout the life of a woman who channeled the shame and grit from her upbringing into an Oscar, two Tonys and an Emmy. Born on a South Carolina plantation where her mother’s parents were sharecroppers, Davis grew up in dire poverty (often on food stamps, and without electricity or heat or running water), bullied by her white schoolmates. Hearing Davis voice “MaMama,” Mae Alice Davis, in her South Carolina accent warms the soul in ways the written word cannot approximate: her habit of sprinkling “and stuff like that in tha” throughout her sentences, the way she calls mimosas “memeesas” “While sitting outside the adult “Vahla”’s house in Los Angeles, telling stories of a racist doctor who wanted to break Davis’s legs when she was 2. “I saw how he was looking at me,” Mae Alice says through her daughter’s narration. “I ain’t dumb. He saw that I was poor and Black. I took you from that hospital. That doctor kept sayin, ‘Mrs. Davis, you’re making a big mistake!’ But I told him he wasn’t gonna experiment on my baby.” This audiobook feels like your most intelligent and inspiring friend sharing her heart with you.
HarperAudio, 9 hours, 15 minutes
Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance
By John Waters. Read by the author.
The hero of the veteran filmmaker’s raunchy fiction debut is really more of an antihero. Marsha “Liarmouth” Sprinkle, mother to the trampoline star Poppy and daughter to the pet plastic surgeon Adora, lives for a good scam — but they’re starting to catch up with her. The author and multiple Grammy-nominated narrator whips through this upside-down, utterly debased, genuinely hilarious tale in his iconic, approachable cadence.
Macmillan Audio, 6 hours, 54 minutes
His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice
By Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa. Read by the authors and Dion Graham.
George Floyd always wanted to be a famous athlete, not a symbol for racial justice. In this biography, two Washington Post reporters recount the many faces of the man who became a movement — a father, son, brother, boyfriend; a high school football phenomenon and a drug addict and a descendant of enslaved laborers on the tobacco plantations of North Carolina — giving a fuller picture of a life known, to most of us, only upon its death.
“The foundations of his story began centuries before his birth,” Olorunnipa says in the introduction. In the authors’ telling — read mostly in the measured tones of the actor and pro audiobook narrator Dion Graham — the public perception of Floyd has been so focused on his murder by a white police officer that we’ve missed the myriad other conspiracies this country waged against him while he was still alive.
Penguin Audio, 13 hours, 32 minutes
By Alma Katsu. Read by Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Louis Ozawa.
Kato-Kiriyama’s ominous delivery reflects the historical setting of this supernatural horror novel set in a Japanese internment camp in Idaho in 1944. Seized from their Seattle home because of their Japanese heritage, Mieko and her daughter, Aiko, join forces with an American journalist to investigate a strange illness taking the lives of their fellow prisoners. The references to Japanese folklore (in the form of human apparitions and tiny, bone-chilling spiders and more) wrap this sharp social commentary in a feat of pure storytelling.
Penguin Audio, 10 hours, 13 minutes
The Ceiling Outside: The Science and Experience of the Disrupted Mind
By Noga Arikha. Read by Fenella Fudge.
This is social science, science science, autobiography and philosophical inquiry all told through the lens of a single neuropsychiatry unit at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris. As Arikha sits in on weekly clinical meetings there — allowed because of the supposedly impersonal nature of the doctors’ discussions of the mind and consciousness in the absence of their patients — her own mother, diagnosed with dementia, becomes one of the cases under discussion. Fudge’s British inflection, appropriately professorial and yet vulnerable, makes this moving account of the self and its unraveling both relevant and accessible for all of us.
Basic Books, 8 hours, 17 minutes
The Mountain and the Sea
By Kwame Dawes. Read by Paula-Anne Jones.
In this seductive and deeply felt production from 2020 — written specifically for the audio format by the Ghanaian poet and told in the Jamaican broadcaster’s melodic lilt — a widowed painter named Esther encounters a naked man on a mountain road with absolutely no memory of how he got there, or of who he is. Esther can’t help herself — she takes him in, calls him “Monty” and accepts his flirtations while helping him to recover his own past. Jones’s melodic lilt is hypnotic.
Audible Originals, 3 hours, 17 minutes
Lauren Christensen is an editor at the Book Review.