Listening in a Winter Wonderland

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Credit: Jeff Golden

I used to see those literary memes (y’know the ones that are like #lifegoals is having my own library) and didn’t think they applied to me. Having dyspraxia means I can’t sit still long enough to read one good book let alone a library (which does sometimes make studying English a bit difficult).

But when Audible had a 40% members only sale over Christmas and I mentally reshuffled my wish list to get the best book for my buck, I realised I am one of those people – just with listening instead of reading. So here are my favourite listens from the festive season and why audio books can have the edge over reading.

In at number one is Jodi Picoult’s latest novel Small Great Things. Middle class black-American nurse Ruth Jefferson is a woman who was worked her entire life to blend in to a white-washed world but when the baby of a white supremacist couple dies under her watch, her professional reputation is on the line when she is taken to court and accused of murder.

The novel is told from three perspectives, nurse Ruth, racist father Turk Bowers and liberal public defender Kennedy McQuarrie. Ruth’s voice is read by Noma Dumezweni  whose warm, wisdomous, and occasionally no-nonsense Swazi English accent is refreshing and makes it impossible not to root for Ruth. It also convinced me that Dumezweni would do Hermione Granger justice in the west-end show Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. Turk’s (Jeff Harding) hate speech can be uncomfortable reading/listening almost to the point of switching off but I would beg of you to bear with and press on for the outcome. Kennedy (Jennifer Woodward) is portrayed as the typical internet white knight who would never dream of being overtly racist.

It was eye-opening for me who went into the novel believing it was set in 1960s America and not in the 2010s, to see that different forms of racism both active and passive are still rife today. Picoult’s novels are always impeccably researched and this novel has been waiting in the wings for 20 years so that she could do it justice.

She admits that some well-intended misguidance in the novel is from her own experience as a white woman and she conducted personal interviews with woman of colour to find out the difficulties they encountered every day. Small Great Things is arguably Picoult’s most socially challenging novel yet.

A lighter listen was Gilmore Girls’ star Lauren Graham’s autobiography Talking As Fast as I can. Now here I will argue there are some things from you get from an audio book that you just can’t from the printed/e-book versions. The audio book offers Graham’s shuttle speed narration, vocal quirks and tangents that make the book seem like a 4.5 hour long Lorelai Gilmore monologue.

Not only does the book reveal her rise to fame and the joy of playing of a beloved TV mother who set parenting goals to another-worldly level, but she also kept a diary of set goings on during the making of the 2016 revival Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

In Chapter 12 Graham makes a touching reference to the late Carrie Fisher and how her semi-biographical novel Postcards from the Edge was an inspiration to Graham who wrote her own semi-biographical novel about a struggling actress about to kick the dream called Someday, Someday, Maybe.

For Carrie Fisher fans, my last listen Wishful Drinking needs no introduction. But for those of you, like me, who were not really a follower of Star Wars and unaware of her battles with drug addiction and advocacy of mental health, this is the ideal book to begin your journey into the innerworkings of a captivating woman who was more than just Princess Leia. Although at times listening was bittersweet, the beauty of having an audio book read by the author after they have passed, is like having a loved one’s voice preserved so that they can live on to inspire future generations.

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