I spend a lot of time listening to audiobooks, and this was another great year. Here are some of my favorites from 2016.
Note: To be clear, these are audiobooks I purchased and completely listened to in 2016, so they were not all necessarily released this year. (Though some were.)
Best of 2016: The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act
Written by: Alex Prud’homme
Narrated by: Alex Prud’homme
Description: Julia Child is synonymous with French cooking, but her legacy runs much deeper. Now, her great-nephew and My Life in France coauthor vividly recounts the myriad ways in which she profoundly shaped how we eat today. He shows us Child in the aftermath of the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, suddenly finding herself America’s first lady of French food and under considerable pressure to embrace her new mantle. We see her dealing with difficult colleagues and the challenges of fame, ultimately using her newfound celebrity to create what would become a totally new type of food television. Every bit as entertaining, inspiring, and delectable as My Life in France, The French Chef in America uncovers Julia Child beyond her French chef persona and reveals her second act to have been as groundbreaking and adventurous as her first.
My take: My infatuation with Julia Child may be confusing to some, but she is a role model and hero, and were she coming of age today, her scientific methods for cracking the code on French cooking would have made her a celebrated technologist. Her story holds real clues to anyone who wishes to master a topic and find a true calling in life. I’m fascinated by Julia Child and cannot recommend this book, and its predecessor, enough. And the reading, by author Alex Prud’homme, is excellent.
Best industry book: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation
Written by: Blake J. Harris
Narrated by: Fred Berman
Description: A mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the video-game industry. Based on more than 200 interviews with former Sega and Nintendo employees, Console Wars is the tale of how Tom Kalinske miraculously turned an industry punch line into a market leader. Blake J. Harris brings into focus the warriors, the strategies, and the battles and explores how they transformed popular culture forever. Ultimately, Console Wars is the story of how a humble family man, with an extraordinary imagination and a gift for turning problems into competitive advantages, inspired a team of underdogs to slay a giant and, as a result, give birth to a $60 billion industry.
My take: This is the best tech industry book I’ve read in a long time, and anyone interested in personal technology in general or video games specifically should drop whatever they’re doing to dive right in. Be sure to get the audiobook version, though, as the reading by Fred Berman is among the best I’ve ever experienced, so much so that I’m now seeking out other titles he’s involved with. Regardless, there are incredible parallels between the story of Sega, Nintendo and Sony, and future battles in the video game and technology industries.
Best sci-fi/fantasy: Two-way tie between Fear the Sky and Ready Player One
Written by: Stephen Moss
Narrated by: R.C. Bray
Description: In eleven years’ time, a million members of an alien race will arrive at Earth. Years before they enter orbit, their approach will be announced by the flare of a thousand flames in the sky, their ships’ huge engines burning hard to slow them from the vast speeds needed to cross interstellar space. These foreboding lights will shine in our night sky like new stars, getting ever brighter until they outshine even the sun, casting ominous shadows and banishing the night until they suddenly blink out. Their technology is vastly superior to ours, and they know they cannot possibly lose the coming conflict. But they, like us, have found no answer to the destructive force of the atom, and they have no intention of facing the onslaught of our primitive nuclear arsenal or the devastation it would wreak on the planet they crave. So they have flung out an advance party in front of them, hidden within one of the countless asteroids randomly roaming the void. They do not want us, they want our planet. Their Agents are arriving.
My take: This one had been on my short list for a while because it’s read by R.C. Bray, one of my favorite audiobook narrators. And it doesn’t disappoint, though I’m not sure if I have the stamina to get through the whole series of books. That said, I’ve started the second one, called Fear the Survivors.
Written by: Ernest Cline
Narrated by: Wil Wheaton
Description: At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia,Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut – part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.
My take: Superb combination of a great story and the right narrator, Ready Player One belongs in your library as it’s also full of delightful 80’s personal tech and video game references. Like many, I’m eager for a sequel.
Best Stephen King: End of Watch
Written by: Stephen King
Narrated by: Will Patton
Description: The spectacular finale to the New York Times best-selling trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes (winner of the Edgar Award) and Finders Keepers. In End of Watch, the diabolical “Mercedes Killer” drives his enemies to suicide, and if Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney don’t figure out a way to stop him, they’ll be victims themselves.
My take: This is a very satisfying conclusion to the Bill Hodges trilogy, and a more direct sequel to Mr. Mercedes than the previous books. This one is special on a number of levels: Here, I think, King has created his most beloved characters since perhaps The Stand, and as with that book, I never wanted the story to end. Better still, Will Patton is another of my absolute favorite audiobook narrators. It’s a win-win. Be sure to listen to the entire series.
Best short story collection: Skeleton Crew
Written by: Stephen King
Narrated by: Stephen King, Matthew Broderick, Michael C. Hall, Paul Giamatti, Will Patton, Norbert Leo Butz, Lois Smith, Dylan Baker
Description: The master at his scarifying best! From heart-pounding terror to the eeriest of whimsy – tales from the outer limits of one of the greatest imaginations of our time!
My take: Stephen King’s amazing Skeleton Crew is really brought to life by a diverse group of usually-excellent narrators, including favorites Michael C. Hall, Paul Giamatti, and Will Patton. As with any collection of short stories, there are hits and misses, but this one is mostly hits. And there are some truly classic King stories in here: The Raft, The Mist, Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut, and many more.