Audiobooks

The Best Audiobooks: the 2022 Audie Awards

recommended by Michele Cobb

The Audie Awards

The Audie Awards

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The movie industry has the Oscars to celebrate its achievements, but if you love audiobooks, you'll be more interested in the Audies. Here Michele Cobb, Executive Director of the Audio Publishers Association, talks us through the 2022 shortlist for 'audiobook of the year,' as well as one of her favourite books from the fiction category.

Interview by Sophie Roell, Editor

The Audie Awards

The Audie Awards

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How has the past year been for audiobooks and can you tell me how the books we’re talking about today were chosen?

In terms of what the year has been like, I would say officially that we don’t know yet because we’re just gathering the data for 2021 from the annual Audio Publishers Association survey. Unofficially, all the signs tell us that, yes, it was another good year for audiobooks. As for the five books I’ve put together today, we’re talking about four titles that were nominated for audiobook of the year and then one of my favorites from the year that happens to be nominated in fiction.

What’s the process for getting on the shortlist for audiobook of the year at the Audies? Are you trying to choose a mix of fiction and nonfiction, memoir etc.?

Publishers submit a title, saying, ‘This would be a good one for audiobook of the year.’ Then it’s evaluated in the same way that any title is evaluated, which means it goes through multiple layers of listening. In fact, if you win an Audie, at least nine people have listened to the book, which is fantastic. The difference with audiobook of the year is that we do collect information about marketing and sales and that is rolled into the evaluation: it’s not just a great audiobook, it’s a great audiobook that was recognized by consumers for being an excellent listen, and for getting a lot of attention.

Let’s turn to the first book on the shortlist, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, which is a work of science fiction. Tell me more about the book, and why it’s such a great listen.

With Andy Weir, you’re always going to get a great story, and then a little bit of science. The reason I like his books is because they’ve also got a great sense of humor. It starts with someone who is a survivor in a spacecraft who doesn’t remember anything—what a great setup! Then you’ve got lots of characters involved in the tale. So Ray Porter, who narrates the book, gets to play and have fun with a great text with a sense of humor, and then do a lot of different characters.

I don’t know if you’re a reader of sci-fi in general, but do you think people who aren’t necessarily into science fiction will enjoy Project Hail Mary?

I do. I’m more of a thriller person, but that’s one of the reasons I really love audiobooks. I’m much more willing to be experimental with audio. I tend to read thrillers and some literary fiction with my eyes, but not much nonfiction or science fiction. I listen to a lot of things that I don’t read with my eyes (which doesn’t mean I don’t listen to a lot of thrillers too). With audio, I’m more willing to give myself over to what the narrator’s doing, especially with science fiction where, oftentimes, there are made up words. With my eyes, I’ll just skip over those. I like listening to science fiction because the narrator does some of the work for me.

It’s quite a long book, isn’t it, 16 hours or so?

Yes, you’re not just going to sit down for five minutes and listen to it. It’s a commitment, although not as long as one of the others we’re going to be talking about today.

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Let’s go on to that one next: A Promised Land, which is Barack Obama’s presidential memoir. This audiobook is more than 29 hours long.

Yes, and it is book one—so he hasn’t made it through everything yet. Luckily, he’s a fantastic narrator. It is wonderful to hear his words about his life: as a young person with Michelle, all the things that he’s dealing with as president. But it is 29 hours, so you have to be aware that there’s going to be a lot of listening, and that there’s more to come in the future.

It is fairly easy listening, though, isn’t it? He has a nice style of writing and speaking.

Yes, absolutely. One of the fun things that I get to do as someone who interacts with a lot of the publishers, is one day I was on a meeting for the Audio Publishers Association, and the producer of this audiobook was there. We had a meeting that was allotted an hour. We had about 15 minutes of material, and then he spent the other 45 minutes talking about what it was like to record Obama out on Martha’s Vineyard. It was really fun to hear about that experience.

And did you say nine people will have listened to this, if it wins?

Yes, at least. It will have gone through three rounds of listening. What’s fun about this particular category is that we actually bring in some celebrity judges, people who are coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. This category is about ‘What would entice someone to listen to more?’ And you can see that there’s some great selections here for that.

Let’s go on to The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl. This is another memoir, again narrated by the author himself.

Dave Grohl is part of the band Foo Fighters. People really expected a lot of stuff about his life now, but he doesn’t really deal with that in the book. He’s really talking about his career and the whole space. It’s less intimate than some autobiographies are, but he does a great job. He is very jovial, is the word that I would use. He seems like a warm human being, as you listen to this book. Again, it’s not super short, it’s 10 hours.

I was talking to a literary scholar about some of the new celebrity memoirs earlier this year, and she says they often have elements of self-help, life tips about how to succeed etc. Maybe it’s self-help for people who don’t want to be seen buying a self-help book. Does this one fall into that category?

It’s less life tips and more actual memoir. I do think that is a phenomenon, where it becomes more a business or personal development book than autobiography, but that is not the case here.

The fourth and final book that’s on the audiobook of the year shortlist is The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris. It’s a historical novel that was longlisted for the Booker Prize, but I haven’t read it. Tell me a bit about it.

It was a big hit, because it was also an Oprah’s Book Club pick. It’s about late Civil War-era Georgia, so you’re dealing with a lot of different themes here. There is a lot of heavy stuff in this book. William DeMeritt is just so fantastic as a narrator. This is a great example—much like with Hail Mary and Ray Porter—of how, when you have a strong text and a fantastic narrator, it elevates the work even more.

It’s about two brothers who have been emancipated and are coming to work on a farm with another family. It’s a lot about family relationships and there is a lot of interpersonal stuff within the historical fiction.

What’s your final choice?

My fifth choice I think works really well when we’re talking about the world of the pandemic. It’s called All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle and read by Ben Onwukwe. I love the setup of this. It’s about an older man, he’s a widower. He’s kind of making up his life when he talks to his daughter—so that she doesn’t think that he is lonely. Of course, it turns out he is. But he starts to get to know his neighbors and becomes involved in a community. It’s just a really warm story. It was kind of hopeful in the pandemic, when I wasn’t seeing very many people, to listen to this particular book.

And Ben Onwukwe’s narration is particularly well done?

It really is. I very much enjoyed the narrator; I had not listened to anything from him before. That made it really a fun experience. It’s always great when you discover someone who you didn’t know, doing a fantastic job. I see a lot more new voices coming into the space as well.

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All the Lonely People is on the best fiction shortlist at the 2022 Audies. Which other genres do you cover?

There are 25 categories: fiction, nonfiction, young adult, children’s…If you go to AudioFile Magazine, you’ll see all the categories and a review of shortlisted books that AudioFile has put together, as well as a sound clip. It’s a great place to get some ideas for listening. Because these aren’t brand new, it’s a great place to go and ask, ‘Ooh, what have I missed?. There’s some definite fun standouts in there.

I just like having a guarantee that an audiobook is going to be of a reasonable quality and, presumably, if it’s made an Audies shortlist, I can be fairly confident that it’s going to be well done.

That’s exactly right. Most categories have five finalists, so you’ve got a lot to choose from, but it’s also very targeted. If you go to https://www.audiopub.org/ you can actually watch the Audies online on Friday, March 4th, 2022 at 9pm Eastern time, 6pm Pacific time. I hope people will watch either live, or if you don’t want to stay up late, it’ll still be there after.

Part of the best books of 2022 series

Interview by Sophie Roell, Editor

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at editor@fivebooks.com

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb is Publisher of AudioFile Magazine, Executive Director of the Audio Publishers Association, and a partner at Forte Business Consulting, which provides Business Development services for the publishing industry.

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Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb

Michele Cobb is Publisher of AudioFile Magazine, Executive Director of the Audio Publishers Association, and a partner at Forte Business Consulting, which provides Business Development services for the publishing industry.