Big news yesterday! Hard to think of much else. Whether the outcome of the election was in your favor or not, I hope we can focus on the many things that unite us and make America beautiful.
Starting an audiobook habit has proven to be one of the best parts of 2020. I listen while doing the dishes, walking Tilly, and showering, and it has transformed those chores into episodes of delicious distraction. Sometimes I wonder if I am blotting out too much of my free time to think — to just sit alone with my own thoughts — by re-appropriating it for my audiobooks. Most of the time, though, ever the “Type A” busy bee, I am glad to be redirecting what once felt like tote zeit (German for “dead time”) into something that makes me feel good. I also read two times as many books!
I find that I am particularly drawn to audiobooks that optimize the medium — that is, that take advantage of the fact that they are being read ad alta voce (out loud). By this I mean that I am drawn to memoirs performed by their own authors, novels narrated by famous actors, or stories read in regional accents, as all of these renditions offer a little something more than I think I would get from reading the book on paper. Standouts from my listening list in 2020:
+Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, narrated by Tom Hanks. The characters are exceptional on their own (full, glowing review here) but hearing them read by Tom Hanks is a delicious treat. His voice is so familiar and reassuring and pleasant, and I love the way he will suddenly slow.down.his.pace. in admiration of a particularly meaningful passage. Exquisite storytelling.
+Beth Kelb’s Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, narrated by Beth Kelb. This is a poignant love story between a grandmother and a granddaughter full of wit, wisdom, and warmth. Kelb interweaves selections of her grandmother’s emails and voicemails with her own remembrances, family lore, and renderings of what she imagines her deceased grandmother might say to her from beyond the grave. Kelb has spectacular comedic timing (she is an Emmy-nominated writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live) and is a riveting storyteller. You will laugh out loud and you will probably cry, too.
+David Chang’s Eat a Peach, narrated by David Chang. I was caught off guard by this memoir, which was nothing like I expected it to be. The book grapples with mental health, leadership, success, the perils of the restaurant industry, family, and race, but in ways that felt refreshingly candid and honest given what could have been well-worn territory. I emerged deeply impressed by his bravery, ingenuity, and radical honesty. He puts it all out there. And hearing it read in his own voice was a revelation — sections that might have come off as gloating read with sincerity. And other bits come off surprisingly funny.
+Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, narrated by Rachel McAdams. If there is anything that will transport you out of 2020 and make you feel like all is right in the world, it is Anne of Green Gables read by Rachel McAdams. Oh my God, what a joy to listen to! I cherished this series as a girl and it was almost twice as delicious to revisit as an adult, both because of the nostalgia element and because it is a winning story about girlhood, imagination, independence, and — reading. The book tells us a lot about reading people in a way that I think empowers girls to be good readers (of texts and beyond). And as far as I’m concerned, Rachel McAdams could read the phone book and it would hold my interest. Her reading is delightful. She does such an exceptional job projecting Anne’s dreaminess and curiosity in the way she carries her voice. Oh! I loved this rendition!
+Lucy Foley’s The Guest List, narrated by Jot Davies, Chloe Massey, et al. I would say this book is a peg below the other books listed here simply because it wasn’t as rich of a text, but I still thoroughly enjoyed listening to a thriller on tape. There was something vaguely dramatic about it — walking around, on the edge of my seat, while walking Tilly on a chilly fall night! Foley manages to handle jumps backward and forward in time and between narrators with deftness and clarity, and uses it to her suspense-building advantage. This is an enormous feat given that I was listening to the book and it is much easier to lose track of narrative threads when you are unable to flip back a few pages to revisit something that happened earlier. I think it was wise to have so many narrators (five different ones, I believe, many with different accents!), as this enabled me to keep the characters and plotlines straight with relative ease. And it was just a treasure to listen to the accents, full-stop!
+Ruth Reichl’s Save Me the Plums, narrated by Ruth Reichl. The book felt a bit slow-to-start, but the food writing is exceptional and it is a treat to hear those sections read in Reichl’s own voice, which is redolent with knowing resignation that can only come with age, experience, and a fair amount of world-weariness. I loved to hear her occasional bright excitement jump out against the pining, mildly plaintive note more commonly found in her reading of her own memoir. You can tell when she is really excited about something, and that earnestness is damn endearing. Did I mention that the food writing is out of this world, too?
+Andre Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches, narrated by Andre Leon Talley. Talley’s tell-all about Vogue, Anna Wintour, and countless celebrities of the fashion world is as juicy as it is heartfelt. Alongside the drama and intrigue, Talley shares his lifelong struggles with body image, sexuality, and childhood trauma as well as the racism he faced (and continues to face) in a predominantly white cultural space. Talley is sharp, aware, and nearly always quick to offer others the benefit of the doubt in a way that I have carried with me since first listening. I would do well to remember the empathy with which he leads his life. And hearing the memoir read in his distinctive, empassioned, loud (!) voice was just the icing on the cake. He is a national treasure.
+Anne Glenconner’s Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown, narrated by Anne Glenconner. A true reminder of the fact that no one is sequestered from the threats and tragedies of life. Glenconner, in spite of her considerable privilege, has not had an easy life. She speaks openly about negotiating her way around a domineering husband prone to cruel outbursts of temper and coping with the devastating misfortunes that meet several of her children, alongside some of the extravagances and incredible experiences her life as Princess Margaret’s lady in waiting. All rivetingly told in a way that reminded me to maintain a sense of perspective no matter what 2020 throws our way.
+Jessica Simpson’s Open Book, narrated by Jessica Simpson. I’ve talked a lot (too much) about this book already, but Jessica’s easy companionship and winning, breathy storytelling got me through the worst of COVID-19. If you watched “Newlyweds” as religiously as I did in my college years, you’ll absolutely devour this tell-all about her rocky relationships with Nick Lachey, John Mayer, and her parents; her sexual abuse as a teen; and her struggle with alcoholism. A Magpie wrote something along these lines about her: “I did not know I needed to hear from Jessica Simpson, but I did.” I agree with that assessment: hers is a surprisingly touching and inspiring story.
Notes on Starting an Audiobook Habit.
+I have an Audible subscription that permits me one credit (one title) per month, which is just about the right cadence for me. Sometimes I finish early and splurge on an extra book (they are pricey!), but most of the time, an audiobook/month is a good cycle.
+I nearly always listen on my Airpods but have been eyeing one of these waterproof speakers to keep in my shower, as I currently turn my iPhone up to top volume when listening in the shower and therefore cannot always hear the narrator. I would prefer one of these speakers by Bose (such a good sound system company, and this particular model is available at a pre-black-Friday special price), but it lists itself as “water-resistant” rather than “waterproof” and I’m dubious as to whether permanently keeping it in the shower is the best idea. However, the shower-friendly JBL model gets very good reviews — I gave one to friends for Christmas last year and they raved about it!
+As a side note, I’m fascinated by the way AirPods, Kindles, and other digital reading devices have impacted readership and also the perception of readership. I know there are a lot of Magpies out there who prefer the sensory experience of reading a hard copy (and I agree that you for lose something in the digital experience — specifically, going digital tampers with the heuristics of reading), but I am at heart a pragmatist and I find myself reading much more on a Kindle / via AirPods. I do worry about the impact this will have on my children in the sense that one reason I learned to love reading at such a young age was — I am confident — because my parents modeled that practice themselves. To this day, they are never without a book in arm’s reach, whether killing time in a doctor’s office or relaxing at home. My children will instead see me sucked into yet another screen, and the omnipresence and proliferation of screens in my own life is mildly disturbing. Yet. I find myself unwilling to cede the expeditiousness of a device (and my commensurate enjoyment as a reader) in order to make a point? Is that wrong of me? I can’t tell. Do I trust that my children will still be book-lovers by dint of the prolific amount of reading we do with them? I make a big to do about how the Kindle is a kind of book, and that I’m reading, but I’m not sure if it’s clicked and it feels forced anyhow. Sigh. It’s also interesting that the Kindle and AirPods secret, or hide, the reading material on hand. You never know if someone is reading Proust or a non-fiction expose on climate change or Fifty Shades of Gray. (And on that latter point, I had several friends who reported that they could “only” have read Fifty Shades of Gray on a Kindle — they were too embarrassed to be seen reading it in public! I don’t know what to say about that?) And AirPods — is it the latest Ariana Grande or the David Chang memoir? There is something about the design of these devices that erases or hides readership in an interesting way.
+I think I’ve cottoned to audiobooks so quickly (and permanently) because I grafted the habit onto daily chores. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about listening while cleaning the dishes before, but once I did, it was a revelation. I wonder if there are similar pockets of tote zeit in your life that could be repurposed for listening in small doses. For a time, I listened on the Subway, but I feel like it’s best to keep my wits about me and my ears open down there. But in general, commutes, housekeeping, laundry-folding, bed-making, etc are great opportunities to tune into a book.
+Next audiobooks on my list: Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You, authored and narrated by Capricia Penavic Marshall, President Obama’s former Chief of Protocol, on the fervent recommendation of a Magpie reader. This book jacket copy had me hooked: “From arranging a room to have an intended impact on the participants to knowing which cultural gestures earned trust, her behind-the scenes preparations laid the groundwork for successful diplomacy between heads of state around the world and tilted the playing field in her team’s favor.” Fascinating! I’m also intending to listen to Mariah Carey’s memoir on tape, which made my fall 2020 reading list.
Now onto my most urgent query: what audiobooks do you love?!
P.S. A propos of nothing else, a few items I am seriously eyeing right now: Wolford Matte 80 Denier Opaque tights and turtleneck bodysuit (on the evangelical recommendation of style guru Nellie Diamond), a second pair of these Nikes, and a pair of Jennifer Behr huggie earrings. I’ve never worn that style of earring before but I love that particular pair for everyday.
P.P.S. Adding two last-minute splurges to my Sephora cart while the promotion is still valid: this Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint, which people seem to be going wild over (will use this in lieu of tinted moisturizer on the days I’m not using my Westman Atelier Foundation Stick) and Charlotte Tilbury’s Airbrush Flawless Filter Finish Setting Powder, on the recommendation of Courtney Grow, who has the most fantastic skin and pledged was a match made in heaven with Westman Atelier Foundation Stick. (Intrigued, especially as she specifically commented that she’d never worn powder before.)