As we count down the remaining days of December, I wish all of you a new year filled with unexpected moments of delight—the smile of a passing stranger; a tune that sends you shuffle-dancing down the supermarket aisle; learning that your favorite barista loves the same François Truffaut films you do; discovering the most amazing book at the library.
Take Susan Orlean’s THE LIBRARY BOOK, which I loved so much that I listened to it and then checked it out of the library and read it all over again. Ever since I was empowered by my own borrower’s card at age seven, libraries have been a source of intrigue, joy, solace, drama, and education. Orlean’s captivating nonfiction audiobook offers all that and more. Read by Orlean herself in an Earphones Award-winning performance, it is an investigation into who set the devastating 1986 Los Angeles Library fire, a look at the library’s occasionally wacky history, and a celebration of libraries (and library patrons) all their excess and weirdness. It’s not that I recognized myself in any of those oddball patrons. Oh no.
AJ Pearce’s novel DEAR MRS. BIRD, beautifully read by Anna Popplewell, is another book that I both read and listened to this year. Set in WWII London, it concerns endearingly enthusiastic Emmy, who while hoping to become a war correspondent, takes a job helping a magazine advice columnist. Emmy does more than asked, with almost disastrous consequences. More than that, I will not say, except that you will wish that this was the first of a series.
Alexander McCall Smith, author of the NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY and the Isabel Dalhousie books knows all about writing series, but CHANCE DEVELOPMENTS is a brief stand-alone collection of the shortest of short stories. Quirky, honest, heartwarming sketches about love lost and found, and about people finding themselves. Each is read by a different narrator, all stellar. The audiobook came out in 2016, but I only found it this year. I’m grateful I did.
Gratitude brings me to CLOCK DANCE. I’m always grateful for a new Anne Tyler novel. I feel better and wiser with her words inside my head. Add Kimberly Farr’s Earphones Award performance, and it’s clear why this was named one of AudioFile’s 2018 Best Audiobooks. It gives us Willa Drake, who maintains a marvelous interior monologue through a life that is fine, although perhaps not quite what she imagined. (Is life ever what we imagined it would be?) Unexpectedly, Willa’s life changes completely, a new love enters, and it’s not what you think. Our hearts lift with hers.
Anne Youngson’s debut novel, MEET ME AT THE MUSEUM, is short enough that if you concentrate, you might finish it in one long listen. But slow down to savor Lars Knudsen and Helen Lloyd’s lovely joint narration of one of the year’s most unexpected, smile-inducing novels. English farm wife Tina is captivated by what she’s read about Tollund Man, that Iron Age Dane found in a peat bog in 1950. (I share her fascination, although you don’t have to share it in order to love this story.) Tina begins a correspondence with the widowed curator of the Danish museum where Tolland Man is displayed. Their long-distance relationship is so full of care, humor, principle, pain, and love that it both breaks and mends the heart.
May your new year begin with a smile.