It’s December, and that means it’s finally "Best Of" season in the book world! Everyone’s best lists are a little different, which means I always find plenty of new titles to add to my ever-growing TBR pile. Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to AudioFile’s Best Nonfiction Audiobooks of 2022. There’s a bit of a theme to this year’s picks, as many of them are about nature, music, and art. But as you’ll realize as soon as you start listening, these subjects are only jumping-off points. These authors—and the brilliant narrators who make their work come alive on audio—explore the cosmic, the mundane, and everything in between.
In BAD CITY, Pulitzer Prize-winning L.A. Times journalist Paul Pringle shares the inside story of an investigation that shook L.A. to its core, revealing the depth of corruption and betrayal lurking in one of the city’s most prestigious institutions, the University of Southern California. Robert Petkoff imbues his narration with plenty of drama, capturing all of the author’s passion. His deep, even voice gives the story a deserved gravitas, while his excellent pacing and knack for voicing suspenseful moments make it feel like you’re listening to a noir thriller.
Gabra Zackman’s lilting, musical narration mirrors the rhythms of the seasons and the beauty of the natural world that Annie Proulx describes so eloquently in FEN, BOG & SWAMP. In this gorgeous blend of memoir and nature writing, Proulx examines the complex history and ecology of wetlands and the role they can play in fighting climate change. Zackman’s narration is full of wonder and love for these incredible ecosystems, sadness for the damage humans have done to them, and hope for their reclamation. It is impossible to listen to this book and not be moved.
Historian and naturalist Adam Nicolson is equally enamored with nature and equally good at sharing his passion with the world, which he does in LIFE BETWEEN THE TIDES, a delightfully fun deep dive into the lives of the creatures who inhabit the intertidal zone. Leighton Pugh’s crisp narration is both informative and playful. His clear diction makes it easy to follow all of the (often astounding) facts, but he also captures Nicolson’s obvious curiosity and wonderment. From crabs to prawns to winkles, no creature is too small for Nicolson’s keen eye, and his attentive observations are a marvel to listen to.
How much time do you spend thinking about your own voice? Actor and director Lake Bell has spent most of her life pondering her own voice, and human voices in general. In INSIDE VOICE, she delves into the mechanics, science, psychology, and cultural understandings of voice. This audio-only production is top-notch. While Bell narrates the bulk of it, it’s full of clips of actors and artists, interviews with researchers, bits of music, recordings of ordinary people on the street, and more. The result is a fascinating, chaotic symphony of sound. You’ll never think about voice—your own or anyone else’s—the same way again! Hear more about Bell's audiobook in her Behind the Mic podcast interview.
There’s no one better qualified to write—and read—a book about modern pop music than Bob Dylan. In the detailed, emotional, and poetic essays that make up THE PHILOSOPHY OF MODERN SONG, Dylan explores, analyzes, and reminisces about iconic songs by artists ranging from Nina Simone to Elvis Costello. His narration is informal and inviting; his familiar, raspy voice immediately captivating. He’s joined by an all-star cast of other actors and musicians, including Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Oscar Isaac, Helen Mirren, Rita Moreno, Sissy Spacek, Alfre Woodard, Jeffrey Wright, and Renée Zellweger. Together, these narrators create a kind of symphony, bringing the music at the heart of the book to vivid life. This is a must-listen for music fans, but Dylan’s reflections on art, history, love, and being human will appeal to all.
Kevin R. Free brings his usual pizzazz to his upbeat narration of RHYME'S ROOMS, a fascinating book about the mechanics of poetry. In eloquent, accessible prose, and using lots of creative examples, poet and critic Brad Leithauser explains how poetry works for a general audience, delving into rhyme, meter, stanzas, line breaks, and more. Free speaks with an easy rhythm that carries listeners along, and he delivers the many poems and fragments of poems that appear throughout the text with grace. This audiobook is a celebration of an age-old art form, and a treat for the ears.
Robert Petkoff photo courtesy of the narrator. Kevin R. Free photo by Douglas Gorenstein Photography.