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Laughs with Substance

There’s nothing I love more than a funny book with substance. Give me a rom-com that thoughtfully explores trauma. Give me a nonfiction deep dive that tackles complicated issues facing contemporary society with sparkling wit. Give me a family drama with a sense of humor. This month, I’m highlighting three audiobooks that are full of laughs—but not just laughs. They’ll have you smiling and cackling, but they’ll also hit you right in the heart.

WILD THINGSLaura Kay’s WILD THINGS is a charming blend of queer romantic comedy and twenty-something life drama. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in an often joyful and silly way, but it’s also a moving story about how hard it can be to get out of a rut and change your life. Abigail Hardiman gets the balance just right. Her narration is spirited and fun, her comedic timing perfect, and her ability to hone in on characters’ emotions during the most heartfelt scenes adds a lot of depth.

El has been stuck for a long time—she hates her job, she’s in love with her best friend Ray but too afraid to do anything about it, and her living situation is not ideal. On a whim, she makes a New Year’s resolution to do one “wild thing” every month. This year of wild things takes an unexpected turn when she, Ray, and their two best friends decide to purchase an old house in the country. Moving out of London to live in a sleepy English village in a self-described queer commune—well, let’s just say things definitely get wild, but not in a way El ever imagined. Hardiman captures all the ups and downs of the group’s foray into country living, giving the friends and their new neighbors distinct regional accents. She voices El with a blend of vivacious curiosity and rambling anxiety that makes the challenges she faces—big and small, real and imagined—feel so relatable.

SMALL JOYSBritish author and narrator Mendez is another master of regional accents, and their skills are on full display in Elvin James Mensah’s exuberant and tender debut novel SMALL JOYS. It follows Harley, a Black gay twenty-something who’s just dropped out of uni and moved back to his northern hometown. His estrangement from his father isn’t helping with his anxiety and depression, and he’s just about had it with everything. That’s when he meets his new flatmate Muddy—a white rugby player who’s cheerful, affectionate, and easygoing. The two of them fall into a friendship that ends up saving both of their lives. This is a beautiful book about mental health, the power of friendship, and all the ways that queer people love and support each other. It tackles some tough subjects, including suicidal ideation, familial homophobia, and mental health, but at heart it’s joyful and kind, and it will leave you smiling. Mendez’s narration is a joy, too—they fully immerse listeners in the squabbles, in-jokes, and teasing of a tight-knit group of friends. They deliver jokey banter and moments of intense vulnerability between characters with equal care.

WE SEE EACH OTHERIf you’re not in the mood for fiction, but you are in the mood for laughs with substance, WE SEE EACH OTHER by Tre’vell Anderson might be the perfect listen. Anderson is a trans journalist and media critic who knows how to put on a good performance: Listening to them read this fantastic book feels a lot like being at a live show. In it, they take listeners on a comprehensive journey through the history of trans representation in film and TV, exploring not only how representation has changed over the past century but how it shapes culture and impacts actual trans people’s lives. They analyze some of the most iconic trans characters in film history, examine the different ways trans men, trans women, and nonbinary trans people are portrayed on screen, and delve into the intersections of race and gender when it comes to representation. Their analysis is sharp and their insights fresh but they also bring plenty of humor. Their narration is inviting and vivid, full of jokes, sarcastic asides, and perfectly-timed sighs and laughs. Anderson is the kind of writer and narrator who teaches effortlessly. You’ll be nodding along, totally engrossed by their voice, before realizing they’ve just made you see something in a completely new way.

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