As we near the end of 2020, many of us are finding it hard to communicate with others, especially when we’re separated from our friends and family. Although it’s not the same as signing up for a new class or joining a club, it’s still possible to safely make new friends when you do it the audiobook way.
The following memoirs introduce you to a variety of people, some who are activists and some who just want to share their story. Who knows, you might even be inspired to take an active stand for an issue close to your heart, or maybe you’ll feel compelled to sign up for horseback riding or rowing lessons . . . once we get past COVID.
In SUCH A PRETTY GIRL, Nadina LaSpina recounts her journey from a pitied child in her native Sicily to a disability activist in America, where her family moved when she was a teenager. After contracting polio as infant, LaSpina was unable to walk, a condition her Italian community assumed would consign her to a loveless, hopeless future. Emigration brought LaSpina a mixed bag, starting with painful surgeries and the pressure to “overcome” her physical “weaknesses.” But life in the U.S. also gave her the courage to accept who she was, embrace the freedom of wheelchairs, and lobby for equal rights for all disabled citizens. Narrator Jill Araya skillfully conveys the immense range of LaSpina’s feelings: frustration and empowerment, loneliness and romance, hopelessness and fulfillment.
Are you as HORSE CRAZY as author-narrator Sarah Maslin Nir? This memoir, written by a New York Times reporter, is more than the story of one woman’s lifelong love of horses. Listeners are also treated to a short evolutionary history of the species; a visit to Assateague Island, where wild ponies are protected; tales of Black cowboys in the American West; horse whisperers; and more. Nir infuses her Earphones Award–winning performance with her evident passion for all things horses, underscoring the special bond that riders have with their mounts. Animal lovers of all sorts will appreciate this heartfelt audiobook.
Arshay Cooper, author of A MOST BEAUTIFUL THING, grew up on Chicago’s West side, becoming familiar with street violence by the time he was a young teen. When, in the late 1990s, a local philanthropist decided to form the first all-Black high school rowing team, Cooper attended the initial meeting for the free pizza. He stayed on, eventually becoming the team captain. This is less a story about rowing competitions and more a coming-of-age tale, showing how team sports and training helped at least some of the kids find something beyond gangs and drugs. Narrator Adam Lazarre-White captures both the pain and humor of Cooper’s memoir, underscoring the rowers’ growth and transformation as well as the constant struggle with their community’s poverty, addiction levels, limited opportunities, and racial oppression. This ultimately uplifting story is especially relevant today.
A LAB OF ONE’S OWN, written by leading microbiologist Rita Colwell (with Sharon Bertsch McGrayne), is a frank look at what’s like to be a woman scientist. Colwell talks about the #MeToo moments, the blatant sexism, the glass ceilings, and the outright sabotage faced by women students and professionals who are told that scholarships and research funds are wasted on women who (pick your bias) will quit their studies once they get pregnant, aren’t emotionally stable or objective, or are simply not dedicated or smart enough to succeed. Narrator Jackie Sanders’s steady, expressive, delivery is great match for this story of Colwell’s rise from student to groundbreaking researcher to the first woman to head the National Science Foundation.
Author-narrator Maria Hinojosa’s ONCE I WAS YOU is part memoir and part treatise on the state of immigration in America. Written by an award-winning journalist and former NPR anchor, this audiobook compares and contrasts Hinojosa’s own immigration experience, green cards in hand, from Mexico in the 1960s, when her father was hired by the University of Chicago, to those of today’s families, who risk everything to arrive with nothing, only to have their children taken away from them. America, it seems, has turned its back on asylum seekers. Hinojosa also points out that all immigrants, rich or poor, must contend with the same strikes against them: fear, distrust, and racism. This audiobook is a timely wake-up call; the deep fissure of the immigration crisis affects us all and must be repaired.