It turns out that “May you live in interesting times” was probably not an ancient Chinese curse, but I mutter it to myself anyway, because, hey, are these interesting times or what? In between muttering, I have turned to AudioFile’s selection of the best histories and biographies of the year. They offer perspective, inspiration, and occasional comfort. I figure that folks have already lived what’s described in the books, so today has got to be manageable.
Take BARRACOON, Zora Neale Hurston’s astonishing rendition of the life and words of Cudjo Lewis, the last surviving person to have been taken from Africa, brought to the United States as a slave, and then freed. Robin Miles’s Earphones Award performance is no less astonishing, for Lewis’s dialect can be challenging. Yet, because of Miles’s reading, its unique beauty flows straight into the heart. May such times never return. May this book about an indomitable survivor touch us all.
ELIZA HAMILTON surprised me. Who knew that the wife and widow of the man on the ten-dollar bill was so indomitable? The mother of eight lived for 50 years after her husband’s fatal duel and accomplished much with wit and smarts, and a lot more self-control than her errant husband. Hooray for Revolutionary War women! And for this Earphones Award-winning performance by January LaVoy, whose sensitivity helps turn this biography into the audio version of a page-turner. Discover more to love about this moving audiobook in January LaVoy’s interview on our podcast.
I found Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood at the advanced age of twelve. So, the first time I saw the sweater- and shoe-changing routine, I thought it was dorky. But my younger brother loved him, and watching with Hilary, I was soon hooked. LeVar Burton’s Earphones Award performance of the new Rogers biography, THE GOOD NEIGHBOR, blends the warm embrace of the show with Rogers’s moral but not moralistic wisdom. Much needed lessons and kindness abound in the neighborhood. LeVar shared with listeners more about recording this audiobook, and his history as an actor, in our podcast interview with him earlier this fall.
Now a bad memory — Bobby Kennedy sprawled and dying in Los Angeles, his last words, “Everything’s going to be okay.” Well it wasn’t. But fifty years after that awful day, we’ve been given the gift of revisiting his soaring, hard-hitting oratory. RFK: His Words for Our Times is a marvelous collection of Kennedy’s speeches with commentary by public figures and historians. James Lurie reads the insightful narrative and Jim Meskimen channels his inner Kennedy to deliver the speeches. Together, their narration received an Earphones Award. All of it stirs the blood and somehow comforts the heart.
Jon Meacham’s THE SOUL OF AMERICA reminds us that we have been through many dark times in America, such as Kennedy’s untimely death, and many interesting times, such as today. Take hope in the knowledge that we have survived. Meacham himself reads the lucid introduction to his compelling examination of our national moral crises and triumphs and then seamlessly hands off to Fred Saunders for a terrific narration. This is an audiobook to consider deeply. And then model on RFK. Open your heart, be kind, and be brave. Be the change-maker.