We’re caravanners and campers, so we spend a lot of time driving, or just relaxing around camp? Have you ever considered listening to audio books on your next road trip or camping trip?
I’ve always been a bookworm. I can still remember reading my first novel as a nine-year-old, tucked away in my bedroom for two whole days completely lost in the story of three young kids and their dragon acquaintances (however I can’t for the life of me remember the title, or the author, a trait that has followed me through life, tragically). I’ve got bookshelves at home overflowing with novels and books of nearly every genre – Australian history, science fantasy, action, thriller, historical fiction – pretty much if someone tells me they’ve read a book and liked it, I’ll give it a go. Just like my nine-year-old self, I can still ignore the whole world for the time it takes me to read a book, much to the chargrin of my wife.
Then Kindle came a long and I was immediately skeptical – how could an electrical tablet be anywhere near as good as a real book. That’s surely like trying to cook a campfire roast in a microwave! But, after getting one as a present, I was quickly proved wrong, and my much battered Kindle now travels everywhere with me, just in case I’ve got a spare minute or so to read. You’d never catch me listening to an audiobook, though! My only experience with those were the corny children’s stories on cassette (my 4WD still only has a cassette player) with a bell to let you know when to turn the page.
But again I was wrong, and while planning a solo trip across the Nullarbor earlier this year and anticipating long stretches of sheer tedium (aka Nullarboredom), I looked into audiobooks and found that Audible (an Amazon product) offered a 30-day free trial and two free books, which would surely be enough to see me across the treeless plain – and if I didn’t like it (or even if I did), I could cancel at no cost to me. Nothing to lose.
As it turns out, I can get just as lost in an audiobook as I can in a regular one. Not like the cassettes of old, these are often read by the author themselves, or in many cases, by a professional actor who’s able to add intensity or emotion or suspense. It’s actually quite enthralling and I even prefer it to music, much of the time. All that said, here’s a list of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to in 2017. It’s an eclectic mix, but I’d love to know what you’re reading and I’ll give some of them a try over 2018.
A Jerk on One End: Reflections of A Mediocre Fisherman
Read by Peter Renaday
2hours, 38 minutes
Robert Hughes is a well known art critic and historian. His most notable works include Fatal Shore (which is an intense, but an excellent insight into Australia’s convict past) and his television series, The Shock of the New, all about modern art. Hughes was an very keen fisherman, though and his memoir on the subject is surprisingly captivating. Not just the story of his own fishing adventures, Hughes looks into the history of modern angling both in salt water and in fresh, and intersperses all with anecdotes from his own experiences.
Read by Rosario Dawson
8 hours, 57 minutes
Andy Weir is best known for his best-selling book The Martian, which was subsequently turned into a blockbuster film of the same name starring Matt Damon. Following on from the theme of civilisations on rocks in space, Artemis is the story of a lunar civilisation (Artemis), which is mostly inhabited by rich entrepreneurs from earth who can afford to live in space. It follows the story of Jazz Bashara, though, who’s one of the moon-stations plebeians and her somewhat criminal endeavours to rise out of poverty. I loved it. Rosario Dawson, an American actress who’s most notable as the voice of Batgirl in the Lego Batman movie (which you’ve likely seen if you have kids or grandkids), does a spectacular job of bringing all the characters to life, while Weir’s excellent storytelling and research into the complexities of living in space really shines through. A great listen for a long trip up or down the coast.
The Great Race: The Race Between The English and the French to Complete the Map of Australia
Read by Paul English
10 hours, 34 minutes
This is one for Australian history buffs, but something that will likely be met with groans of consternation by anyone else. Hill recounts the stories of the Dutch, French and English maritime encounters with the Australian coastline, outlining that it was a process of nearly 300 years to effectively map the entire Australian coastline. It’s well constructed and easy to follow along, although does occasionally get bogged down in long journal readings. Still, it recounts some incredible tales and spends a lot of time on the story of Matthew Flinders and Anthony Baudin, the English and French captains who did most of the leg-work which finally saw maps created.
Songs of a War Boy
Deng Thiak Adut with Ben MckElvey
Read by Blessing Mokgohloa and Ben MckElvey
7 hours, 49 minutes
Deng Adut was a Sudanese child soldier who came to Australia as a refugee when he was 14 years old. His story, which at times is incredibly confronting, tells of how he was marched from his village when he was about 6 or 7 years old and walked for 33 days to an Ethiopian training camp with thousands of other young children conscripted into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. It recounts the horrors of that experience and follows him as he escapes Africa to Australia and struggles with a new culture, finally establishing himself as a successful lawyer and refugee advocate. The best things about this story is the raw insight into the mind of a refugee who’s seen (and committed) such atrocities, and how he deals with that as an Australian citizen and a lawyer. I highly recommend it.
True Spirit: The Aussie girl who took on the world
Read by Jessica Watson
8 hours, 44 minutes
We all know who Jessica Watson is – the 16-year-old Queensland girl who sailed solo and unassisted around the world in a yacht that’s not much bigger than most caravans. Read by Watson herself, I found this an amazing insight into the mind of a teenager who’s got the mental capacity to take on such an endeavour. Here story is out and out incredible and I imagine that if adult Watson listened back to this recording she’d cringe at some of her own adolescent insights (wouldn’t we all), but that was partly what I liked so much about it – this was a story written within a year of her return and it’s the story of a teenager told by a teenager, not an adult reflecting on their youth.
Read by Lily Collins
4 hours, 48 minutes
The original children’s classic from 1911, this is a favourite of my kids when we’re on long trips. Being over 100 years old, there’s certainly some racial stereotypes within it that would never be acceptable in a modern novel, but that’s also part of its charm. Lily Collins, the narrator and daughter of English singer Phil Collins, does a tremendous job of bringing this fun and frivolous story to life and it’s very easy for kids and adults alike to listen to. At around 5 hours, it’s a bit long for my kids to listen to in one sitting, but they’ve enjoyed it an hour or so at a time on a few different trips.
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