Listening List: Six Nonfiction Titles with Great Audiobooks

by Rebecca W.

A plain blue-green background shows golden cracks, which frame the text "Know My Name: A memoir. Chanel Miller. Read by Author"

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Read by the author
Available through: Overdrive/Libby

In 2018, a victim impact statement, written by “Emily Doe”, was posted on Buzzfeed where it instantly went viral. Chanel Miller wrote the statement during the sexual assault case against Brock Turner. Turner, found guilty of sexually assaulting Miller on Stanford’s campus, was sentenced to only six-months in county prison. In her book, Know My Name, Miller claims authorship of the impact statement and expands on the experience of sexual assault and navigating our justice system.

Why choose the audiobook?

In a review of the book in The Atlantic, Megan Garber wrote a statement that resonates with my experience reading this book; “Know My Name is difficult to read in part because it is beautiful to read.” Miller uses her talent as a writer to show the reader her feelings, her reactions, and her experiences during the aftermath of the assault. From the title the reader is introduced to a major theme of this book, authorship and identity. For me, listening to Miller read this book added to the meaning of that theme.

A woamn walks past a wall painted with an image of the author against a blue background.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Read by the author
Available through: Audiobook on CD

Daily Show host Trevor Noah recounts his childhood growing up in South Africa during apartheid, then post-apartheid. Born in 1984 to a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss-German father, Noah’s conception was in violation of a number of laws at the time, giving name to his memoir’s title Born a Crime. While this book is wholly focused on Noah’s experience growing up in South Africa, it is also largely about the close relationship between him and his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo.

Why choose the audiobook?

If you’re like me and have fully embraced the internet age, you may have seen “CD only” and already moved onto the next item on the list. But I’m telling you, it’s worth it. Simply put, Noah made a name for himself as a comedian. He not only brought this background into the writing of this book, but the narration. If you could even call it narration. I would say it’s more of an all-out performance. So, see if you can find that CD player in your car and check this one out, it’s a must-listen.

You see a large sharp wooden paencil, where the colors also create an image of a figure silhouetted in mountains.

Educated by Tara Westover
Read by the author
Available through: Overdrive/Libby, Cloud Library, Audiobook on CD

In her memoir, Tara Westover recounts her journey from childhood, the youngest of seven children raised by survivalist parents, to a Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge University. Growing up in southeastern Idaho, Tara’s world was built around extreme political views, religious ideology, and physical violence. Lacking any formal education, Westover was seventeen the first time she stepped into a classroom. While attending college, Westover studied history where she learned, for the first time, of events such as the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement. Throughout her book, Westover examines the relationships between her upbringing and family, and her growing perspective achieved through education.

Why choose the audiobook?

I am sure there are a good chunk of you who have already read Educated. But if you are one of the lucky few who haven’t, you should absolutely pick up the audiobook. Simply put, Westover is not only a remarkable writer, but a talented speaker. While the story she tells is full of extremist ideology and paranoia-fueled thought patterns, Westover reads her memoir with a calmness and clarity that highlights the themes of learning and perspective found throughout her book.

A small figure pushes a large peach up a steep black slope. The background is a pale peach and the river and hillsides are in grey

Eat a Peach by David Chang
Read by the author
Available through: OverDrive/Libby

David Chang, professional/celebrity chef and owner of the popular restaurant Momufuku (among many more), set out to write a book about the business of cooking, and maybe throw in a recipe or two. Well, this is not that book. Though he may have fought it, this is a memoir; covering Chang’s rise to fame, his Asian-American identity, and his experience with bi-polar disorder. Chang shares his triumphs as a chef in a way that entangles all three of these areas, telling the good, the not-so-good, and the regrettable. But don’t worry, you still get to hear all about some delicious food.

Why choose the audiobook?

Okay, you’ve probably caught on to my formula by now: memoir + read by the author = going on the list. What can I say. When you have an author that can read their own work (and that is not always the case) it just works so well! Chang’s reading of this book is so conversational, full of honesty, humor, and not-so-occasional swearing.

The silhouette of Buzz Lightyear is rim lighted against a red background. He has a conducting baton in his right hand.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace
Read by: Peter Altschuler
Available through: Overdrive/Libby, Audiobook on CD

If you’re thinking the only reason this book made the list is because I am a huge fan of Pixar… well you’re not totally wrong. But the main reason I recommend this book is how well author Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, communicates his core message of how to balance creativity and business. In the book, Catmull chronicles his journey from a computer science student to creating the first computer-animated feature film, and the success that followed. In each stage of Pixar’s journey Catmull explains how he was able to manage a team effectively, and sometimes not effectively, while fueling their creativity. Now I know what you’re thinking, how hard can it be to spark creativity in an animation studio? But when you really look at the process of animation, there is a lot of repetitive, monotonous work… seeing any similarities to other jobs out there? I really enjoyed hearing how Catmull identifies creative drain and the steps he takes to work through it.

Why choose the audiobook?

With this story being largely a Pixar story, I was expecting a tone fitting to the brand. Altschuler delivered. The narration of this book hit the same notes of inspiration and excitement that are characteristic of Pixar’s animations, making Altschuler’s narration one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book.

A beige cover features a smudged fingerprint dotting the "i" in Sapiens.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Read by: Derek Perkins
Available through: Overdrive/Libby, Audiobook on CD

Can you fit the entirety of human history into 15 hours? Well, no. But Yuval Noah Harari does a pretty good job at summarizing it in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Breaking his book into three main revolutions (cognitive, agricultural, and scientific), Harari spans the entirety of homo sapiens’ existence, looking at it through a historical, biological, and, at times, philosophical lens. Harari begins his book about 70,000 years ago and ends in modern day – predicting what will become of the last human species. While I really enjoyed Harari’s take on this subject, I will preface this suggestion with the fact that the author does make some large generalizations in this book. If a particular subject in this book sparks your interest, I highly suggest looking deeper into it. Again, the entirety of human history in one book is a tall order, but Sapiens is a fantastic jumping-off point.

Why choose the audiobook?

If you haven’t already noticed, the majority of this list is made up of biographical works. I tend to lean this way when choosing nonfiction books to listen to because their storytelling structure usually translates to great audio. However, I really wanted to get my hands on this book and the hold list for the audiobook was shorter (who else has been there?). Though it wasn’t my first choice, I really enjoyed the audio version. When I first started it, I found myself missing the ability to re-read that traditional book format allows. However, once I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be turning back any pages, I found the book really enjoyable. The writing does an excellent job at allowing the reader to absorb a lot of information, while still maintaining an easy-to-follow structure. So, if you are looking for an audiobook, but are more interested in the give-the-facts-and-figures type of book, Sapiens would be a great one to try.

Becky is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the HCLS East Columbia Branch who enjoys art and everything science.

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