My Top 25 Recommended Audiobooks, The Best of the Best

Deal W. Hudson
June 16, 2016

Good books become even better when read aloud by a skilled performer. A recent example is the recording by famed British actor, Edward Fox, of Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, the first of the Barchester novels. Fox’s deep-voiced, droll delivery has opened Trollope’s world to me as never before.

Homer, the first great poet of the West, of course, never wrote a book. He was a performer, a bard, who sung his epics in the banquet halls of ancient Greece. The written accounts of two great epics poems were collected long afterward. Homer himself was appropriately blind since sight was not required to hear his stories, only attentive ears.

The modern “recorded book” was launched in a moment of glory in 1952, when Dylan Thomas recorded his “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” for Caedmon at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. This is still among the best audiobook recordings of anything by anyone. Listening to “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and other recordings of Thomas reciting his own poetry-or his lectures, often delivered while he was intoxicated, will likely convert anyone to the recorded-book medium. The unmatched beauty of Thomas’ voice will stick in your memory and become the measure of everything else you hear.

Several other early “star” readers deserve to be mentioned along with Thomas in the audiobook hall of fame. Sir John Gielgud left a large legacy of recordings, from early Argo vinyl disks to readings of Pilgrim’s Progress and Brideshead Revisited on the Caedmon label. Unfortunately, Gielgud’s version of the Brideshead is abridged, and not available on any of the download services. Jeremy Irons, the star of the 1982 television miniseries version of Brideshead, has an unabridged version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel nearly as good. Jeremy Irons made a splash some years ago with a complete recording of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for Random House to complement his appearance as Humbert Humbert in the 1998 film version of that novel. The reading is a total tour de force, for adults only, of course.

A few years ago, I published a complete list of all the audiobooks I had read, ranging from one star to four.  Given that the list was nearly 400 titles long, it was probably never read by anyone but the most obsessive, such as myself.  Shorter lists are both more fun for the author and more helpful to the reader.

The awards I bestow to my top 25 audiobooks will give the reader a good idea of what to expect from them. For the regular audiobook reader, I consider them all indispensable. For the neophyte, any of these audiobooks are a great place to start. (Where there are multiple recorded versions, I specify the recommended version.)

With the exception of #1, Hamlet’s Dresser, an unforgettable memoir about teaching, all the below are available from http://www.audible.com, which I have been using since 2003 before it was acquired by Amazon in 2008. The other viable source of audiobooks is http://www.downpour.com, which is on a trajectory to give Audible some serious competition. If you can find a CD copy of Hamlet’s Dresser, snatch it up. You can thank me later.

Here you go:

1. Best I’ve Ever Heard: Bob Smith, Hamlet’s Dresser.

2. Most Entertaining: Frank Langella, Dropped Names, Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them.

3. Most Deeply Moving: Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel.

4. Best Memoir: William Maxwell, The Folded Leaf.

5. Best Classic Novel: Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Montecristo (John Lee, narrator).

6. Best Self-Help, Steven Pressfield, Do the Work.

7. Most Funny: Justin Halpern, I Suck at Girls.

8. Most Ingenious: Stephen King, 11-22-63: A Novel.

9. Most Touching: Tony Bennett, Life is a Gift.

10. Best American History: Winston Groome, Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans.

11. Best Eastern European History: Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956.

12. Best Celebrity Bio: William J. Mann, How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood.

13. Best Scare: Reginald Hill, The Woodcutter.

14. Best Suspense: James L. Swanson, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.

15. Best Poetry: Robert Donat Reads His Favorite Poetry, 2 vols.

16. Best Performance: Hartley & Hewson, Macbeth: A Novel, read by Alan Cumming.

17. Best Portrait of the Present Age: Deborah Moggach, The Ex-Wives (a novel).

18. Best Classical History: Tom Holland, Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar.

19. Best American Journey: Jack Kerouac, On the Road (Matt Dillon, narrator).

20. Best World War I: G.J. Meyer, The World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914-18.

21. Best World War II: Max Hastings, Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945.

22. Best Contemporary History: Tony Judt, Postwar: The History of Europe Since 1945.

23. Best Personal: James Lasdun, Give Me Everything You Have.

24. Best Sports: Roger Kahn, A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ‘20s.

25. Most Magical: Dylan Thomas, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” (Dylan Thomas, narrator).

FYI: I am preparing a list of “25 Best Catholic Audiobooks” for publication later this month.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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