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Looking for a Bedtime Story

January 8, 2013

bedtime story
My mom and I read together every night of my childhood from before I can remember until I was 9 and started skipping ahead so much it was easier to just leave me to my own devices (we later made an exception for Phantom of the Opera). I always chose the book, and even when I was 7 and brought home The North American Encyclopedia of Mammals from the school library my mom went along with it. It was a lovely tradition, in part because there’s something special and different about hearing a story than silently reading it. I rediscovered that in high school, when I first become ill and had to spend hours lying as still as possible in a dark room due to migraines that were aggravated by everything, including the flickering of a television. Audiobooks became my saviour, and since then I’ve turned to them in all sorts of situations.

Including bedtime. While I’ve outgrown most of my insomnia, I still have plenty of sleeping quirks and have to follow a regular routine. Listening to something is a key part of this: otherwise I will be stuck lying in bed for hours while my brain entertains itself instead of turning off. Until recently, this was always an audiobook. But then I got a new laptop, a macbook, which was incompatible with the vast majority of my library’s available e-audiobooks. So I tried out podcasts and later, thanks to my Netflix subscription, reruns of old favourite tv episodes. Neither of these have been as satisfactory, though, and last week I discovered that my iphone can directly download audiobooks, thus skipping the incompatibility issue and reopening my library’s catalogue to me. Yay!

I find myself overwhelmed scrolling through all of my options, though, and that’s where you come in. If you’re also an audiobook aficionado (I’m sorry, I can resist everything but alliteration), please share some recommendations! I’m a fairly open reader, but there are a few conditions:

  • No books that could induce nightmares (since I’m falling asleep to them), which rules out horror, the grittier bits of the crime/mystery/thriller genre, and any modern literature whose plot revolves around war/violence/rape/etc.
  • Audiobooks with Russian characters only work for me if the narrator speaks Russian and thus pronounces the names correctly.
  • I strongly prefer single narrators to ‘full cast’ productions; if there are two narrative voices to a book I can deal with two narrators
  • While I love reading nonfiction, I prefer my audiobooks to be fiction since with nonfiction I tend to reference arguments more, check the end notes, etc. which is trickier to do via audio. I suppose memoirs wouldn’t have that problem, since they’re rather like fiction anyway.
  • As always, I’ll be extra excited by POC or international author recommendations! But I love white US/UK authors too. ;)
  • Children’s lit is welcome.

Thanks in advance! In case you’re curious, I ended up getting Laura Amy Schlitz’ A Drowned Maiden’s Hair after my attempt at Waiting for Godot was thwarted by a strange production that included too much ambient noise.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2013 6:42 am

    Hummm I think you’d love Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. Try Wingshooters. Maybe The Healing by Jonathan Odell.

  2. January 8, 2013 7:15 am

    Here’s some recommendations: Harry Potter series read by Stephen Fry, The Coma read by Matthew Macfadyen, Starter for Ten read by Dave John, Lolita read by Jeremy Irons, Scaramouche and Captain Blood read by Robert Whitfield, the Leviathan series read by Alan Cumming, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks read by Cassandra Campbell.

    Here’s a list of my favorite narrators:

  3. January 8, 2013 7:16 am

    My daughters and I just listened to Dorothy L. Sayers “Cloud of Witnesses’ (Clouds of Witness?) Read by the actor who plays Sir Peter Wimsy. We all enjoyed it! A favourite audiobook is Rockbound by Frank Parker Day. I’ve also enjoyed Anne Tyler’s books. Good luck finding something that perfectly suits!

  4. January 8, 2013 7:34 am

    Sadly I have no recommendations. And this would be because I haven’t yet figured out this by-pass of the library system, and their selection of e-audiobooks that are compatible with my mac sucks. I can’t even check out their books on CD because I ruined the CD drive in my computer by accidentally sticking my seat belt into it. I’m hopeless. But for you, I wish you many many many hours of contented listening (though not all those hours on the same night as that pretty much defeats the purpose :P ).

    • January 11, 2013 8:49 am

      Oh no! Does your library have Overdrive? & can Rich’s old iphone that you’re using as an ipod connect to wifi? If both those answers are yes, you should be able to download the Overdrive app & get audiobooks directly on it. I can help you if you want. :)

      And I’m trying to imagine how one accidentally gets a seat belt into the tiny little mac cd drives. Poor you!

  5. January 8, 2013 7:59 am

    I used to enjoy anything by John LeCarre via Books on Tape. They had an excellent reader, but I can’t promise absolutely no violence. I don’t like abridgements or overly-dramatic readings. A single skilled reader who can do the voices works best.

    • January 11, 2013 8:50 am

      I think le Carre violence would be fine; it’s more the stuff that involves stalkers/kidnappings/or explicit horror that gives me nightmares. Agree re: no abridgements or dramatic readings.

  6. January 8, 2013 9:04 am

    Harry Potter narrated by James Dale is the standard against which all audiobooks should be measured. Also, Outlander narrated by Davina Porter is excellent.

  7. January 8, 2013 10:00 am

    I listen to radio to sleep to but sometimes the newyorker fiction podcast they may suit you great selection available ,all the best stu

  8. January 8, 2013 10:00 am

    I very much enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s narration of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It’s one of the best audio books I have ever listened to. If you want to branch out into YA, then I highly recommend What Comes After by Steve Watkins. It’s narrated by Emily Janice Card and I am always talking about that book and that narration with people.

    I like to listen to audio books on my work commute and on long walks. I find that I gravitate towards narrators who have been known to deliver good performances. My favorites are Juliet Stevenson, Nick Podehl, Jenna Lamia (for younger titles), Katherine Kellgren, David deVries, etc.

    Right now I am listening to The Woman in White read by Ian Holm. It’s quite wonderful and Ian Holm has read a lot of classics!

  9. January 8, 2013 10:03 am

    Sorry! I have one more you might enjoy. Zora and Me, a middle-grade children’s book on audio. Two authors of color, narrator of color and the story imagines Nora Zeale Hurston’s childhood. Very good audio book!

  10. Thari permalink
    January 8, 2013 1:18 pm

    I can’t sleep without an audiobook, perhaps even for the same reasons you mentioned. And which one works best for me? Agatha Christie, both in English and German (my mothertongue, so bear with my English). They are not gruesome, nearly all of the stories are interesting, but – and that’s an important but in my case – I know most of them already. Which means I don’t listen so intensely, that I can’t sleep because I get all excited and want to know what happens next. And I don’t need to skip back to the last moment I remember the next evening. Another plus: I love to listen to Hugh Fraser, who reads the editions I own.

    Also wonderful to fall asleep: Dorothy Sayers, Jane Austen, Paul Temple (but those are radio plays with different cast and noise and music), Ken Follett.

    Audiobooks I liked without falling asleep ;-)
    – The uncommon Reader / Alan Bennett
    – Life of Pi / Yann Martel (listened to before the movie came out…)
    – The 100-year-old who climbed out the window and disappeared / Jonas Jonasson
    – Every man dies alone / Alone in Berlin / both from Hans Fallada (but both breach rule 1, since the setting is the Third Reich)

    I would have loved to recommend you more than the last audiobook from Germany – but there already tend to be few translations from German to English – and even less books, which are translated and recorded as audiobooks.

    If you’re open for a different kind of fantasy, you probably could give Walter Moers a try, but his books live very much from the illustrations.

    Long post, sorry. But at last: I’ve been silently following your blog for quite some time now, and I want to use this opportunity to tell you, that I really love the Striped Armchair. I always enjoy your Reviews, and I’ve often chosen books based on your recommendations. So, thanks a lot and take care!


    • January 11, 2013 8:51 am

      Hi Thari! Thanks for introducing yourself & giving such a long list of recommendations. Not to mention your kind words about my blog! :D

  11. Sara permalink
    January 8, 2013 1:26 pm

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian narrated by Sherman Alexie (the author) is really wonderful. Aside from that, I listen to audiobook mysteries while I work out – makes the time go by faster, and motivates me to keep it up every day – so my other recommendations are skewed in that direction. The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, read by Barbara Rosenblat, are fantastic. Only the Barbara Rosenblat versions, however, as the other readers are not nearly as good. Davina Porter is quite good, and reads the Sunday Philosophy Club series by Alexander McCall Smith and the Edwardian Mystery series by Marion Chesney/M. C. Beaton. Readers for the Brother Cadfael series seem to vary, but are generally high quality.

  12. Laura Caldwell permalink
    January 8, 2013 2:56 pm

    I listen to podcasts or audiobooks to both get to sleep and when I wake up numerous times at night. My #1 recommendation is anything that you want to stay awake to hear-they guarantee that I fall asleep. If I listen to a Christian theology podcast with the volume turned just a tad too loud I dream that I am in church listening to a sermon ;) One of my favorite reads is The Country of The Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett and I enjoy listening to this audiobook too, downloaded from Girlebooks. Here’s a review from there: “”The Country of the Pointed Firs” is a gentle, wandering story. It’s like a quiet walk in the woods or a trip in a row boat across an inlet.” Puts me to sleep just thinking about it.

  13. January 8, 2013 3:32 pm

    I really enjoyed Watership Down by Richard Adams (read by Ralph Cosham).

  14. sarahCT permalink
    January 8, 2013 3:53 pm

    My vision no longer allows me to read the amount of reading I am used to, so now I turn to audiobooks whenever possible. I’ve enjoyed Nadia May’s readings of Muriel Spark’s books, Decline and Fall read by Michael Maloney was superb, and all and anything read by Simon Vance, including Anthony Trollopes’s Barchester Chronicles, is enough to make you feel good about the whole humanity.

  15. January 8, 2013 5:21 pm

    My favorite is The Secret Garden. Solo flutes are another good sleep aid for me.

  16. January 8, 2013 8:26 pm

    PERFECT book for you!!! I’m listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior right now and it’s read by her and it’s so so so so so good!!! You’d love it Eva!! Fit’s all of your criteria except that it’s not a POC book :/ But you would love it!

    • January 9, 2013 9:32 am

      I read lots of white authors too! So of course I’ll put it on my list, esp with such a recommendation from you. :DDD

  17. January 9, 2013 12:37 am

    I was going to agree with the Harry Potter suggestions, but a non-fiction suggestion (no footnotes) is David Sedaris “Live at Carnegie Hall”. It’s a collection of several of his essays. I had to pull over in my car listening to it because I was crying.

  18. Pat permalink
    January 9, 2013 5:49 am

    One of my favorites is Cold Mountain, read by the author, Charles Frazier. I also love Cormac McCarthy, the Plains series, read by Brad Pitt. He has a lovely voice, quiet and not too theatrical, like someone actually reading to you. (This series is over 20 years old, and can be hard to find…Half Price would be a good place to start, or Paperback Swap, if you use their services.) I forget who reads them, but the series by Patrick O’Brien, Master and Commander, is very good.

  19. January 9, 2013 9:32 am

    Thanks to everyone for all of the suggestions! I suspect I now have enough potential bedtime stories to last a few years at least. :D

  20. January 9, 2013 11:08 am

    I really enjoyed listening to The Great Gatsby with Tim Robbins narrating. But it does have that slight touch of violence and surely is not a happy book. Maybe Robbins has read more, I need to check. Truthfully, most of my latest listens have had some elements of violence and scariness. even Bleak House, I guess. But. I loved it. (Simon Vance narration)

  21. January 9, 2013 1:24 pm

    I love P. G. Wodehouse – I really like his Jeeves series. For silly stories that always put you in a better mood, he can’t be beat. (And I always have listened to him rather than read; there’s a few different narrators and they’re all good.)

    • January 11, 2013 8:51 am

      Wodehouse is so fun! Psmith & Jeeves for the win! :D

  22. literary travels and explorationskatrina permalink
    January 9, 2013 4:23 pm

    Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a teenager narrator, really well read. The True Diaries of a Part Time Indian, Alexie Sherman’s the narrator – amazing. Bel Ami is also good if you want something more grown up, and Charles Dickens: A Lide by Claire Tomlin.

  23. January 9, 2013 8:25 pm

    For a brief period of time, I listened to audiobooks on my way to work and so I’m drawing from the audio books I listened to then. Someone above mentioned P.G. Wodehouse. I remember listening to a hilarious audiobook of Wodehouse (one of the Jeeves books) read by Frederick Davidson. Also, Bridget Jones’ Diary read by Barbara Rosenblat was lively. And The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig is another favorite, can’t recall the narrator but I doubt it has been recorded more than once. Doig’s book is about a family of three boys living in Montana and mostly involves events at their area’s one-room schoolhouse. It was a lovely listening experience.

  24. January 10, 2013 6:18 pm

    What a wonderful tradition. :) I like how you trace it back to when you were younger. I can enjoy the sentiment but I have not really got on the audiobook wagon despite trying!

  25. January 10, 2013 6:53 pm

    Oo, this is hard! I don’t know anything that’s on audiobook. I can think of lots of good bedtime stories, but I don’t know anything that’s on audiobook. I will do some investigation.

    • January 11, 2013 8:52 am

      I’m excited to hear the results of your investigation! Or you could just list good bedtime stories & I can see if I can find an audio. :D

  26. boardinginmyforties permalink
    January 15, 2013 12:44 pm

    I struggle with insomnia from time to time but haven’t tried listening to audio books. I’ve done meditation tapes and such but listening to a good book sounds like an idea for me to try!

  27. February 1, 2013 8:17 pm

    I’ve never gotten into audiobooks, but I’m looking at a longer commute so I’ll have to see what people suggest as a good starting point. I hope you find some good ones :)

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