08 December 2020

AudioFile Magazine's Best Audiobooks of 2020: Memoirs

Best 2020 memoirs in audiobooksIn what has become somewhat of a tradition here on Beth Fish Reads, I have the great good pleasure to share with you AudioFile Magazine’s list for Best 2020 Audiobooks in Memoir. Before I get to the list, I should remind you of two things. First, I’m a decades-long fan of audiobooks, and I love seeing which audiobooks AudioFile’s editors have picked for each category. Second, as many of you know, I freelance for AudioFile, thus I’m happy to extend my relationship with the magazine to my blog.

So what criteria did the editors use when making their choices for best memoir? They were looking for powerful stories that open our eyes to a different life, that inspire us, and/or that make us feel we’re not alone. Of course, since these are audiobooks, the narrator's skill must also come into play. It's amazing that this year four of the selections are read by the author. When it works--as it clearly did here--an author-narrated memoir brings an extra intimacy to the listening experience.

Without further ado, here are the five audiobooks on AudioFile Magazine's list of Best in Memoir for 2020. The links lead to AudioFile's reviews. For the Best Audiobooks 2020 in all categories, visit the AudioFile website.

Best 2020 memoirs in audiobooksNatasha Trethewey, a former a U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, narrates her audiobook, Memorial Drive, in which she shares her memories of the years leading up to her mother’s murder in 1985. The tragedy was made all the worse because Trethewey knew the killer: her ex-stepfather, who had tormented both mother and daughter for years. This is a disturbing tale of racism, domestic abuse, and grief, but also the story of finding a voice and direction in the aftermath of unfathomable loss and betrayal. Trethewey infuses her performance with a hint of poetry and impactful emotion.

Best 2020 memoirs in audiobooksMost of you know singer-songwriter--and now audiobook narrator--Alicia Keys for her commercially popular songs, such as “If I Ain’t Got You.” In her memoir More Myself, she not only talks about her rise to success but also her early years as a classically trained piano prodigy. Keys opens up about her marriage, her fight to avoid being pigeonholed by record producers, her failures, her victories, and her passions. Her easygoing delivery makes us feel as if we were listening to a friend, and Keys is clearly comfortable behind the mic. You’ll also want to listen to this memoir to hear the incredible cast of guest narrators, including Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Jay-Z.

Best 2020 memoirs in audiobooksArshay Cooper, author of A Most Beautiful Thing, grew up on Chicago’s West side, becoming familiar with street violence by the time he was a young teen. In the late 1990s, Cooper’s life changed when, on a whim, he joined the first all-Black high school rowing team. This memoir, read by narrator Adam Lazarre-White, is less a story about rowing competitions and more a coming-of-age tale, showing how team sports and training helped some of the young athletes find a world beyond gangs and drugs. Lazarre-White’s performance captures the nuances of this uplifting story without letting us forget the rowers’ frustrations and struggles on a number of socioeconomic fronts.

Best 2020 memoirs in audiobooksDon’t let the shortness of the new collection of essays (about 2 hours) by writer and professor Zadie Smith mislead you. The six pieces in Intimations pack a powerful punch. Smith, who beautifully reads her own audiobook, has much to say about the world right now--for example, George Floyd, COVID-19, and popular activism. Her expressive performance enriches and deepens her sparse prose, subtly driving home the connections between quarantine, healthcare, death, and systemic racism. While all of us have suffered and struggled in 2020, we haven’t all suffered equally. You may, as our reviewer did, want to listen to Smith’s audiobook more than once.

Best 2020 memoirs in audiobooksVesper Flights is the second collection by naturalist, research scholar, and essayist Helen Macdonald. The essays interweave a variety of human topics (allergies, Brexit) with the author's experiences in nature, especially her connection to birds. The pieces take us around the world, giving us much to think about from the personal (loneliness) to the universal (climate change). Though Macdonald sometimes talks about controversial issues, such as fox hunting, she is respectful of the difficulties of separating long-standing traditions from contemporary attitudes. Macdonald is a brilliant narrator, making it easy for us to share in her passion for the marvels of natural world around us.

To learn even more about the don’t-miss audiobooks of the year, be sure to follow AudioFile Magazine on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and subscribe to their podcast, Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 12/8/20, 10:09 AM  

The Helen McDonald book, Vesper Flights appeals to me. I had been meaning to read Hawk as well.

Les in Oregon 12/11/20, 11:02 AM  

Memorial Drive sounds like a very tough read, but I'm intrigued. Actually, all of these sound great!

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