Gearing up for the Audies winners

May. 17, 2014 @ 11:49 AM

Every year I judge the Audies, 29 awards given by the Audio Publishers Association for distinctive audio books. I only judge four to six books in Round 2 and feel grateful to those who listened and sorted through 20 or more audios during Round 1. This year, I judged memoirs and noticed a range of styles, worlds, stories that I might not have heard without this opportunity. Here are three of my favorites.
My unexpected favorite was Lawrence Anthony’s “The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild,” written with Graham Spence, read by Simon Vance (Tantor, approximately 11 hours). Anthony, a conservationist owns a wildlife reserve in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, and his story has all the elements that make for an engaging listen. The drama begins right away — if Anthony doesn’t take in an elephant herd known to be troublemakers from another game reserve, they will all be put down.  Within days Anthony and his faithful co-workers put in miles of electric fencing to contain these elephants, deal with local Zulu politics, potential poachers and reintroducing elephants who have not been seen there for a hundred years. Despite the speedy accommodations, the elephants’ leader and her son are killed before their transport is arranged.
When the elephants finally arrive, Nana, now their leader, appears fearless, throwing herself again and again against the electric fencing to free her tribe. Soon after they come, Anthony experiences a spiritual connection with Nana, knows somehow that these elephants have lost trust with humans and he needs to earn it back. Things begin to ease. Still it’s messy business dealing with huge pachyderms that have a penchant for misbehavior and are unaware of their size. This provides continual drama for Anthony, and a compelling listen. One night, for example, once the elephants feel at home, they wake Anthony at 2 a.m., wishing to squeeze through the small entrance to his house. 
Luckily for listeners, Anthony (with the help of co-writer journalist and editor Spence) is a great storyteller and he has wild assortment of stories to tell — some funny, some sad, all loaded with imagery that brings his faraway world closer. Narrator Vance excellently emotes the many moods of the hero. Vance does a beautiful job of managing the many situation shifts, differentiating African, French and British accents and portraying minor characters with fullness. 
Rita Moreno narrates Sonia Sotomayer’s “My Beloved World” (Random House, 10 CDs, 12.5 hours). The book begins with an author’s forward which Sotomayer reads, her emotions strong and approach sincere. Seamlessly, Moreno begins the narration of a young Puerto Rican girl growing up in a housing project with an alcoholic father, distant mother, domineering grandmother and a host of relatives who continually crowd the grandmother’s home. Her life already difficult, at 8 Sotomayer is diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. In this as in other troubles, she knows she must manage for herself.  Sotomayer’s genuine, sometimes painful writing is balanced with her determination to achieve her dreams. Moreno’s narration hits the emotional tones just right, evoking the convincing tone of the author’s words, her humanness and compassion in a stirring audio that has strong story flow. 
The audio I was most looking forward to most was  Malala Yousafzai’s “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban” (Hatchette, 9 CDs, 10 hours), narrated by Archie Panjabi. This memoir was written by a teenage girl who adamantly stood up for women’s rights and education in Pakistan in 2012 and was almost killed by the Taliban for living the courage of her conviction. 
Panjabi narrates with a light accent easily, pronouncing places and terms. She alternates storytelling rhythms with an authoritative tone that enters when politics and culture are described. Malala’s story may have been the strongest of the lot, her actions and the culture fascinating, but there is little dialogue to bridge the weighty background information of Malala’s life, family and country albeit well-woven. The narrator’s character differentiation and the sing-songy inflections vary little until the memoir moves toward the ending and though the story is haunting and I felt the impact at many places, it was not, surprisingly, the most compelling listen.
I’m looking forward to hearing the winners of all audios.  They will be announced on May 29, meanwhile you can find the finalists for all categories at this link: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/audio-books/article/61095-2014-audie-finalists-announced.html
Read more at Susie Wilde’s website, ignitingwriting.com.