One of the best things about audiobooks is how conducive to multitasking they are. You can learn something new or have fun while sorting the laundry, walking the dog, waiting for the plane. But that same versatility—audiobooks’ ability to recede into the background of everyday life—could also be their downfall. Focus too much on what you’re doing at the same time as you listen, and you may miss an important plot line or a particularly funny sentence turn. Before you even realize it, you’re adrift, unable to process what you’re hearing, not sure exactly when you started to let go. All I want to say is: Audiobook multitasking requires practice. Here are three new audiobooks that achieve semi-distracted listening levels at beginner, intermediate, and advanced, respectively.
I’m a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but not a super fan: There’s a difference. Just as a fan, I’m listening AT THE HEIGHTS: FINDING HOME (Random House Audio, 7 hours, 54 minutes) it was like appearing at a football game, but vaguely aware of the starting lineup and rusty in team cheers. Written by Miranda, librettoist Quiara Alegría Hudes, and cultural critic Jeremy McCarter, the book is presented as a sort of sequel to the bestseller. “Hamilton: Revolution.” As such, it’s probably best treated as a sort of collector’s item for the true “In the Heights” superfan – for the person who wants to know every detail about the evolution of Bachelor Miranda’s brainchild from an idea to a Tony-winning musical, and finally, a major cinematic film. But you really can’t display an audiobook on the coffee table, can you? As a listening experience, “In the Heights” is fun and easy, sometimes openly self-congratulatory. There’s very little in terms of critical speaking here, an omission that’s made more glaring by recent controversy. lack Representation of dark-skinned Afro-Latino in the film. Instead, it’s a celebration of artistic achievement that Broadway fans have experienced, brimming with some kind of myth-making with backstage anecdotes. America Ferrera narrates the majority of the book, with the authors taking over in certain sections. Unsurprisingly, there are also many “oh, that’s clever” moments as Miranda reads descriptions of each song in the musical.
If “In the Heights” is cotton candy, Michael Pollan’s THIS IS YOUR MIND IN PLANTS (Penguin Audio, 7 hours, 37 minutes) something a little more intimate. “Anyone who tries to come up with a solid definition of a drug ends up running aground,” says Pollan early in the audiobook, which functions as an extension of broader drugs. “How Do You Change Your Mind?” The contradictions of drug policy are at the center of this book, which is neatly divided into three parts: “the degrading (opium); top (caffeine); and what I consider external (mescaline).” Pollan, like all her works, takes a comprehensive approach to reporting. In the first part, this means a resurgence of an article he wrote in 1997 about his quest to make poppy tea from the flowers grown in his garden, but the sections that should have been removed for liability reasons have been reinstated. The substance he spoke out aloud earlier is a story of abstinence rather than tolerance (“we use caffeine to remedy a lack of sleep” this is largely the result of using caffeine) as it documents the cold turkey process that reveals the paradoxes at the heart of our global addiction.
In the final episode, Pollan navigates through the realities of drug politics, cultural appropriation, and a global pandemic on a quest to try mescaline in its naturally occurring form, peyote. Pollan, who also narrates the audiobook, is now a pro at this, bringing the restrained tone of your favorite university professor. It kept me busy even while multitasking and left me with a regular cadence of loud hmm-ing.