From Lin-Manuel to Pollan to St. Aubyn: Audiobooks for Every Attention Span

One of the best things about audiobooks is how conducive they are to multitasking. You can learn something new or be entertained while so...


One of the best things about audiobooks is how conducive they are to multitasking. You can learn something new or be entertained while sorting the laundry, walking the dog, waiting for a flight. But that same versatility — audiobooks’ ability to retreat into the background of everyday life — can also be their downfall. Focus too much on what you are doing at the same time as listening and you can miss key plot twists, or a particularly funny turn of phrase. Before you know it, you are adrift, unable to process what you’re hearing, unsure of when exactly you started spacing out. All that is to say: Audiobook multitasking takes practice. Here are three new audiobooks that respectively hit the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels of semi-distracted listening.

I am a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but not a superfan: There is a difference. As just-a-fan, listening to IN THE HEIGHTS: FINDING HOME (Random House Audio, 7 hours, 54 minutes) was akin to showing up at a soccer game only vaguely aware of the starting lineup and rusty on the team chants. The book, written by Miranda, the librettist Quiara Alegría Hudes and the cultural critic Jeremy McCarter, is presented as a sequel of sorts to the best-selling “Hamilton: The Revolution.” As such, it is probably best treated as a kind of collector’s item for the actual “In the Heights” superfan — for that person who wants to know every detail about its evolution from an idea in the undergraduate Miranda’s brain to a Tony-winning musical and, most recently, a major motion picture. But you can’t really display an audiobook on your coffee table, can you? As a listening experience, “In the Heights” is fun and easy, if at times flagrantly self-congratulatory. There is very little in terms of critical conversation here, an omission made all the more glaring by the recent controversy around a lack of dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation in the film. It is instead a celebration of an artistic achievement, peppered with the kind of mythmaking, behind-the-scenes anecdotes that Broadway fans live for. America Ferrera narrates the majority of the book, with the authors taking over in select sections. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of “ooh, that’s clever” moments, too, as Miranda reads annotations to every song in the musical.

If “In the Heights” is cotton candy, Michael Pollan’s THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS (Penguin Audio, 7 hours, 37 minutes) is something a little heartier. “All who try to construct a sturdy definition of drugs eventually run aground,” Pollan says early in the audiobook, which functions as an appendage of sorts to the more far-reaching “How to Change Your Mind.” The contradictions of drug policy are at the heart of this book, which is neatly divided into three sections: “the downer (opium); the upper (caffeine); and what I think of as the outer (mescaline).” As in all his work, Pollan takes an immersive approach to reporting. In the first section, that means resurfacing an article he wrote in 1997 about a quest to make poppy tea from flowers grown in his garden, but with the sections that had to be removed because of liability put back in. His coverage of caffeine, a substance he’s spoken about in audio form before, is a story of abstinence rather than indulgence, as he documents the process of going cold turkey, revealing the paradoxes at the heart of our global addiction (“we use caffeine to make up for a sleep deficit that is largely the result of using caffeine”).

In the final section, Pollan embarks on a quest to try mescaline in its naturally occurring form, peyote, all while navigating drug policy, the realities of cultural appropriation and a global pandemic. Pollan, who also narrates the audiobook, is a pro at this by now, bringing the measured tone of your favorite college professor. It kept me engaged even while multitasking, and left me hmm-ing out loud at a regular cadence.

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Newsrust - US Top News: From Lin-Manuel to Pollan to St. Aubyn: Audiobooks for Every Attention Span
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