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Time Traveling Audiobooks

Time manipulation—obsession with, desire for, and attempts at—is a timeless conundrum and, thus far, an elusive temptation. Our ever-waxing fascination is evident in classic stories and sci-fi favorites. Contemporary pop culture continues to feed the frenzy, from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with its foray backward, to the new Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle How to Stop Time, based on Matt Haig’s bestselling book.

Books are—as always—the perfect portal into the unknown, and audiobooks have the added bonus of being especially adept at transporting you elsewhere while you’re multi-tasking. These time-traveling audios, linked to their Booklist reviews when available, are a great place to start.

 

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai, read by Elan Mastai

The F-bomb, with a few stray S-plops, were never quite so guffaw-inducing, with narration that showcases Mastai’s rounded Canadian vowels. Swears even make up an entire chapter in his debut. (He also happened to be the screenwriter for The F Word.) His wrong hero, Tom Barren, sets in motion a time-skipping odyssey through divergent parallel realities, initiated by his misplaced devotion to a Penelope whose waiting varies with variations of her name. Somehow, he’ll need to figure out which is the right time for him—not to mention the rest of the world.

 

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid, read by Mohsin Hamid

Hamid’s exceptional fourth novel, which he narrates splendidly, showcases the impulses driving immigration, especially those rooted in violent conflict. In an unnamed city, Saeed and Nadia meet, fall in love, and plan their future together, but a militant takeover forces them to flee their homeland. Escape happens through “doors” only accessible via the right contact at the right price.

 

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North, read by Peter Kenny

Wunderkind North (aka Kate Griffin and Catherine Webb, who wrote her first book at 14 during a school vacation, and in her early 30s has almost two dozen published titles) takes the Groundhog Day approach to Harry August. Kenny’s crisp British English embodies a protagonist born again and again in 1919, to the same parents, into the same body, with his memories of previous lives eventually restored. During his eleventh reboot, he learns the world’s demise is truly nigh.

 

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer, read by Orlagh Cassidy

Narrator Cassidy breathes Greer’s bestseller into three lives: electroconvulsive therapy for depression in 1985 becomes the portal through which Greta enters diverging experiences in 1918 and 1941, both with the same twin brother and lover she lost in 1985 restored to her in the past. Her decade-skipping forays are limited to 25 treatments over 12 weeks, by the end of which she’ll have to decide what her real life will be.

 

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, read by Kim Staunton

Originally published in 1979 and regarded as the first science fiction written by an African American woman, Kindred finally got a 2015 audio edition solemnly narrated by Staunton. She transports her protagonist Dana back and forth between 1976 Los Angeles and an early 19th century Maryland plantation where she meets her ancestors and experiences the horrors of enslavement.

 

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, read by Fenella Woolgar

It begins explosively with what is apparently Hitler’s murder—in 1930—by a valiant young woman named Ursula. Born February 11, 1910, Ursula will die again and again—from umbilical cord strangulation, drowning, the flu, an illegal abortion, murder, and so many other awful ways. Narrator Woolgar effortlessly and expertly travels back and forth with Ursula—aging, un-aging, re-aging—as she relives her lives, each lasting a little longer due to vague memories that help her escape past fatal experiences. Glimpses of at least one of the Ursula’s lives continues in the companion novel, A God in Ruins.

 

An Ocean of Minutes, by Thea Lim, read by Lisa Rost-Welling

Frank is sick with the flu, about to become a victim of a vicious pandemic that will change the world as he knows it. In 1981, the only hope of survival lies in the future, which means girlfriend Polly agrees to fast-forward 12 years and become a bonded servant in exchange for Frank’s recovery. Their plan to reunite in 1993 goes awry when Polly is routed to 1998 with no means of contacting Frank. Her desperate but determined odyssey back to her one true love finds a complementary voice in Rost-Welling, whose narration remains appropriately steady even in the most wrenching, frenzied situations.

 

Replay, by Ken Grimwood, read by William Dufris

Grimwood’s 1986 novel goes posthumously aural with Dufris’s engrossing performance. He smoothly emotes a broad range of feeling for disgruntled, disappointed, middle-aged Jeff Winston, who dies of a heart attack at 43 and wakes up in his 18-year-old body in his college dorm room to live his life all over again. And again, and again—with all his memories intact—in an endless loop, until death catches him every time at 43. Is interruption possible?

 

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, read by Laurence Bouvard, Shelley Atkinson, Laural Merlington, Joe Barrett, Will Damron, and Luke Daniels

Laurence Bouvard as Melisande Stokes takes the bulk of the narration and proves herself a prime entertainer—she’s especially amusing when correcting her own cursing as she composes her 21st century official report (which serves as the novel’s narrative skeleton) while stuck in 1851. A former frustrated Harvard linguist, Stokes is hired by D.O.D.O.—the Department of Diachronic Operations, one of those super-secret government divisions that will deny its own existence—to help bring magic back into the world. The full cast, notably adept at deadpan snark, performs an enhancing 24.5-hour production, albeit with the occasional stumbles when numerous characters seem to grow multiple personalities as voiced by different narrators.

 

Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes, read by Khristine Hvam, Peter Ganim, Jay Snyder, Joshua Boone, Dani Cervone, Jenna Hellmuth

Beukes’ first novel not set in her native South Africa heads to Chicago, where a murderer hops through time, snuffing out shining girls—those “[f]ull of life,” with the most “potential.” Somehow, one survives, and she’s determined to solve her own almost-death. The cast overall is chillingly effective, but Peter Ganim gets the creepazoid award for his gritty, growling performance as a timeless killer without boundaries.

 

The Suicide Club: A Novel about Living, by Rachel Heng, read by Gwendoline Yeo

Immortality is all but guaranteed to those already deemed “Lifers,” like Lea Kirino and her equally well-preserved fiancé. She’s been maintaining a virtually ideal life—until it’s shockingly interrupted by her father’s reappearance after 88 years. His inferior genes have kept him on the run, but his heart and mind have substantial sharing left to do with his only child. The consequences of their reunion means a life-or-death choice. Narrator Yeo deftly manifests genders, ages, even levels of desperation in Heng’s disturbing debut that both parodies and exposes our contemporary youth-chasing obsessions.

 

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, read by Maggie-Meg Reed and Christopher Burns

This bestseller follows Clare, the eponymous Wife, and Henry, the chrono-challenged love of her life. Clare is six years old when they meet; Henry has traveled back from when he was 36, which means he holds the future. In Henry’s time, they won’t meet until Clare is 20 and Henry 28, which means only Clare will know their past. Beyond a stupendous love story between two soulmates, Niffenegger also elevates the indescribable bond between parent and child. Love provides the ultimate redemption for them all.

 

And in case you need more, here are a couple upcoming chrono-features to watch for:

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton, read by James Cameron Stewart (September)

Hazards of Time Travel, by Joyce Carol Oates, read by Andi Arndt (November)

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hong.terry@gmail.com'

About the Author:

Terry Hong created and maintains Smithsonian BookDragon, a book blog for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. She was the writer wrangler for the film Girl Rising. She taught for Duke University’s Leadership in the Arts in NYC. She co-authored two books, Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism and What Do I Read Next? Multicultural Literature. She reviews extensively for many publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SIBookDragon.

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