Listen up, for your Summer Book Bingo “cheat codes”!
Every year around this time, we librarians get the same question about our popular Adult Summer Book Bingo program (run by Seattle Public Library and Seattle Arts & Lectures): Are audiobooks cheating? No, not at all! Including audiobooks in your Summer Bingo strategy can be the key to ticking every box on your sheet this summer, for a full bingo blackout. Here are some titles that qualify for various categories for this year’s bingo.
Looking to fill your BIPOC Food Writing square? (BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color.) Listen to Padma Lakshmi’s warm and expressive reading of “Love, Loss, and What We Ate,” a memoir in which the host of TV’s “Top Chef” reveals the surprisingly relatable experiences behind her poised public persona. With grace and appealing candor, Lakshmi spills the dirt on her high-profile marriages and divorces (most famously with author Salman Rushdie), the pain of her experience with endometriosis and how she has grappled with issues of body image, race and caste. As in her preceding cookbooks, the sights, scents and tastes of her native India add spice to the narrative, as do glimpses of the sometimes unsavory realities of cooking competition.
Also perfect for this square is Kwame Onwuachi’s passionately written and narrated “Notes from a Young Black Chef,” relating the meteoric rise of a Bronx-born son of Nigerian immigrants to culinary stardom, and his often tempestuous struggle to do justice to his own experiences and authentic culinary voice in a field all too ready to cast him into stereotypical secondary roles. With captivating intensity, Onwuachi pulls no punches in describing the challenges and pitfalls awaiting an ambitious Black man in ways that apply well beyond the exclusive world of haute cuisine.
Listeners can satisfy several times over our square for authors who have appeared in Seattle Arts & Lectures with “The Decameron Project,” a cornucopia of 29 short works inspired by our isolated yet shared experiences of the global pandemic, brilliantly narrated by an all-star cast. Among several offerings by SAL authors are Margaret Atwood’s wry tale of a galactic quarantine imposed by overworked aliens, Karen Russell’s fascinating tale of a slow-motion bus crash, Etgar Keret’s resonant fable of a newly emerging citizen relearning the petty inhumanities of life in the real world, and Edwidge Danticat’s devastating telephonic monologue from a wife to her husband as he lingers, unconscious, on a ventilator. There is truly something for everyone here.
Ursula K. Le Guin has also appeared at Seattle Arts & Lectures, and her wildly imaginative science fiction classic “The Lathe of Heaven” also works for Cli-Fi, or climate fiction, given its prescient setting in a futuristic Portland ravaged by climate change. It also offers the chance to listen rapt by the masterful George Guidall, who brings deft sensitivity to the story of the hapless George Orr, a man whose dreams have the capacity to alter the world in increasingly unpredictable ways, especially under the reckless guidance of his therapist. Le Guin expands on this “Twilight Zone”-worthy premise with her characteristic compassion, perfectly matched by Guidall’s empathetic skills. Poet Nikki Giovanni has also appeared at SAL, though listeners may want to save her recent performance of “Make Me Rain: Poems and Prose” for their Poetry or Essays square. Spending time with a wry, wise elder for her outspoken and refreshingly down-to-earth postmortem of our recent past is restorative, and for all its moments of sorrow, also adds up to a great candidate for our square dedicated to Black Joy.
Here’s a wild card: Humorist and playwright R. Eric Thomas’ “Here For It” is another great Black Joy selection, although it also works for our Queer/Trans BIPOC or Coming of Age squares, and definitely for Made You Laugh. Suffused with Thomas’ brilliant timing and self-deprecating charm, together with refreshing moments of tenderness and vulnerability, this is the sort of writing that audiobooks were made for. How else are you going to hear the author’s uncanny impression of Grover from “Sesame Street,” let alone fully appreciate the intersectional nuance of these multifaceted essays in which Thomas tackles the thorniest of topics with humility, compassion and devastating wit?
Another Coming of Age title best enjoyed as an audiobook is Michelle Gallen’s recent debut novel “Big Girl, Small Town,” performed in all its slangy, profane Irish glory by actress Nicola Coughlan of the comedy series “Derry Girls.” Growing up in the village of Aghybogey during the Troubles, Majella O’Neill now seeks refuge in mundanity, reveling in episodes of “Dallas” and the daily grind in her job at a chip shop, A Salt and Battered! Yet even in peacetime, life keeps beating at her castle wall. With artful deadpan delivery in the inimitable cadences of Northern Ireland, Coughlan perfectly captures the complexities of this curious heroine and her town that lurk behind the gritty, darkly humorous traffic of a seemingly random week.