WSIRN Ep 31: Lifetime favorite books and reading for a living with Adam Verner

It’s Tuesday, which means a new episode of What Should I Read Next!

Today’s guest is Adam Verner. Get ready to die of envy, readers, because Adam reads for a living. Literally. When he was a kid and people asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up he’d say read books. But unlike most of us, Adam grew up and turned his theatrical background into a job as a professional audiobook narrator.

What Should I Read Next #31: Lifetime favorite books and reading for a living with Adam Verner

Adam is also one of the few readers who’s been decisive/brave/committed enough to choose his three all-time favorite books for the show. Most guests limit themselves to titles they’ve read in the past year or two or they say they’ll never be able to narrow it down!  

Read more about Adam on his blog, which is also where you can check out his impressive audiography

Books discussed in this episode: 

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• Hood by Stephen Lawhead
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey
• The Good Earth and Dragon Seed by Pearl Buck
• The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John
• All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found by Philip Connors
• Growing Up Amish: A Memoir by Ira Wagler
• Silence by Shusaku Endo
• My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
• The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard
• “Living Like Weasels“, an essay by Annie Dillard
• White Fang by Jack London
• The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
• A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
• The Award by Danielle Steele
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
• Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff
• In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
• The Starbridge series, beginning with Glittering Images, by Susan Howatch
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Also mentioned in this episode:

• Leslie’s blog Scraping Raisins


Leave A Comment
  1. Noel G. Ferre says:

    Love your podcast and in particular this episode as I had no idea how audiobook narrators work. Very interesting.
    My picks for Adam would be “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry and “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay. Both are long, sweeping, meaningful and beautifully written.

    • Adam Verner says:

      Hey Noel – thanks for the recommendations! I’ve read A Fine Balance and liked it – but it was SO depressing! Very well written, indeed, though. I haven’t heard of The Power of One, but it’s now on my to-read list! 🙂

      • Tracy says:

        The Power of One is one of my favorite books. Love the narrator being a young boy. It was the first pick of my book club that began 25 years ago. I agree, it’s a great choice for you.

  2. Kimi says:

    I had just told my 4 year old son we were going to take a walk so I could listen to the podcast when he told me not to use earphones because he needed to listen too.
    He was very impressed by the references to Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, by the way.
    I am loving getting to know your readers and why they love, or hate, certain books.
    I have not heard of Adam’s favorites, and can’t wait to read them myself.
    Thanks to you both!

  3. Skully says:

    listened to this one this morning on the way to work. i always wondered how audiobooks were made. (also that guy has a great voice!) the teaser for next week though has me hoping the “one book you hate” is also the same i’m currently not into. the description sounds pretty familiar!

  4. Laura says:

    We share the same favorites (the Endo and Potok read for a core class in college), also read about 15 years ago! I think Adam might enjoy Frederich Buechner, who writes about faith, doubt, and wonder, and crafts his language meaningfully (using le mot juste- the perfect word). He’s also a good one to dive into and read everything he’s done.

    • Adam Verner says:

      Thanks Laura! You know, I’ve read some of Buechner’s non-fiction stuff, memoirs about faith and art that have been amazing, but I didn’t realize he’s also written fiction. On to the list they go!

  5. Scarlett says:

    I binge read Chaim Potok’s works one summer back in high school (about 20 years ago). As a southerner growing up in a Methodist family, it really opened my eyes to a world so different from mine. I’d planned to read The Chosen as my selection for “a book you’ve already read at least once” for the 2016 Reading Challenge, but now I just might select My Name is Asher Lev. Thanks for the reminder of this other work. Maybe I’ll read both!
    Also, I enjoyed this peek into the making of audio books. I don’t listen to many audio books, but I certainly have a new found respect for the narrators!

  6. Melanie says:

    The narrator of an audiobook absolutely makes or breaks the book, so it’s an important job!

    Someone above recommended The Power of One, which made me think of A Prayer for Owen Meany. I read both books within a few months of each other and thought they paired well together…though I was more impacted by Owen Meany.

  7. Leigh Kramer says:

    This was such a fun one to listen to! I heartily approve of Silence being in his top 3. It’s definitely one of my favorites. They’re actually making it into a movie right now!

    • Adam Verner says:

      Hey Leigh! *sigh*, yes, I heard about the movie. I know Martin Scorsese bought the rights years and years ago, and now it looks like it’s finally happening. I just hope it will do the book justice…movies rarely do! If you liked Silence, read his other books, especially Deep River, The Samurai, and A Life of Jesus.

  8. Casey says:

    My pick for Adam would be Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. It’s sci-fi with a very literary flavor, and centers on a group of scientists going on an expedition into “Area X,” a part of the Gulf Coast that has been taken over by a mysterious presence. There are two sequels, although I think the first is the strongest.

    • Adam Verner says:

      Thanks Casey, I loved that trilogy! I’ve been a Vandermeer fan since his beginning, if you haven’t read Saints and Madmen and his other “fungus” books, go take a look, you’ll love them!

      • Casey says:

        Interesting… I read his Finch first and really disliked it – possibly badly enough to name it as my “one book” if I were ever a WSIRN guest. The only reason I read Annihilation is because it was a book club selection and because of its Nebula award. I’m glad I gave Vandermeer a second chance though, and I might be convinced to try again in the future.

      • Casey says:

        Have you read Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis? I checked out your 2015 reading list on your blog and it has a lot of crossover with mine – lots of Hugo nominees, plus Life After Life (which I adored) and All The Light We Cannot See (also loved). Many of Willis’s books are about historians who time-travel to study their era of expertise, and Blackout/All Clear are her Blitz books.

        • Adam Verner says:

          Nice! You know, I tried Blackout, and just couldn’t dig it – her writing style grates on me. I read some of her earlier books, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Dommsday Book, but this one I couldn’t get into. Pages and pages of describing someone running around campus looking for someone 🙂

          If you didn’t like Finch, you probably wouldn’t like Saints either…similar style. The Acceptance trilogy is quite different. Have you read the Book of the Short Sun series by Gene Wolfe? Very strange, very different, but I love them 🙂

          You should connect with me on GoodReads (if you’re there)

  9. What a great episode. Anne, your shows keep getting better. I tell everyone I know about this podcast series.

    Adam, I love My Name is Asher Lev. Have you read The Secret Life of Bees? Obviously very different but both deal with people trying to make sense of the culture in which they were raised.

    I’m curious which female audio book narrators you like? (I’m asking, potentially, for my own book, a non-fiction Christian self help.)

    Anne, I bought a few of the books you mentioned in this episode. Thanks again.

  10. Tam says:

    The mention of Pearl S Buck and biographies reminded me of her autobiography (one of my favorites) My Several Worlds. DeLillo and science fiction reminds me that I have Ratner’s Star on-shelf (also somewhat sci/math focused) and I have to make it out of the first chapter. 😉

    I love your picks.

    Science Fiction brain candy: (I’m sure you’ve read some/all of these but we read these aloud on car trips and they were pure fun.)
    The Martian(Weir)~Robinson Crusoe on Mars
    Robopocalypse and sequel (Wilson)~International AI/human beat down
    The Draco Tavern (Niven)~stories of the Earth’s only alien bar and the hijinks that ensue
    Redshirts or Lock-in(Scalzi)~If you liked the Old Man’s War series this is a just a natural follow up
    Ready Player One (Cline)~’80s nostalgia fest and scavenger hunt set in cyberspace
    To Say Nothing of the Dog (Wills)~Absolutely hilarious Victorian time travel/mystery/screwball comedy.

    For more complex science fiction with some interesting Christian themes I can’t recommend Ted Chiang enough. Stories of Your Life and Others has myth, the magic of words, alien linguistics, angels, dueling mental superhumans…it’s pretty amazing all around. It’s also short stories so it’s easier to digest questions about limited vs. omnescient POVs or how you translate language with aliens with a completely different experience with Time.

    An intersection of detailed observational writing and Japanese fiction could be Junichiro Tanizaki. I like The Makioka Sisters and Some Prefer Nettles the best because of their minute focus on Japanese families in a transitional period. Not as philosophical as Dillard though. She’s hard to match, isn’t she? Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction work (starting with Circle of Quiet) comes close in feel to me, but she isn’t the same.

  11. Kristin says:

    I also love all of Potok and found Asher Lev in particular to be meaningful to me. An author I would recommend who struggles with faith and doubt and meaning and all those things is Marilynne Robinson. “Lila” is far and away my favorite but I think you need to start with “Gilead”. Also in this same vein, although so different, is “The Fishermen” by Chigozie Obioma.

    I think Kathleen Norris, especially “The Cloister Walk” and “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith” has some similarity with Annie Dillard

      • Amy says:

        Enjoyable episode. My ears perked up when you mentioned My Name is Asher Lev. I devoured most of Chaim Potok’s books in high school; I think they deserve to be revisited.

        I just read my first Kathleen Norris book (Quotidian Mysteries) after listening to this podcast a few months ago and can’t wait to explore more or her work.

        Added many books to my to-read list including Annie Dillard. Thank you!

        2 book ideas for you:
        *People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
        *Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

  12. Sarah says:

    So interesting to hear about the audiobook recording industry! I’ve just begun listening to Station Eleven on audio. Going to buy my Dad The Perfect Storm after listening, thank you!

  13. Allyson says:

    Adam–Since you love “Silence,” are you aware of Makoto Fujimura’s recent book “Silence and Beauty”? The fly leaf calls it a “pilgrimage of grappling with the nature of art, the significance of pain and his [Fujimura’s] own cultural heritage.” It’s sort of a meditation on Endo’s novel.

    • Adam Verner says:

      Oh. My. Wow. Thanks Allyson – I hadn’t heard of that book yet, and now I will be extremely verklempt until I have it in my hot little hands! This is the best comment thread in the history of the internets.

  14. I really enjoyed this episode. My husband actually has that Lawhead trilogy and now I kind of want to read it! (Or listen to it!)

    I like reading fiction that deals with faith so I will definitely pick up the books Adam recommended. One of my favorites in that field is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. (And it’s scifi too.)

  15. Mary says:

    Anne, your WSIRN podcasts are intelligent, thoughtful and set an honorably high standard while appealing to a wide audience. I learn so much with each and every one. You are magnificent at what you do. Thank you, Adam, for your insight and peek into your world. I am so thankful for this conversation. I have grown! I am adding your book suggestions to my list. The book I threw across the room in junior high was Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. Lol. And loved Huckleberry Finn….as an adult.

    • Adam Verner says:

      Glad you liked it Mary! I highly advise book throwing if the spirit so moves you – it shows you’re passionate about what you’re reading, one way or another!

    • Anne says:

      Thanks so much! And now I’m so curious about how other listeners would answer the question “what book did you throw across the room?” 🙂

  16. Jenny says:

    Really enjoyed this episode. I have to say that I gave myself a little pat on the back when I heard Anne’s recommendations, because as you were talking I thought that Graham Greene would be a great author for you to try! The End of the Affair was a great pick for you. I also loved Endo’s Silence and Greene’s The Power and the Glory has some similar themes: a tumultuous setting, religious persecution, a priest grappling with his conscience and his humanity, and the fascinating decisions he makes along the way. Both of these books were very moving for me and for similar reasons. I’d check that one out too since you love Silence. 🙂

  17. Laura says:

    I just remembered another one you might like: Ursula Under by Ingrid Hill. It reminds me of Dillard in some ways- it describes the ancestors of a little girl who has fallen into a mineshaft, telling the stories of the past generations and cultures that came together for one life to be possible.

  18. Jocelyn says:

    Looking at the list of books discussed in this episode ‘Zero K’ by Don Delillo is not listed but mentioned a number of times. I think it is hilarious that he cannot remember Barbara Cartland’s name. I have not read any of her books but they were always there through my whole childhood. This makes me think that the culture of reading during the last 40 years must be very different in America from England. It would be amazing to find out from people if they remember what grownups were readings when they were kids. Or if their parents or grandparents recommended any books to them.

  19. M.E. Bond says:

    I’ve been binge listening to these podcasts and this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to comment (even if I am way too late!). I love Chaim Potok and am wondering if Adam has read any Marilynne Robinson. Her novels deal with faith in a complex, not superficial way. They are the type of books that you want to read in one sitting, but at the same time read very slowly and thoughtfully, definitely contenders for lifetime favourite status. I liked Gilead best (probably because the others made me feel too sad at points).

    • Adam Verner says:

      Hey M.E.! Thanks for commenting, and I have indeed read and loved Robinson’s work – especially Gilead! The others not quite as much, but I still devoured them 🙂 Go find me on GoodReads so I can get more recommendations!

  20. Patricia says:

    I don’t know if anyone will see this, as I only just discovered these podcasts, and am obviously way behind the curve… but after listening, I really wanted to share a recommendation for Adam, based on the combination of curiosity about faith questions and fantasy worlds — “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. I loved “My Name Is Asher Lev” as well, and “The Sparrow” would make my top 3 lifetime books. Musical writing, big questions, all in a page-turning story set in the near future when life is discovered on another planet.

  21. Debbie Klein says:

    Anne…I love your podcast and I know I am really behind but that means I have a lot to look forward to. Anyway, I was disappointed that you didn’t recommend to Adam an obvious choice and I feel like letting him know…The of the best books I have ever read and is comparable to My Name is Asher Lev which is one of my other favorites..if he could get this I loved A World Full of Strangers by Cynthia Freeman..a woman trying to escape her judaism but it keeps coming back to her

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