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The Book Pages: Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin shares his reading recommendations

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I’m hearing voices in my head again.

Audiobooks, it’s audiobooks. Despite piles of books surrounding me, the most satisfying reading I’ve been doing over the past few weeks has been via my earbuds. Whether out walking the dog or waiting in the school pickup line, I’ve found listening has been the best way to engage with stories as focus has been hard to come by.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series narrated by Gerard Doyle (who also narrates Mick Harron’s excellent Slow Horses books). McKinty, who we profiled recently, is known for his bestsellers “The Island” and “The Chain,” but if you haven’t read these compelling novels set in 1980s-era Belfast during The Troubles you should. They feel as deeply immersed in time and place as Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles-set Philip Marlowe novels, and Duffy is a memorable and complex main character with great taste in music.

Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy novels. (Courtesy of Blackstone Publishing)
Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy novels. (Courtesy of Blackstone Publishing)

Like a lot of readers, I hadn’t thought audiobooks were for me until one day at the library with my kids I picked up “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” a thick historical fantasy I was eager to read but was sure I’d never actually get around to. I checked out the staggeringly large 26-disc set (yes, discs; this is a tale from the past!) and began listening on my commute as the narrator, actor Simon Prebble, brought the characters from Susanna Clarke’s novel to magical life.

Believe me: With his skillful, nuanced voicework, Prebble relayed the story better than if I had read the book myself. He made a good book much better. From then on, I was sold.

Librarian and author Nancy Pearl (who also recommended McKinty’s books on audio to me) told me something similar recently. “With an audiobook, there’s this third person who’s entered the conversation – and that third person, of course, is the reader, the narrator,” says Pearl, who listens to books while out on her daily walks. “I’m preferring audio almost to traditional reading.”

She’s not alone. The Audio Publishers Association released findings earlier this year that showed the overall share of time spent listening to audiobooks has grown 106% since 2017 (along with a lot of other data that showed large increases in usage). The increase is likely related to the ease with which our phones have made it possible to stream books from the library,, hoopla and Audible, among others.

And the more we listen, the more we gravitate to our favorite readers.

The cellphone has made audiobooks much more appealing. (Getty Images)
The cellphone has made audiobooks much more appealing. (Getty Images)

Mark Pearson, CEO and co-founder of who we first covered a few months back, agreed and messaged over some playlists focused on particular narrators this week. “It’s never been a better time to be an audiobook listener. We’re now seeing more attention given to casting for specific audiobooks. It’s common for authors and audiobook producers to review a half dozen or more auditions before choosing a narrator. While full-cast and celebrity-narrated audiobooks are some of our bestsellers, we know customers also enjoy listening to authors read their own books, especially when it comes to memoirs.”

I often ask readers and writers about their favorite audiobooks and narrators, always on the lookout for new voices, series and stories to pipe into my imagination.

Deesha Philyaw shared this with us, “I’m totally biased, but Janina Edwards is the narrator for my audiobook, and she’s phenomenal. And I highly recommend Mariah Carey, Viola Davis, and Jennette McCurdy’s memoirs, read by them.”

Cartoonist Tom Gauld told me about an audiobook he loved during our conversation. “There was something that I listened to that was brilliant,  “Lonesome Dove” – the cowboy novel. I thought, it’s so thick and I’m not a big cowboy guy. It was amazing, and I absolutely loved it. It wasn’t what I expected at all. They’re all so emotional, the cowboys, they’re all crying all the time. Well, not all the time, but a lot more than you’d imagine,” he says. “I was so glad that I experienced a book that I probably would have just missed otherwise.”

As Tess Gunty did in last week’s Q&A, Pearl and I agreed that Juliet Stevenson is an incredible narrator; the librarian also recommended her reading of Julian Fellowes’s “Belgravia” and agreed with me on her narration of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Signature of All Things” and Jane Austen’s novels.

Audiobooks, even floating ones, are improved with a cup of tea. (Getty Images)
Audiobooks, even floating ones, are improved with a cup of tea. (Getty Images)

I also reached out on Twitter and heard from readers about some of their favorites, which included Stephen Fry, Rebecca Lucas, Scott Brick, and Simon Vance, who I profiled in 2019. (True story: After enjoying his reading of the 20+ books in the Aubrey-Maturin naval series, I’d reached out to the British narrator online, assuming he lived along some dramatic windswept English coast – only to find that Vance lives about a mile away from me here in Southern California.)

Or how about these narrators and voice actors: William Demeritt, Jennifer Kim, Wil Wheaton, Leon Nixon, Intae Kim, Janina Edwards and others you’ve heard and liked?

Let me know who and what you’ve been listening to and I’ll aim to share them in the future.

Now, please check out our Q&A below with Greg Graffin, which my colleague Kelli Fadroski put together.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

The Book Pages Q&A

Bad Religion singer and author Greg Graffin. (Photo Credit: Per Schorn)
Bad Religion singer and author Greg Graffin. (Photo Credit: Per Schorn)

Bad Religion frontman and evolutionary zoologist Greg Graffin has books to recommend

Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin is pulling double duty this weekend as his Los Angeles-based punk rock band headlines the first day of the two-day Punk in the Park festival at Oak Canyon Park in Silverado on Saturday and he’ll be at Book Soup in Hollywood on Sunday, signing his new memoir, “Punk Paradox.”

The book, which will be published Nov. 8 on Hachette Books, details Graffin’s life from growing up in the midwest to his life-changing move to Southern California where he co-founded Bad Religion in 1980. He explores the early years of the Los Angeles punk scene, its steady growth and rise in prominence. As Graffin honed his songwriting craft and toured the world with his band, he balanced an academic life and earned a Ph.D. in zoology. He has since served as both punk rock frontman and a lecturer in evolution at Cornell University.

Before he sweats it out on stage at Punk in the Park and gets to signing books, Graffin answers a few questions about his new memoir. The following has been edited for clarity.

Q. Is there a book or books you always recommend to other readers?

“The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert. It’s required reading in the evolution class I teach, but it’s also such a good read that I think even general readers would find it satisfying.

Q. What are you reading now?

Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!”

Q. Do you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

Of course, this was Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle” and Leakey’s “Origins.” I write about the impact that both of these books had on me as a pre-punk teenager in my latest book, “Punk Paradox,” and my other book “Anarchy Evolution.”

Q. Do you have a favorite book or books?

I have so many favorites in multiple subjects that it would be difficult to be concise. But importantly, there is so much I have yet to read, particularly in fiction and history, that I am sure more favorites are waiting for me.

Q. Is there a book you’re nervous to read?

Generally speaking, I read for pleasure.  This is not to say that I avoid difficult subjects. But even difficult subjects can leave one with a better understanding. And learning is a pleasurable experience. So what makes me most nervous? Probably theoretical physics or math because it usually doesn’t leave me with a better understanding of things.

Q. Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, are there any titles or narrators

you’d recommend? 

I don’t listen to audiobooks in general. But I am happy to support them. In fact, I narrated some of my own writing in “Punk Paradox.”

Q. What’s something about your book that no one knows?

I spoke to a number of friends, musicians, and other authors, some famous, some less so, in preparation for writing it. We talked about the punk rock genre, and the social milieu in which they were raised. Each person identified unique milestones in their life’s journeys. Each spoken narrative is no more than a haphazard recollection of events we hold on to, and help us understand our own uniqueness. This gave me the confidence to craft a narrative from memory rather than intensive research. I believe this freedom resulted in a more interesting memoir. As Faulkner reminds us: “. . . the substance of remembering . . . there is no such thing as memory: the brain recalls just what the muscles grope for . . .”

Q. If you could ask your readers something, what would it be?  

“Is this book any good?”

Graffin’s book signing begins at 2 p.m. Nov. 6. Tickets are $30 and include a copy of the book at Graffin will be signing the book only, no band memorabilia.

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