Uncultured: A Memoir
By Daniella Mestyanek Young, with Brandi Larsen. Read by the author.
Raised in the Children of God, a Christian movement founded in the 1960s by David Berg — or, as Young and the rest of the cult call him, “Grandpa” — the author recounts her 15 excruciating years in captivity from one commune to the next across Brazil, California and Mexico. Her deep reverence for her mother, only 14 years older than her, who was deeply subservient to “the Family” but nonetheless secretly taught Young to read at a young age, brings the listener to tears; as do scenes of child rape and beatings at the hands of “uncles” and condoned by “aunties,” and the sickening practice of “panty checks” at night, to make sure none of the girls were wearing them as they slept.
Upon her escape as a teenager, however, her struggles barely let up: Forbidden from studying at her proper maturity level in the Family, Young is woefully unprepared for the American education system. She eventually finds herself in the Army, where the patriarchal norms and bodily danger provide eerie reminders of her past. This is a painful and propulsive memoir delivered in the honest tones of a woman who didn’t always think she’d live to tell her story.
Macmillan Audio, 13 hours, 49 minutes
Listen to a clip from ‘Uncultured’
Bad Dolls: Stories
By Rachel Harrison. Read by Helen Laser, Suehyla El-Attar Young, Frankie Corzo and Phoebe Strole.
A basement blood sacrifice at a bachelorette party, a dieting app that turns violent, a sentient Magic 8 Ball and a doll that might be the ghost of a dead sister: The four stories in this collection are billed as “horror,” but the fear they inspire is more like the one you feel when you wake up at 3 a.m. and start panicking about everything in your life you can’t control. Voiced by a nimble cast, these four female leads buck against forces in their lives — societal, familial, internal — that threaten to cause them harm.
Penguin Audio, 3 hours, 56 minutes
Listen to a clip from ‘Bad Dolls’
Surveillance State: Inside China’s Quest to Launch a New Era of Social Control
By Josh Chin and Liza Lin. Read by Brian Nishii.
“State surveillance has been with us as long as there have been states,” the Wall Street Journal reporters write in their deeply researched account of how the Chinese government has been using technology to shape its citizens according to its policies since the Cultural Revolution. The narrative travels from Xinjiang province in western China — where the country’s 22 million Uyghur Muslims are subjected to apartheid, tracked via internal passports and QR codes and voice recordings and databases for blood samples and fingerprints — to the eastern city of Hangzhou, where Alibaba’s A.I. software touches almost every corner of residents’ daily lives. A particularly heart-stopping chapter explores contact tracing via mobile carriers in Wuhan in February 2020. This is both a granular and a big-picture look at how today’s Chinese Communist Party has flipped the Cold War debate over civil liberties and state control on its head. “The question Xi now poses is: What public goals can a government accomplish when given maximum access to private data?”
Macmillan Audio, 11 hours, 8 minutes
Listen to a clip from ‘Surveillance State’
By Ainslie Hogarth. Read by Adina Verson.
Creepy, hysterical, emotionally complex, the Y.A. author’s first novel for adults begins with a suicide. Laura was mother to Ralph and mother-in-law to Abby, and she was depressed. Ralph and Abby had moved into her house in the suburbs to care for her, and it is in this house where Ralph now falls into a grief that borders on psychosis — imagining that his mother may not be dead after all. Abby must hold herself together while working at a nursing home by day, trying desperately to get pregnant, and hanging on for dear life to an ideal of motherhood she’s never had.
Random House Audio, 7 hours, 1 minute
Listen to a clip from ‘Motherthing’
American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America’s First Paramedics
By Kevin Hazzard. Read by Gilbert Glenn Brown.
Beginning with a gutting personal history of John Moon, who grew up in an orphanage in Pittsburgh and went on to become one of the country’s first paramedics in the 1970s, the journalist (and ex-paramedic) Hazzard traces the birth of Freedom House E.M.S., an all-Black ambulance service that revolutionized emergency medicine. Other characters include Pittsburgh’s former mayor David Lawrence, who collapsed at a public event and died at the hands of the police, then in charge of ambulance care; the Australian-born anesthesiologist Peter Safar, whose 11-year-old daughter died of an asthma attack and who went above his superiors to start training paramedics in lifesaving techniques like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, intubation and more.
Hachette Audio, 9 hours, 34 minutes
Listen to a clip from ‘American Sirens’
Faith, Hope and Carnage
By Nick Cave and Seán O’Hagan. Read by the authors.
“It was oddly like being a junkie again,” Cave tells the Irish writer in his first interview in five years. He’s talking about having to cancel the tour for his 2019 album, “Ghosteen,” in the early months of the pandemic. From the strange relief of life stopping — “It was like I’d been given the license to just be, and not to do” — to the “ruptures” caused by the deaths of his mother, his former bandmate Anita Lane and his teenage son, to the “tyranny” of traditional song forms and the “elemental” joy he’s found in making ceramic figurines, this interview is wide-ranging and intimate, revealing the depths of an artist’s soul. (The production situates the listener directly in between the two men, like we’re in the room with them, just observing.)
Macmillan Audio, 8 hours, 39 minutes
‘Faith, Hope and Carnage’
Listen to a clip from ‘Faith, Hope and Carnage’
Giuliani: The Rise and Tragic Fall of America’s Mayor
By Andrew Kirtzman. Read by Gibson Frazier.
“Fascinated by his perpetually spinning moral compass,” the journalist recounts his three decades of trailing Rudy Giuliani from City Hall to ground zero, along with an extensive personal biography that attempts to make sense of how the son of an Italian American plumber-turned-felon in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush — Harold Giuliani did time in Sing Sing before becoming involved in organized crime — went onto become a Robert F. Kennedy acolyte, an associate deputy attorney general in the Ford administration, a hero of democracy after 9/11 and, of course, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 15 hours, 19 minutes
Listen to a clip from ‘Giuliani’
Lauren Christensen is an editor at the Book Review.