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3 Bad Audiobooks I Listened to During Home Improvement Projects

Nicole Mulhausen

Staff Writer

After a childhood spent traveling around the country, Nicole Mulhausen landed in the maritime Pacific Northwest for college; finding it to be God’s Country, she never left. By day (and night) she manages a performance venue at a small liberal arts college, where she regularly rubs elbows with talented writers and musicians. Alongside the chickens, Artemis and Athena, she holds the fort at home while her two dashing sons galavant around the planet, flying airplanes in Montana and deep sea diving in Southeast Asia. With a nest now empty (aside from the chickens), she has more time to follow her sons' lead, exploring hitherto unknown wonders — like reading the works of authors-not-yet-dead. Twitter: @nicolemulhausen

It happens every time: I begin a big house reno or garden project, and my local NPR station launches a pledge drive. Maddening!

I know—you’re thinking: “Why do you need the radio? Podcasts, woman! Audiobooks! Do you even internet?

I do! I do!

But matching the right book with a project is tricky business. There are too many choices, and so many opportunities for grave mistakes. Trust me on this one.

Let me review.

Summer 2014; painting the boys’ bedroom-turned-office; Water Babies, Charles Kingsley.

On July 4th I woke at the crack of doom to deliver my son to the airport knowing he’d be on the other side of the planet for two years. Immediately went to work where I spent the next twelve hours with five hundred singing, dancing Mormon youth. The next morning, I had a wee cry, ate some breakfast, and started moving furniture and filling holes in the walls.

Now, between the long work day and the emotional upset of saying goodbye to your kiddo—this is already looking grim.

How could it get worse? I WILL TELL YOU. Water Babies, that’s how.

I had read about this author and had seen the title and knew, vaguely, that Mr. Kingsley had been writing at about the same time as Edith Nesbit and George MacDonald. And I had been aware of their collective influence on contemporary fiction for children. So why not give it a whirl? The reader’s voice was pleasing, which is not always the case, and, heck, I thought, it’s free!

Chapter One: Social reform on the menu, the old chimney sweep noble poor trope… got it.
Chapter Two: Off the rails.

It went from bad to worse, but I kept listening in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome haze. I could see that there was a religion-science theme going that was moderately interesting, insofar as it gives an idea of the struggle at that time to reconcile new ideas about the world. Etc. I was working hard to process all the everything about this book, and then! It dawned on me. Let the other kids write the PhD theses about this twisted didactic Victorian morality tale of redemption whatever. I just need to paint the damn room. I only wish I had made my escape sooner.

Shall I go on?

Okay. I will.

Winter 2015, kitchen remodel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James

Of course this is a splendid creation. I heard James give a lecture and he was delightful and engaging and inspiring.

But many hours into this cathedral of a book, you might find yourself lying on the floor of your garage, gazing at the ceiling, weeping, surrounded by cupboard doors and hinges and drop cloths and all manner of painting supplies and detritus. Wondering how anyone could make a world so real and terrifying and broken and lovely. This kind of deep existential quandary can really interrupt your painting flow. As it were.

Summer 2016, garden renovation, The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman. [SPOILER ALERT]

Everyone loves Neil, right?! Right! He wins awards! All kinds of awards.

It was all going so swimmingly. I loved the rhythm of the language, the humor, the characters, loved it all. Right up to the point where [SPOILER ALERT] Gaiman erases every female in Bod’s life. (I think a male character is eliminated, too. But I was too distressed to remember.) Like, they literally become invisible or have their memory swiped or die. So Bod is left utterly, entirely alone in the world. (In contrast, [SPOILER ALERT] Coraline’s crisis is resolved and her family is reunited and the human community is restored.)

So there I was, kneeling in the potato patch, waving my arms and shouting, NO, NEIL! NO! Did no one on the Newbery committee notice a little problem here?! I checked publication dates, sure that this must have come out early in his career, before we realized how idiotic this whole coming-of-age, boy-becomes-man-to-face-the-world-ALONE trope actually is. NOPE: 2008. 

Unacceptable. And all my people love him so. I wanted to go to that party. Instead I was raving in the potato patch like a lunatic.

I was upset for days.

It still bothers me.

This week: painting the master bedroom & natch, NPR pledge drive. Undecided.

I’ve learned that a mellifluous voice, a darling author you’d like to grow up to marry someday, or a mantle full of awards—none will guarantee that your audiobook will match your getting-shit-done project needs.


If you’re easily overwhelmed by too-many-choices, like I am, I highly recommend making your audiobook choices before well before you even think about paint colors or garden design. It’s audiobook month, so fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you choose.

Dangit. I wish I’d done that. Next time for sure.