Best Media 2021: Top Audiobooks and DVDS

This year’s top audiobooks and DVDs, selected by LJ’s editors, columnists, and reviewers, represent the best media of the past year. In a year that has seen reader, listener, and viewer engagement soar, these picks provided vehicles for escape, moved us, and made us think critically and reflect upon the society in which we live. We hope these lists provide a means for readers’ advisory and conversation.

This year’s top audiobooks and DVDs, selected by LJ’s editors, columnists, and reviewers, represent the best media of the past year. In a year that has seen reader, listener, and viewer engagement soar, these picks provided vehicles for escape, moved us, and made us think critically and reflect upon the society in which we live. We hope these lists provide a means for readers’ advisory and conversation.

Best Audiobooks 2021


Babalola, Bolu. Love in Color. HarperAudio. ISBN 9781664791503.

Spanning centuries, mythologies, and points of view, the short stories in Babalola’s debut collection offer romances full of brimming emotions and thoughtful perspectives that de-Westernize familiar tropes. Mythology and fairy tales from Greece, West Africa, and the Middle East are explored in both magical and realistic settings. Ajjaz Awad, Nneka Okoye, Olukemi Babalola, and the author bring Babalola’s poetic prose to life.

Butler, Marcia. Oslo, Maine. HighBridge Audio. ISBN 9781696602969.

Set in inland Maine—where cruise ships and lobster pounds give way to paper mills and lakes—Butler’s novel follows the intertwined stories of seven people, some “from away” and others from a long line of Mainers. Well narrated by Charlie Thurston, this compelling, character-driven novel deftly and movingly explores class and culture as well as human flaws and strengths. Butler takes a big risk, but one that pays off in narrative depth, by including a moose’s point of view in addition to those of the multiple human characters.

Charles, Janet Skeslien. The Paris Library. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797104997.

Based on the real-life American Library in Paris and the brave acts of its librarians during World War II, this novel intertwines the stories of Odile Souchet as a young librarian during the war and later in her life in 1980s Montana. As the older Odile builds a relationship with her young neighbor Lily, listeners learn more about what happened during the war. The audiobook’s three narrators, Nicky Diss, Sarah Feathers, and Esther Wane, lend a sense of authenticity to each character’s personal thoughts, as well as the dialogue among characters.

Gailey, Sarah. The Echo Wife. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781250755131.

Evelyn, a no-nonsense doctor who has learned how to create human clones, was blindsided when her husband Nathan left her for another woman—one who happens to be a clone of her, Martine. When Martine comes to Evelyn’s house in a terrible panic one night, the two women must work together to cover up Nathan’s murder. Xe Sands narrates with intensity and perfect pacing. She has a creepy, cold way of voicing Evelyn, who analyzes every situation with a detached tone. Martine starts out tentative and deferential but slowly learns to express anger and opinions. Sands also ably conveys Nathan’s self-serving misogyny. Listeners won’t want to stop until they reach the ending of this enthralling and unique meditation on the ethics of cloning.

Jerkins, Morgan. Caul Baby. HarperAudio. ISBN 9781799957027.

In her fiction debut, Jerkins weaves elements of magical realism into a multigenerational saga that explores Black identity, generational trauma, overpolicing, and gentrification. Joniece Abbott Pratt’s melodic voice and distinct characterizations help guide listeners through this ambitious novel as the action flows swiftly until it reaches its powerful conclusion. Abbott-Pratt’s empathetic tone and measured delivery are a perfect match for Jerkins’s engaging novel, with morally ambiguous characters and thoughtful explorations of complex contemporary issues—none of which have easy solutions.


Kayode, Femi. Lightseekers. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781549153761.

In the rural Nigerian town of Okriki, three university students who stole from another student are attacked, beaten, and burned to death by an angry mob. As the murder trials begin, investigative psychologist Philip Taiwo is hired by Emeka Nwamadi to discover why his son, one of the victims, was at the scene. Cary Hite’s narration enhances the personalities and emotions of the characters in Kayode’s debut. This riveting tale about mob psychology and the political, religious, and social complexities of urban and rural Nigeria will captivate listeners.

Masood, Syed M. The Bad Muslim Discount. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593293164.

Masood’s insightful and entertaining debut allies two San Franciscans who meet at their mosque. Amid personal crises, anti-Islam sentiment in the post–9/11 era, and turmoil preceding the 2016 election, they lean into the certainty that they have proven disappointing as offspring and as Muslims. Hend Ayoub affectingly narrates Azza’s story, carefully evoking Azza’s recent gender transition and her extreme vulnerability. Azza’s somber chapters alternate with Anvar’s, whose witty, comic assessments of family, religion, romance, and politics are narrated by Pej Vahdat with the aplomb of a stand-up comedian. Both narrators modulate the novel’s notable shifts in tone, reminding listeners to consider the vantage points by which Masood’s book observes America, as both a destination and an actor on the world stage.

Turnbull, Cadwell. No Gods, No Monsters. Blackstone Audio. ISBN 9781982602109.

Told through an omniscient but still human narrator, the novel jumps between the points of view of multiple characters, both human and monster. Turnbull mashes genres in a way that’s both beautiful and explosive; he fully develops the characters while connecting each individual story to the central narrative of the battle between two factions and the overall fight for monster rights. Dion Graham is the perfect narrator for this story, giving all of the characters unique voices while expressing awe and terror at just the right moments.

Ward, Catriona. The Last House on Needless Street. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781250819802.

In this story of a lonely man and a woman relentlessly searching for the sister who disappeared as a child, Ward delves into the psychological effects of nature and nurture, pulling listeners into the complicated worlds of those left to reassemble pieces of themselves in the wake of cruelty and neglect. Christopher Ragland provides a masterful narration, moving deftly from one voice to another. He uses subtle changes in inflection and timbre to build tension and hint at future enlightenment. A perfect marriage of pacing from both the plot and the narrator gives listeners a thrilling experience that will shock them until the end.

Williams, Tia. Seven Days in June. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781549138577.

When Eva Mercy agreed to be on an author panel featuring important voices in Black literature, she wasn’t expecting the man who broke her heart as a teen to show up and deliver a masterful analysis of her vampire erotica series. This intricately plotted and character-driven romance follows Eva as she struggles with writing burnout, her invisible disability, motherhood, and the trauma of her past on her journey to trust Shane and let herself have this love. Mela Lee’s narration is gripping and emotional and will carry listeners away


Ellis, Helen. Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593402825.

Ellis’s collection of essays on friendship is poignant and emotional as well as facetious, dirty, sassy, and laugh-out-loud funny. In her stories about being a last-minute birthing partner, supporting a friend through cancer, undergoing backdoor plastic surgery, and riding Greyhound buses, she posits that there’s no limit on how far a friendship can go. The audiobook is enchantingly narrated by the author herself, which makes it even more relatable and hilarious.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019. Books on Tape. ed. by Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain. ISBN 9780593343227.

The essays in this essential volume consider the social and political effects of Black history on contemporary U.S. society, as well as the legacy of racism that treats people of color, Black people especially, as second-class citizens. Dozens of contributors, including Donna Brazile, Alicia Garza, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Kiese Laymon, and Wesley Lowery—most of whom read their own entries to fine effect—reflect on different five-year periods of U.S. history.

Green, John. The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593409541.

Green dives into a wide range of topics, including Halley’s Comet, scratch-and-sniff stickers, Diet Dr. Pepper, sunsets, the movie Penguins of Madagascar, Monopoly, and plague, in this collection of essays that began as The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast. While fans will recognize some of its topics in the audiobook (with minor updates), many other essays are brand new and several touch on the COVID-19 pandemic or refer to events from 2020 and early 2021. Green himself narrates the audiobook in a nuanced performance. Listeners can clearly hear the transitions between humor, sorrow, joy, and wonder.

Kendrick, Stephen & Paul Kendrick. Nine Days: The Race To Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election. Tantor Audio. ISBN 9781705268339.

The Kendricks, father and son, expertly weave history into a gripping narrative. They paint a vivid and disturbing picture of life for Black Americans in the deep South in the early 1960s. The nine days in question begin with a lunch counter protest at an Atlanta department store and are compounded by Dr. King’s previous arrest for driving with an out-of-state driver’s license. The danger to Dr. King was so great that John F. Kennedy was asked to intervene, late in the closely contested 1960 presidential election. Bill Andrew Quinn delivers compelling narration.

Lawson, Jenny. Broken (in the Best Possible Way). Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781250790941.

Lawson follows Furiously Happy, her bestselling book of humorous essays, with this hilarious and poignant look at her mental and physical challenges. The author discusses her anxiety, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, and other illnesses, balancing low moments with a wonderful sense of humor about life and herself and maintains an admirable sense of hope for herself and her family. Lawson narrates, sometimes laughing aloud at the absurdity of the situations she recounts. The chapter in which readers of Lawson’s blog share their most embarrassing moments will leave listeners in tears of laughter.


Moore, Kate. The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried To Make Her Disappear. Blackstone. ISBN 9798200696864.

Moore delivers an absolutely fantastic narration of her biography of Elizabeth Packard, a 19th-century reformer who fought for the rights of married women and asylum patients after her husband had her committed to an institution for disagreeing with him. Moore heavily quotes passages from primary sources (trial transcripts, government reports, and personal letters), but the riveting narrative flows smoothly—a testament to Moore’s skill as an author and a narrator. This brilliant story of one woman’s amazing perseverance is guaranteed to inspire all those who continue Packard’s fight for social reform and true gender equality.

Pazcoguin, Georgina. Swan Dive. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781250824769.

Listeners will feel as if they are in a private conversation with ballerina Pazcoguin as she discusses her road to becoming a professional dancer, costume mishaps, ill-conceived French dance-offs, the truth about the Nutcracker stage snow, and the abuse she endured over her 20-year career. Her narration reflects her passion, humor, and, most importantly, her healing. An uproarious yet sobering glimpse inside the balancing act between an abusive and discriminatory system and Pazcoguin’s love of dance.

Rosen, Kenneth R. Troubled: The Failed Promise of America’s Behavioral Treatment Programs. Brilliance Audio. ISBN 9781799771456.

Rosen’s well-researched book investigates the sordid world of unregulated treatment programs that target teens suffering from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, truancy, impulse control, or drug and alcohol addiction. They are notorious for deceptive marketing, biased research, untrained staff, and religious indoctrination—situations that can result in PTSD and other trauma-related symptoms that sometimes last long into adulthood. Ray Chase’s superb, steady narration keeps listeners’ attention on the heartbreaking reality of this troubling industry.

Schillace, Brandy. Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest To Transplant the Soul. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797121338.

As a medical researcher during the dawn of organ transplantation in the 1950s, Robert White questioned if the brain, the seat of consciousness, might be removed from a damaged or dying body and transplanted to a healthy one. In this thought-provoking, entertaining, and more than a little disturbing work, Schillace sets White’s work in the context of the Cold War, highlighting the intense political competition that drove and sanctioned his experiments and similar ones in the Soviet Union. Jean Ann Douglass offers an outstanding narration, filled with energy and humor.

Zauner, Michelle. Crying in H Mart. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593153901.

When Zauner was confronted by the reality of her mother’s cancer diagnosis, she threw herself headfirst into researching the disease, caring for her mother, and learning to prepare the particular Korean dishes that her mother might find appetizing. Neither medicine nor Zauner’s nourishing cooking was able to save her mother’s life, but the journey to the end brought Zauner close to her Korean roots. Zauner herself narrates the audiobook, giving it emotional heft. This memoir of loss and identity is both personal and universal.


Armstrong, Jennifer Keishin. When Women Invented Television. HarperAudio. Read by Nan McNamara.

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019. Books on Tape. Edited by Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain. Read by a full cast.

Poor, Nigel & Earlonne Woods. This Is Ear Hustle. Books on Tape. Read by Nigel Poor, Earlonne Woods, Lt. Sam Robinson, Chayne Hampton, Andrew Eiden, Gary Tiedemann, Landon Woodson, Cary Hite, Debi Tinsley, Joniece Abbot Pratt, Curt Bonnem, Teri Clark Linden & Pierce Cravens.

Sathian, Sanjena. Gold Diggers. Books on Tape. Read by Rama Vallury.

Whitehead, Colson. Harlem Shuffle. Books on Tape. Read by Dion Graham.


Engel, Patricia. Infinite Country. S. & S. Audio. Read by Inés del Castillo.

Mattson, James Han. Reprieve. HarperAudio. Read by JD Jackson.

Messina, Laura Imai. The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World. Books on Tape. Read by Traci Kato-Kiriyama.

Mott, Jason. Hell of a Book. Books on Tape. Read by JD Jackson and Ronald Peet.

Rowley, Stephen. The Guncle. Books on Tape. Read by the author.

Best Video 2021


Citizen Kane. b/w. 119 min. Orson Welles, Criterion Collection. 1943. Blu-ray UPC 715515266215. Unrated.

An eight-year-old boy with a sled named Rosebud becomes a publishing tycoon (Orson Welles) whose considerable influence proves hollow. Now restored in 4K to better exhibit its novel cinematic technique, with supplements befitting a classic.

The Courier. 112 min. Dominic Cooke, Lionsgate. 2021. DVD UPC 031398322634; Blu-ray/DVD UPC 031398322658. Rated: PG-13.

A mild-mannered British businessman (Benedict Cumberbatch) recruited by MI6 and the CIA smuggles Russian military intelligence provided by a Soviet colonel in this fact-based spy drama about efforts to neutralize the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Father. 97 min. Florian Zeller, Sony. 2020. DVD UPC 043396573130; Blu-ray 043396573307. Rated PG-13.

An octogenarian (Anthony Hopkins) being looked after by his daughter (Olivia Colman), who hopes she has finally found a suitable caregiver (Imogen Poots), exhibits worsening dementia shown from an often subtly subjective viewpoint.

Judas and the Black Messiah. 126 min. Shaka King, Warner. 2021. DVD UPC 883929714865; Blu-ray UPC 883929714872. Rated: R.

A car thief (LaKeith Stanfield) compelled by the FBI to infiltrate the Black Panther Party snitches on the activities of its Chicago-based director (Daniel Kaluuya) in a test of divided loyalty placed in motion by J. Edgar Hoover to eliminate an activist.

Let Him Go. 113 min. Thomas Bezucha, Universal. 2020. DVD UPC 191329136942; Blu-ray/DVD UPC 191329136959. Rated: R.

A retired sheriff (Kevin Costner) and his wife (Diane Lane), concerned about the abusive treatment of their young grandson and his mother under the thumb of an abusive stepdad, fight for the ties that bind in this 1950s-era neo-Western thriller.

The Mauritanian. 129 min. Kevin Macdonald, Universal. 2021. DVD 191329162187; Blu-ray/DVD UPC 191329162170. Rated: R.

In an adaptation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s bestselling memoir Guantanamo Diary, a long-held prisoner (Tahir Rahim) detained for allegedly recruiting 9/11 terrorists is defended by a lawyer (Jodie Foster) who eventually becomes his friend.

Nomadland. 107 min. Chloé Zhao, Searchlight. 2020. Blu-ray UPC 786936886566. Rated: R.

In a documentary-like dramatization of Jessica Bruder’s popular nonfiction book of the same name, Fern (Frances McDormand), who is laid off and recently widowed, hits the road in a van to find seasonal work, making friends along the way with fellow economic nomads.

Pig. 92 min. Michael Sarnoski, DecalNeon. 2021. DVD UPC 843501036273; Blu-ray UPC 843501036297. Rated: R.

A onetime famous chef (Nicolas Cage) became a recluse after his wife’s death years ago. Now he forages for valuable truffles with the aid of a beloved pet pig until his porcine companion is stolen, forcing him to confront a past he’d rather not have to revisit.

A Place in the Sun. b/w. 122 min. George Stevens, Paramount. 1951. Blu-ray UPC 191329203231. Unrated.

This Oscar-winning adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy tells the story of an underprivileged young man (Montgomery Clift) who falls hard for an upper-class beauty (Elizabeth Taylor). Restored in 4K for its 70th anniversary.

Promising Young Woman. 113 min. Universal. 2020. DVD UPC 191329134115. $19.99; Blu-ray UPC 191329134108. Rated: R.

A medical-school dropout (Carey Mulligan) feigns drunkenness to turn the tables on predatory bar patrons—a nocturnal activity preparing her for an elaborate plan to avenge a friend’s rape and subsequent death.


American Experience: American Oz. 113+ min. PBS. 2021. DVD 4188704538. $24.99.

A staple of American libraries and cultural touchstone since its publication in 1900, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has captivated children and adults for more than a century. This work vividly brings the tale of Oz to life while also telling the story of the author and his times.

The Codebreaker. 53+ min. PBS. 2021. DVD UPC 841887045162.

PBS’s American Experience tackles the story of Elizabeth Smith Friedman, one of the first and most important cryptanalysts in American history. Friedman’s career has been largely secret even though she worked as a code breaker in two world wars and battled organized crime in the 1930s. Viewers may wish this fascinating treatment was longer.

Cowboys. 80+ min. 1922 Films. 2019. DVD UPC 6318476202.

Plainspoken cowboys express what it is like to be a working cowboy in modern America. This slow-paced but revealing and fascinating film features incredible shots of empty Western landscapes as it presents a loving tribute to the cowboying life.

Flannery. 97+ min. PBS. 2021. DVD UPC 0841887044929.

Part of PBS’s American Masters series, this is a look at the brief, complex life and career of writer Flannery O’Connor, who was both lauded and misunderstood when she was alive, and remains so today. The film is most interesting when attempting to unpeel the aspects of O’Connor’s life that impacted her work.

Hindenburg: The New Evidence. 54+ min. PBS. 2021. DVD UPC 4188704515. $24.99.

In this intriguing blend of aviation history and science, PBS draws on new technology in an attempt to solve the infamous, fiery 1937 Hindenburg zeppelin crash. Incredible, newly discovered footage helps aid the quest for truth in one of the benchmark moments of the 20th century.

Into the Grand Canyon. 84+ min. National Geographic. 2019. DVD UPC 786936885835.

Two people attempting to hike 750 miles through the Grand Canyon are met with equal parts natural wonder and physical challenge. Often stunning, this documentary might be the best way to trek through the entirety of the Grand Canyon without having to get off the couch.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. 119+ min. Focus Features. 2021. DVD UPC 191329159255.

Writer and television personality Anthony Bourdain gets a fast-paced, raw, and revealing look into his life and death. This film doesn’t shy away from the darker elements that made Bourdain a complicated figure beloved by many.

The Sparks Brothers. 145+ min. Universal. 2021. Blu-ray UPC 810072545022.

Edgar Wright’s wildly entertaining tribute to one of rock music’s most eccentric and witty groups, Sparks, should please fans and create new ones as they watch the band’s evolution through a roller-coaster 50-year career.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street. 105+ min. Screen Media Films. 2021. DVD UPC 814838016627.

Pulling the curtain back on the legendary television show Sesame Street, this film is a blast of positivity. Viewers will relish seeing what went into making the show and the impact it has had on American culture.

The Truffle Hunters. 84+ min. Sony Picture Classics. 2021. In Italian with English subtitles. DVD UPC 043396575653.

Set within beautiful Italian forests, this surprisingly humorous and frequently tender tribute to dogs, tradition, and truffles offers a charming look into the world of eccentric truffle hunters.

Audiobook selections by Stephanie Klose. Additional audiobook selections by Nanette Donohue and Terry Hong. DVD selections by Jeff T. Dick. Documentary selections by Joshua Blevins Peck. 

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