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Bestselling audiobooks in the English-speaking world

November 25, 2010

Published by The Christian Science Monitor

Amid all the hype about e-readers, let’s not forget audiobooks, an alternative to traditional print that’s been around since vinyl records. Here are some of the audiobook titles now topping bestseller lists in the English-speaking world.

1. In the United States

Although iTune’s chart of top-selling audiobooks in the US does include some of the more obvious candidates – Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy and Stephen King’s latest, “Full Dark, No Stars,” among them – there are also a few less-expected titles on the list:

Talk Less, Say More: Three Habits to Influence Others and Make Things Happen,” a business communication book by Connie Dieken is a favorite among audiobooks. Dieken, a former broadcast news anchorwoman, also narrates the book in which she propagates and coaches brief, clear messaging.

Back in 2007, David Baldacci, famed writer of legal thrillers, mixed it up with “Wish You Well.” This captivating family drama, set in the Virginia mountains circa 1940, won critical acclaim three years ago, and seems to resonate with audiobook listeners today.

The classic of ancient military stratagem, “The Art of War,” is frequently among the top 10 most popular audiobooks on iTunes. Estimated to have been written in the 6th century BC by Chinese Gen. Sun Tzu, the text is perhaps one of the oldest and most successful works of all time. Some contemporary readers – and listeners – say they apply its timeless tactics to modern business management.

2. In Canada

Booklovers north of the border listen to much of the same literature found on bestseller lists in the US. (“Talk Less, Say More” tops both the Canadian and US lists, as does George Bush’s “Decision Points”). Not all titles coincide, however. Here are a few of Canada’s current top-selling audiobook titles:

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” by Deepak Chopra tosses the common conception that success is a result of ambition and hard work out the window. Instead, the author relies on what he calls spiritual laws such as pure potentiality, karma, detachment, and dharma.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” became an instant bestseller in Latin America almost 20 years ago, then followed suit in the US, Canada, and nearly everywhere else. This inspirational fable, about a shepherd boy who travels from Spain to Egypt in search of buried treasure, is honed from a traditional fairy tale moral.

Room” by Emma Donoghue has a frightful, potentially claustrophobia-producing premise, one that might deter readers from playing the audiobook on long road trips. Nonetheless, the escape story, told from the perspective of a 5-year-old one who has lived his entire life in one room with his imprisoned mother, is a top seller.

3. In Britain

Audiobooks are practical when the real thing isn’t: They can be “read” while driving to work in the morning, as we cook dinner, or when we just want to lay on the couch with eyes closed. If Britain’s top three bestsellers are any indication, the British prefer to laugh whiile they listen to recorded books:

Michael McIntyre is one of Britain’s most famous comedy stars. His autobiography, “Life and Laughing: My Story,” recounts his showbiz roots, schooling, and tribulations with women – with great hilarity, of course.

Another comedian, actor-journalist-film director Stephen Fry, tops the British audiobooks chart with his second autobiography “The Fry Chronicles.” When narrated via audiobook, his uproarious personal anecdotes are very similar to a stand-up routine.

A Tiny Bit Marvellous” by yet another third English comedian, Dawn French, also tops the audiobooks charts. In diary format, readers meet the four members of the Battle family: a child psychologist who, ironically, doesn’t understand her two kids, a husband, and two quirky, angsty teenagers. The audiobook isn’t available in the US yet, but intrigued Americans can listen to French’s podcasts free of charge.

4. In Australia

Bestselling audiobooks “down under” appear to be a sampling of favorite listens from other English-speaking countries. British comedian Michael Fry’s autobiography is big there, as is Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’s “Life.” However, seemingly unique to the Australian list is the large presence of children’s literature.

Some of the children’s audiobooks currently selling best in Australia include:

Julia Donaldson’s 2005 picture book “The Gruffalo” has drawn comparisons to the Maurice Sendak classic “Where the Wild Things Are.” “The Gruffalo” is the story of a vulnerable but clever mouse who invents a fearsome “gruffalo” monster to scare off a fox he meets in the woods. Though the book loses something essential in the audio version – the wonderful illustrations of Axel Scheffler – it leaves much up to the imagination for children and adults alike.

Interactive children’s audiobook “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” comes out a sales winner as well. Makers of the recording have added songs, games, and activities to the original read-along classic.

Classic kids’ books “The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor” by Joanna Cole and Eric Carle’s “The Very Busy Spider” also top the list.

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