15 audiobooks that enhance your reading experience

15 audiobooks that enhance your reading experience

It’s official: as far as your brain is concerned, audiobooks are not “cheating.” The mental processes involved in experiencing a book are pretty much the same, whether you “read” it with your eyes or your ears.

Nobody needed to convince me. I love a good audiobook, and never worry about whether or not it’s cheating. (What a silly question!)

Audiobooks let me “read” while I’m driving, or running, or folding the laundry. They let me get through more pages, more quickly, than I ever could if I was confined to paper and screens.

But my favorite audiobooks are good for more than just hands-free reading. The best aren’t a substitute for actual books; instead they enhance it, adding layers to the reading experience.

These 15 titles aren’t just good books; they’re also wonderful listening experiences. I hope you enjoy them, and I can’t wait to hear about your favorites.

Tell me about some of your favorite listening experiences in comments. What audiobooks have you loved? What titles would you add to this list?

Series: Great Audiobooks
The Thousand Dollar Tan Line: a Veronica Mars Mystery

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line: a Veronica Mars Mystery

Author:
Marshmallows, this is what you need to know: it's Veronica Mars, narrated by Kristen Bell herself. This wasn't high literature or anything, but it was so much fun (and had such good narrative drive) I didn't want to stop until I knew how it ended. (8 hr 42 min) More info →
The Chief Inspector Gamache Series

The Chief Inspector Gamache Series

Author:
These mysteries are unlike anything I'd ever read: the whodunit plot lines are just an excuse to explore human nature, granting them a depth and psychological astuteness I never expected from this genre. (Note: if I thought Three Pines was a real place, I'd move there in a heartbeat.) The first book is slow, the murders in books 2 and 3 are a little weird, but they're all still good. But the series really hits its stride in book 4. Narrator Ralph Cosham, who does books 1-10, is absolutely fabulous. (Book 1: 9 hr 37 min) More info →
Be Frank With Me

Be Frank With Me

In this debut we follow the adventures of Alice Whitley, a young and innocent 23-year-old who's given a plumb assignment by her NYC publisher: fly to California to serve as personal assistant to the reclusive bestselling author who's agreed to write her first book in decades. But Alice soon discovers her only role is to serve as child-wrangler to the author's quirky 9-year-old, who's constantly getting into trouble while dressing as a 1930s movie star, complete with top hat. Narrator Tavia Gilbert's fantastic narration takes this charming story up a notch. (8 hr 37 min) More info →
One Plus One

One Plus One

Author:
Because: Jojo Moyes. A road-trip-from-hell as a romantic comedy? Yep. Moyes’s latest novel is a departure from her previous works, this time focusing on a single mom, her weird kids, and a geeky tech guy. Financially strapped Jess can’t afford to send her math whiz daughter to a decent school, but then a scholarship opportunity arises—in Scotland, and she can’t afford to drive there. Enter Geeky Ed, who owes her a favor, but mostly wants a chance to think about anything besides the insider trader scandal he’s embroiled in. The story is told from four different points of view, with different voices for each, which makes the audio version great. Quirky and endearing. (12 hr 19 min) More info →
The Martian: A Novel

The Martian: A Novel

Author:
Think Cast Away, in outer space. Funny, thrilling, and surprisingly plausible. A 2015 summer reading guide pick—it's a book you can't put down, and the audio narration is pitch perfect. (10 hr 53 min) More info →
Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Author:
I couldn't care less about video games or John Hughes movies, but this exceptional audiobook hooked me from minute one. Wil Wheaton is phenomenal. It’s 2044 and the world is in shambles, so who can blame Wade Watts if he’d rather live in a virtual reality than the real one? Like many of his peers, Wade spends his waking hours by himself, logged into a virtual reality game, racing through a computerized scavenger hunt in which his success depends on his knowledge of obscure ‘80s pop culture references. Dystopian novels abound, but they’re not usually this fun. (15 hr 46 min) More info →
A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove

Author:
I couldn't get into this as a hardcover but then a friend with great taste suggested I give the audio a try. I started again from the beginning, and this time it hooked me. The narrators' accents—especially for Ove—are fantastic. I laughed and cried and couldn't stop listening. But do yourself a favor: don't even think about finishing this novel in a public place, and think about removing your mascara first. (9 hr 9 min) More info →
Maisie Dobbs

Maisie Dobbs

This is the first installment of the instantly beloved British mystery series set between the wars, and the accents are to die for. This is a series worth binge listening. (10 hr 1 min) More info →
Modern Romance

Modern Romance

Author:
Comedian Ansari channeled his experiences in the modern dating scene into a hysterical, chart-topping memoir-of-sorts about the current state of dating. Many MMD readers rave about this, and it's lots of fun, but if you're sensitive to salty language here's your warning: this one has A LOT. Ansari does the narration himself, and he's wonderful—go listen to the audiobook sample for an example of the "audiobook asides" he throws in periodically. So fun! (6 hr 14 min) More info →
The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House

I was warned this beautiful and heartbreaking story would suck me right in and it certainly did. The year is 1791, and an orphaned Irish girl is brought to a Virginia plantation as an indentured servant and makes her home among the slaves. The story is told alternately by the orphan Lavinia and 17-year-old Belle, the half-white illegitimate daughter of the plantation owner, who becomes Lavinia's de facto mother figure. The story keeps a brisk pace, propelled forward by rape, corruption, lynching, and occasionally, love. The wonderful narration (in two voices) heightens the sense of clashing cultures. (12 hr 55 min) More info →
A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

Author:
Renowned travel writer Bryson takes to the Appalachian Trail in this laugh-out-loud travel memoir. After returning to America after 20 years in England, Bryson reconnects with his home country by walking 800 of the AT’s 2100 miles, many of them with his cranky companion Katz, who serves as a brilliant foil to Bryson’s scholarly wit. A superb hiking memoir that skillfully combines laugh-out-loud anecdotes with serious discussions about history, ecology, and wilderness trivia. Droll, witty, entertaining. This is one of those rare occasions where I'd recommend listening to the abridged version, because Bryson himself narrates it. (5 hr 58 min) More info →
Faithful Place

Faithful Place

Author:
When he was 19, Frank Mackey planned to run off with his girlfriend Rosie Daly: they would cut ties to home, get married, and start a new life in England. When Rosie didn't show, Frank assumed she changed her mind and left without him. But 22 years later, Rosie's suitcase is found hidden in their planned meeting spot. Frank never got over her, and he'll do whatever it takes to uncover what happened. Frank's qualities make him a first-class detective: he's painfully honest and willing to deal with unpleasant truths. He knows his weak spots, expects the sucker punch. He believes the most important thing every man should know is what he would die for. Depressing, but French tells a great story, and the fabulous accents in the audio version bring it to life. (16 hr 17 min) More info →
The Cuckoo’s Calling

The Cuckoo’s Calling

In this murder mystery, detective Cormoran Strike and his Girl Friday investigate a supermodel's suspicious suicide. I found the plot compellingly twisty, the characters interesting, the rapport between the two investigators my favorite part. I was leery to do this on audio because of the HSP factor, but aside from a few brief descriptions of the crime scene (and a whole lot of f-bombs) it was fine. (I wouldn't necessarily say that about books 2 and 3 of the series, which are more grisly. I read those in hardback.) First-rate murder mysteries; highly recommended for Louise Penny fans. Now I'm impatiently waiting for book 4 of the series... (15 hr 54 min) More info →
Someone Else’s Love Story

Someone Else’s Love Story

Several devoted readers told me they didn't fall in love with Joshilyn Jackson's writing until they listened to her narrate her own stories on audio and from the opening scene you'll understand why. This Southern novel begins with a holdup at the Circle K, and weaves together themes of loss, love, date rape, and Asperger's Syndrome into one strange but strangely fitting story. Heads up for a few disturbing/graphic scenes. (12 hr 3 min) More info →
Three Sisters, Three Queens

Three Sisters, Three Queens

In this latest release from New York Times best-selling historical fiction master Gregory, she takes on King Henry VIII's sisters Mary and Margaret, along with Katherine of Aragon. These sisters—simultaneously allies and rivals—become the queens of England, Scotland, and France, and Gregory—with help from narrator Bianca Amato—does a masterful job of making you feel the high drama of the Tudor court. (21 hr 9 min) More info →

 

audiobooks enhance the reading experience

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137 comments

  1. Laura says:

    Great list. I am not always a huge audio book fan, but I really enjoyed listening to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It is read by a cast of engaging people, and the central character’s voice reminded me a bit of Julie Andrews.

  2. Michelle Collazo says:

    I’ve been waiting for a post just like this for awhile now…thank you, thank you for delivering some excellent audio recommendations! I credit your website and podcast for pushing me to try audio, and I’m so happy I did! Life is full with work, family, graduate school…but taking care of oneself is so important, and that’s where reading comes in for me. Thank you for helping me figure out how to remove that barrier that is ‘time’, and take advantage of those moments when I can listen (in the car, mostly!!).

    So far, I’ve listened to: “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver – the narrator does different voices for the very different perspectives of the sisters…this was such a great first audio experience. I love her southern accent.
    “Pines” by Blake Crouch – really not my typical genre, and while the premise was interesting, the narrating was pretty terrible, and the writing not too impressive.
    “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou – I LOVED this one…I could listen to Ms. Angelou read anything, beautiful narrating, and the writing is exquisite. I went out and bought a paperback of this, too, because I want to pore over the sentences.
    “As You Wish” by Cary Elwes – I’m currently listening to this one. It’s entertaining…the writing is ok, and it’s narrated by the author and some of the cast members, which is great. The behind-the-scenes stories are fantastic. Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies, though…and now I need to read the actual book!

    And now, with all the reader comments, I’ll have even more recommendations! Thank you for helping me sustain my reading life through audiobooks 🙂

  3. Beth says:

    Have you listened to the Flavia DeLuce series? The narrator captures her voice and the tone of the books so well that I will wait for weeks to get the audio book as opposed to reading them.

  4. Dana says:

    I will be adding Faithful Place and 3 Sisters, 3 Queens to my audible queue.
    I agree wholeheartedly about audio books. I love that they allow me to enjoy a book while driving, knitting or folding laundry. However, I do have to be completely alone to fully engulf myself into the listen.
    Currently, I am listening to Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It’s amazing thus far. I am also listening to book 4 of the Game of Thrones (GOT)on audio and it’s the best audio experience I’ve ever had. I tried the ebook and the paperback and always got lost or forgot who I was dealing with because there are thousands of different characters to keep track of. The narrator of GOT brings that book alive for me and I love the show that much more because of how awesome the audio books are.

    Your faithful reader,
    Dana

  5. Heidi says:

    The Shack audiobook was excellent. I hadn’t read it first or since, so I can’t say for sure, but I added the audio when I bought the Kindle version for my teen daughter because I enjoyed it so much.

  6. Sydney says:

    I listened to Modern Romance in one shot. I started it on my drive home from work one Friday night (I commute), I liked it so much that I kept listening during my workout, then continued listening while I did my grocery shopping, came home and listened while I did meal prep, and then made a bowl of popcorn to snack on while I finished it. The book is great, and Aziz is hilarious. I also listened to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project on audio based on a reccomendation from one of your posts. I don’t know that I would have read it otherwise, but I’m so glad I did! I’m not an avid Gretchen Rubin fan and follow all her work obsessively. I just finished listening to A Man Called Ove today. The narrator was perfect! It added a lot to the story. I think Ove will end up being my favorite book I’ve read this year. I laughed and cried throughout the whole story. It was deep yet lighthearted and had such a wonderful message without being sappy or nauseating. I’m always looking for great audio reccomendations. Thanks for this great post!

    • Jo Skidmore says:

      A Man Called Ove is my all time favorite book/audio books. I have recommended it to everyone. I’ve actually listened to it a second time. I rarely watch/listen or read anything more than once and it was just as good the second time around!

      The Neapolitan Series by Elena Ferrante is awesome. Even after 4 books, I didn’t want it to end.

      Heartless by Marissa Meyer was really good!

  7. Sarah says:

    Reading this post and these comments, I have added so many books to my Audible Wish List! I wanted to mention how much I LOVED Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides on audiobook. The narrator, Kristoffer Tabori, does an amazing job with the Greek-American accents. It was such an experience listening to this book. Loved it!

  8. Lori says:

    I loved listening to The Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Simple, calm, uplifting stories. Too simple to read but wonderfully relaxing to listen to.

  9. Johanna says:

    I love audiobooks! I listen to them while I work. I just placed almost all the books on hold at my library. Thank you for your recommendations!

  10. Trisha says:

    Some of my favorite audio books listed! I drive 60 miles a day to work (roundtrip) so I have a lot of time to listen and cry ( Man called Ove). My number one favorite is still Code Name Verity- really is an outstanding audio book.

  11. Karen Trifonoff says:

    I loved the Audible version of “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving. Owen’s voice was great. I have gotten into the habit of reading along on my Kindle and listening to the book on Audible whenever I can. I can’t imagine this book without hearing Owen’s voice.

  12. Chelle says:

    Thank you so much for this post – some book-reading experiences really can be enhanced through audio editions, and this list is a great place to start. I really regret not having listened to Amy Poehler’s book, as I felt when I was reading it I wasn’t quite capturing her voice, and therefore didn’t find it nearly as funny or enjoyable as I do when watching or listening to her perform. That said, I was somewhat disappointed by the first couple of lines in this post:
    “It’s official: as far as your brain is concerned, audiobooks are not “cheating.” The mental processes involved in experiencing a book are pretty much the same, whether you “read” it with your eyes or your ears.”
    I completely agree with you, the author of the initial article Melissa Dahl, and Professor Daniel Willingham, that audiobooks are not “cheating” and that this concept of “cheating” when talking about reading is rather silly and definitely arbitrary. However, to state definitively that the mental processes involved in experiencing a book are the same via the act of reading and the act of listening is an oversimplification of an idea that lacks empirical evidence. There are no studies cited by you, Ms. Dahl, or Professor Willingham which conduct experiments that directly compare the two experiences in the cognitive processes of two or more groups. Additionally, Willingham is only one expert, and the only expert cited — and while his credibility and expertise is not being questioned here, the fact that only one source (one without empirical evidence) is being cited is worthy of concern, and makes the reliability and validity of the statement made questionable. Since it was the initial statement, as well as the main idea of the post, it really distracted me from enjoying the rest of the post, which was otherwise both poignant and astute.
    I am a huge fan of your blog and your book lists, and I am also an avid reader who believes in the worthiness of audiobooks in anyone’s library. Again, thank you for creating this list and for your many thoughtful contributions.

  13. Cindy McMahon says:

    When possible, I enjoy having both a hard copy of a book AND the audio version (although my library probably frowns on this). I’m a visual learner, so I often NEED to see the words, but I also enjoy the accents and the pure LUXURY of being read to. It’s not such a gamble to buy a used audio CD if I have a book as back-up for the parts of the CD that skip. A non-fiction audiobook I LOVED was “Undaunted Courage” (about the Lewis and Clark expedition). “Big Little Lies” is my all-time favorite fiction audio, but I’m currently enjoying “Circling the Sun” very much, although with my mouth hanging open at some of the protagonist’s exploits!

  14. Debbie Hauser says:

    I just listened to, “The Clancys of Queens” by Tara French. The book is read by the author and she is a fantastic narrator. I so enjoyed meeting her family in this book as she really has a group of really interesting and funny family!

  15. Jennifer Cook says:

    Here are some audiobooks I listened to in 2016 great experiences:
    Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth; The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder (lyrical Southern reading); Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (three main characters read in three different voices); Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (loved the vernacular speech interpretation). I listen on my work commute time and a book a week. These four were memorable!

  16. Debbie Hauser says:

    I have just listened to a great one, The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. It is read by Linda Lavin and she is a fantastic narrator.

  17. Cori says:

    I absolutely loved “Cuckoo’s Calling,” and I think it is because of your recommendation! Some of the complaints about the book – too much description and dialogue were perfect for listening to the book!

  18. Louisiana says:

    I only read audiobooks, since I’m blind and this is the only way to truly enjoy them. I can only imagine you haven’t heard Seán Barrett narrate something, or he would be on this list. Perfume by Patrick Suskind and the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco are two favourites that spring to mind. He also does an astounding job with the beckett Trilogy, but they are very hard going books.
    Other great listens include The discworld Series by terry Pratchett, A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and Niel Gaiman usually has wonderful narrators for his books or he does a rather excellent job himself.

  19. Laura says:

    Glad Cuckoos Calling made the list. I’d like to add The no. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. There are 17 in the series with another coming Nov-17. The woman who reads them does a fantastic job of voicing characters – you can recognize the characters and it’s consistent across all 17 books. These aren’t intense mysteries, but the stories about Africa suck you in, give you perspective on life, and make you laugh and cry.

  20. Terri Torrez says:

    My favorite audiobook is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This is a verse novel read by the author and it’s just so beautiful. I also just listened to Murder on the Orient Express on Overdrive. The narrator does all the voices and it was amazing.

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