I haven’t always been an audiobook listener. But about five years ago, I realized that if I got in the habit and chose my books carefully, I could get more reading in—and I loved the sound of reading more books!
Listening to audiobooks isn’t cheating—to your brain, listening is pretty much the same as reading a physical book. But it differs in that I can listen to audiobooks while doing the dishes, or walking the dog, or driving down the highway at 70 mph.
I don’t listen to just anything on audio. I’m looking for audiobooks that don’t just enable me to read on the go, but for books that are even better in this medium. I don’t want audiobooks that can substitute for the written word, I want audiobooks that enhance it.
For me, that means a good narrative: my Audible library is bursting with good fiction and compelling memoirs, read by terrific narrators. I have friends that love listening to instructive books on audio, and I acknowledge that this works for them, but whenever I try a self-help book on audio my mind wanders. I don’t want plain information, I want to sink into a story.
It’s easy to recognize when an audiobook has captured me, because the signs are always the same: I find myself eager to fold another laundry. I put away every dish, then wipe down the kitchen counters, and the range hood, too. I go an extra mile (or two) with the dog. And the ultimate sign: I sit in the driveway with the engine off, so I can listen to five more minutes.
The audiobooks I’ve shared below earned those “driveway moments.” Please tell me in comments which audiobooks earned your extra car and cleaning time—I’d love to discover a new favorite today!
Audiobooks so good you'll want just 5 more minutes
Wrinkle is the first—and most famous—of the L'Engle's Quintet, and it makes my readerly heart happy to see it everywhere these days thanks to the new movie. This Newbery winner bridges science fiction and fantasy, darkness and light; L'Engle herself hated when readers tried to shoehorn it into a specific genre. Whether you're reading it again or for the first time, get the version read by Hope Davis. More info →
The author based her epistolary historical novel on her own family's diaries, and the result is this fictional diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, a young girl growing up on the harsh American frontier in the late 19th century. The diary opens when Sarah is a girl, and the purposely bad grammar and diction got on my nerves, but don’t give up—the author knows what she’s doing, and it gets better as Sarah grows older. If you are drawn to warm-hearted, likable characters, this one's for you. (Heads up: this narration is great, but particularly slow: if that bothers you, just bump up the speed.) More info →
I especially enjoy audiobooks read by voices that don't sound like mine. I loved how Adjoa Andoh's narration helped me sink into the story, which takes place in Nigeria, the United States, and briefly in the U.K., and taught me how to correctly pronounce the characters' Nigerian names and cities. The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page (or minute?) one. More info →
This time-travel romance series totally sucked me in—and if you read the words "time-travel romance" and rolled your eyes, you're not alone: I did the same, until I read the backstory. As she tells it, Gabaldon intended to write a realistic historical novel, but a modern woman kept inserting herself into the story! She decided to leave her for the time being—it's hard enough to write a novel, she'd edit her out later—but would YOU edit out Claire? I didn't think so. You could happily lose yourself—and clean your entire house top to bottom 17 times—by listening to this whole series, which delivers serious bang for the audiobook buck. Davina Porter narrates, and she is freaking fantastic. Heads up for racy content and graphic torture scenes: I made liberal use of my fast-forward button. More info →
This big, fat, Pulitzer-winning novel was on my radar for years before I finally picked it up. It's not the kind of book I expected to love: the story revolves around a 3000 mile cattle drive from a dusty Texas border town to the unsettled lands of Montana in the 1880s, and features a motley cast of characters including illustrious captains, notorious outlaws, ex-slaves, Texas Rangers, sheriffs, and more. Yet I enjoyed it sooo much—all 36 hours and 11 minutes of it. More info →
Forget everything you've heard about this being an "important" book. Give this short audiobook a chance: listen to the first two minutes—and then decide. All you need to know is this story is fantastic, and it absolutely comes alive when read by the author herself. In this memoir in verse, Woodson tells the story of her childhood, moving with her family (or part of it) from South Carolina to New York City and back again, sharing her observations through a young girl's eyes with a writer's sensibility. More info →
A friend with great taste specifically recommended the audio version and I could not listen to it fast enough—I folded so much laundry and got the kitchen sparkling clean so I could listen to one more chapter, over and over again. Hildy Good has lived all her life in the small town of Wendover, Massachusetts. She's 60 years old, divorced, a successful realtor. And she drinks—a lot, and the situation is getting out of control. Only Hildy doesn't see it that way. A quiet drama with terrific, fleshed-out characters and an entertaining, thoroughly untrustworthy narrator. Read the reviews—the readers who LOVED this book overwhelmingly opted for audio. More info →
I love Marybeth Whalen, and was over the moon when I found out Joshilyn Jackson would lend her voice to this Southern story: it's perfect. On a small-town Southern Friday night, after the football game, two cars driven by local teens collide, killing three cheerleaders instantly. The only survivor is the driver at fault. Whalen expertly weaves together four voices, of four women whose lives were upended by what happened that night, to reveal to the reader what really happened—and why. Gripping, timely, and hard to put down. More info →
When a What Should I Read Next? guest raved about this, specifically recommending the audio version read by Meryl Streep, I finally caved and downloaded it. I'm so glad I did. This is a largely autobiographical novel about the breakup of a marriage, and it's way funnier than any book on the subject has any right to be. The foodie angle was a pleasant surprise. If you want to cross a book off your TBR soon, it's also less than 6 hours. (Or less, at my usual 1.5 speed.) More info →
Jackson's latest novel, about a complicated Alabama family and the "two Souths" it inhabits, was one of my favorite books of 2017. We read it in the MMD Book Club and I've been recommending it like crazy all year. This is a fast-reading, big-hearted novel that tackles Serious Issues really, really well—while spinning a terrific story. Jackson always reads her own novels, and I've listened to a half dozen of them because her narration—and her stories—are amazing, and the combination is dynamite. It's a cliché, but it's true: I would listen to Joshilyn Jackson read the phone book. But listen to this book instead, it's much more interesting. More info →
Which audiobooks earned your extra car and cleaning time? Please share in comments so we can find a new favorite (or six)!