My favorite listening experiences of 2018

Choosing favorites is tough, but I do love looking back on the year gone by. So today I’m going to keep torturing myself and share my best listening experiences of 2018.

For me, the mark of a truly great listening experience is that I’m still thinking about it, even months later. Bonus points to anything that’s so listenable it makes me want to run another mile, fold another load of laundry, or sit in my car in the driveway so I can keep listening.

I split my listening time between podcasts and audiobooks, so today I’m sharing some of each.

My favorite podcast episodes

In no particular order:

1. For the Love podcast: Knowing Where We’ve Been to Get Where We’re Going with Austin Channing Brown

I loved Austin’s 2018 release I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, and listening to her tell her story in her own words may have been even better. This is a powerful episode about looking back to move forward, and how and why we all need to work to end racial oppression.

2. But That’s Another Story: Louise Penny
I’m so glad you all urged me to give Will Schwalbe’s podcast a try. The episode with Louise Penny is a great place to jump in: they discuss Charlotte’s Web, how her awkward childhood made her a writer, and her path to publishing Still Life.

3. On Being: Life, the Internet, and Everything with Seth Godin

This isn’t a new interview, but it’s a good one. Krista Tippett asks excellent questions, which make the most of Godin’s unique perspective on things.

If you subscribe to On Being, you know that the show always releases two versions of each episode in their feed: the polished final version, and the raw, uncut audio. When I listen to On Being, I always listen to the polished version, because it saves time, and, as a podcast myself, I know the final version is better. But we accidentally downloaded the uncut version only before a road trip, so Will and I listened to the raw interview. It begins with a mic check, and ends with a personal signing off they both know won’t make the final cut.

This was a fortuitous mistake: listening to Tippett frame her questions (which sometimes took three tries) and Godin rephrase his responses for the listener’s sake was fascinating. I may never listen to the final version again.

4. Song Exploder: The Decemberists – Once in My Life

In each episode of Song Exploder, musicians take apart their songs and tell the story of how they were made. I love the behind-the-scenes look into the creative process, even if I’m not familiar with the musician or their work. The episode with the Decemberists is the one I keep talking about, and I also loved this episode with REM about their song Try Not to Breathe.

5. Serial: Season 3

When I first heard that the topic for Season 3 was the criminal justice system in Cleveland, Ohio, I was not excited. But then I listened to the first episode, and I was hooked. You don’t have to listen to the whole series for this to be worth your while, but I recommend beginning with #1, A bar fight walks into the justice center. Important and timely.

6. The Next Right Thing: Don’t give your critic words.

I love Emily’s short podcast (and her made-for-podcasting voice), and I’m particularly fond of this episode, in which she tells a story about a memorable Uber ride in Chicago. I know I’m not the only woman who relates too well to the story she tells, and needs to be set straight—gently, because that’s Emily’s style.

7. Best of Both Worlds: Off the Clock

This podcast is for women who love their careers and their families; each episode features an interview or focuses on a specific topic. This episode was a little unusual, as it’s focused on co-host Laura Vanderkam’s book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. If you haven’t read the book, this is a great intro. I’d already read and loved the book, and appreciated this behind-the-scenes view into the work from the author. (You probably notice a theme in my podcast choices by now, huh? I do love a good peek behind-the-scenes.)

8. The Tim Ferriss Show: Nick Kokonas

I almost didn’t include this one, because it’s niche and three hours long, but I’m sliding it in because once I began I felt compelled to listen through all three hours, and even revisited some sections. Nick Kokonas is the co-owner of Alinea, the founder of Tock, and an all-around interesting guy. In this episode they discuss solving tricky problems, how studying philosophy prepares you for life, misconceptions about the restaurant industry, and the history of Alinea. I also enjoyed hearing why Nick believes “what are the last five books you read” is a crucial question in any interview he conducts.

My favorite What Should I Read Next? episodes

It is SO HARD to pick favorite episodes of my own podcast—much harder than picking the above favorites, and that was brutal! I’m choosing a combination of episodes that stand out in my mind and those that would be a good introduction to the show. If you’re not a regular listener, you can truly jump in anywhere.

These are in chronological order:

1. Ep 122: This AMAZING episode will have you RACING to the library.
I chat with Season 29 Amazing Race winner Scott Flannary about how book clubs can help you connect deeply with your community, book-to-stage adaptations, childhood favorite heroines, and how an introvert finds time to read/recharge during a hectic filming schedule.

2. Ep 133: Authors who get where you’re coming from.
Sachi Argabright came to me with a specific request: she’s looking for unique and soon-to-be-released titles by authors who share her Asian American heritage. We discuss travel, reading goals, book organization, and much much more.

3. Ep 146: Refugee camps, civil war, and the triumph of a library card
This episode features an incredible conversation with Chatti Phal-Brown about how war, family, trauma, joy, and hope for the future have shaped her reading life. Spoiler alert: we both cry.

4. Ep 153: Revolutionizing your reading life, 10 minutes at a time
Kari Sweeney is a working mom of four who has developed a unique system to keep her reading life running like clockwork. We discuss wishy-washy star ratings, the right season for the right book, how she freed herself from book guilt… and she shares her secret to getting the hottest new books the week they release—for FREE.

5. Ep 155: When stolen audible credits spur a beautiful bookish relationship
This episode features our first father-daughter duo, and it is a delight. Ashley is an English teacher; Brent is an engineer. Their tastes differ but they share a love for an untold story. My challenge is to recommend beautifully written, science-y books they’ll both enjoy.

6. Ep 158: The life-changing magic of clearing your unread shelf
I chat with Whitney Conard about her Unread Shelf project, saying goodbye to reading shame, and the right and not-quite-right times to read. At Whitney’s invitation, I get to take a hard look at Whitney’s unread shelf and help her decide—from the bountiful selection of titles—what she should read next.

7. Ep 159: How to cope with the longest book hangover ever
Shawntaye Hopkins discovered Jane Austen’s books for the first time as an adult—and after that initial discovery, she dove in DEEP. In this episode we talk about the magic of immersive literary events that celebrate the classics (not just Jane!) and how they’ve changed the way Shawntaye reads her most beloved books. We also explore her TEN YEARS of book journaling, the book she’s still hungover from, and my recommendations for her include a book you probably have never heard of.

Psst—if you’re new to podcasts, check out this beginner’s guide or this video tutorial. Or get in-person help at your local library: your reference librarian will be happy to show you how to listen.

Favorite audiobooks

I love audiobooks because they let me read while my hands are full—whether that’s driving, doing the dishes, or walking the dog. For my fellow audiophiles: click here to see the abundant audiobook archives on Modern Mrs Darcy.

Favorite audiobooks of 2018: fiction


I loved this so much, and recommended it to Jen Hatmaker on What Should I Read Next? Episode 135. This Pulitzer winner manages to be serious and seriously funny. The hero is Arthur Less, who is facing his 50th birthday, his ex-boyfriend of nine year's wedding to another, and his publisher's rejection of his latest manuscript, all at the same time. He decides to hit the road—and on this trip, everything that can go wrong, does. Nonstop puns on the author's name, an arch sense of humor, and an interesting narrative structure keep this book filled with sad things from feeling downcast. When I got to the end I was strongly tempted to immediately begin again. Funny thing: I've noticed that readers tend to enjoy this more on audio than paper; I wonder if it's because Robert Petkoff's narration ensures readers get the tone right? 8 hours, 17 minutes. More info →


I read this in the spring, after three readers with great taste recommended this middle-grade audiobook in the course of a week. This award-winning novel revolves around three children, in Germany, California, and Pennsylvania, whose lives are connected by music—and a harmonica with a magical past. World War II also features prominently in the plot. The multiple narrators bring it to life, with a fun musical accompaniment in just the right places. 10 hours, 37 minutes. More info →

Honorable mention: On Turpentine Lane, Between, Georgia, The Good House.

Favorite audiobooks of 2018: nonfiction
Dream More

Dream More

When Kristen Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg from the By The Book podcast recommended this on episode 121 of What Should I Read Next, I couldn't download it fast enough. This book is an expanded commencement speech Dolly gave at The University of Tennessee at Knoxville about getting more out of life—work, relationships, all of it. There's nobody quite like Dolly Parton—good gracious, I had no idea just how much the woman has accomplished—and I LOVED hearing her tell stories about her life. I grinned like a fool the whole time I was listening. Short and sweet, at 1 hour, 27 minutes. More info →
My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South

My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South

You all have been telling me to listen to Rick Bragg read his own work for years, and now, I get it: this is the best thing I've listened to in a good long while, and maybe, ever—which I did NOT expect from an essay collection. Bragg reads 70-ish pieces of his nonfiction work, most of which have been previously published. Some are just a few minutes long; the longest runs for about fifteen. He covers A LOT of ground: football, fishing, book tour, his mama's cornbread, wardrobe concerns, New Orleans cuisine, natural disasters. These stories are compact, wistful, funny, and poignant. SO GOOD. 8 hours 43 minutes. More info →
So You Want to Talk About Race

So You Want to Talk About Race

I'd heard such good things about this book, and it deserves every glowing review I've seen. Drawing on her personal experience and years of work and research, Oluo thoughtfully engages complex issues like micro-agressions, cultural appropriation, police brutality, affirmative action, the model minority myth, the n word, and more. She dismantles myths, exposes often-unseen narratives that govern our actions, and gives advice to those who want to do better. Bahni Turpin is one of my favorite narrators, but I usually listen to her read fiction. Her narration here is perfection. More info →

Honorable mention: Personal History, The Color of Water.

Readers, what were YOUR favorite listening experiences of the year? 

P.S. My favorite reads of 2018 are coming to the blog next week. If you don’t already, click here to subscribe.


Leave A Comment
  1. Kelly says:

    I loved Echo as an audiobook too! I’ve been wanting to read Lethal White and never thought of the audiobook Heading to my Libby app now! My 2018 favorite audiobooks were Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, and The Girl in the Tower – great narration. Also loved Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things on audio. The Turk Bauer voice wasoutstanding. Happy reading in 2019!

  2. Lori East says:

    I listen to lots of audiobooks, but the one from 2018 that stayed with me the longest (I read it in July and still think of it in December) is Rachel Kadish’s The Weight of Ink. I don’t own a hard-copy version, but still think I need to just so I can reread and savor her words.

  3. Emily says:

    My favorite podcasts are yours, The Pop Cast with Knox & Jamie, Emily P Freeman’s The Next Right Thing and The BigBoo Cast. I also listen to NPR’s UpFirst for a quick review of the news. My favorite Audiobookds of the year were Echo (sweet story, loved the music), Home: A Memoir of my Early Years by Julie Andrews (fasinating story of her career beginnings and I could listen to her read a math book with her lovely voice), Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan (wonderful story of her faith journey & career) and Matriarch :Queen Mary by Anne Edwards (the changes during her lifetime in the monarchy & the world, WOW!).

  4. Susan says:

    I tried to read Less (in paper). While I enjoy diverse books, I just couldn’t deal with another description of gay romantic activities.

  5. Simone Layton says:

    I “read” Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine as an audiobook this year. Not only was it a great story, but the narrator’s Scottish accent added so much to my sense of place and who Eleanor was. Because the book is written in first person narrative, it just felt like I was listening to someone tell me their life story. Great stuff!!

  6. Shona Gibson says:

    One if my favorite podcast episodes was On Being July 23. Interview with Luis Alberto Urrea titles What Borders are really about and what we do with them. So good!!

    I just discovered the Ear Hustle Podcast. Did not think I’d like it..but I’m hooked. I highly recommend!

  7. Blaire says:

    I recently discovered the podcast – Homecoming. It is incredible. It is the first fiction podcast i’ve found that has hooked me. The actors are so good and it so compelling. I’ve been binge-listening to it all week long.

    • Pam says:

      I enjoyed this podcast, too. I’d give a slight edge to the first season, although the second season is definitely worth listening to, as well. Bob and I recently watched the Amazon TV series, based on the podcast. Really interesting adaptation! Loved Julia Roberts in it, especially.

  8. LynnAnn says:

    My husband and I listened to Mitch Albom’s “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” during several out-of-town car trips. I was over 8 hours long, so it took several trips to finish, but we loved ALL of it! All the musical celebrities who narrated their parts really added to the story. It was a bit difficult to understand who Frankie was and what was happening at the beginning, but as we went along, it got better and better. If my husband agrees, I would like to listen to it again during our out-of-town trips. Now we know the whole story, I think we will enjoy the parts even more. I recently saw the paperback on a sale table at our local bookstore. I wasn’t even tempted to pick up the printed version because I love the audio so much.

  9. Mary Jane McNeill says:

    The second audiobook I listened to was “Before We Were Yours” and coincidentally drove across the Mississippi River bridge in Memphis while listening to it. I was actually looking over the railing trying to spy shanty boats! That book stuck with me more than any other book I’ve read in a while!

  10. Whitney Hsu says:

    If you love Song Exploder (was that right? The Decmeberists episode one?) you’ll love Ryan O’Neal (Sleeping at Last) explaining his Enneagram songs! His podcast is ?? And the song process was beautiful.

  11. Felicia Gressette says:

    My two favorite audiobooks this year are The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (by Michael Chabon, won the Pulitzer for fiction when it was published in 2000) and The Known World (also a Pulitzer winner for Edward P. Jones in 2004). Both are brilliant novels and the audio narrators are terrific.

  12. Carol says:

    I was lucky enough to obtain both print and audio versions of Lethal White shortly after its release this fall. I planned on reading the print version and listening to the audio only while at the gym a few times a week. Well, after a few chapters I realized that I loved the audiobook so much I decided to forgo the print version. I really enjoyed the story, specifically the character development and relationship between Cormoran and Robin. This series is much like Louise Penny’s series – I love the characters so much that the mystery takes a back seat.

  13. Danielle says:

    I also love the audio version of Echo!
    My favorite audiobooks of 2018 were Neil Gaiman reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Helen Macdonald reading H is for Hawk. I had a lot of great experiences to choose from this year!

  14. Sarah says:

    I love it when you write blog posts like this!! So helpful. I love all the Joshilyn Jackson books, the Good House, Maisy Dobbs, the Nightengale just to name a few. I’m always on the search for audiobooks to help me unwind in the evening!

  15. I’m not a huge audiobook listener but I’m trying to get better 🙂 I LOVED Dream More (Dolly is such a great storyteller!) and I recently finished Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime, which I also loved.

  16. Karen Stafford says:

    The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo (who also narrates the audiobook) is fantastic. Felt just like listening to a friend talk to me. Highly recommend it as an audiobook.

  17. Jennifer says:

    The best new podcast I listened to this year was Last Seen about the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum robbery in 1990 which has never been solved. It was completely addicting and I can’t recommend it enough (especially to anyone who loves mysteries or true crime).

  18. Mary H says:

    My 21 year-old-son is working his way through Tim Ferriss’ backlist. It was fun to recommend this installment to him. Thanks, Anne.

    Circe by Madeline Miller really stood out in audio for me this year.
    Superb narration. Highly recommend.

    • Linda says:

      Want to join Mary H above and add a vote for Circe (Audible version). Loved the story, but beyond that, the narration by Perdita Weeks made the book come alive, as though the goddess herself was telling her story. Highly recommend!

  19. Marcy says:

    I’m impressed that you narrow down your podcast recommendations to individual episodes, I wouldn’t even *try*! I’d just tell you what’s currently on my “short list,” the ones I really try to keep up with (as of… a few months ago??), in this world with SO MUCH to listen to and my kid hangover, (3 girls, ages 1 to 6) HSP need for silence almost as often as I can get it! (I listen to other podcasts too, I just don’t try to listen to every episode of others. That’s a longer list that you just added to, hee.)

    The Next Right Thing, WSIRN, Writing Excuses, Lingthusiasm, Pantsuit Politics (another one I found because of you! But I’m kind of trying to listen when my kids aren’t around, so I still haven’t listened to much), The Lazy Genius, Out of the Ordinary, and Food, Faith, and Fasting (well, this one I just started its backlist, I’ve only listened to the 1st episode).

  20. Shar says:

    Picked up the Rick Bragg on audio earlier today. My first of his and my first time with a short stories collection (I tend to stick to novels). I am adoring this listen/read. His voice and perspective on the south are perfect! Great recommendation, Anne!!

  21. Patti Widener says:

    I am coming to terms with listening to audio books, but listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama helped turn the corner. I felt I was in the same room with her, as she shared her life story. It became a deeply personal experience.
    This is a must read book. I consider myself a “woke” person, but as I listened about her experience growing up in a loving yet family of little means on Chicago’s south side I know so little about what it means to be black. I learned the power of a loving stable family and of education.
    I understood more about her heart for young girls and women.
    Hearing her narrate is powerful!

  22. Jená says:

    Best audiobook experiences this year: Varina, written by Charles Frazier and narrated by the incredible Molly Parker, and Maryrose Wood’s delightful Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, discovered by listening to Audiophile Magazine’s brief daily podcast, Behind the Mic. Highly recommended!

  23. Julie says:

    I’ll have to listen to the podcast with Nick Kokonas. I had his youngest son in Kindermusik classes for years and always loved that family. What a small world!

  24. Donna D'Angelo Struck says:

    As someone who spends at least 8 hours per week in the car commuting to work, audio books and podcasts are my saving graces.

    Favorite audio book of 2018, hands down, was Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’. I have been a lifelong fan of his and hearing him read his story made it all the more special.

    Other favorites of the year include the already noted “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” and “Echo”, as well as “Beartown”, “Lily and the Octopus” and “The Bookshop on the Corner”.

    Favorite podcasts, in addition to WSIRN ( but of course!) are:
    By the Book
    The Simple Show

  25. Molly says:

    Anne- can you tell us more about listening to Personal History? This has been on my TBR for a while now, but the audio is so long! I often find political memoirs it’s hard to remember who is who when they mention so many people- did you find that? Thinking this may be a good Audible Credit use! Thanks!

  26. Suzanne says:

    My favorite listen this past year was Endurance by Alfred Lansing (read by Simon Pebble). I don’t even usually like biographies, but I read/listened because we were learning about Earnest Shackleton for homeschool. This story was gripping, fascinating, and easily one of the most interesting books I have ever read/listened to.

  27. Ellen Cole says:

    I loved, loved, LOVED Robert Dugoni’s The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. I’ve listened to Dugoni’s Tracy Crosswhite series (which gets better and better), but Sam Hell is a standalone and it is remarkable. I kept thinking that it felt like the narrator knew the characters so well…it wasn’t until the end that I realized that Dugoni is the narrator!

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