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?
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →