Readers, there is always something new to discover about your reading life—whether you’ve been reading for five years or fifty! My best advice for making those discoveries is to track your reading—because logging your books helps you notice patterns you’d otherwise miss.
In the last year or so, tracking my books has taught me a lot about my audiobook listening style: I love compelling stories, simple-but-stylish prose, and a narrator who brings it all to life. My journal helped me see that I’ve been listening to a lot of quiet, introspective literary fiction lately, and that I tend to enjoy that style of book on audio.
My recent reads feature first-person narration, weighty themes, and strong narrative style. The narrators not only bring each story to life—they also take reflective, slower moments and make them memorable. It’s almost like listening to a page-turning memoir. (Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m listening to fiction!)
One literary novel that I loved on audio is our April book club selection, Writers & Lovers by Lily King. We’d love for you to read along with us this month and join us for an author chat with Lily King on April 29th at 7 pm EST. When you join the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club, you also get access to all of the past author chats in our video library.
I’ve collected a few more of my favorite introspective literary audiobooks in today’s list. Incredible narrators bring complicated characters to life and emphasize the authors’ brilliant prose. I hope you find a book on this list to entertain you while folding laundry, doing the dishes, or taking an afternoon stroll.
I'v reread this book several times, and it's always every bit as good as I remembered. In his debut, Towles plunges you into the streets of the glittering streets of Manhattan, circa 1938, and into a circle of unlikely friends whose lives turn on one impulsive decision. I love the craft here: Towles sets his scenes so well, and the opening and closing scenes frame the story beautifully. This Gatsby-esque novel keeps surprises with shocking plot twists, including the unforgettable ending. Narrated in the first person, this compulsively readable literary novel is excellent on audio, thanks to a great performance by Rebecca Lowman and Towles's talent for description. More info →
Robinson's debut tells the tale of two orphaned sisters in Fingerbone, Idaho, struggling to find their place in the community and with each other after their mother's death. They're cared for by a string of relatives before their eccentric Aunt Sylvie steps in, and comes to "keep house" for them. But Sylvie's odd ways disturb the staid members of their little town, and the misunderstanding threatens the little family's stability. I listened to the newly released 40th anniversary edition, narrated by one of my own favorite narrators, Therese Plummer. More info →
This was my first novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout, and I've kept an eye out for her work ever since. This is a short, almost poetic, work—barely more than 200 pages—but Strout covers a lot of ground, from the perspective of a woman who's reflecting back on the time she spent in a NYC hospital in the 1980s: poverty, the AIDS epidemic, art and artists, and especially, the relationship between mothers and daughters. You could listen to this in an afternoon. There are two audio versions to choose from, the novel narrated by Kimberly Farr or the dramatic (and abridged) production narrated by Laura Linney. More info →
Ishiguro expertly combines speculative fiction and literary fiction to great effect. I talked about my love for this one in Volume III of One Great Book . Haunting and atmospheric, with a sad truth that dawns on you gradually. Ishiguro slowly introduces the reader to three teens in a 1990s British boarding school, but we see everything from the narrator Kathy's perspective. His prose says so much while revealing so little, as it slowly dawns on the reader what is not-quite-right about these children's lives. The audiobook, a great choice for rereading this masterpiece, is narrated by Rosalyn Landor. More info →
A powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide's mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband's second wife, that she didn't know he'd married. What follows is an unforgettable novel about sacrifice that sticks with me to this day. Adjoa Andoh perfectly gives voice to the characters; her narration adds to the compulsively readable nature of this literary fiction debut. More info →
I love sibling stories and meaty family sagas, as well as stories told with a reflective, wistful tone. This one delivers on all counts. Cyril Conroy means to surprise his wife with the Dutch House, a grand old mansion outside of Philadelphia. But a symbol of wealth and success for some is a symbol of greed and excess to others—including, crucially, Cyril's wife—and the family falls apart over the purchase. In alternating timelines, we get the whole story, over five decades, from Cyril's son Danny. Audiophile alert: the audio is narrated by Tom Hanks. (And if you want to hear the incredible story of how Kate DiCamillo wrote the perfect final paragraph without reading the book, you must listen to this episode of What Should I Read Next!) More info →
Kevin Wilson's latest novel is about an important political family that has a tiny little problem—their kids catch fire when they get mad. It's the perfect blend of the very real emotional family and the bizarre, which lets the author address serious things—life, work, power, ambition, relationships—without getting precious about it. I recommended it on episode 201 of What Should I Read Next of WSIRN, and I've heard from many readers who've loved it since. I enjoyed the audiobook; Marin Ireland hit just the right notes with her narration. More info →
Our April MMD Book Club selection. This much-anticipated follow-up to King’s award-winning 2014 novel Euphoria follows Casey Peabody, who is mourning the sudden death of her mother plus a messy break-up in 1997 Massachusetts. Lost without direction, 31-year-old Casey waits tables to make ends meet while she works on her novel in a tiny, dingy rented room. While her friends have given up on their artistic ambitions in favor of stability and the next phase of life, Casey still harbors creative dreams and firmly grasps her youth. When she finds herself in the middle of a love triangle, it becomes all the more difficult to balance her art with "real life," and she just might reach her breaking point. This book was slow to hook me, but once I was in, I was IN. It has one of the most satisfying endings I've read in ages, and the introspective-yet-observant tone is lovely. I re-read this (on audio the second time, narrated by Stacey Glemboski), and loved it so much, again. More info →
I've kept an eye on McCorkle's work since enjoying her previous novel Life After Life; astute readers will spy a connection between the two works, though it's not necessary to read them in order. Frank and Lil are in their eighties, retired and recently relocated back to North Carolina, both looking back on the life they know they'll be leaving soon. As Lil compiles mementos of the past and writes letters for her daughter to have once she's gone, she's drawn to reflect on sobering events that happened decades ago—scenes from her childhood, her courtship, and earlier in her marriage. Frank is a retired teacher who's at a loss without his students, and is now single-mindedly focused on his childhood and the home he grew up in. That home connects the two to Shelly, a courtroom reporter in the midst of a gruesome trial, and who has a tortured past of her own. McCorkle's evocative prose is wonderful—if heart-wrenching—on audio, narrated by Kimberly Farr and Xe Sands. More info →
This reflective and often pained retrospective examines a complex mother-daughter relationship. Daughter Norah's musings are prompted by a graduate student who comes calling, seeking insight into the life of her mother, the brilliant Irish actress Katherine O'Dell. The style is almost—but not quite—stream of consciousness, as Norah examines her mother's early years as an actress, her sudden and enduring fame, and then her encroaching mental illness. I loved this book for its voice: Norah is a remarkable narrator of her mother's story, and I loved the sly way she lets her own story slip into the frame. Anne Enright is equally remarkable: very few novelists narrate their own audiobooks, but Enright reads hers here in an incredible performance. More info →
Black preteen ZJ has always had a strong relationship with his father, a football star who's a living legend and fan favorite. But ZJ and his mom have been struggling lately, trying to make sense of his dad's increasingly erratic behavior. The doctors suspect the many concussions he's suffered over the years are the culprit, but they don't know what to do about it. Woodson doesn't sugarcoat the suffering, but a drumbeat of hope and resilience anchors ZJ's story. I listened to the audiobook narration by Guy Lockard: the story was AMAZING in his voice, and delivered a wholly satisfying story for middle grade readers and literary fiction fans alike. More info →
Homegoing author Gyasi delivers another powerful family story about grief, faith, and the power of human connection. This one is quiet, introspective, and wonderfully narrated by one of my favorites: Bahni Turpin. Gifty studies neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine, with a focus on depression and addiction. It’s no coincidence that she’s chosen to study illnesses that impact those she loves most. Her brother, a gifted student and athlete, died of a heroin overdose after a devastating knee injury. Her mother stays in bed, battling depression and grief. As Gifty leans on her work to help her understand her family, she longs for understanding, and faith. Piercingly sad, but ultimately hopeful. More info →
Originally published in Australia, Tara June Winch's latest novel weaves together three strands: the first focuses on Gus, who returns home after learning of her grandfather's death and finds herself with mixed feelings about her homecoming as a huge mine threatens to destroy her family's land. The next is a hundred-year-old letter from the reverend who founded a mission for the Wiradjuri people. And finally, beautiful stories from Gus's grandfather, whose life mission was to compile a dictionary of his native language, filled with words, stories, personal history, and more. Winch brings it all together with gorgeous prose; Australian actor Tony Briggs brings the story to life. More info →
I recommended this fabulous short story collection to Nadia Odunayo in WSIRN Ep. 271: Because sometimes a 4.5 star rating feels right. Some stories in this collection are quick five page reads, and others are closer to 40 pages—all of them make you feel like you're right there in the main character's life. These stories are about love, sex, relationships, work, mistakes and successes. Each story explores the unique predicament of one character, but they flow seamlessly from one woman's life to another, thanks to Philyaw's evocative prose and rich detail. I read my favorite story “How to Make Love to a Physicist” twice through (on paper) because I loved it so much. I've been meaning to reread this collection via audiobook, narrated by Janina Edwards. More info →
Is introspective literary fiction in your audiobook repertoire? Tell us about your favorite listening experiences in the comments.