10 literary fiction audiobooks narrated by their authors

Think about who narrates your favorite fiction audiobooks. How often is it the author?

I’m willing to bet the answer is: not very. Because writing books and performing books aloud are very different skill sets, voice actors typically narrate audiobooks.

It’s not terribly uncommon for authors to read memoirs and nonfiction works. For example, I narrate all my own audiobooks, and a key reason is that so many readers know my voice from my podcast. You can bet I’m not the only one who reads her own work for this reason! But it remains rare for authors to narrate their own novels.

The best audiobooks aren’t a substitute for actual books; instead they enhance them, adding layers to the reading experience. Novelists know how to tell a good story but that doesn’t mean they’re the best one to perform it.

That’s why I’m always intrigued when authors narrate their own novels for the audiobook edition. It’s a unique joy to listen to a wonderful novel, narrated exactly as the author herself envisioned.

Over the last year I happened to listen to a handful of wonderful audiobooks narrated by their authors. The first few listens were accidental, and then I began to seek them out. Some of the authors mentioned in today’s book list narrate most, if not all, of their own work, whereas others have only narrated the one.

In keeping with our 2022 philosophy of shorter book lists, we’re focusing on literary fiction today. But there are plenty of fiction authors of all genres who narrate their own work. We hope you’ll share your favorites in the comments. If you’re interested, we’ll share more author-narrated works by genre in the future, and chiming in with your favorite author-read audiobooks helps us share more great books with you.

10 powerful works of literary fiction narrated by their authors

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Flight Behavior

Flight Behavior

The plot of Kingsolver's 2012 novel revolves around climate change, and a young Tennessee woman and a butterfly colony who both stray from their typical flight paths. When Dellarobia sees something inexplicable in nature, her experience stokes tension between religious leaders, scientists, politicians, and climate change experts with different views on what exactly she witnessed. Suspenseful and page-turning, I thought this finely crafted novel had many wonderful moments and an unsatisfying ending—which would make it perfect for a book club discussion. Though it's unusual for novelists to read their own work, Kingsolver's lyrical voice perfectly suits her prose. 16 hours 56 minutes. More info →
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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner

Author:
Many call this the best book they ever read. Hosseini's critically acclaimed, bestselling novel is about an unlikely friendship between two boys growing up in Afghanistan, a setting richly portrayed by the Afghan-American author. One boy comes from a privileged family, the other the son of that family's servant, and so even though they grew up in the same household, they come from different worlds. Part coming of age story, part history lesson, and ultimately a tale of atonement and redemption. A note for sensitive readers: this book includes a pivotal difficult scene that is disturbing to many readers; please do your research before reading. 12 hours 1 minute More info →
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The Secret History

The Secret History

Author:
The story begins with a murder, and the lonely, introspective narrator devotes the rest of the novel to telling the reader about his role in it, and how he seemingly got away with it. But how much of his story is really what it seems? The setting is a small Vermont college, the characters members of an isolated, eccentric circle of classics majors, who murder one of their own. Opinions differ widely on Tartt's debut novel: it's a compelling—and chilling—tale, but there's not a single likable character. Tartt narrates the audiobook herself. 22 hours 3 minutes. More info →
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Exit West

Exit West

Author:
In this finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, two young people meet and find love during a time of great political unrest in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. As violence simmers and then explodes into war, they survey their options and make the difficult decision to flee the city, perhaps taking advantage of the rumored doors that open almost magically into other lands, like Syria or San Francisco. An evocative story improved by the restrained element of magical realism, and strongly reminiscent of The Underground Railroad. 4 hours 42 minutes. More info →
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Beloved

Beloved

Author:
This iconic southern gothic novel isn't an easy book to read, but persevering readers will be rewarded with one of the most important and beautifully written historical novels in the American canon. Sethe escaped slavery and fled to Ohio, but her memories stay with her, as does the ghost of her baby. Though she attempts to bury her past, Sethe is thwarted at every turn—most of all when a young woman shows up at her door, bearing the same name as the ghost baby's headstone: Beloved. 12 hours 3 minutes. More info →
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Florida

Florida

Author:
Lauren Groff moved back to her home state of Florida a decade ago, inspiring this collection of eleven short stories about the state she calls "the cradle of American bizarreness in every possible way." It’s centered around the history, ecosystem, and psyche of Florida through carefully drawn characters that are wives, mothers, and homeless women, beset by dangers everywhere—some unseen, and some patently obvious (snakes, alligators, hurricanes). While Groff has numerous novels to her name, this short story collection is the only work she's narrated. 8 hours. More info →
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Actress

Actress

Author:
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’s performance is equally remarkable. I don't think I would have enjoyed the print version nearly as much. 8 hours 4 minutes. More info →
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Monogamy

Monogamy

Author:
This wistful and often sad story about marriage, happiness, and family centers around the thirty-year marriage between Graham and Annie. Graham owns a bookstore, and much of the couples' life revolves around bookstore events (they meet at an author event!). Early in the book—this is not a spoiler—Graham suddenly dies. During the following year a grieving Annie reflects on their life together, in the process tripping over new information about him and their marriage, causing her to question the very foundations of their relationship. 10 hours 54 minutes. More info →
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The Night Watchman

The Night Watchman

Author:
Erdrich based her Pulitzer-winning novel on the life of her own grandfather, a Chippewa Council member who worked as a night watchman and who traveled from rural North Dakota to Washington, D.C. to fight against Native dispossession of their tribal lands. In the story's most suspenseful storyline, the night watchman's niece sets out for Minneapolis to find her sister, who is widely believed to be in danger. The story is beautifully, lovingly drawn: I was enraptured, and rooting so hard for these characters. Erdrich has now narrated five of her own novels; her work is wonderful in that format. 13 hours 32 minutes. More info →
Fight Night

Fight Night

Author:
This moving and funny story portrays three generations of women trying to find love on their own terms. When nine year old Swiv is expelled from school for fighting, she starts spending her days with her frail grandmother who has an unconventional approach to at-home schooling. She tasks Swiv with writing letters to her absent father, who seems to have abandoned his daughter and pregnant wife—and in these letters, a book's worth of complex family history and present struggles is revealed. A bighearted novel with an undercurrent of sadness, with wisdom far beyond its 9-year-old narrator's years. Toews also performed the audiobook for her 2017 work A Complicated Kindness. 6 hours 19 minutes. More info →
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We focused on literary fiction today. What would YOU add to this list? What are your favorite fiction audiobooks narrated by their authors in any genre?

P.S. Audiophile alert: 13 engaging audiobooks read by their authors and 20 celebrity memoirs read by their authors.

10 literary fiction audiobooks narrated by their authors

87 comments

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    Louise Erdrich reads The Sentence on audio. Not sure I would have liked it as much in print but she really imbues her characters with so much personality–and gets all the Minnesota accents just right!

  2. Julie R says:

    Joshilyn Jackson narrates all of her audio books, and she is fantastic! I especially recommend listening to her latest book, “Mother, May I?”

    Neil Gaiman is also a fantastic writer/narrator. “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” was amazing. It contains scenes of abuse, so be cautious if you are sensitive.

    • Anne with an E says:

      I was going to mention Joshilyn Jackson also, love how she brings her characters to life on audio. Really enjoyed “Never have I ever” and the “Almost Sisters”

  3. Shana says:

    I love how Elizabeth Acevedo reads her books. She is my favorite. I noticed when I was listening to Robert Dugoni (Sam Hell and The World Played Chess) and realized he read both of them as well. I first noticed they had the same narrator and then I realized it was him. I also personally love it, but I feel like lots of people don’t usually love authors reading. I agree with you though. I think they know how the book sounded to them when they wrote it, and that is interesting to me.

  4. Marianne says:

    Adriana Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap series is amazing, narrated by the author, she does an amazing job with the accents and all the idioms and turns of phrase. Laugh out loud funny at times!!

  5. Sophie says:

    Interesting. I have tended to avoid novels read by their authors as I’ve yet to find a gifted novelist who is also a gifted audiobook reader, and I usually find it takes away fr=om the experience. I’m looking forward to being proven wrong by some of these titles. I’m especially interested to checkout the audiobook for The Kite Runner as it’s one of my favourite books.

  6. Ingrid says:

    I listened to “the poet x” written and narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo. Fantastic. Now listening to “clap when you land”. I just love how passionate she feels.

  7. Leslie says:

    This may be more of a YA book, but when I first tried to read “The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her own Creation,” I had a hard time getting into it. When I listened to it read by the author, the book changed for me. It became a live story that had an energy I didn’t find in just reading the book. I went on to read the rest of the books in the series. Always hearing the author’s voice and cadence in my head.

  8. Sandi H says:

    Cary Elwes narrates his book “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride.” If you’re a fan of the movie, it provides great background nuggets. He does great voices and he has included audio from some of his co-stars as they reflect on their memories. I don’t read or listen to much non-fiction, but this was a 5-star listen for me!

    • Andrea says:

      Yes, I absolutely loved it! He started recently narrating some of the Agatha Christie classics and has a wonderful voice for fiction too.

  9. Angie Allen says:

    Barack Obama narrates his own books and his unique cadance brings the book to life. However, having read print editions as well, that same cadence comes through that way, too! One can hear the humor in his voice, see his smile, whether listening to or reading his words.

  10. Kim Imbrigiotta says:

    I love listening to Joshilyn Jackson, Elizabeth Berg and Fannie Flagg narrate their books. They obviously really get their characters and just bring them to life.

  11. Christina says:

    I really think it depends on the author with an audiobook. Greenlights would not have been half as good if McConaughey had not voiced it…but I really disliked Maid (Stephanie Land) and Educated (Tara Westover) mostly because of the narration. I generally tend to shy away from a book read by the author, unless they are actors, comedians, or known for their voice (Stephen Fry.) Abbi Waxman’s “The Garden of Small Beginnings” is so lovely to listen to–until you get to Edward’s voice, who reminds me of the Count on Sesame Street–so distracting. Wonderful book, though–high recommend reading it in hard copy.

  12. Yang-Sze Choo, The Night Tiger. It’s such a beautiful book set in a different time and locale and I would have had no idea how to pronounce the names! She read her first book, Ghost Bride, too, and Netflix is making a series.

  13. Renea says:

    Neil Gaiman is an amazing storyteller and as others have mentioned, transforms his stories when he does them on audio. I first listened to Stardust and was hooked. I have now listed to all of them on audio and loved every one!

  14. Kelly R says:

    I would think you would probably classify Rick Bragg’s books as non-fiction, but he reads all of his books and they are all FABULOUS. I am listening to his latest book now, called “The Speckled Beauty” and it is so charming, funny and heart-warming.

  15. Nancy Parks says:

    I have been consistently disappointed with novels read by their authors, so much so that I now avoid them at all costs. Just because you are a remarkable writer does not mean you are good at reading aloud. Some nonfiction, including memoirs, work fine with the author’s voice, but not novels. I’m almost finished listening to The Dutch House read by Tom Hanks. Delightful – his voice adds so much to an already wonderful book.

  16. Heidi says:

    The Cat’s Table, read by Michael Ondaatje. For other books of his I would say print is better but this book worked out better for me as an audiobook and because it was read by him.

  17. Jennifer Darnell says:

    Charlotte’s Web read by E.B. White. It’s one of the first audiobooks I bought for my kids when they were young and I’ve loved it ever since.

  18. Tracie R says:

    Julia Whelan narrating My Oxford Year was a great experience. I’ve listened to her narrate many other author’s words, so it was interesting to hear her narrate her own.

    I agree with Neil Gaiman recs — he’s wonderful.

    Also Jacqueline Woodson. I love to listen to her narration.

  19. Lola M says:

    Sarah Vowell reading Lafayette in the Somewhat United States turned a long boring drive into one of the most entertaining rides ever.

  20. Robin Wall Kimmerer narrated Braiding Sweetgrass which made the whole collection even lovelier. I also love when Barbara Kingsolver narrates her books. I listened to her read Unsheltered a couple of years ago and it was amazing! I’m itching to listen to a Louise Erdrich soon.

    Such a fun post, Anne. Thank you!

  21. Bonni says:

    Charlotte’s Web! Narrated by EB White! His voice is exactly as it should be. It’s delightful and perfect. I thought for sure Anne would have it on her list. Top ten best ever audio books.

  22. Elisabeth says:

    A tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki — she reads her own work, and I was stunned by how incredible the narration was. It added so much to an already layered tale.

  23. Torrie says:

    Ruth Ozeki! She narrates A Tale for the Time Being (an all-time fave of mine). She is one of the audio narrators of her new novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness (which I loved, but read in print).

  24. Ellen says:

    I second Robert Dugoni’s reading of The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. I didn’t realize he was the narrator until I was almost finished with the book. I looked up the narrator because I was thinking, “This narrator is fabulous…it’s like he knows these characters so well!”. Duh.

  25. Debra Pettus says:

    “Born To Run” read by Bruce, the one and only. He’s quite the storyteller…and we all have a story to tell😁📚

  26. Tracie R says:

    Jason Reynolds! How could I have forgotten him?! He’s the best. I love his writing and his speaking voice.

    Bill Bryson is also great. A Walk in the Woods is the only abridged audiobook I’d recommend over the unabridged because his narration is so great.

    Stephen Fry is another wonderful, multi-talented author and narrator.

  27. Jen says:

    The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. Last I knew he only narrated the last two but that might have changed since. Technically this series is for kids but has such redemption and depth. I loved it, and his narration is wonderful!

  28. Eileen says:

    I listen to so many older classics, that by definition, they can’t be read by the author, because of course they are no longer living. Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow; Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman–wonderful!; Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (not sure she added much to the story).

  29. Joyce says:

    I just started listening to “Retire inspired” by Chris Hogan yesterday. The voice which introduced the book sounded very meh. I was thinking “maybe not” when Mr. Hogan himself started speaking. Not only am I more motivated to work on retirement planning, but his voice resembles James Earl Jones and is a dream to listen to. I’m a fan of listening to audiobooks read by the author, both for fiction and nonfiction.

  30. Cecilia says:

    A non-fiction, but I would highly recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s Bomber Mafia. A fascinating look at the development of the US Air Force.

  31. Katie says:

    Mary Robinette Kowal is an author and audiobook narrator, and she narrates a lot of her own books, including the sci-fi Lady Astronaut series starting with The Calculating Stars, and the fantasy Glamourist Histories series, starting with Shades of Milk and Honey.

  32. Claire says:

    I listened to Marian Keyes read her last novel, Grown Ups. The way she writes is the way she speaks (as judged from radio/ tv interviews) and so it made sense. I listened to an earlier one of her books read by an non-Irish narrator and it was all wrong. I have pre-ordered Marian’s next book as an audio book once I knew she’d be reading it.

  33. Ka says:

    I enjoy Julia Whelan’s narration and in seeking out more books read by her discovered “My Oxford Year” which she wrote and narrated.

  34. Stephanie B. Looney says:

    Taste by Stanley Tucci – a divine reading by a gifted actor. He will make you want to eat everything in sight while you listen to his description of his upbringing in an Italian-American home and how his love of food evolved over time. SO rich and flavorful!!!

  35. Kristi says:

    Apeirogon by Colum McCann.Also Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell. This one is a memoir, but I loved Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan.

  36. Andrea says:

    Natalie Haynes reading A Thousand Ships. I was absolutely mesmerized. It’s the first audiobook I ever finished and immediately listened to the whole thing over again!

  37. Alicia says:

    Caramelo written and narrated by Sandra Cisneros! The book is amazing—a nuanced multi-generational, multi-lingual (!) family saga with a strong sense of place and strong female lead— and listening to the author read it was such a delight.

  38. Nicole Hackney says:

    I was just saying this exact same thing recently! I read (on audio) The Secret History, Another Person’s Love Story, and Jonny Appleseed in 2021 and I always noted when it’s the author reading their fiction book since it is rare. These three definitely brought up the quality of the experience!

  39. Shan Hays says:

    I’m looking forward to listening to some of these, starting with Stanley Tucci and maybe moving on to Donna Tart. My recommendation of an author-read novel is pretty much the opposite of literary fiction but here goes: Yahtzee Croshaw narrates his own books, such as Will Save the Galaxy for Food. The title probably tells you what kind of book it is. I usually prefer actors as narrators but Croshaw does a great job with the voices.

  40. Karla says:

    I’ve listened to many, many non-fiction and memoirs read by the authors, but zero novels. Never stopped to think about it either. Hmmm.

  41. Tamara says:

    A Thousand Ships read by author Natalie Haynes who trained as a voice actor prior to writing. It is the story of The Iliad told from the women’s perspective. All the women, Trojan, Greek, minor dieties. Haynes does an incredible performance of them all, though my favorite was Penelope. You listen to her growing impatient & frustrated with Odysseus as the year span out.

  42. Jessica says:

    I just listened to my first Neil Gaiman book (The Graveyard Book) and I feel so lucky I just happened to choose the audiobook – his narration was incredible. I may never read a text version of any Neil Gaiman book!

  43. Rachel Hawes says:

    Not sure if anyone has said it but 4321 by Paul Auster. I adore Auster and his voice is wonderful. I’d listen to him read the telephone directory! This is probably his best book too.

  44. Kathleen says:

    Seanan McGuire narrates most of her Wayward Children series. I think she narrates from book #3 or #4. I was hesitant at first because I liked the previous narrators but she does a great job and they are a great series!

  45. Sarah says:

    My Reading Life by Pat Conroy is one of my favorite books. I loved it even more hen he narrated it . He shares insights into his life, the people who impacted him as a person and author and the books that most influenced him . It is very powerful.

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