I love audiobooks and always have. I’ve had a lot of long-distance driving in my life and audiobooks have been the only way I cope. Even when I take public transit it helps me detach from the mass of humanity and go to somewhere else in my head. I’m back to long commutes now that I’m at a new job, but I’m not really sad because I get 45 minutes or so of uninterrupted listening time each way in the stillness and solitude of my car. It’s a beautiful thing.
I see people asking for audiobook recommendations a lot so I thought I’d share the best of my listens for the last year or so.
Where to Get Audiobooks
1. The Library. Libraries usually have a pretty fantastic selection of audiobooks, especially if you have several local libraries that can send audiobooks from one location to another if you put it on hold. This should usually be your first stop. If it’s a new release you’ll have a decent waiting period. But on the bright side, only really popular and really new releases have enough holds that the audio has a long wait. The audio almost always has less holds than the book, though there are also less copies so keep that in mind.
2. Audible. I restarted my Audible subscription last year even though money was really tight. It made me happy enough that it was a total deal. You can do 1 audiobook a month for $14.95 or 2 for $22.95, and those prices are enough of a markdown from the audiobook price that you should get a subscription even if you aren’t sure you want more than one or two. With this link you can try Audible and get two free audiobooks. The thing is, once you start an Audible subscription, it’s really easy to get more audiobooks cheap. Audible has a Daily Deal every day (I check the emails every morning) where a popular book is marked down to usually less than $5. They also run sales every few weeks where a whole bunch of audiobooks will be on sale for cheap. The selection at Audible is incredibly good, you really can’t beat it. And if you get an audiobook you don’t like, you can return it and trade it for another book. Bonus: the recently updated phone app is a huge gamechanger. It works well (if you used the phone app before, it’s SO much better) and now I listen to more books on my phone than anything else.
3. Scribd. My pals at Book Riot got me on board with Scribd. It’s also a subscription model and most people use it for access to e-books. But they also have a decent audiobook library. I started my free trial last month when I read the first of a series on Audible but was out of credits even though I immediately needed to read the second and third. Enter Scribd, who kept me from spending too much money or waiting so long that I’d go nuts. The selection is smaller, but the price is great: $8.99 a month. You get e-books, too, with a lot of new titles mixed in. On the downside, as a subscription service you don’t get to keep anything. And their app needs tweaking, the audio quality isn’t as good and I’ve had a few hiccups. Not enough hiccups to get me to stop using it, though.
Now that you’ve got sources for your audiobooks, here’s some of my favorites in a few genres.
Way back in the day when I had my first Audible subscription, I listened to Tana French’s first novel In the Woods on audio and it is still one of my favorite listening experiences. Mysteries can be hard since you have to pay close attention, but if you’ve got time on your hands any of French’s books make great listening, especially if you like long books (I do!!).
If you like it on the gritty side, go for The Whites, a book whose praises I’ve been singing all year. By Richard Price, one of my absolute favorite authors, writing as Harry Brandt (long story), the reader here is one of the best I’ve ever had. He nails both sides of the story, and he turns on the New-York-cop-talk and the New-York-criminal-talk very well. All kinds of accents and backgrounds fly through this story and it feels 100% real the whole way. It’s a long one but moves, moves, moves.
I read a lot in translation, especially crime, and a recent favorite is The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. Never has a modern mystery reminded me so much of Agatha Christie, which is a huge compliment. A woman murders her ex-husband and her strange neighbor helps cover it up and at first this seems like your typical will-they-get-away-with-it book as the police investigate. But it’s meticulously done and has an ending that will make you fall out of your chair. I can’t praise it enough. The reader gives the book’s often-gentle Japanese style just the right tone.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a book by two YA powerhouses (John Green and David Levithan) that goes back and forth between two narrators. It’s great for audio since you get two readers. I like to break up serious books with YA and this book was a delight. Plenty of real stakes for the two teenage boys with the exact same name at its center, but also plenty of lighthearted whimsy, including my favorite character, Tiny, the not-at-all-tiny gay best friend who writes a musical based on his own life.
I just finished listening to More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, a new release. If I miss a book before it comes out and hear great things, it’s not at all unusual for me to hit up Audible and get it. The reader is not my favorite (the main character is a kid from the projects and the narrator’s voice just doesn’t hit that note) but I’m making up for it a little bit by listening to it on 1.25x speed which makes the too-long pauses not so long, another audio bonus. This book hits so many of the Contemporary YA notes, but is about a poor, brown kid instead of a well-off white kid, so if you’re tired of hearing about how tough kids in the suburbs have it, get on board. It also has an Eternal-Sunshine-esque twist of magical realism. There’s a slowly rising undercurrent of LGBT issues that go in directions you don’t expect. This is a novel that you have to really work not to spoil, so let me just say that I hit an unexpected plot twist as I pulled into the parking lot for work one day and was seriously devastated that I had to stop right then.
I don’t think Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein belongs in YA. The protagonists happen to be teenage girls, but if they were teenage boys fighting in a war that would be an adult novel. The fact that these “soldiers” are girls shouldn’t change anything, and bonus points they’re spies!! But anyway. This book is another that had two readers for the two protagonists and they were both spectacular, with the right kind of accents (one working-class British, the other Scottish) that really bring their characters to life. Having much of the novel written in letter form, also makes it perfect for reading. This is really high-adventure, one of the most thrilling and heart-pounding books I’ve read. A great pick for a group listen.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was a book from a few years ago that I always meant to read and never did. This is exactly the kind of book I tend to seek out on audio and I’m so glad I read it that way because it had a spectacular reader and I think the novel was well served by being read aloud. This book is set in the early 2000’s and it’s about one day in the lives of Bravo Squad, who are briefly back in the US for a press tour that interrupts their tour in Iraq. This is a satire that captures the US in a specific place at a specific time. But the reason this book is so good (one of my favorites I’ve read this year, for sure) isn’t the satire but the big beating heart that is Billy Lynn and the bonds he feels with his family and his squad. The narrative that walks you slowly through the day building up to… you don’t know exactly what is also surprisingly suspenseful. Oh, and the reader is stellar, switching back and forth to the different and diverse voices of Bravo Squad like it’s nothing at all.
When I found out that Toni Morrison has recorded several of her audiobooks I immediately had to get one. I listened to Sula, which was a perfect choice. It’s not one of her denser books (listening to Beloved strikes me as much too hard) and it’s not too long. You will see lots of readers complain about Morrison’s voice, so you may want to try a sample. I adored it. She doesn’t read like an actor, she reads like a poet. There is something so soothing about her voice, it moves like a river that flows right through your head down to your heart. She does voices well, which surprised me, and I was very sad when the book ended. I would like her to read so many things to me.
If you follow me on Twitter you may know that I am addicted to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I listened to the first 3 (the 4th comes out this fall) on audio in a frenzy. These books are more than just coming of age novels or books about a difficult friendship. They’re about what it means to be a woman and a person and, well, pretty much everything. You can start with My Brilliant Friend and if you find yourself unable to stop listening to it (I like audio for these, since I can hear what the Italian names and words are supposed to sound like) you can find all 3 on Scribd and binge them just like I did. My Brilliant Friend was one of those audiobooks that made me gasp out loud on the subway. Good stuff.
I love celebrities reading their own writing, especially if it’s a comedian who writes well. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please is my top pick in this category. Poehler plays around with her audiobook, bringing in guest readers, and going off script plenty of times. She saves all kinds of special surprises just for the listener and it’s a delight. Her book is pretty fantastic as well, it got me teary-eyed on multiple occasions, so fair warning.
If you are single and frustrated or not single and just want to live vicariously, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari is a good pick for listening. Ansari apologizes early on that you don’t get to see any graphs (I honestly didn’t really notice or care) but it’s a great pick for audio, especially if you’re only able to listen a little bit at a time. This book is seriously fascinating, a detailed look at all the ways dating and romance have changed in the last 50 years, and if you never had to worry about texting someone you’re going out with let’s just say you lived in a simpler time and I envy you. As someone who’s out there, this book felt really accurate (skewed a little younger than me, but still accurate) and helped me feel like I really wasn’t a crazy person. It’s basically required reading if you’re back in the field for the first time in a while. And it’s a fun book full of fascinating tidbits so if you like trivia, you should really get on board.
Sometimes I get a book just because of the reader. And that was a lot of the case with Redshirts by John Scalzi. I’ve been meaning to read Scalzi for ages but seeing that this book, about the kind of low-level characters on a Star-Trek-esque starship who keep getting killed off, was read by Wil Wheaton, who was one of my first crushes playing Wesley Crusher, I was 100% in. Wheaton’s a good reader and it’s a great audiobook, especially for a crowd on a long drive. It’s fun and interesting and not too long, a crowdpleaser for sure.
For more serious sci-fi you can try The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, another book I’d always meant to get to. This book is pretty harrowing at times and full of joy and love at others, definitely a book that covers a wide emotional spectrum. It’s also one of the few examples out there of a book about space exploration that also explores questions of humanity, morality, and religion in complex ways. Doing this book on audio helps a lot, since a lot of the book is made of dialogue between the central characters and hearing them actually have these conversations helped you feel more like you were there.
One of my favorite books from last year, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, is one of my all-time favorite listens. Something about listening to horror makes you feel even more powerless and held-captive than you do with a physical book. You can’t skip your eyes ahead to the next paragraph to see what happens. You have to wait and feel like this is all happening too slow and it really rachets up the suspense. Listening to this book only made it more creepy and it remains one of the scariest books I have ever read. Sometimes I listened at home and would yell at the protagonist. I really wanted to do this on the subway, too, but I also didn’t want to be the crazy person on the subway yelling, “The birds, Malorie!!! The birds!!!!!”
A little bit of Stephen King backlist is a palate cleanser I go to every so often. I think I got pretty lucky with the selection of Christine. Yes, it’s the one about the car. But honestly I found it to be one of his stronger efforts from his not-so-strong years. It had a good reader who really brought the characters to life, and with a book that long you really start to get in a groove with it where it almost starts to feel like something you do every day.
I’d love to get some of your favorite audio picks in the comments. What have you listened to lately that’s been totally amazing??