I have a love/hate relationship with audiobooks. Audio is a great format for storytelling, but it can still be difficult to get into audiobooks. Usually it has to do with the narrator. Sometimes they’re bad at differentiating characters with voices. Or they read too slow and the book drags on for more hours than is necessary.
Whatever the reason, audiobooks can be hit or miss. If you’re not usually a fan of audiobooks, but you really want to give the format a fair chance, there are some amazing audiobooks available. Here are 10 that will appeal to even the most fervent audiobook hater.
Audiobooks often require a 10- or 15-hour commitment, and if you’re like me, that’s asking a lot. Which is why short stories are perfect. Atwood is most famous for her novels (and the new TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale), but she’s also published two short story collections.
Stone Mattress has her signature writing talent on display. The fantastical stories are darkly funny, endlessly strange, and very affecting. Each story is read by a different narrator, and the final, titular tale is read by Atwood herself.
Another fascinating collection of short stories, this one is subtitled “Short Stories of 20th Century Dictators as Teenagers.” How can you resist that subtitle? Piatigorsky takes small, seemingly insignificant stories from the teen lives of Mao Tse-Tung, Idi Amin, and Adolf Hitler, and expands them into narrative formats.
It sounds strange, and it is, but it’s a unique group of stories that’ll get you thinking. Especially if you’re a history or politics enthusiast. And because they’re short (the entire book runs in less than seven hours), you don’t need to feel tied down by an epic tome of a recording.
This oral history of the zombie apocalypse is one of my favorite books. It would be hard to top the printed version. But the audiobook is also amazing. The mindblowing cast of narrators includes Mark Hamill, Nathan Fillion, Common, Alan Alda, John Turturro, Rob Reiner, Alfred Molina, Simon Pegg, Henry Rollins, Martin Scorsese, Brooks himself, and many more.
The superb voice acting talent meshes with Brook’s stellar storytelling abilities to create something that stands alone in the audiobook canon. And if you’re thinking “I’m not interested in a zombie book,” I beg you to reconsider. This isn’t like any other zombie story you’ve ever read.
An unseen terror that drives people to murderous rage at a single glance. A single mother trying to keep her children out of danger. A 20-mile blindfolded canoe trip down river surrounded by suddenly sinister sounds. Bird Box is a terrifying tale that you absolutely will not be able to stop listening to. With a plot this compelling, you’ll be happy to listen through all nine hours.
Again, if you think you’re not interested in horror, I urge you to think again. This book has been described as a literary thriller, with deep characters and masterful writing. Cassandra Campbell’s narration is spot-on and makes for a compellingly listenable audiobook. Even for those who have never listened to an audiobook before.
There are a lot of thrillers on this list — they make for great listening — but Elwes’ retrospective on the making of The Princess Bride is compelling for another reason. The movie is a cult classic, and Elwes, who plays Westley in the film, shares funny, insightful, and entertaining stories from behind the scenes.
He’s not the only one, though. Rob Reiner, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, and many others make appearances as well. If you’re a fan of the movie, you’re going to want to hear this one. And being just seven hours long, you don’t need to set aside the rest of the month to get through it.
This book won both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. It’s pretty child-friendly, which makes it great for road trips (or if you’re hesitant about adult horror books). And it’s read by Gaiman himself, which lends it a gravitas that can’t be replicated by narrator-read books. There’s something really cool about hearing an author read his own work.
The main character, Bod, lives in a graveyard — and inhabits the worlds of both the living in the dead. He’ll have to navigate the mysteries and adventures of both to make it out alive. It’s on the edgier side of kid-friendly books but a great read for all ages.
Mississippi in the 1960s was an unjust place, where African-Americans occupied a tenuous and conflicted place in society. This is where The Help brings readers. A smash hit when it was released, the big-screen adaptation of The Help was nominated for an Oscar. It’s a story about friendship, race, secrets, and crossing boundaries.
The audiobook is narrated by a full cast, so if you get thrown off by one person voicing different characters, this is a great choice. At 18 hours long, it’s on the longer side of things, but the depth of the story and high-quality cast narration makes it a great listen.
This zany book about science, written by the creator of the XKCD web comic, answers all of the questions you never thought to ask. How fast can you drive over a speed bump and live? What would happen if you hit a baseball pitched near the speed of light? Munroe does an absolutely astonishing amount of research to answer these questions and many more.
Unfortunately, you don’t get the fascinating (and hilarious) diagrams, charts, and comics in the audiobook. But what you do get is Wil Wheaton, the perfect narrator for this type of book. It’s a tradeoff worth making if you’re looking for a short, informative, and hysterically funny audiobook.
There are a few books that I recommend to absolutely everybody, and The Devil in the White City is at the top of this list. Larson crafts a compelling story that’s completely true — he draws on journals, notes, recordings, and all manner of historical documents to ensure the veracity of everything that happens. But it’s presented as a novel, making it much more engaging.
The 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago was a fascinating event. An amazing variety of exhibits, from agriculture to electricity, were on display to wow turn-of-the-century Americans. The very first Ferris wheel was on display there too. And, unbeknownst to most people at the Fair, it was also the site of one of America’s first notable serial killers. The addictiveness of Larson’s storytelling, along with great narration from Scott Brick, make this an audiobook everyone should listen to at least once.
Star Wars is an inherently visual story. Who could forget the imposing first glance of the Star Destroyer in the opening scene of A New Hope? Or the shocking destruction of Alderaan at the hands of Grand Moff Tarkin? But Brian Daley took the original script and turned it into a more audio-friendly format for broadcast on NPR in 1981. (NPR’s listenership jumped 40 percent when it aired.)
A stronger focus on character development and storytelling, paired with voice acting from Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels, as well as music and sound effects, set this apart from the other books on the list. It’s an experience any science fiction fan should have. And if you like it, Episodes V and VI are available as well!
What Are Your Favorite Audiobooks?
If you’re not yet a fan of audiobooks, but would like to be, these 10 picks should help you on your way. Not every book will appeal to every listener, but I hope I’ve listed something here that interests you. Historical fiction, short stories, full-cast narrations, addictive page-turners, and radio dramas cover quite a range.
How do you feel about audiobooks? If you’re a fan, what are your favorites? And why have those in particular appealed to you? If you’re not a fan, what is it about audiobooks that leaves you cold? Please let us know in the comments below!
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