Help me spend my audible audio book credits!
March 14, 2011 5:40 PM   Subscribe

What books are particularly well-suited to the audio book medium? Perhaps even better as audio books than in print?

So, I signed up for's free trial, thinking I'd try a couple of audio books on my Kindle. I promptly forgot that I'd done this, and now have inadvertently paid for a month's membership.

I need to spend my three credits before I cancel, or I lose them for good. I also want to cancel soon, as I don't see myself as much of an audio-book-phile.

So my question: what audio versions of books are particularly good? What book did you enjoy in audio form better than you did (or think you would have) in print form? As for my tastes, I especially enjoy books with unique, quirky, somewhat out-of-the-norm narrators (think Emma Donoghue's Room, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or John Fowles' The Collector). So bonus points if the books you mention meet that criteria!

I want to spend my credits on audio books that really take advantage of the medium. Thanks in advance for your recommendations!
posted by mingodingo to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Tim Curry and Mary Robinette Kowal are my favorite narrators right now. You might want to check and see if any of the books they've narrated are your cup of tea.
posted by NoraReed at 5:44 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: Jim Dale did the US versions of the Harry Potter books. He does about 137 squintillion different voices in all of them. If you were a fan of the books you could do a lot worse.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:45 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I might have been annoyed by reading Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" but it was an affecting listen. It certainly meets you requirement for quirky narrators.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:46 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: Both John Hodgman's books "The Areas of My Expertise" and "More Information Than You Require" really improve from the audiobook adaptation. He does both with Jonathan Coulton and special guests.

Check out, too, the books of Sarah Vowell, especially "Assassination Vacation" and "The Partly Cloudy Patriot".
posted by inturnaround at 5:49 PM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Another vote for John Hodgman - his deadpan delivery is perfect for audiobooks.
posted by Paragon at 5:50 PM on March 14, 2011

Anything by William Shatner.
posted by deinemutti at 5:52 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy with Alan Rickman was about the best audiobook I ever heard. Rickman does a fantastic job of giving all the characters distinct voices, nailing the accents so that give you have clear idea of the character's social standing in the community. For female characters, he avoids the campy, fey voices that a lot of other male narrators seem fall into.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:54 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I second Assassination Vacation. Sarah Vowell's voice is mousy, yes, but it's perfect for the tone of this different kind of history book.
posted by itsjustcarlo at 5:55 PM on March 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations so far, all!

I neglected to mention that I also sometimes enjoy fiction of an unsettling/freaky/disturbingly thought-provoking nature. So particularly recommendations for those are also appreciated.
posted by mingodingo at 5:55 PM on March 14, 2011

Any book by Jean Shepherd.
posted by plinth at 5:55 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: If you want a total audio experience, I suggest World War Z, as well. It's a full cast including Mark Hamill and Alan Alda — it's like war of the worlds meets NPR and really makes you feel like you lived through the great zombie war.
posted by itsjustcarlo at 5:56 PM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: David Sedaris shines on his audiobooks. Me Talk Pretty One Day has a story about his brother's profanity that's five thousand times better in audio form as he mimics his brother's voice.
posted by General Malaise at 6:01 PM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Came to recommend World War Z-great listen, and I think may work better as a listen than as a read. Thought the book was lots of gruesome fun, too.
posted by purenitrous at 6:01 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Came in to say David Sedaris, so instead I will just second it.
posted by brainmouse at 6:07 PM on March 14, 2011

The C.J. Critt versions of the early Janet Evanovich books are very good. There's not a lot of substance in the books, but the audio versions are amusing and enjoyable--C.J. Critt is great. Nothing unsettling/freaky/disturbingly thought-provoking, however, sorry!
posted by clone boulevard at 6:18 PM on March 14, 2011

Anything by David Sedaris. He reads his own work, and his sister Amy does the female voices. Hilarious!
posted by radioamy at 6:19 PM on March 14, 2011

I am convinced that David Sedaris is meant to be heard and not read. Adding to the love.
posted by mykescipark at 6:29 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: If -- like me -- you wouldn't otherwise be inclined to read a 1,088-page book by Stephen King, I'd recommend Under the Dome. I found it unsettling/freaky/disturbing enough that after a few chapters everything else in my life became an obstacle between it and my ears. It's even kinda-sorta thought-provoking.

That said, I love the Hodgman and Sedaris suggestions, and I'm off to iTunes to stock up now.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:35 PM on March 14, 2011

I'm going to second Alan Rickman reading The Return of the Native, which I finished just yesterday. He doesn't so much read it as act it--and I too was impressed by how he (a quite manly man) got the female characters exactly right. I doubt if I would ever have approached this novel on my own but now I wish he'd done more audiobooks (this one was recorded back in the mid-1980s).
posted by apartment dweller at 6:38 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: Douglas Adams was a wonderful reader. I especially recommend Last Chance to See.
posted by Kattullus at 7:00 PM on March 14, 2011

The Butcher Boy, read by author Patrick McCabe. Better than the movie. The author's emphasis of words and phrases makes the story more clear.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:06 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: Further on The Butcher Boy, I'd read the book, loved it, and picked up the CD at a truck stop on a long car trip with literary types and no radio. We had to pick up one guys high school drop-out son, and we put the book on for the second time when he got in. When we got to New Orleans, we had to sit in the hotel garage to hear the last 10 minutes, because he was all excited about, "the best book I never read."
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:18 PM on March 14, 2011

I used to listen to quite a lot of audio books. Among the best were the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser, read by David Case. The trouble (beside the fact that some folks don't appreciate the humor of the Flashman books) is that I'm not sure where you'd find the recordings, since the company which produced them was bought out some years ago. Here's an Amazon link that might be useful, or might not. If nothing else, I highly recommend Mr. Case as a reader.
posted by lex mercatoria at 7:23 PM on March 14, 2011

The Road by Cormac McCarthy-- The book is Raw,Gritty & Touching. The narrator captures it all.

Rant by Chuck Palahinuk-- If you like Chuck Palahniuk's other stuff then you'll like this book. Its a very well produced audio book with multiple narrators and they all do a great job.

Under the Dome by Steven King-- not the best book in the world but still a good read with a good narrator. At 32+ hours its a pretty good value for your credit.

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournell -- Another apocalyptic/post apocalyptic book. very good read.

The Millennium Trilogy -- Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest all By Stieg Larson... The books are very good and I got a kick out of all the Swedish pronunciations.

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger -- Epic love story with a little bit of Sci-Fi. A well produced audio book with two narrators.
posted by jmsta at 7:48 PM on March 14, 2011

If you are interested in history at all you should definitely listen to Shelby Foote's The Civil War read by Grove Gardener. Foote's prose is elegant and Gardeners' narration perfectly compliment it. Beware, though, even just volume one is 37 hours long. On the other hand it's a lot of listening pleasure for just 1 credit.

If you enjoy fantasy, you should try A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin, a very vivid and thrilling reading by Roy Dutrice. The HBO miniseries is coming out next month.
posted by Pantalaimon at 7:53 PM on March 14, 2011

BBC Radioplay adaptations of books are stellar, although usually abridged.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, as read by Nigel Planer or Steven Briggs, are uniformly excellent. They do voices for different characters really really well (ie., they sound pretty much as I hear them in my head from reading).
posted by porpoise at 8:09 PM on March 14, 2011

Best answer: You definitely want The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak. Quirky narrator? It's narrated by Death. Unsettling and thought-provoking? Death is narrating the story of a little girl and her family hiding a Jew during WWII. The narrator does the voices of all the characters in a way that enhances the characterization. If you're not familiar with German, it's helpful to have all the German swear words pronounced properly and with the right emphasis.

There are a handful of illustrations in the novel that you won't see, of course, but you will still enjoy it.
posted by TrarNoir at 8:10 PM on March 14, 2011

* Any of Wodehouse's Jeeves stories. As you might imagine, the audiobooks benefit from the accents.

* I'm going to throw out a huge, huge recommendation for the 2000 Blackstone Audiobooks recording of Huckleberry Finn. I had read it long ago, and had frankly just forgotten what a great, gripping storyteller Twain was. And the narrator, Tom Parker, is amazing. All the more so, because: Twain was something of a connoisseur of accents, and had an ear for them that he was justifiably proud of. In the intro to HF, he talks about how every 10-15 mile stretch of the Mississippi had a different regional dialect, and how he tried to capture each as accurately as possible. So Parker obviously had his work cut out for him, and came through in spades.

- aj
posted by Alaska Jack at 9:29 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I haven't heard The Book Thief, but it is an amazing read. And perfectly suited to reading aloud. So I second that nomination.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:10 PM on March 14, 2011

One book I found that works far better in audiobook format is The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Since Dr. King didn't actually sit down and write an autobiography, this "book" is a collection of excerpts from his speeches and interviews, woven together with some linking material. It's exciting to hear him speak in his powerful style in the audiobook, and that isn't as effective in a printed book which has to use transcripts of his orations.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:01 AM on March 15, 2011

The Kid Stays in the Picture, by Robert Evans. Amazing self-mythology, told by the man himself.
posted by modernserf at 4:42 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is better as an audiobook than it is as a book (and it's a decent book). Lenny Henry's narration is fantastic. It's sort of comedy-horror-fantasy, really enjoyable.

As a general rule, I find I need audiobooks to be a bit faster-paced than text books, or else I get bored and tune out.
posted by mskyle at 4:46 AM on March 15, 2011

Stephen Fry reading "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is a pleasure.

The Rob Reiner version of "A Princess Bride" is very weak sauce. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 6:06 AM on March 15, 2011

I love Hodgman but his audiobook was unbearable. I had to stop listening to it. Just "too much."

I'll add to the (good) list - A Confederacy of Dunces is lovely in audio. Middlesex. His Dark Materials trilogy. The World According to Garp.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:42 AM on March 15, 2011

I've found that the books of Christopher Moore are wonderfully good as audiobooks. Especially Lamb and A Dirty Job, both read by Fisher Stevens, and Moore's more recent book, Fool is almost painfully funny.

Also books by Christopher Buckley seem to be even funnier in audio. Boomsday, read by Janeane Garofalo, is a great one but if Audible still has God is My Broker available it is my favorite audiobook of all time. How could one not enjoy a book subtitled: "A monk-tycoon reveals the seven and a half laws of spiritual and financial growth?"
posted by monopas at 8:44 AM on March 15, 2011

Recently enjoyed a couple Chivers Audio Books by Nevil Shute. His stories are so good, rendered even better by a reader who can do the different accents (British, American, Australian) right, so the different characters are easily distinguishable.

An audio book I would NOT recommend is Krakauer's Into The Wild -- in fact, any book whose author begins chapters with little quotes from some external source creates a baffling, disorienting situation for the listener at the beginning of each chapter.
posted by Rash at 8:50 AM on March 15, 2011

Neil Gaiman reading The Graveyard Book was one of my favorites, he had the entire thing read chapter by chapter throughout his book tour and posted it to the book website. It's like The Jungle Book, except instead of animals in a jungle you get ghosts in a graveyard.
posted by lizbunny at 11:07 AM on March 15, 2011

You might like The Reader. I don't know if people consider it "disturbing" but its certainly thought provoking and deals with some dark subjects. Brilliantly well read too.

Also take a look at this Guardian supplement on The Best 40 Audiobooks.
posted by philipy at 11:31 AM on March 15, 2011

Jeremy Irons is a perfect Humbert Humbert, in Lolita.
posted by moons in june at 11:48 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would recommend The Wheel of Time audio books. There are quite a few, narrated by 2 different people. When the character view point switches from one of the male/female leads, so does the narrator. The books are huge and the amount of detail that goes into the accents, shouting, rally the troops situations, strange tongues, creature voices... its a great listen. I'm on book 8 so far and loving it.
posted by Mardigan at 12:00 PM on March 15, 2011

Not fiction, (well, not entirely) but Bill Clinton's My Life and Barack Obama's Dreams from my Father were read by the authors, which lends them - especially Obama's lyrical pre-political-career work - a special texture.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2011

I recently enjoyed At Home by Bill Bryson which got me on a serious audiobook kick. Great question.
posted by mike_bling at 1:40 PM on March 15, 2011

Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I have only listened to the audio version on Audible, and while I wouldn't say it takes any particular advantage of the audio form, I think based on your tastes you'd love it. Plus, it's long ... when I was on Audible I always wanted to get the longest, unabridged books to feel like I was getting my money's worth!
posted by kmel at 8:06 AM on March 28, 2011

Water for Elephants was great as an audiobook, as was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I also echo the David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, and Sarah Vowell suggestions - though I know some people who find Sarah Vowell's voice irritating, I think it works perfectly for her wry intellectual humor.
posted by polymath at 4:28 PM on March 28, 2011

Just came in to Nth John Hodman's audiobooks. I have only listened to "The Areas of My Expertise" on audiobook, his first book. I see how it might be a little much for some to listen to it for 7 hours straight (lots of narrated lists of information, etc.) but I did just that and was literally laughing out loud for the entirety; while driving alone, no less. It really gives you a lot of bang for your audiobook buck because, as mentioned, it includes musical accompaniment throughout by Jonathan Coulton, special guests (like Paul Rudd, etc.) and hilarious ad-libbing and banter obviously not available in print. Also fun to listen in bits and pieces or revisit over and over.
posted by dahliachewswell at 5:47 PM on April 2, 2011

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