Fast-paced and smart audiobooks
September 19, 2012 12:41 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me find some audiobooks that are relatively fast-paced and simple, but also have good dialogue, characters, and themes? Even if you don't listen to audiobooks, maybe you know page-turners or beach reads that are deeper than the normal fluff? Or maybe you know good literary fiction that is simple and fast-paced?

The books that I'd normally read do not seem to work for me in audio. I've given up on book after book -- Moby Dick (Melville), State of Wonder (Patchett), Stardust (Gaiman), Angela's Ashes (McCourt) -- despite having enjoyed most of these authors in writing. I just stopped being able to pay attention.

Before giving up on audiobooks entirely, and realizing that I needed to try another approach, I picked up the mega-best-seller that Audible was advertising. I thought it would be total schlock -- but it worked! Yes, Patient Zero, a medical/zombie action thriller, has repetitive fight scenes and "paper-thin characters who are so extreme I was left shaking my head," but finally! It was a book that kept me listening.

Then I tried 14 (Peter Clines), and while I mostly agree that "the characters in this story... behave and act like broad archetypes and are shallow at best," I was still glued to my headphones. I thank the author for keeping me entertained through hours of yard work.

But there must be books that are equally engaging... and also good, right? Or at least better? I don't want to set the bar too high here. Surely some books are both fast-paced and smart? Surely you can have simple prose and nuanced characters? Any suggestions? Further bonus points for progressive sensibilities, e.g., NOT having the Muslim character be the evil terrorist.

To give one more example of what worked, I'm halfway done with the first Harry Bosch police procedural. It has held my interest, and so far, I like the characters better than either 14 or Patient Zero. I also just put Dispatches and The Devil's Highway on my wish list.

Thanks in advance for any other suggestions.
posted by slidell to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if the Temperance Brennan stories would translate well to audiobook? They are an easy, but engrossing, fast read.

Deja Dead - this is quite a fun one!
posted by thylacinthine at 12:57 AM on September 19, 2012

The new translation and reading of Solaris is superb. A must listen (previously)

I haven't heard this as an audiobook, but if it doesn't keep you gripped to your earphones, I will personally refund you: Cormac McCarthy's, The Road
posted by 0bvious at 1:13 AM on September 19, 2012

I find both Christopher Moore and Christopher Buckley books better as audiobooks than text. Both are funny, too. Also, if you find a reader that you like, see what else they've narrated. I love Scott Brick, who has read I, Robot and Foundation and many others. Also Grover Gardner, who reads The Pelican Brief (under another name) and Buckley's No Way To Treat A First Lady.

Other Favorites:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, if you like pop culture. Read by Wil Wheaton.
Old Man's War by mefi's own John Scalzi.
Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books were all very nicely read by James Marsters (except the most recent).
Don't Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli, obscure but charming.

Sorry no links, but I'm falling asleep on the keyboard.
posted by monopas at 1:56 AM on September 19, 2012

Not a specific recommendation, but if you find yourself being bored listening to audiobooks (i.e. one person monotonously reading aloud a book) perhaps you might enjoy radio dramaticisations of books? Some of those may be adaptations, so it feels almost like you're listening to a stage production while others have full narration but the dialogue are all read by different voice actors.

Also, this may be undeep and fluffy as it gets, but I immensely enjoyed listening to Harry Potter, mainly because of Stephen Fry's excellent narration.
posted by pikeandshield at 3:57 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know exactly what you are talking about...books that are too complex are not well suited to the audioformat for me, either. So, nothing where I would want to flip back a few chapters to remind myself of a detail, or where the maps/family trees are necessary for reference.

Broad suggestions: I have enjoyed good YA novels; if my attention wanders a bit while driving it's OK. Author example: Sarah Dessen.

Also the reader is important: if you like one narrator, check out what other books he/she has done.

Finally: the Harry Dresden series, by Jim Butcher, read by James Marsters (Spike from Buffy). I have read a couple of the books (including the one not read by Marsters) and listened to the rest, and I prefer this series in audio format. If you like sci-fi/detective/genre fiction at all, give this a try. (caveat: the first book is the author's first book, and it shows a bit; I still enjoyed it, but the quality improves).
posted by maryrussell at 4:28 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sophie's World is smart yet simple.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:46 AM on September 19, 2012

The Breathing Method

Frank Muller is ridiculously good in this audio version. If this doesn't keep your attention, I doubt anything else will. Fyi, this is thriller genre.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:58 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've listened to the Outlander/Lord John series, Buckley's Losing Mum and Pup, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, In Cold Blood and To Kill a Mockingbird on recent trips.
posted by brujita at 6:06 AM on September 19, 2012

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are (to me) the archetypes of talented writers who wrote fast-paced books. Chandler somewhat famously said his secret to plotting was "When in doubt, have somebody come through the door with a gun in his hand"-- but he was such a skilled prose stylist that, today, lesser hard-boiled novelists are still trying to imitate him.

Among contemporary crime writers, I think Derek Haas is great at keeping you hooked without insulting your intelligence. I'd start with The Silver Bear, the first in his series about a hitman. (DISCLAIMER: Haas is a friend of mine so I may be biased.)
posted by yankeefog at 6:13 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the World War Z audiobook, seeing as you are open to zombies. It's abridged though. It has multiple voice actors, some of which you will recognize. Sample here (NSFW).
posted by acheekymonkey at 6:48 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I, like you, find most books impossible to concentrate on in audio form, and I, like you, like literary fiction. I'll second Harry Potter as being in the sweet spot of well-written book + well-performed audiobook + the kind of book that lends itself to the audio form. The only other novel that ever really worked for me in audio was Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain.
posted by escabeche at 7:29 AM on September 19, 2012

How about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Smart, fast-paced, Lizbeth Salander is the most fascinating fictional character I've met in a LONG time.
posted by stampsgal at 7:32 AM on September 19, 2012

Wah, now I feel lame for having enjoyed Patient Zero.

Anyway, I lay no claim to being able to find depth in what I read, so make of these what you will - I'm young and I loved Artemis Fowl, the UK edition. The US audiobook edition, from what I've gathered, pales in comparison. This is teen to young adult antihero fairy save-the-world stuff, so it's simple, but funny and quite human and silly at parts, as opposed to the oh-so-noble kind of emotion Harry Potter gives. Good as an audiobook, but may not stand up to your levels of (adult) literary assessment.

I second the suggestion for radio dramatisations. I would never, ever, ever have read the Horace Rumpole stories, but listening to them (read by Benedict Cumberbatch, no less!) was a treat.
posted by undue influence at 7:33 AM on September 19, 2012

Seconding the World War Z audiobook. While it might not be as revolutionary as everyone likes to make it out to be, it is six hours of solid entertainment and since it's abridged it does away with a lot of the dull crap that unfortunately plagues (ha!) the book.
posted by item at 7:42 AM on September 19, 2012

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde was amazing as an audiobook and I don't generally like mysteries.
posted by ephemerista at 8:49 AM on September 19, 2012

Well if you like Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly has written like 20 books and the majority of the ones that I've read are addicting (although I've read them in print not audiobook).

David Sedaris's books are great in audio format, even funnier than in print because he reads them himself. I just read Tina Fey's Bossypants in print and I imagine that it's hilarious in audio!

I would actually recommend against the Dragon Tattoo books in audio because they're a bit complicated (too many characters) and when reading them I had to go back and forth a lot to remember who people were, and that might ruin an audiobook for you.
posted by radioamy at 9:16 AM on September 19, 2012

Wah, now I feel lame for having enjoyed Patient Zero.

No, it was enjoyable! Only in retrospect did I realize that the book wasn't sticking with me the way some books do. But it was an entertaining 12 hours, and almost half of the Audible reviewers gave it five stars. And thanks for all of these helpful suggestions! I just spent an hour looking at all of their Audible reviews... good stuff!
posted by slidell at 9:28 AM on September 19, 2012

You could try Robert Sheckley's The Status Civilization. Relatively short, it's a bit like Vonnegut writing Voltaire. In space. Might suffer from the aforementioned paper-thin characters though.
posted by comealongpole at 9:37 AM on September 19, 2012

Seconding the Jasper Fforde audiobooks.

Also recommending Patrick O'Brian audiobooks. I prefer them as audiobooks, because my mind doesn't get bogged down in wondering what a "top foc's'le" is. Lots of action, great characterization.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:14 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try browsing the audie awards for suggestions of well narrated books. Also if you want simpler dynamic stories try children's and ya books. Maybe the hunger games?
posted by lirael2008 at 12:22 PM on September 19, 2012

Oh I thought of more! I have really enjoyed Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series on audio (I've read some and listened to others); the reader is Grover Gardiner, I believe.

I also enthusiastically recommend Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series, read by Stephen Briggs. He does a lovely job with the accents.
posted by maryrussell at 12:48 PM on September 19, 2012

I listen to a lot of audio books--several every month. I think I have a very different listening style than you do, but I have some suggestions for books that I've really enjoyed and that have required less active, full-attention listening -or- that have been so compelling that they take primacy over whatever else is happening and force you to listen:

*The Magician King and The Magicians, both by Lev Grossman
*The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson
*The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon (although the audible reading of this makes Joe Kavalier sound suspiciously like Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog)
*Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
*Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart
*Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl

That should get you started.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:06 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really liked Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation as an audiobook and I think it falls really well into your guidelines. The narration is very...upbeat and quick? And the plot goes quickly, too, and a lot of it is advanced in dialogue.

I've also listened to Marla Mason books Dead Reign and Blood Engines and ended up liking them, but the narrator was an acquired taste for me.

More fuzzy recommendations: I liked the narration in "The Name of the Wind" a lot, if you want very long fantasy audiobooks. And the His Majesty's Dragon has a whole series of audiobooks where if you like the first one, there's a bunch more after (though sometimes there end up being slow patches).
posted by foxfirefey at 1:13 PM on September 19, 2012

A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby, was a great audiobook. The story is narrated by 4 different characters, the audiobook read by 4 different actors. Really funny, fast-paced and interesting.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:15 PM on September 19, 2012

A Confederacy of Dunces is my old standby for audiobook recommendations - smart, hilarious and well-performed.

I also really enjoyed listening to the His Dark Materials trilogy.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:51 PM on September 19, 2012

It might be that you need a more engaging reading style to keep you interested - look for audiobooks where the reader really acts the story out instead of just reading it. Seconding the Tiffany Aching series - amazingly well read - lots of different characters with distinctive voices. The best-read audiobook I have heard, though, is Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman, read by Lenny Henry. hilarious!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:59 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Big Finish Productions makes audio that is all thrilling and keep-you-listening. They're best known for doing Doctor Who stories, but they do a lot of other stuff as well (like Sherlock Holmes and Dark Shadows). All well-written and with great production.
posted by jbickers at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2012

I never listen to audiobooks, but when I go on holiday and want something fast, page-turney, light enough to pick and put down while shuffling through airports etc, but with a definite strand of wit/intelligence, my go-to lately is Carl Hiaasen.
posted by Slyfen at 8:32 AM on September 20, 2012

To report back, I've now listened to about five more Michael Connelly books, the first Harry Dresden book, and then Ready Player One. Ready Player One was absolutely fantastic and Wil Wheaton as narrator was amazing. The Scalzi books are next on my wish list, along with several others from this thread. Thanks again.
posted by slidell at 5:28 PM on November 17, 2012

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