What books make the best audiobooks?
October 11, 2012 10:32 AM   Subscribe

What are some audiobooks that work extremely well in the format? Any that are narrated especially magically?

It's time for Christmas knitting, which means no more reading for probably the rest of the year. I usually just watch tv shows while I'm knitting, but that gets a little mind numbing. I thought this year I'd try out some audiobooks, instead.

My only experience with audiobooks was listening to Wolf Hall and I absolutely loved it--the narrator did a great job with the voices of the different characters and I loved that he included singing. What are some other books that really benefit from being read aloud? I think I'd really enjoy hearing authors narrate their own work. I'm a pretty omnivorous reader, so pretty much all suggestions are welcome.

And, maybe this is a silly question, but how do I get them? I'd rather pay for the individual books than do a subscription service.
posted by chatongriffes to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (67 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how you feel about Harry Potter, but Stephen Fry'd reading of the whole series makes me laugh and cry hysterically every listen.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:34 AM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

David Sedaris reads all his own stuff, and the voice is critical to getting maximum enjoyment out of his stories. They're hilarious as hell on their own, but when he reads them... almost too much.

For sciencey stuff, I like Dawkins' books when they're read by him, though they're usually abridged.
posted by supercres at 10:35 AM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm listening to Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot on audio, read by David Pittu, who does a really great job with the character voices and with bringing out the dry humor of the author. Recommended!

Libraries generally have extensive audiobook collections, and they're free!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:36 AM on October 11, 2012

And, maybe this is a silly question, but how do I get them?

The library.
posted by box at 10:39 AM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

John Hodgman's audiobooks of his Areas Of My Expertise trilogy of fake trivia are delightful. I need to grab the newest one which just came out barely in time for Ragnarok!
posted by yellowbinder at 10:41 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mefi's own John Hodgman has three audio books (the third just came out) which provide COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE:

The Areas of My Expertise
More Information Than You Require
That Is All

These books are all greatly enhanced by listening to them rather than reading them. They have Jonathan Coulton and Paul Rudd and all kinds of crazy stuff. Very enjoyable.
posted by ND¢ at 10:42 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: How does a library version of an audiobook work? If you download it to your device, does it expire after a time? What's to prevent people from just making copies? If I'm keeping a book, I like to know that something goes to the author.

Do they give you the box of 18 cds that you have to download? 'Cause that's what I did with Wolf Hall and it was a bit tedious.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:42 AM on October 11, 2012

A lot of libraries do have downloadable audiobooks from Library2Go, that expire after 1-3 weeks (you pick the loan period).

Almost all libraries have physical book-on-CD collections. I listen to them in my car, in the CD player, so that works for me. Do you have a CD player at home? Because that's much less tedious (and more legal) than ripping them to listen to on your computer/mp3 player.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:46 AM on October 11, 2012

I do a LOT of books on CD, as I have found I really like hearing stories as well as reading them.

I will add another vote for the Harry Potter books, either with Stephen Fry (UK version) or Jim Dale (US version). Both are magnificent.

Also, if you like his stuff, Al Franken reads many of his own books, and does an excellent job.

I listened to Anathem prior to reading it, and I was astounded at the quality of the performers. They incorporate music as well, which was a treat. I've listened to it over and over even after reading it. :)
posted by blurker at 10:50 AM on October 11, 2012

Sorry, looks like nationally it's called Overdrive, Library2Go is what we call it here in Oregon.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:54 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I sometimes listen to audiobooks for convenience rather than out of necessity - so these are books I've both read and listened to.

If you like Stephen King, the audiobook of Black House was awesome - the narrator was expressive but not intrusive, and his voice was wildly well-suited to the material.

Also in the Stephen King line, the audiobook for From a Buick 8 was done with different voice "actors" for different sections of the book (the book itself is separated into sections by POV character), and it worked really well for me. Each section stood out, and I got a very strong sense of character from this method. Plus, each individual narrator was awesome.

Will Wheaton read John Scalzi's Redshirts, and did an amazing job, though I liked the beginning and middle of that book far more than the ending, which seemed to go on several layers deeper than it needed to in order to make its point (a critique which will make sense only if you've read it, I would guess.)

I'm not sure who read the Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman, but that guy was totally amazing. Listening to them was like getting a cheat code that opened up an entirely new and awesome level in the books. I was a fan of the books just from reading them, but I'll go to the audiobooks for any rereads in the future. The text is extremely dramatic and purple, which somehow works with the high-fantasy atmosphere, and I expected it to fall completely flat when read aloud. But the reader rolled with the style and elevated it; I felt like I really knew the characters and their world better after listening.
posted by kythuen at 10:54 AM on October 11, 2012

The Terry Pratchett books narrated by Stephen Briggs are extraordinary. He is an actor and huge Discworld fan / geek, and gives each character their own voice. Of all the audiobooks I've heard, by anyone and of any author, his readings of Pratchett are the best.

(well, second only to Clifford Simak reading his story, Aesop. Check that out if you can find it, too).
posted by zippy at 10:55 AM on October 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'd recommend pretty much anything narrated by Frank Muller, who sadly died a few years ago. He gives distinct voices and accents to each character, and manages to do it without being cheesy or distracting. I especially enjoyed William Gibson's Virtual Light, but all of Muller's narrations have been amazing.
posted by Quietgal at 10:57 AM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

My wife said the audiobook edition of "The Help" was one of the most spell-binding things she's ever heard - she really couldn't say enough good things about it, specifically that the narrator was really good at doing a bunch of different voices.
posted by jbickers at 11:01 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding anything read by Frank Muller, he's legendary.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:02 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

World War Z was well done. And I'm really over zombies.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:06 AM on October 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: And as it happens, Frank Muller was the reader for Black House, which I mentioned above. I didn't know he'd passed on. :(

He was also the reader for most of the Dark Tower books, and for The Talisman.

So basically, nthing anything he read.
posted by kythuen at 11:13 AM on October 11, 2012

+1 for the Jim Dale version of Harry Potter, and +1 for the cast of World War Z.
posted by THAT William Mize at 11:21 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding David Sedaris. Me Talk Pretty One Day is one of my favorite memoirs, and listening to it made me love it all the more.
posted by griphus at 11:22 AM on October 11, 2012

Steve Coogan's "I Partridge, We Need To Talk About Alan" which he reads in character as Alan Partridge is very entertaining.
posted by merocet at 11:36 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to keep this from being too lovely-dovey, the British guy who does Anthony Beevor's WWII book "D-Day" does some terrifically awful American accents. Or "accent," I should say. *shudder*
posted by wenestvedt at 11:40 AM on October 11, 2012

Seconding John Hodgman's audiobooks.
My other favorites:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
On the Road - narrated by Matt Dillon
Lolita - narrated by Jeremy Irons
posted by mattbucher at 11:41 AM on October 11, 2012

Oh, also avoid the audiobook of Neuromancer where William Gibson narrates it himself. That one is ... embarrassing.
posted by griphus at 11:41 AM on October 11, 2012

+1 for the audio version of The Help

P.G. Wodehouse is excellent. I love reading his books, but I think listening to them is even better.
posted by McPuppington the Third at 11:46 AM on October 11, 2012

I haven't listened to any John Hodgman authored audiobooks, but I really, really enjoyed his reading of Rob Reid's Year Zero. I think he took a book that I may not have loved as much if I wasn't a law student/copyright nerd and made it far better.

I enjoy Audible.com for my audio books, I haven't tried the library system yet.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:01 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Echoing kythuen's sentiment, I might have liked China Mieville's KRAKEN on paper, but I might not have; having it read my John Lee, who somehow knew how to unlock all of Mieville's linguistic filigrees and doggerel-spouting characters, made it a favorite. (Although I've ran into a surprising amount of Lee antipathy among fellow audiologophiles.)

I could recommend a lot of audiobooks, but in hewing to the original question of what's uniquely good on audiobook: THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE. AWAIT YOUR REPLY. I'm listening to CLOUD ATLAS right now, and doing that as audio seems like a solid choice.
posted by blueshammer at 12:17 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anansi Boys (written by Neil Gaiman, read by Lenny Henry) is a pretty good book and a GREAT audiobook.

That's my favorite audiobook but my second-favorite is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (written by Susannah Clarke, read by Simon Prebble) .
posted by mskyle at 12:22 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I second Anansi Boys -- it's hilarious and I love the voices he does.
posted by therewithal at 12:24 PM on October 11, 2012

Scott Brick is another fantastic narrator. Dune, In Cold Blood and Under the Banner of Heaven are three of my faves.
posted by Lucinda at 12:27 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and nthing World War Z. Both are excellently done, and good stories.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 12:51 PM on October 11, 2012

This is YA, but the Make Lemonade / True Believer / This Full House trilogy by Virginia Euwer Wolff as read by Heather Alicia Simms is fantastic - every character voice is unique and spot-on. This is especially impressive because book #3 was recorded years after the 1st two, and yet all the character voices are identical.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:01 PM on October 11, 2012

Best answer: Also awesome listens: Patrick Tull's narrations (NOT Brown's) of the Patrick O'Brian Master and Commander novels, the wonderful Simon Jones narrations of the Bartamaeus Trilogy, Joan Allen's narrations of Anna Quindlen's Blessing (or any book, for that matter), and Roy Dotrice's narrations of the George R.R. Martin Game of Thrones series.

I know you don't want a subscription, but I'd suggest you think about audible.com. There are plenty of member benefits, a one book a month membership is very inexpensive, and downloading to anything mp3 is a snap with their software. Also, they have quite the stable of narrators. I used to be a library audiobook person myself until my husband bought me a year's subscription to audible as a gift years ago, and I've never found anything as cost-effective or easy for audio listening since.
posted by bearwife at 1:06 PM on October 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

A few years ago the BBC did a radio series of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday that was actually Geoffrey Palmer reading the whole text in 13 episodes. It was terrific and can be found on various torrent sites (no commercial release of it was made as far as I know).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:18 PM on October 11, 2012

A previous AskMe thread on the same question: "What books are particularly well-suited to the audio book medium? Perhaps even better as audio books than in print?"
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:19 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is sort of a family-link but my uncle's reading of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is pretty terrific. He has an amazing voice and cares a lot about the subject. You can hear excerpts on YouTube.

In addition to the digital audio book options you can, without too much trouble, get books on CD out of the library and then burn them to your particular device. May not technically be legal, but as your librarian I encourage you to try it anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 1:30 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Moby Dick read by Frank Muller is fantastic.

And Nick Sullivan's readings of The Recognitions and J R are great works of art in their own right.
posted by chavenet at 1:38 PM on October 11, 2012

If you like kids & young adult novels, try Blood Red Road by Moira Young. The audiobook is terrific. Ditto the Gregor the Overlander series - it's by Suzanne Collins, who wrote Hunger Games.

Daniel Pinkwater, most fabulous and weirdest children's author, records lots of his audiobooks for free. You can download them at his website.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 2:03 PM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been really enjoying full (or partial) cast BBC radio dramas. Many of which are adaptations of books. Particularly awesome was their 60s production of Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. Their production of Wyndham's Triffids and The Kraken Wakes, but the best (from a voice perspective) was Aliens in the Mind (otherwise so-so story) but Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. Great voices. Great fun. Also, anything by Stephen Fry. His tweed voice is delicious to my ears.
posted by Smegoid at 2:16 PM on October 11, 2012

I recently finished listening to The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear on audiobook. The books are fantastic, and the voice actor is outstanding.

Highly recommended if you like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Wizard From Earthsea series, The Hobbit, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones kinda rolled into one.
posted by Terheyden at 2:32 PM on October 11, 2012

I thought the audio version of Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood was particularly well done. If you like dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction, give it a try. There are three different voices: Ren has managed to survive the "waterless flood" because she is quarantined in a brothel; Toby has barricaded herself in the upscale spa where she works, subsisting on the organic, all-edible fruit facial scrubs and hair masques. Ren and Toby's alternating chapters are punctuated by sermons from Adam One, the leader of the God's Gardeners environmentalist group. After each sermon, there is a hymn sung by the God's Gardeners chorus. (If you ever sat in church listening to earnest hippie Jesus songs with guitar accompaniment, you will get a chuckle out of the hymns.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:35 PM on October 11, 2012

Best answer: I listened to Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell, read by Emma Galvin, and enjoyed it more than when I attempted to read it in print. His style is pretty florid and can be a bit much to wade through, but it's poetic perfection in the mouth of a reader who actually sounds like a tough teen girl from the Ozarks.
posted by houndsoflove at 3:00 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really liked the Bartimaeus Trilogy (Stroud) read by Simon Jones...
posted by NoDef at 3:34 PM on October 11, 2012

Best answer: This is probably very limited by taste (not really a narrative) and interest in history, but I really loved the Kenneth Branagh reading of selections from the diary of Samuel Pepys.
posted by clerestory at 4:19 PM on October 11, 2012

I'm always recommending A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby. From Amazon's description: " ... this audiobook is nearly an audio play with three excellent actors playing four characters." Very fun to listen to. I got it on CD from our local library.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:30 PM on October 11, 2012

If you're not a Sherlock Holmes purist, the Mary Russell books by Laurie R. King are very enjoyable, and Jenny Sterlin is an excellent audiobook narrator. (Having now listened to audiobooks done by several other narrators, I hereby take back any complaint I may previously have made about her skill with accents. Compared to some of the other readers, she's outstanding — it's immediately clear which character is speaking and the difference between a character's internal narration and things they say out loud is obvious.)

The version of Daughter of Time narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi is very nice (although his American accent is… ahem. Mighty big weather we're having, isn't it?)
posted by Lexica at 5:43 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Roy Dotrice's reading of the A Song of Ice and Fire series is really great for the first three books- A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. After that he kinda loses it.
posted by brevator at 5:58 PM on October 11, 2012

I'm currently listening to Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age or the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. I'm loving the range of voices the narrator does (there are Victorian characters, cyberpunks, rough street sorts, Chinese warlords, etc, and you wouldn't believe it was the one reader - actually maybe it isn't always, but the one person does most of the main characters, at least, including a little girl who grows up during the book, and the way her voice changes from when she's a 4-year-old street urchin to when she's a young lady graduating from a Victorian school into society is amazing).

I also find it quite magical to listen to because a large strand of the story is ABOUT a magical (well, electronic, but the kids think it is magic) book that educates the child by reading her stories about herself. So you have bits where you are being told a fairytale that works PERFECTLY in audio format. If I were reading on paper I might even have been tempted to skip those bits, but listening to them is very relaxing.
posted by lollusc at 6:23 PM on October 11, 2012

Roy Dotrice's reading of the A Song of Ice and Fire series is really great for the first three books

I would specifically recommend NOT listening to ASOIAF, whether you love the series or you've never read it. I love it, but the there are a few turns of phrase that GRRM loves and tends to use over and over. In books you overlook it. It's harder to do that when you're hearing it- after a while, all you hear are "sharp as Valyrian steel" and groans.
posted by supercres at 8:08 PM on October 11, 2012

Yeah, there's something about hearing something aloud that shines a spotlight on an author's favorite (spelled: excessively-used) words and phrases. (Thinking back: "Glary." How many darn glary lights can there be in one book? Sheesh.)
posted by Lexica at 8:36 PM on October 11, 2012

Shantaram. Fantastic.

I have to raise a dissenting voice about Frank Muller though. I actually (don't stone me please) despise him and will not buy a book he has narrated. His voice is just too low, and I find his delivery more about him than about the story. But, ymmv. He has narrated a LOT of books, so you'll run into him sooner or later.

Scott Brick is another really good narrator.

The James Clavell series -- Tai Pan, etc., worked extremely well on audiobook.

I find books that take place in foreign countries to be the best, since the narrator does the accents and that adds another dimension.

Game of Thrones is excellent.

Some of the Nevada Barr books are good too -- the narrator she uses kind of bugs me though.

Stephen King reads some of his own books -- he has an extra super creepy voice, which makes his books even more intense.

Really though, Shantaram is the best book I've ever read, of any kind, and it really benefitted from the audiobook genre with the accents (takes place in India).
posted by bluesky78987 at 10:41 PM on October 11, 2012

Oh yeah, listening to the audiobook of A Clash of Kings made me NEVER EVER want to hear or read any of the remaining ASOIAF books. I listened to the whole thing because I had a really long solo drive through rural areas with limited radio options but I probably would have been happier listening to the French-Canadian hockey commentary (my other option). Also some of the characters sounded like evil leprechauns, and as dopey as "Hodor" is in the written books it is TEN TIMES WORSE in the audiobook.

So what I am saying, given that others have specifically recommended ASOIAF is: tastes differ. I don't like Frank Muller either.
posted by mskyle at 7:17 AM on October 12, 2012

Best answer: Going along with Year of the Flood, I recommend Oryx and Crake, which takes place within the same time period, and is narrated by Campbell Scott.

Best? A Prayer for Owen Meany. John Irving personally chose Joe Barrett to record Owen's unique voice. I can't find a sample that has it, other than two words in this one. But it's a classic novel, and a great production.
posted by cereselle at 7:53 AM on October 12, 2012

...how do I get them?

Check out Overdrive, used by a lot of libraries for lending e-books and audiobooks. The search page might help you find a library you can use.

As for especially well-voiced books, some I've liked a lot that haven't been mentioned yet are:

The Time Traveller's Wife
The Reader
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

I may come back and add some more later.
posted by philipy at 7:59 AM on October 12, 2012

Best answer: I thought I would return here and throw a vote in for some Old Time Radio shows. You can get a truckload, for free, right here.
posted by THAT William Mize at 9:47 AM on October 12, 2012

+2 for the Help.
posted by tedunni at 10:13 AM on October 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great suggestions, everyone! I checked out the audiobook selections for both my home town and my current town and neither of them had a very wide range. I couldn't find any of the books I was most excited to read...err, listen to.

I think I may just go ahead and get audible.

It being October and all, the thought of creepy stories really appeal to me right now. I think I might try the Stephen King Dark Tower series first and see how I like it! Can't wait to delve into all the rest, though.
posted by chatongriffes at 10:25 AM on October 12, 2012

Oh, my - I forgot one of the very best performances I have ever heard on CD - Martin Jarvis reading Neil Gaiman's Good Omens. I was so thrilled with this one that I listened twice in a row, and then demanded that my husband listen to it. It is a thing of beauty.

Here is the opening.
posted by blurker at 1:14 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great suggestions, overall. I don't know what your jam is, exactly, but two audio books that really moved me were Never Let Me Go and A Scanner Darkly. The first is a great reading of a great novel, the second is a phenomenal reading of a phenomenal novella(?) by Paul Giamatti.

Both were excellent and I recommend them to everyone who asks about audio books (after suggesting Jonathan Strange, Anansi Boys, The Lies of Lock Lamora, Harry Potter, and everything by Madeline L'Engle, of course).
posted by Tevin at 2:04 PM on October 12, 2012

It might be worth mentioning that the BBC iPlayer has streams for lots of recent BBC radio shows, and there are usually a wide range of book readings, dramatizations and dramas available. The index page for them is here at the moment.

The BBC radio content is available internationally, unlike the video which is UK only.

Currently offerings include...

Summer Lies, by Bernhard Schlink, read by Bill Nighy
Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson
Dick Barton Special Agent

... and lots more.
posted by philipy at 4:47 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Surprised no has mention this... Gladwell.
posted by JPowers at 8:19 PM on October 12, 2012

I'm currently enjoying The Liar by Stephen Fry.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:01 AM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: If you're interested in scary stories for October, may I recommend Neil Gaiman reading The Graveyard Book? It's a great book - it won both a Newbery Medal and a Hugo Award - and he does a wonderful job reading it.

It's available through Audible, but you can also check it out online - Neil did a reading tour where he read the whole book, chapter by chapter, and answered questions afterward. (It might even be fun to listen to both versions - the audiobook is more polished, but the live readings are charming too.)
posted by kristi at 12:25 PM on October 13, 2012

Best answer: Full disclosure - I'm an Audible employee. If you didn't sign up yet, here's a link to one of the better introductory offers (two free books and 30 days free). Also, you don't need to do it as a subscription - you can download audiobooks a la carte. It is cheaper to do it via subscription, however.

And to counteract my corporate shilling, there's also Librivox which has tons of free audiobooks from the public domain.
posted by kidsleepy at 9:40 AM on October 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

President Obama read his own memoir, Dreams From My Father, and actually won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.
posted by Mendl at 8:23 PM on October 14, 2012

I thought Life of Pi was narrated wonderfully. And yes, get the CDs from the library, rip them and return the CDs. Then you can listen on your own time.
posted by cnc at 5:35 PM on October 18, 2012

(coming in late, but...)

Devil In The White City was a fun listen. We have listened to Home (written and narrated by Bill Bryson) twice, and it is FANTASTIC. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Poisoner's Handbook.

Audible also just released all of Tolkien's books unabridged. I know what I'm spending my winter listening to.
posted by bibliogrrl at 3:34 PM on October 29, 2012

Here are a couple that were absolutely great for audio: To Kill a Mockingbird, read by Sissy Spacek, Of Mice and Men, read by Gary Sinise, plus Tony Hillerman's books are always read by the same guy, whose name I can't recall right now.
posted by annsunny at 7:07 PM on October 31, 2012

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