What are your favorite audiobooks?
May 5, 2013 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I am going to be doing a lot of driving this summer, and I would like to find some great audiobooks to listen to in the car. What do you recommend? I am especially keen to hear entertaining audiobooks that are not just someone reading aloud in a monotone voice. What I want are books that realize the full potential of the audiobook format. For example, books with music or sound effects, or books with multiple readers performing the dialogue, would be wonderful. I look forward to your suggestions
posted by mortaddams to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Tina Fey recorded the audio for her memoir Bossypants. Hearing it in her voice definitely enhances the humor in an already very funny book.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 10:57 AM on May 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I enjoyed the audiobook version of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and that uses different pieces for different actors.

You might want to look into radio plays/dramas, but those will be a series of episodes rather than a book straight through. The hitchhikers guide to the galaxy is the one I enjoyed most but there have been a lot of plays on the BBC that are available, certainly in the UK, on CD.

Most of the audiobooks I have enjoyed are just the one narrator and in the end I prefer that - having lots of actors distracts me and sometimes makes it hard to figure out what is going on if two actors sound similar.

If you would consider single narrators, I have recently been enjoying slogging through Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series in audiobook form. It's complex, long-winded and if you miss a few minutes due to driving conditions it's not the end of the world.
posted by kadia_a at 10:58 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

In the vein of the first answer, David Sedaris' audiobooks are read by him, and while they're not actually dramatized, he certainly does a good job telling his stories.
posted by ftm at 10:59 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

World War Z is written as a collection of many different characters' firsthand accounts - and each one has a different voice actor.

John Hodgman's Areas of My Expertise includes musical segments performed by Jonathan Coulton.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:02 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Tim Curry's recording of Garth Nix's Sabriel trilogy is just him reading (with some minimal music), but it's amazingly well done.
posted by corey flood at 11:02 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Born Standing Up - Steve Martin

really awesome to hear him very graciously read his account of going from working at the Disneyland magic shop to becoming a stand up comedian that played football stadium crowds with his goofy act.
posted by bobdow at 11:02 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Well, things may have changed since I worked in a bookstore, but the one series that everyone said was fairly spectacular was Harry Potter. I haven't listened to it myself (read the books), but by all accounts it's well-acted by Jim Dale, and I believe they're folio'd.

Personally my favorite is Ulysses as read by Jim Norton. He really brings it to life.
posted by carsonb at 11:05 AM on May 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might check out this recent AskMe that asked mostly the same thing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:06 AM on May 5, 2013

"Stardust" - Neil Gaiman
"Macbeth - A Novel" - A J Hartley
"Dark Tower" series - Stephen King (no sound effects, but really good narration)

also re: Harry Potter, I listened to the Stephen Fry version, and it was quite good.
posted by pyro979 at 11:11 AM on May 5, 2013

I like Vaiable Star, read by Spider Robinson, & anything by the http://www.fullcastaudio.com/ group.
posted by tilde at 11:13 AM on May 5, 2013

World War Z is brilliant as an audiobook.

I also really liked John Scalzi's Redshirts - Wil Wheaton really does a great job portraying a fed-up lower-decks starship grunt.
posted by Katemonkey at 11:14 AM on May 5, 2013

This isn't necessarily an audiobook, but I love Jay O'Callahan. He's a story-teller, and his recordings are dynamic and definitely not monotone. I listened to his stories on tape when I was a kid, but he has some more adult-oriented stories, as well.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:23 AM on May 5, 2013

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the original BBC radio show is perfect for you.
posted by ijaaz at 11:25 AM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Christopher Moore writes stories that lampoon pop culture. They have a high production value, because he's popular. Also really fun/funny, not mentioned yet, is George Carlin.
posted by annsunny at 11:27 AM on May 5, 2013

World War Z, Hitchhikers that others have already mentioned (In fact I think there's a new extended version WWZ coming out soon)

The BBC R4 version of Lord Of The Rings
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:55 AM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you considered radio plays instead of audiobooks? Those almost always have the multiple voices, the sound effects and music, etc. that you want. The BBC radio stations have a number of radio plays in a variety of genres. (And they can be downloaded.)
posted by vetala at 12:02 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Frank Muller was an excellent narrator who did distinctive voices and accents for characters, without being hokey or distracting. No music, but he really brings the stories to life. A list of his audiobook recordings is here. I particularly recommend William Gibson's Virtual Light but pretty much anything he's done has been really good.
posted by Quietgal at 12:04 PM on May 5, 2013

Can I suggest a podcast? Hardcore history has two series, each about 15 hours long, covering the end of the Roman Republic and the entire history of the Mongol empire. He doesn't act it out, and there are no sound effects, but he has a conversational, talk-radio-style delivery that I find incredibly gripping. Costs nothing to give it a listen to see if it grabs you.
posted by empath at 12:18 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I haven't listened to it, but Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the 20th Century, a history of modern classical composition, is chock full of musical examples. The reader was not well reviewed, however.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:43 PM on May 5, 2013

Patrick Tull's complete readings of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series are wonderful. Watch out for the Patrick Vance versions though, because they aren't.

Stephen Fry's Harry Potter and Rob Inglis' LOTR are nearly as excellent. There are also complete Sherlock Holmes radio plays with Clive Merriman.
posted by cromagnon at 1:28 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

The original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was revolutionary when it came to radio in the late 70s. It still stands up as soon of the most entertaining storytelling-through-words-and-sound-effects you'll ever hear. Highly recommended.
posted by 0bvious at 3:11 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Audies are the audiobook awards and this article from The Awl asks the same question.

Nthing radio plays. I used to listen to A Prairie Home Companion on long road trips, but you have to be careful not to fall asleep. I also liked storytelling podcasts like The Moth.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 3:30 PM on May 5, 2013

Disobedience by Jane Hamilton is read by Robert Sean Leonard of House and Dead Poets Society. It is an absolutely hilarious book to listen to. I highly recommend.
posted by Jewel98 at 3:32 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would second 'BossyPants' and would also suggest Mindy Kaling's 'Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me.' Both, hilariously read by the author.

'The Help' is also very entertaining.
posted by duckus at 4:31 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This presentation of Frank Herbert's Dune is beyond excellent. It's maybe not the best choice if you've already read it, but otherwise, I would recommend it quite highly... especially since you specifically mentioned presentations featuring multiple actors.

Also, Philip K Dick's Ubik, as read by Anthony Heald, is really good. That could just be because I think Heald has a really awesome voice, though.
posted by nohaybanda at 5:05 PM on May 5, 2013

Pretty much anything by Bill Bryson, but in particular In a Sunburned Country had me crying with laughter chapter after chapter. Bryson narrates his travels (and run-ins with the many things that can kill you) in Australia.

His hike along the Appalachian Trail is equally hilarious in A Walk in the Woods.

And I'll second Jim Dale's reading of the Harry Potter series. Dale created more than 100 unique voices for the characters, and he does a great job bringing out the emphasis, timing, and emotion in the text.
posted by homer2k1 at 6:15 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

David Sedaris reading his own books are laugh-out-loud hilarious. His sister Amy usually comes in to read the female parts (which are usually his mother and/or sisters).

I now wish that I had listened to Bossypants instead of having read it, because in the same vein it sounds like it would be even better in Tina Fey's actual voice.
posted by radioamy at 9:26 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Favorites listened to recently:
The Passage (super scary apocalyptic vampire/zombie book really good)
Cloud Atlas
posted by angrycat at 12:56 AM on May 6, 2013

A Confederacy of Dunces is lovely in audio format
Nthing His Dark Materials
I also really enjoyed Middlesex.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:17 AM on May 6, 2013

I had a similar question a few years ago. The advice was to look for "full cast" when searching for books.
posted by Hactar at 10:45 AM on May 6, 2013

John Hodgman's three books are full of guest actors and musical interludes. They really seem much more like ad lib performances than someone reading already existing words. I re-listen to each one a few times a year. Guest actors include Paul Rudd, Rachel Maddow, Patton Oswalt and Jon Hamm (but there are many more).
posted by Brody's chum at 5:14 PM on May 6, 2013

American Gods -- Neil Gaiman and also agreeing with the Pullman recommendation.
posted by jclarkin at 10:04 PM on May 13, 2013

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