Exceptional audiobooks
October 27, 2022 9:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm going on an extended road trip and would love to branch out from podcasts and music. My primary reading is technical documentation and science fiction. I'd love to listen to a book that is in neither of these categories. Can you recommend some?
posted by aeighty to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I always liked the Aubrey Maturin series in audio, narrated by Patrick Tull. They're historical fiction, but the narrator is a delight and realy makes the words flow.

On a different note, there's Joyce's Ulysses in audio form. I'm partial to the Naxos audio performance, if you can stand stream of consciousness and a lot of obscure literary references. Aubrey Maturin is a little similar in that regard, come to think of it...
posted by Alensin at 9:53 AM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Comedians reading their own books are often a hoot. Try Amy Poehler's book Yes Please.
posted by 4th number at 9:53 AM on October 27, 2022 [6 favorites]

Trevor Noah's 'Born a Crime' was the audiobook that got me into audiobooks. It's his self narrated autobiography of growing up in South Africa under apartheid, and it's funny and informative and authentic.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:54 AM on October 27, 2022 [13 favorites]

The full cast recording of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is stunning. It takes a bit of getting used to absorb the read out loud footnotes, but that's a minor quibble. It's amazing. The 166 person cast includes Nick Offerman, Carrie Brownstein, Miranda July, Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader, Megan Mullally, Rainn Wilson, Jeff Tweedy, Kat Dennings, Keegan-Michael Key, Don Cheadle, Patrick Wilson...

It's kaleidoscopic, sad, and funny, all at once.

(The plot is that young Willie Lincoln, upon dying, ends up in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:55 AM on October 27, 2022 [9 favorites]

Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence is the best audiobook I have listened to in the past 12 months. (I recommend listening to it at 1.2x speed because even though the author does a great job reading, she reads slowly.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:57 AM on October 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio plays are, apparently, fabulous.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:11 AM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best audiobooks I've read recently that would be good for a road trip:

Unprotected by Billy Porter
Transcendent memoir read by the author. Could change your life.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
Wonderful voices for some of the characters. Especially Duchess and Sally. Especially appropriate for its theme of travel & voyages.

Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile
Brilliant memoir read (and sung) by the artist.
posted by oxisos at 10:15 AM on October 27, 2022

The audiobooks of Ben Aaronovitch's "Rivers of London" series about a magical cop in present-day London are narrated by the faultless Khobna Holdbrook-Smith, and they are amaaaazing.

Here's a sample: https://soundcloud.com/orionbooks/rivers-of-london-by-ben
posted by wenestvedt at 10:18 AM on October 27, 2022 [9 favorites]

Hannah Gadsby’s Ten Steps to Nanette, a memoir, narrated by the author.

Also, I heard that The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dannie Walton is really good on audio, read by a whole cast of people, though I haven’t listened to it yet.
posted by SomethinsWrong at 10:39 AM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Whether or not you have read the Lord of the Rings, I highly recommend Andy Serkis’ recently released audiobooks of the trilogy. He has an excellent voice for each character and, of course, Gollum.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:52 AM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you like or are interested in cultural criticism (not sure precisely how to describe), I really enjoyed Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror (read by the author).

Second Hannah Gadsby, whose book I have listened to three times since it came out.

Also second Andy Serkis' Lord of the Rings readings, who manages to make even the quite slow parts interesting, with the caution that you might want to speed up some of 'Book 1', i.e. the first half of the Fellowship of the Ring and don't give up as the pace does pick up.

And I second Born a Crime.

So really, Ask has excellent taste in audiobooks in my personal opinion.
posted by lookoutbelow at 11:18 AM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Norse Mythology, read by Neil Gaiman.
posted by nkknkk at 11:25 AM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli read by Benedict Cumberbatch. It's the physics of time & gravity and perception, so perhaps not quite what you requested. But I enjoyed it quite a bit because it has a lot of philosophy mixed in and is read in a very accessible & engaging manner by Cumberbatch.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata read by Nancy Wu is a charming first person tale of an unconventional woman who tries to fit into the real world. Or make the real world fit her.

Charles Paris Mysteries starring Bill Nighy by Simon Brett. There are about a dozen, try to listen to them in order, because there are some recurring characters that are confusing if you don't. Radio plays, good old fashioned radio mystery plays where the detective is a C list actor with a complicated life.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone read by Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple read by Kathleen Whilhoite - I listened to this before the movie came out and found it to be a much better production.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride read by Michael Boatman - recently a series on Showtime, but the auedio book is an excellent reading of a first person fictionalize account of John Brown and his abolitionist mission culminating the raid on Harper's Ferry.

If you like Louise Erdrich, I enjoyed the audio book of The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse read by Anna Fields.
posted by typetive at 11:57 AM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer

Audible Link

It's a fantastic history book which also talks about how we know (or don't) what we know.
posted by jaded at 12:46 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I commend my last four audiobook experiences:
Annie Proulx takes a stand for the squidgy parts of the planet in Fen, Bog and Swamp.

Growing up black, lesbian and working class in post-industrial Scotland, Amanda Thomson's tribute to her sense of place, her love of the natural world, her sense of self supported by her family's unconditional love is laid out in Belonging.

In The Crossway Guy Stagg went all pilgrim from suicidal ideation in materialist London to Jerusalem and beyond to the desert but doesn't find god.

The Edge of the Plain: how Borders Make and Break Our World by James Crawford starts where Umma met Lagash 45 centuries ago and takes in a few walls: surrounding Melilla; in the Sonoran Desert; Hadrian's Wall; the Great Chinese Firewall; Banksy's Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem.
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:27 PM on October 27, 2022

I'm really enjoying the Lord John Grey series by Diana Gabaldon on audio. Couldn't get through them at all as regular books, but the guy reading the audio is just wonderful and adds so much to the characters.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:42 PM on October 27, 2022

Still sci fi, but I have heard the audio books from The Expanse, are very, very good.
posted by Oyéah at 1:43 PM on October 27, 2022

Any audiobook of David Sedaris!
posted by flod at 1:54 PM on October 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Beautiful ruins by Jess walter but more importantly narrated by Edoardo Ballerini got me into audiobooks.
There are honestly too many to list so i will point you to a resource. Audie awards are given every year to best in audiobook including best male narrator/female narrator etc and they started in 1996. When i want recommendations for audiobooks , that's where i go
posted by radsqd at 2:00 PM on October 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

The audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo is remarkable. There's really nothing I can think of that was like that book, and the voice actors made it even better.

(ETA I just saw that it was already mentioned, so count this as a second)
posted by Mchelly at 2:28 PM on October 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Still sci fi, but I have heard the audio books from The Expanse, are very, very good.

Oyéah speaks the truth; the audiobooks are superb, and worth listening to even if you have read the books, or watched the show. Standalone great.

And half of the writing team over there wrote The Dagger and the Coin series (Daniel Abraham), which, is one of my more favorite fantasy series released in the last few years.

Salt by Mark Kurlansky, is very nonfiction, and really good.

A brief History of Equality by Piketty can be a little dry, but overall a solid listen.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:07 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I just listened to my second-favorite audiobook of all time: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It begins in Ghana in the 1750s, and follows the fates of two branches of the same family, one that stays in Ghana and one that is put into slavery in America. Each chapter bounces back and forth between the two countries, and focuses on one person in each generation. Incredible writing and wonderful narration: Dominic Hoffman has won awards for his performance. I don’t normally get into historical fiction, but I’m really glad I stumbled upon this one.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:20 PM on October 27, 2022

I very much enjoyed "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big" by Scott Adams (Dilbert). It has a 4.8 rating on Audible.

If you wanted to consider starting a VERY long series of audio books you could start in on the "In Death" series by J. D. Robb. The books center on a beautiful female police lieutenant (Eve Dallas) in 2035 who solves murders for the NYPSD (New York Police and Security Department) with the assistance of her husband who happens to be the richest person in the solar system. It's the history and background of the leading characters, as well as the distinctive voices and perspectives of the supporting characters, that add depth to each book. YMMV.
posted by forthright at 4:35 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding Aaronovitch, Poehler, Noah, and Semple.

I got a preview copy of The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean and enjoyed it. It is fantasy but not scifi. My version was narrated by a Scottish woman, Katie Erich I believe, which is charming.

Alex Trebek's memoir "The Answer Is" has him reading parts but is mostly read by Ken Jennings. I don't think the narration was especially good, but the book itself is.
posted by soelo at 4:37 PM on October 27, 2022

Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey, read by Claire Danes, is amazing. Not my usual cup of tea but I was sucked in, and it's meant to be read out loud.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:42 PM on October 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

A few favorite listens, all links to libro.fm with sample tracks. I recommend listening to a bit of each of your shortlist - I think narration preferences vary a lot, so a book with an interesting summary might fall really flat for you if the narration isn't to your taste.

You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism is written and narrated by comedian Amber Ruffin and her sister Lacey Lamar, and listening to it is like hanging out with friends talking about some shit. Highly recommend.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, narrated by Michael Boatman. Historical fiction that imagines a young slave getting caught up in the events leading up to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. I prefer the audiobook to the recent Showtime limited series.

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots narrated by Alex McKenna. Fun yarn about the admin staff behind superhero/villains, and the collateral damage caused by the supers.
posted by the primroses were over at 5:20 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Many great recommendations previously, which I've tried not to repeat. Here are a some books I've enjoyed hearing lately. The quotes are from Audible. I love listening to well read books.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Olga Tokarczuk (author)
Beata Pozniak (narrator)
In a remote Polish village, Janina devotes the dark winter days to studying astrology, translating the poetry of William Blake, and taking care of the summer homes of wealthy Warsaw residents. Her reputation as a crank and a recluse is amplified by her not-so-secret preference for the company of animals over humans. Then, a neighbor, Big Foot, turns up dead. Soon, other bodies are discovered, in increasingly strange circumstances.
Is Paris Burning?
Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierre (authors)
Grover Gardner (narrator)
Few moments in history are as stirring as the Allied liberation of Paris, yet few people are aware of how narrowly - and how miraculously - the city escaped Hitler's secret plan to reduce it to ashes.
Vanessa Veselka (author)
Xe Sands (narrator)
From the author of the National Book Award longlisted epic The Great Offshore Grounds, here is the debut novel that launched her career - a story of activism, police violence, and white guilt in a not so distant dystopian America.
Intimations: Six Essays
Zadie Smith (author & narrator)
Written during the early months of lockdown, Intimations explores ideas and questions prompted by an unprecedented situation. What does it mean to submit to a new reality - or to resist it? How do we compare relative sufferings? What is the relationship between time and work? In our isolation, what do other people mean to us? How do we think about them? What is the ratio of contempt to compassion in a crisis? When an unfamiliar world arrives, what does it reveal about the world that came before it?
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
Erik Larson (author)
Stephen Hoye (narrator)
The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history.
posted by kingless at 5:39 PM on October 27, 2022

I just finished News of the World by Paulette Jiles and found the story and narration to be delightful and I have listened to a lot of audiobooks in my time. Also, second (third?) The Lincoln Highway!
posted by gingerjules at 6:29 PM on October 27, 2022

Two recent non-science-fiction audiobooks that I really enjoyed are River of the Gods: Genius, Courage and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile by Candice Millard and Circe by Madeline Miller. I also enjoyed John Krakauer's Into Thin Air and China Mieville's Kraken (not his best book, but the audio performance by John Lee is exceptional).
posted by neushoorn at 9:37 AM on October 28, 2022

Both Steve Martin and Tina Fey's biopics are funny, fun, and well-produced. Both are read by the artists themselves as well.
posted by hubs at 9:38 AM on October 28, 2022

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