We may not always have the time to sit back with a good book and a cozy chair to read through the stack that’s been piling up on our nightstands. But with an audiobook there’s the possibility of getting two things accomplished all at once—engaging with a new novel and cooking dinner (or working out or cleaning the bathroom, etc.) Sometimes it’s even better to hear a new take on a character’s voice or listen to someone lend a dramatic flair to a fact-packed piece of nonfiction. Whatever your reasons, these 29 recording are some of the best audiobooks we’ve ever enjoyed the pleasure of “reading.”
1. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, read by Martin Jarvis
“This book literally had me laughing out loud mid-run,” said one enthusiastic PureWow staffer. This science-fiction tale follows the 11 years (mostly the final few days) leading up to Armageddon as a cast of wonderfully weird characters, including Crowley, a demon with an affinity for growing plants, and Aziraphale, an angel obsessed with the ineffable nature of his actions, alongside the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse and, of course, Adam, an 11-year old boy who also happens to the be the Antichrist. Even if you already binged the Amazon Prime show based on the book, Martin Jarvis’s reading is truly something special.
2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, read by Kathleen Wilhoite
This quirky adventure novel flip flops between the perspectives of 15-year-old Bee and her mother Bernadette as they prepare for a family trip to Antarctica…and slowly but surely completely fall apart in the process. Suddenly, Bernadette is missing and Bee seems to be the only person capable of piecing together her mother’s bizarre patterns of behavior with recent events to come up with answer to the titular question. Kathleen Wilhoite (you may recognize her voice from Wilhoite’s role as Luke Danes’s sister Liz on Gilmore Girls) deftly switches between Bee’s naïve hope and Bernadette’s somewhat unusual approach to life (and emails).
3. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, read by Julia Whelan
If you’ve previously listened to Gone Girl or Educated, you’ll likely recognize the voice of Julia Whelan. Here, she brings to life the members of the Allbright family and their journey north to Alaska in 1974 hoping for a fresh start. The story centers on Ernt, a father struggling with returning to “normal life” after serving in Vietnam, and his 13-year-old daughter, Leni, who hopes life in the Alaskan wild will help bring back the father she once knew. Of course, as Ernt, Leni and her mother quickly learn, you can’t simply outrun your problems, no matter how far off the grid you dare to venture.
4. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, read by Dan Stevens
Agatha Christie’s most famous mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, is a thrilling treat for anyone who hasn’t yet read the book or seen one of the movie adaptations (or who hasn’t done so in such a long time that they’ve forgotten the twist ending). Join Dan Stevens’s brilliant portrayal of detective Hercule Poirot as he attempts to solve the murder of a man aboard a luxury train from Istanbul to London in the dead of winter.
5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, read by Anthony Jackson, Heron Carvic and Paul Daneman
There are multiple audiobook recordings of The Hobbit, many of which are very highly regarded, but this 1968 radio dramatization is particularly good for those who are looking for something a bit more animated or for anyone hoping to get their kids interested in the Tolkien universe. (The story was originally intended for children, after all.) Join Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and a host of ambitious dwarves on their quest to take back the Lonely Mountain and its impressive treasure from the gold-obsessed dragon, Smaug. It’s in this book that Tolkien explains just how Bilbo came to own Gollum’s precious ring and sets the stage for Frodo and the Fellowship to embark upon their own grand adventure to destroy said ring.
6. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale
Jim Dale’s reading of all seven books in the Harry Potter series is widely considered to be one of the best audiobook performances of all time. Even if you’ve read these books multiple times before, Dale manages to bring something new and unexpectedly delightful to each book, character and scene in the series. If you’re hoping to introduce your children, nieces or nephews to the magic of Hogwarts but aren’t entirely sure they’re ready to pick up the books and start reading themselves, play them the first few chapters of the audiobook version and they’re sure to be hooked in no time.
7. Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, read by a full cast
This collection of short stories depicts the lives of multiple Indigenous Latinas living in the American West. And because the book shares so many different types of stories and characters, multiple women voice the stories in the audio recording. Some stories will have you laughing out loud, others might break your heart, but all are important to understanding the complexities of the experiences of Indigenous Latinas.
8. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, read by Tom Hanks
Who wouldn’t want to listen to the familiar, reassuring voice of Tom Hanks for hours on end? Even better if he’s reading a book that’s been called one of the best books of 2019. The Dutch House follows the lives of siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy over the course of five decades as they lean on and support one another through complex relationships with the rest of their family.
9. My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, read by Fiona Hardingham
The lives of the Instagram famous aren’t always as they appear to be. This is the central idea behind this 2017 novel from Sophie Kinsella (of the Confessions of a Shopaholic series as well as numerous other hits). Katie Brenner envies the seemingly perfect life of her boss Demeter Farlowe, or at least what she sees of it on social media. So when Katie is suddenly fired, the divide between her messy life and Demeter’s feels all the wider. That is, until Demeter unexpectedly shows up as a guest at Katie’s family’s farm. As the truths of both women’s live are exposed, multiple relationships are altered. Fiona Hardingham does a phenomenal job of making listeners comfortably both laughing with and at the main characters. (If you enjoy this one, Hardingham has also narrated multiple other Kinsella novels, as well.)
10. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, read by Cassandra Campbell
Part coming-of-age story, part murder mystery, this best-selling novel follows the life of Kya Clark, aka the “Marsh Girl” who’s been living a somewhat Pippi Longstocking-esque life in Barkley Cove, North Carolina. The bulk of the book focuses on the death of Chase Andrews in 1969 for which poor Clark is immediately considered a prime suspect. Cassanda Campbell is masterful in her application of a deep North Carolinian drawl to Clark’s wild naivete along with the remaining cast of characters. If you haven’t already read this New York Times best-seller (and even if you have), we suggest downloading the audio version to start on ASAP.
11. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, read by Kathleen McInerney
Romance, mystery and the glamour of high society—all major themes of this complicated love story. Old secrets collide with new passions in the idyllic town of Seaview, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1938. Socialite Lily Dane is forced to deal with unresolved emotions upon the arrival of newlyweds Nick and Budgie Greenwald, who also happen to be Lily’s former fiancé and best friend. Social obligations and age-old connections draw all three, plus a cast of additional intriguing characters, into a complex web of secrets almost as ominous as the hurricane that’s steadily advancing up the Atlantic coast. Reviewers describe it as the perfect beach read, but we think it sounds like an intriguing enough mystery to keep us entertained any time of the year.
12. Artemis by Andy Weir, read by Rosario Dawson
From The Martian author, Andry Weir, this science-fiction novel is yet another twistedly funny story, this time with a woman at the forefront. Jazz Bashara is a cunning con-artist living in Artemis, the first and only city built on the moon and home to some of the wealthiest humans alive. Jazz is no stranger to selling contraband or skirting the laws of the land, but she soon finds herself involved in a wide-reaching conspiracy to steal control of Artemis itself with a new array of life-threatening risks. As if that doesn’t sound captivating enough, Rosario Dawson narrates, bringing a theatricality to the story that will have you wishing for a movie version ASAP.
13. Circe by Madeline Miller, read by Perdita Weeks
Fans of Greek mythology (even if that just means regularly re-watching Disney’s Hercules) might recognize the titular character Circe from The Odyssey. Daughter of the Titan Helios and a beautiful nymph, her role in that tale is as a powerful goddess trying to prevent Odysseus from returning home. But this fascinating retelling of her own story creates a much more detailed picture of a goddess banished to the world of mortals. Perdita Weeks does a phenomenal job keeping her listeners hooked on each new adventure and challenge Circe must face.
14. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, read by a full cast
Saunders’s 2017 novel is not your typical historical fiction: It imagines Abraham Lincoln in the aftermath of the death of his 11-year-old son. The majority of the story, which takes place over the course of a single evening, is set in the bardo—an intermediate space between life and rebirth. Strange and gripping, it won the Man Booker Prize. The audiobook, for its part, has a star-studded cast that includes Nick Offerman, Julianne Moore, Lena Dunham, Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader and more.
15. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin
Sixteen-year-old Starr is stuck between two worlds: the poor community where she lives and the affluent prep school she attends. This balancing act becomes even trickier when her childhood best friend is shot to death by the police in front of her eyes. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s an important read for adults and teens alike. It features the voice of Bahni Turpin, an award-winning audiobook narrator whose résumé includes Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
16. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, narrated by David Pittu
We’re going to be honest: Favoring the audiobook version of Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is largely about length. Her Dickensian novel is about Theo Decker, a young orphan struggling to make his way in a cruel world with the help of a stolen painting and his friend Boris. The audiobook alone is a whopping 32 hours and 24 minutes long, so it’s great for a road trip or your weekly workout sessions.
17. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, narrated by the author
This powerful 2003 novel about friendship, betrayal and the final days of the Afghan monarchy is an absolute must—whether read or listened to. That said, Hosseini’s narration is particularly compelling and will make 12 hours fly by in what seems like no time. It’s also helpful to hear the author, an American born in Afghanistan, properly pronounce words we definitely wouldn’t have gotten right ourselves.
18. Open Book by Jessica Simpson, read by Jessica Simpson
This tell-all memoir from Jessica Simpson was a big deal before it was even published, with Simpson exposing the truths of her marriage with Nick Lachey, her struggles with alcohol and celebrity spotlight and her incredible (if oft-overlooked) success as a fashion mogul. It’s refreshing and honest and Simpson says it all in her own words—both on the page and in the audiobook. The audio recording also includes access to six new original songs by the artist performed throughout the book, along with some favorites fans know and love.
19. The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman, read by Wanda McCaddon
Both history buffs will find this deep dive into the reasons and events that led to World War I intriguing, frustrating and, at times, heartbreaking. Author Barbara Tuchman focuses her attention on the year 1914, specifically the month leading up to the war and the first month of action. Tuchman made extensive use of primary sources while researching the tome (which was originally published in 1962), making the lives of those involved feel all the more real, even more than 100 years after the war’s end. In fact, despite the fact that Tuchman was not a trained historian, The Guns of August earned her a Pulitzer Prize win. Safe to say, this classic really holds up.
20. Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain, read by Anthony Bourdain
Novice cooks and seasoned pros alike will learn something new from this semi-autobiographical book. Anthony Bourdain uses his own journey through the food industry as a way to discuss and dissect the food industry. He talks about other big-name chefs like Alice Waters and David Chang, as well as all the fan-favorite Top Chef contestants. He explores the reasons why people cook, and, more specifically, why he and so many others have a desire to not just cook but cook well. It’s funny, illuminating, frank and an engaging conversation starter.
21. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, read by Karen Chilton
If you’re hoping to expand your knowledge of race in American history, this award-winning book is an excellent place to start. Here, author Michelle Alexander takes a hard look at the practice of mass incarceration in the states and how that process regularly and unfairly targets Black men. In fact, in the ten years since the book was published, there has been a sweeping wave of criminal justice reform and inspired the creation of the Marshall Project and the Art for Justice Fund. But don’t let all that progress fool you into thinking our work is done; the struggles and injustices depicted in Alexander’s book are still prevalent today and should continue to be talked about often.
22. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, read by Trevor Noah
You may know and love Trevor Noah as the current host of The Daily Show, but this autobiography is much more than a breakdown of how he found immense success as a comedian. He starts at the very beginning, his birth, which was, literally, a crime—in 1984 South Africa it was illegal for a white person and a Black person to enter into a relationship under apartheid law, making Noah’s white father and Black mother criminals. He talks about growing up in the twilight of apartheid, the challenges his family faced and his incredibly devoted and passionate mother (who many have said really steals the show throughout the book). Noah’s ability to depict a wide variety of accents and dialects also earned his reading the Audie Award for Best Male Narrator in 2018.
23. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, read by Malcolm Gladwell
This already fascinating in depth look into how we try to understand or make sense of people we don’t personally know gets a phenomenal boost with the inclusion of the voices of scientists, psychologists and criminologists that Malcolm Gladwell interviewed for this book. There are also snippets from viral YouTube videos, bits of songs and other audio clips that help bring the material to life. It sounds almost more like a podcast than your typical audiobook (no surprise given Gladwell’s success as the host of Revisionist History) and explores not just the general connection between strangers but the specifics of famous lives like Sylvia Plath, Amanda Knox and Fidel Castro.
24. Becoming by Michelle Obama, read by Michelle Obama
To be honest, Michelle Obama could read the dictionary aloud and we’d find it comforting, alluring and a must-listen. Luckily, her life story is quite a bit more interesting than the dictionary. Obama talks about her childhood on the South Side of Chicago, the struggles of early (and late) motherhood and, obviously, her time spent at the White House during her husband Barack’s eight years as President. Essence named her autobiography one of the most impactful Black books of the past 50 years, and it even inspired a Netflix documentary (although we recommend reading the book first).
25. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson, read by Neil deGrasse Tyson
As the title would suggest, you don’t need to be a science whizz or even have hours ready to devote to the deep study of astrophysics in order to appreciate the subject and learn something new. Tyson’s brief but thorough explanations of topics like the relationship between space and time, what black holes are and the discovery of quarks make these lofty subjects feel much more relatable to the average person. It certainly helps that Tyson himself is a terrific narrator, adopting a conversational tone that gives the feeling that you’re listening to a friend rather than a world-class scientist. Plus, the clear separation between chapters makes this a great choice for those who prefer to listen in small snippets and who don’t want to get lost in a continuous narrative.
26. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, read by Robin Miles
Yes, the 2016 movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae is based on a nonfiction book about the lives of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden. These incredible Black women, though segregated from their white colleagues, were instrumental in the development of the rockets, gear and supplies necessary to put a person into space, land on the moon and return home again. World-renowned narrator Robin Miles weaves the tales of all four women, giving them the individual attention and praise they deserve.
27. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, read by Scott Brick
Fans of true crime, this one’s for you. This groundbreaking book follows the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, and the subsequent investigation and trial. It paints a horrifying picture of a gruesome crime committed, seemingly, for the sake of crime. Capote doesn’t hold back on the sometimes-upsetting details of the case, but it’s Scott Brick (another famous narrator) and his unaffected reading that neither underplays nor over-dramatizes the seriousness of the shocking story.
28. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, read by Diane Keaton
Double the girl crush, double the fun. Didion’s 1968 essay collection recounts her time in California in the '60s and is full of weird, counterculture-y anecdotes. (Think hippies, the American Dream and LSD.) In this reading, the inimitable Keaton captures the time and place to a T.
29. Bossypants by Tina Fey, narrated by the author
Tina Fey can do no wrong, and in our opinion, the best way to experience her hilarious 2011 memoir is to hear it narrated by the funny lady herself. Unlike other celebrity tell-alls, Fey’s keeps it light and laugh-out-loud funny, covering everything from recurring stress dreams (which weirdly involve her middle school gym teacher) to being called bossy (which she considers a compliment).
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