I’m arriving to the party after the confetti has fallen and the cake has already been cut, but I’m here, wondering how I somehow missed that June was Audiobook month.
I am a huge audiobook fan. When I lived in New York City and often had a minimum of a forty minute commute each way for work, not counting any additional trips to get anywhere in the city, audiobooks were what kept me entertained and focused on a great story instead plotting the demise of every loud talker and manspreader. Now, they're the perfect accompaniment for walks and running errands. They're also a great way to log some active reading time when you need to get up and about during a readathon, like the one coming up on July 23 and 24 for example.
I never considered listening to a book to be any different from reading a book other than the way the content was being consumed. I did not, and do not see one as being “more real” than the other. I suppose I’m a naive idealist in all things bookish, but it honestly never occurred to me that anyone could see listening to a book as lesser than.
As someone who has a degree in Theatre, I am admittedly biased toward appreciating a book as a performance and not just a literary experience, but recently in honor of Audiobook Month Stephen King created a short video that touched upon something that better explained my appreciation of audiobooks.
“Audiobooks are important because they come from the oldest tradition of narrative, which is oral storytelling.”
Whether you’re looking to try your first audiobook and don’t know where to start, or you’re already an audiobook fan and are looking for new suggestions, I have some favorites from my 180+ library of audiobooks.
Authors As Readers
Particularly in the case of non-fiction books I think it’s a special treat to be able to hear an author/performer read their own work. It feels like you’re sitting down with them over coffee while they share the best parts of their lives. It’s truly oral storytelling at its finest.
My favorite memoir audiobooks are:
Mindy Kaling “Why Not Me”
Amy Poehler “Yes Please”
Stephen Tobolowsky “The Dangerous Animals Club”
Stephen King “On Writing”
Jim Gaffigan “Dad Is Fat”
Tina Fey “Bossypants”
Dick Cavett “Talk Show”
Most of these are comedic books, but my reading/listening tastes follow my personal tastes, and I’m a big fan of laughing. I’m less of a fan of non-fiction accounts of long ago battles, bugs, and politicians.
Another great subcategory under "Authors As Readers" are authors who read their fiction work. Listening to Stephen King read “Bag of Bones” and “Wind Through The Keyhole” makes me feel as though I have new insight to the book; knowing that it’s not a performer’s choice, or a producer’s choice of where emphasis is put on certain words or phrases, but that how it is read is likely how it sounded in his head as he wrote it. Neil Gaiman reading “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is another great example of this. Gaiman also has a speaking voice on par with that of the late Alan Rickman: deep, unique, and melodic in its storytelling.
If You Want To Be Afraid Of Your Own Reflection
I’m a fan of Joe Hill’s work in general, and “NOS4A2” is no exception. Kate Mulgrew elevates the terror and tension with her reading of the book. Sure, she can make us laugh (and cry) as Red on OITNB, but her narration, her eerie high-pitched voice for one demonic child in particular, is so good that it made even vacuuming a terrifying experience. I often listen to audiobooks while cleaning, and in this case, this book had me wound so tight that when I looked up from the floor and saw my own reflection in the glass of the window my brain assumed it was Mr. Manx coming to kill me and I jumped a mile in the air. Taut writing, perfect narration.
Before the movie comes out, and you have plenty of time before that happens, you should absolutely listen to “Ready Player One”. Wil Wheaton is the perfect narrator for this homage to the 80’s, and all things delightfully geeky. Admittedly, part of what made this such an epic experience for me is that I am unfamiliar with the games and technology that are at the center of this story. With everything feeling relatively new to me there was less for me to anticipate. I have listened to this book four times over the past five or so years, it’s that much fun.
A single warning: there is a leaderboard that frequently crops up in the story. In a tactile book you could glance at it, see the standings, understand what’s happening and move along. Hearing each name, many of which include numbers, read aloud is annoying. But I promise the story is worth it regardless.
The Raven Cycle
If you’ve been holding out on reading this series or you’ve been meaning to go back and re-read, I highly recommend giving the audiobooks a listen. Will Patton does an impressive job of bringing such varied characters to life, but it is his growly Ronan that I still hear in my head when I read the books. I listened to the first three books as they came out, then read the series to prepare for the fourth book, and as I read “The Raven King” it was Patton’s Ronan that I heard in my head.
The Magician’s Trilogy
It’s no secret that these books are some of my absolute favorites. And narrator Mark Bramhall lends a kind of gravitas to the serious parts of the story and a wonderful lightness to the comedic aspects of the books, especially with his voice for Josh, the jovial laid back magician. My husband rarely reads fiction books, but he loves listening to them, and he too has enjoyed listening to this series. When chatting about the books we often quote Josh in Bramhall’s voice. These are especially great for long car rides.
Absolute Best Narrator Ever- Female:
Katherine Kellgren has narrated many books, but I know and love her as the narrator for the “Her Royal Spyness” series. I am absolutely blown away by the variety of dialects and timbres that Kellgren provides for a truly varied lot of characters; the Queen Mum herself, American actresses, Cockney former policemen, dukes, duchesses, princes, and princesses from every corner of Europe.
Looking for a book boyfriend? Darcy O’Mara, Irish dreamboat, is here to infuriate you and sweep you off your feet.
Considered a “cozy mystery,” the series follows sharp but down on her luck, Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 34th in line for the throne. The series begins in 1932 and follows Georgie as she tries to make a life for herself, do right by the royal family, and well, try to solve a murder. The series is utterly charming, and the narration so amazing I have never felt compelled to pick up a hardcopy of the books.
With nine books and one novella already published, and a new book arriving this August, you have a wealth of mysteries and Kellgren performances to enjoy.
(Kellgren also narrated “Austenland” which I found to be a mediocre book, but a charming performance.)
Absolute Best Narrator Ever- Male:
I would love for Jim Dale to narrate everything; my trips to the store, instruction manuals, I might even watch sporting events if Jim Dale was the sportscaster. Before I fell in love with audiobooks, I loved him as the narrator for “Pushing Daisies”. To this day hearing “The facts were these…” still gives me a warm fluttery feeling in my chest.
Dale narrates one of my all time favorite books, and all times favorite series: “The Night Circus” and the American version of the Harry Potter series. The only difficulty I have is that admittedly, Dale’s reading of McGonagall sounds a bit bonkers. She comes off a bit shrill compared Maggie Smith’s performance, but it’s still great fun.
I’ve only listened to the first three books, though I’ve read them all, of course. The audiobooks didn’t become available on Audible until late this past fall and I’ve been sprinkling them between my other listens.
- “The Help” narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell (Campbell frequently pops up in my library)
- Anything read by Scott Brick, like most of the Harlan Coben books
- Anything read by Khristine Hvam, like the “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” trilogy, and “Reconstructing Amelia”
- “Cloud Atlas” narrated by Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Kim Mai Guest, Kirby Heyborne, John Lee, and Richard Matthews
- The Nele Neuhaus books, narrated by Robert Fass
- The All Souls Trilogy, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda
Have an audiobook suggestion you think I’d love? Let me know!