As I’ve become more and more enamored of audiobooks over the last few years, I’ve built up a list of narrators I love. But I’ve also discovered, much to my delight, that some authors are also incredible narrators, and their books lend themselves particularly well to the audio format. These are seven of the best authors for audiobooks—authors whose work I love so much on audio that I just don’t read them in print anymore. If you’re new to audiobooks, or you’re looking for a sure-fire place to start, I guarantee that any audiobook by any of these seven authors will be absolutely phenomenal.
It is immediately obvious, after listening to her read any of her books, that Elizabeth Acevedo is a slam poet. I fell head-over-heels for her narration of her debut novel in verse, The Poet X. It’s a book that comes alive when read aloud. Though a prose novel, Acevedo narrates her second book, With the Fire on High, with the same heart. Listening to Acevedo’s voice embody her complicated, relatable characters is simply magical. I can’t wait to listen to her third novel, Clap When You Land, out this May. It’s another book in verse, about two girls brought together suddenly by their father’s death, which she co-narrates with Melania-Luisa Marte.
Listening to Marlon James’s books happened by accident. I listened to Black Leopard, Red Wolf, narrated, in the performance of a lifetime, by Dion Graham. I fell so hard for the book that I immediately pushed A Brief History of Seven Killings to the top of my TBR. It was just happenstance that I decided to listen to it, but I’m glad I did, because even though I did not love that novel as much as Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the audiobook was outstanding. James’s two other novels, The Book of Night Women and John Crow’s Devil, are both narrated by Robin Miles, one of my favorite narrators, so I know I’ll end up listening to them both. James’s books tend to be long and complex, often spanning many years. I sometimes have trouble getting through big books, but the audio brings them to life in a way that allows me to really sink in.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life was one of the first humorous essay collections I listened to on audio and it got me hooked. Irby tackles a whole lot—she writes about being poor, her weird cat, sexuality, fatness, dealing with the death of her parents, reality TV, depression, dating awkwardness, and falling in love, among many other things. The essays are funny and heartfelt, but listening to her read them elevates them to another level. She’s so honest and direct and no-nonsense; her deadpan delivery is absolute perfection. She’s the sort of writer who reminds me that a lot of books are actually meant to be read aloud, that at their best, essays are a conversation between author and reader. I can’t wait to listen to her upcoming collection, Wow, No Thank You.
Phoebe Robinson is an author I probably wouldn’t read if it weren’t for audiobooks. Don’t get me wrong—she’s great—but in general I’m just less inclined toward humorists focused on pop culture (I don’t get 90% of her references). I liked her first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair, but I absolutely loved her narration of it. She’s such a good performer, in fact, that I picked up her second book, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, simply because I knew listening to her read it would be a captivating experience. I was right. She’s absolutely dynamic on audio; you can tell she’s an excellent comic. Her expressive voice and general spontaneity increase my appreciation of her work a hundredfold. This is a great example of the value of audiobooks. They make books more accessible to more people, and not just in the most obvious ways. Robinson’s essays wouldn’t hold the same appeal for me in print; being able to listen to them brings me a lot of joy.
Janet Mock’s debut, Redefining Realness, is a beautiful memoir in its own right. I probably would have devoured it in just a few days even if I hadn’t been listening to it. But listening to her read it cast a spell that made it basically impossible to put this book down. She writes with so much openness and honesty about her life as a trans woman, her childhood growing up poor in Hawaii, the transphobia and racism she’s faced as well as the moments of deep connection and love she’s found in trans community. Hearing her tell her story adds a layer of honesty that is almost too much to bear at times. She speaks with so much emotion, her voice full of power and humility. She reads her second book, Surpassing Certainty, with the same gravitas. I can only hope she’s not done writing books, because I will listen to anything she writes.
Are you sensing a theme? I love listening to essay collections on audio! Lindy West writes with a lot of insight and humor about the internet and feminism. But what I actually love most about her narration is how earnest she is. She uses humor, sure, and she’s an excellent reader, with impeccable timing. But there are moments, in her latest book, The Witches Are Coming, where her voice almost catches, almost breaks. It’s her depth of love for the world, and a deep well of anger about what we’re doing to it and each other, that fuels her writing. When she reads her work aloud, those layers of care shine through.
Robin Wall Kimmerer
I’ve only read one of Kimmerer’s two books, Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s a beautiful book about nature and place, the wisdom of plants, indigenous storytelling, and language. Listening to her read it is a full body experience. It’s hard to describe her voice, other than to say there’s something so alive about the way she reads. She’s so expressive, you can hear every emotion as she speaks. Joy, laughter, grief, reverence, confusion, and gratitude all come through loud and clear. Her other book (so far), Gathering Moss, is all about moss, which she explores from historic, scientific, personal and indigenous perspectives. I’m not necessarily sure I’d pick up a book like this in print, but knowing how utterly perfect she is on audio, I can’t wait to read this one. I could listen to her narrate almost anything, I think.
If you’re looking for even more of the best authors for audiobooks, there are some great recommendations on this list of types of books that are better as audiobooks. We’ve also got a fantastic list of audiobook memoirs read by the author and I personally love this list of fantastic fiction audiobooks narrated by the author (which can be tricky to find!)