I love short audiobooks. There’s something satisfying about being able to listen to a whole book in one car ride or the time it takes to make dinner and clean the kitchen. Sometimes I don’t want to pick up the same audiobook day after day for weeks on end; I want something new in my ears every few days. That’s where short audiobooks come to the rescue.
Here are some of my favorite audiobooks under six hours. These books are wildly different from each other, but they’re all got two things in common: they are short, and they are so well-narrated that you’ll find it almost impossible to stop listening.
Becoming A Man by P. Carl, read by P. Carl (5 hours, 21 minutes)
This is one of those memoirs that, after listening to it, I can’t imagine having read in print. Carl’s voice is so raw and honest and full of emotion. It’s one of those vulnerable memoirs that feels like a gift—Carl’s narration is breathtaking, at times almost unbearable to listen to, because he makes no attempt to mask any of his pain, anger, confusion, pride. Carl decided to transition at age 51 after spending most of his adult life living as someone he knew he wasn’t. What makes his story so compelling is his fearlessness in writing about contradiction. He also writes beautifully about the messiness of bodies and identity, and interrogates misogyny and toxic masculinity both in himself and the world at large. For a book that’s only five and a half hours long, the depth of insight that Carl manages to pack into it is remarkable.
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, read by Nicolle Littrell (5 hours, 26 minutes)
This middle grade novel, set in 1847, follows a young Ojibwa girl and her adopted family through the course of a year. As a baby, 7-year-old Omakayas was the only survivor of a smallpox epidemic and was taken in by an Ojibwa family on an island in Lake Superior. Told in lovely, detailed prose, this quiet story matches the rhythms of daily life, as Omakayas and her family gather and grow food, tell stories, celebrate festivals, disagree with each other, and face hardships, both human-made and natural. Littrell’s narration is as warm and inviting as the prose.
Romance in Marseille by Claude McKay, read by Dion Graham (5 hours, 40 minutes)
Written nearly 90 years ago and left unpublished until 2020, this novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay explores the lives of working class people of color in a bustling port town in France during the 1920s. The story begins when Lafala, an African man stowed away on transatlantic freighter, loses both his legs after being locked in a freezing closet on the ship. His successful lawsuit against the shipping company sends him back to Marseille, where he resumes his life among the dockworkers, criminals, and prostitutes who make a living there. The novel itself is not even four hours long; the audiobook includes a lengthy and utterly fascinating introduction to the text. As usual, Dion Graham hits it out of the park with his narration. He easily slips in and out of a range of accents, bringing to life the community of queer folks, immigrants, and radicals of which Lafala is a part.
Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas, read by Jose Antonio Vargas (5 hours, 45 minutes)
In this collection of powerful and often harrowing essays, Vargas writes honestly about what it’s like to be an undocumented immigrant living in America. The essays are personal, as he delves into all the daily facts of life—from getting a license to applying for a job—that undocumented people cannot take for granted. His writing is clear and nuanced, and illuminates the often life-threatening costs an unjust immigration system has on the lives of ordinary people. His narration carries all the emotion that underlies the writing—anger, frustration, exhaustion, and passion for his work as a journalist.
Black Is The Body by Emily Bernard, read by Emily Bernard (5 hours, 55 minutes)
Bernard’s quiet narration of these essays perfectly matches their style. She writes about a whole range of subjects: her childhood in the South, being a black professor at a very white college in Vermont, being married to a white man, adopting two daughters from Ethiopia. The essays are personal and thoughtful; they meander in the best way, exploring the many facets of racial identity without offering easy answers to complicated questions. Her narration is friendly and mellow and inviting; her voice beckons, welcoming you to share her experiences in a way that makes it feel like you’re having an intimate conversation with her.
Improvement by Joan Silber, read by Cassandra Campbell, Adrenrele Ojo, Hillary Huber, R.C. Bray, Ramiz Monsef, and Kate Reading (6 hours, 3 minutes)
This novel, told in a series of interconnected stories, makes for a fantastic audiobook. The novel begins with Reyna, a young mother struggling to make ends meet while her boyfriend serves a three-month prison sentence. From there, the novel radiates outward, following the paths of various people whose lives touch Reyna’s. The narrative moves from New York City to Turkey to Germany to North Carolina, each section a perfectly contained and beautifully written moment. A cast of talented narrators voice the various characters, each one bringing a new perspective to the ongoing story.
Looking for more audiobooks under six hours? Check out these lists of audiobooks under five hours, audiobooks under four hours, and audiobooks under three hours. We’ve also got must-read short fiction audiobooks and must-read short nonfiction audiobooks.