And, just for Book Riot readers: sign up for an Audible account, and get two free audiobooks of your choice! If you love their monthly subscription, you’ll get one audiobook a month for just a few bucks. (Just don’t enjoy any of the following audiobooks while eating!)
2017 was, for me, the Year of the Audiobook. I discovered audiobooks last December and I fell hard. Because I live alone, I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks while cooking and eating. It makes cooking for myself much more pleasurable, and adds an enjoyable companionship to siting down to dinner by myself.
But some audiobooks are simply not made to go with food. I’ve found myself, on more than one occasion, having to turn off an audiobook while eating. Sometimes it’s for an obvious reason—I had to stop listening to Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers while eating dinner because scientific research about rotting cadavers does not pair well with food.
In other cases, it wasn’t the squeamish factor that had me pressing pause during dinner, but the import and intensity of a book’s subject matter. I found I couldn’t listen to Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates or Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond while eating. Reading about police brutality and extreme poverty while chowing down on a bowl of pasta just felt icky.
I asked my fellow rioters if they’d ever had this experience, and it turns out, it’s definitely a thing. Here are a few of the audiobooks we’ve enjoyed while cleaning, driving, knitting, or walking the dog. Anything but eating. Consider yourself warned if you enjoy snacking while reading: these books do not play well with food.
Human Acts by Han Kang
The audio of Kang’s haunting novel about the 1980 Gwangju Uprising in South Korea is fantastic. A very talented cast perfectly navigates the multiple POVs of those affected in the uprising and massacre. Each section adds to the book as a whole, and together, they weave a complex narrative about personal and national grief. But Human Acts is brutal, grim, and graphic. This is a book about bodies and the terrors done to them. I started listening to it while cooking dinner, and immediately had to stop. Not only because I did not want to listen to descriptions of violated dead bodies while cooking, but because of something deeper. It felt unholy, disrespectful—just wrong—to listen to this book while preparing a meal. The disconnect between what I was doing and what was happening to the characters was just too jarring.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
This incredible YA novel in verse (it’s less than 2 hours) is brilliant, beautiful, and heartbreaking. It takes places on an elevator over the course of one minute. Fifteen year old Will is on his way to kill the man who murdered his brother. On the way down, he’s visited by people he’s known and lost. It’s powerful, fast, and full of lines that took my breath away. I found that both the writing itself and the heavy subject matter required my full attention. I recommend listening to this one on a long walk, a drive, or just curled up on the couch for an afternoon.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
There’s poop. Loooooots of poop. The paper book comes complete with an in-depth visual chart of the different kinds of poop possible. Now I am nearly un-gross-out-able, but I hear that most humans don’t like thinking about anything even tangentially feces-related when it comes to food or eating. And I’m not sure it’d be fun to fry up some kielbasa while hearing about poop types numbers 1, 2, and 3…seeing as they all are compared to sausage in some way.
Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden
I like to snack while reading, the same way that, living all by myself, I find audiobooks a good company when I’m cooking or eating a meal. This book, however, wasn’t compatible with having any meals or even snacking, even though I seem to be the only one of my friends who came across this particular problem, and all people I know who have read this book have loved it. There are a few graphic descriptions on the book that really made my stomach churn, so for those who are more sensitive when it comes to mixing food with certain book themes, I would really just recommend this audiobook for commuting or household chores.
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt
I guess this depends on your appetites.
Hey, pro tip, a book about working with dead bodies isn’t great to listen to while cooking chili, or eating spaghetti, or washing a meatloaf pan.
If Our Bodies Could Talk by James Hamblin
This book basically takes all those weird body questions you love to Google—why don’t tattoos wear off, why do stomachs rumble, why do penises look like penises—and tells you the answer from an actual doctor. While fascinating and extremely satisfying to finally know the answer, I would not recommend reading about bodily functions while cooking or eating—unless you like to feel squicky and uncomfortable.