There’s something about a well-acted audiobook that makes the writing jump off the page and onto the screen in your mind’s eye. Not every book adapts well into the audio format, but when you have voice actors like these audiobooks do, well, the odds are much more in our favor. I’ve narrowed my best audiobook narrators on Audible down to three main narration qualities:
- reads slowly
- reads emphatically
- reads with a tone reflective of the narrative itself
Here are my top 10 best audiobook narrators (along with their standout works) who do great work for the great books they’re narrating, based on those three qualities.
10 of the Best Audiobook Narrators (and Their StandOut Work) On Audible
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Narrated by Claire Danes
You’re probably familiar with The Handmaid’s Tale from its recent adaptation into the Hulu series, so you know how cinematic Margaret Atwood’s writing can be. The original, the novel, is no exception, and Claire Danes does great work showing the muted perspective of the unnamed narrator, known in the series as June.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Narrated by full cast
I tried to find each of the actors’ names who narrate this gangster classic, but what you really need to know is the answer to this question: are they as perfect as the film representation? That answer is Yes. Similar to the above title, the bar is set very high for such a beloved novel, and yet, these actors impeccably relate the likes of some of our favorite mafia men, including Michael, Sonny, and of course, Don Vito.
American War by Omar el-Akkad, Narrated by Dion Graham
This novel was just published earlier this year, but its plot line is equally cinematic. Although we have a wide arc of characters, from adolescent tomboy protagonist to middle-aged Arab genius, Dion Graham shows that he. has. a. range. Every character’s accent is flawless, and we’re never left wondering, as I do with many audiobooks that have stacked dialogue, Wait, who’s talking? Graham’s is a truly genius performance.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal
Unlike all three novels I’ve listed so far, The Bell Jar, while a classic, is not plot-driven. This is a coming-of-age tale of a woman in New York in the 1960s, and much of its drama is in reflection and self-discovery. Still, Maggie Gyllenhaal brings this classic to life, enthralling us in the world of its setting and rendering each emotion relatable.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Narrated by John Slattery
You know John Slattery’s dulcet tones—probably—from his role as Roger Sterling on Mad Men. Because the narrator of this novel is the same age and would have the same accent and manner of speaking as Sterling, the mental transition is easy. They would have even been about the same age, and they have a similar irreverence as did men like Hemingway, those of the Lost Generation.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Narrated by sissy Spacek
One of my pet peeves when I get an audiobook is that the narrator has the wrong accent, too much of an accent, or it’s very clearly, as we say in the south, put-on. Sissy Spacek, though, has the perfect reflective tone of our adolescent narrator, Scout. If you’ve never read this book—or even if you have, I definitely recommend the audiobook. It remains true to the original, yet it’s a new experience as well.
Young God by Katherine Faw Morris, Narrated by elizabeth evans
This novel takes place in the Carolinas, and although the author reads with a fairly neutral accent—at least, to me—the dialogue is articulated so convincingly in tone and delivery that, again, we are never confused when there is stacked dialogue. Similarly, because the novel itself uses the pacing of white space, the pacing of this novel is rendered very well. That’s a really important quality to me personally because my mind tends to wander, and if the reader goes slowly, but on a dramatic pace, it helps my mind stay in the world of the story.
Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI by Robert Ressler, Narrated by tom perkins
As you may have gathered from this memoir’s subtitle, this book is action-packed with real-life criminal activity. The tendency, it seems, when dealing with sensational subject matter is to sensationalize its presentation vocally as well. Tom Perkins, this book’s narrator, does anything but that. His tone stays level although never monotone, never rising to an exclamation the way mine would if I were retelling the STORY OF THE VAMPIRE KILLER. See? In fact, his tone is so patient and calm, like that of the author who is likely desensitized to such violent behavior, that oftentimes I would be listening and think, “Wait. What?” Pause. Rewind 10 seconds. “Yeah. I DID hear that right!”
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, Narrated by Armando Duran
The magical realism mood of this novel is best articulated by someone who sounds like he’s narrating a fairy tale, and that man is Armando Duran. I had a hard time reading this book to myself, so I got the audiobook. I’m so glad that I did. The syntax comes to life when Duran reads it, and the words in Spanish sound like they sound…in Spanish, instead of my busted-up eighth-grade Spanish which sounds in my head. This is a truly beautiful rendering.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, Narrated by Bryan Cranston
Tim O’Brien’s book of short stories could be told no better than by Bryan Cranston. (You know his iconic voice from playing Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad.) He’s the tough guy who…well, he sounds tough, but the things he’s saying aren’t full of bravado, they’re full of truth, and feeling, and terse reflection. This is definitely one of the best narrated audiobooks on Audible!
Which books do you think have the best audiobook narrators?