Confession: until a few years ago, I didn’t consider audiobooks really reading. I know, I know, the science says the effect on the brain is the same. What can I say? I was a snob. Nowadays I’ve changed my tune so much that I would even say there are some types of books that are better as audiobooks.
I first ventured into audiobooks when I moved to a city where walking or standing on a crowded bus were my main methods of transportation. With audiobooks, I could read while I was commuting, even if I was using both hands to hang on for dear life. I could read while I shopped for groceries. I could read while I was cooking. I could even read while I was running (I mean, I definitely didn’t do that, but the point is IF I had gone running, I COULD have read while doing it).
Not only have I come to appreciate how listening to an audiobook engages my imagination and offers me the same kind of escape as the written word, but I’ve actually come to feel that some books are (dare I say it) even better on audio than they are in print. Here are four types of books that are better as audiobooks.
1. Humorous Books Read by the Author
This one is a no-brainer to me. Which is funnier, listening to a stand-up comic do their routine or reading the transcript of the comic’s routine? Anything that’s intended to be humorous is usually funnier in the author’s own voice, delivered with the comedic timing they heard in their head when writing it.
Audiobooks narrated by funny people are also great conversations starters. Turns out when you laugh-snort soup out of your nose with your headphones in, people want to know what you’re listening to.
Some examples of laugh-out-loud funny audiobooks include:
Pretty much anything by David Sedaris. I would suggest starting with Me Talk Pretty One Day.
Bossypants by Tina Fey.
2. Full Cast Audiobooks
Another category of books that are better as audiobooks are those with a full cast recording. Full cast audiobooks are like listening to an old-school radio drama. Each character has a distinctive voice, and many full cast audiobooks include other sound effects that enhance the experience. If you tend to have trouble following along with audiobooks, these will suck you in, creating a mental image so vivid, you will feel like you are watching a movie.
Some epic full-cast audiobooks to check out are:
His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. (Did you hear that the BBC is doing a new adaptation with James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda? ALL THE FEELINGS!)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
3. Emotionally Raw Memoirs
Reading a personal memoir, particularly if the author is recounting a difficult life experience like grief, addiction, or trauma, can have an uncomfortable element of voyeurism about it. As a nonfiction writer myself, I deeply appreciate other people sharing their stories, but I am cautious of exploiting other people’s pain for my own entertainment.
I find that listening to these stories on audio helps me humanize the writer. Whether or not the book is read by the author themselves, listening to a specific voice tell the story brings an immediacy to the narrative. Instead of thinking of the author as a character in a drama, I feel like I am listening to a friend share their heart with me.
Some gut-wrenching audiobook memoirs include:
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil.
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan (and also everything else by Kelly Corrigan)
4. Fiction With a Narrative Voice Unlike Mine
Over the past few years I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diversely, particularly books in translation and works by authors of color. These books often contain words in languages I am unfamiliar with or have characters with a particular accent or cadence to their speech that I have trouble hearing in my (30-something white American female) mind.
These books are better as audiobooks because listening to these stories in a voice that matches the narrator’s helps to transport me into the setting and to get a better sense of the characters. As an added benefit, I can hear any unfamiliar words pronounced correctly rather than butchering them on my own.
Some of my recent favorites are:
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Sour Heart by Jenny Han
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal