One of the best things that’s happened to me since I started listening to audiobooks is the audio reread. There is something particularly delicious about rereading a book in a different format from how you first experienced it. It feels both new and familiar at the same time. You get the pleasure of falling back into a beloved or interesting world and you get the pleasure of discovering how the book changes and comes alive when it’s read aloud.
In the last five years, I’ve reread about 40 books on audio. Sometimes I listen to all the books in a series in preparation for a new installment coming out. Sometimes I reread a book for the comfort of it — recently I’ve taken to listening to beloved romance novels as part of my bedtime reading routine, and yes, it helps me sleep. I also like to reread books that are complicated, difficult, and challenging — sometimes listening to a book shakes up my brain in just the right way and helps me get more out of it.
There are dozens and dozens of reasons to reread books on audio, but when I look back over all the titles I’ve listened to, a few patterns emerge. There are some books that seem to be made for it. So let’s meander through the books I’ve loved the most on the audio reread. If you’ve read any of these, you might be surprised at just how much you’ll get out of listening to them again.
Obviously I think all of these books make for great rereads, but if none of them are your cup of tea, that doesn’t mean audio rereading isn’t for you! Take these principles and apply them to your own reading life. Once you discover the joy of the audio reread, you’ll never go back.
Listen To a Book You Read at the Wrong Time Or in the Wrong Context
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, read by Ruby Dee
I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school. Maybe it was the class, maybe it was my age, maybe I was just impatient and only wanted to read fantasy (fair). Whatever the reason, I didn’t like it, which it pains me to admit now. I can’t remember why I decided to give the audio a try, but I did, and I was promptly swept off my feet by the earth-shattering force of Ruby Dee’s narration. Look, I know this is a good book in any form. But when Ruby Dee reads it aloud, it turns into a poem, a song of rage and joy, a musical masterpiece whose rhythms I can still hear echoing years later. I got shivers. I did a lot of crying. I was completely dazzled.
So many books come into our lives at the wrong time, at moments when we’re not prepared for them. And that can make it hard to want to revisit them. I wasn’t especially eager to pick up my old paperback of Their Eyes Were Watching God, because it brought up memories in sitting in English class, feeling bored and trapped. The audiobook held no associations. It was a fresh start, a new way in. Are there books you have an inkling your younger self was wrong about? Give them a listen, see what happens.
Use Audiobooks to Expand Your Ideas About What’s Possible
Good Talk by Mira Jacob, read by a Mira Jacob and a full cast
If you’re not listening to graphic novels and memoirs on audio, you’re missing out. When I decided to reread Good Talk on audio, it was partly because I just wanted to experience the book again. It’s brilliant. But I was also curious about what it would feel like to listen to a book with such an important visual component. Well, it felt incredible! Jacob’s memoir is about conversations she has with her son, her parents, her husband, her friends. It’s right there in the subtitle: a memoir in conversations. Hearing those conversations aloud is powerful and intimate. There were moments it was even too much, and I had to pause the book and take a breath. Rereading this beloved graphic novel taught me new things about the book itself, and also about reading. Stories are translatable across many forms, and that’s remarkable.
If you love comics and graphic novels, you’re in luck, because lots of them have fantastic audio versions! But listening to comics isn’t the only way to expand your ideas about what’s possible. Try listening to Paige Lewis read her gorgeous poetry collection Space Struck, which incorporates piano music. I read and loved a lot of plays when I was younger, and I’m excited to revisit them on audio. Angels in America is at the top of my list.
Give Yourself A Gift
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, read by a full cast
There is absolutely no reason why adults shouldn’t read picture books and kidlit, but sometimes that’s hard to remember. I mean, there are so many amazing adult books out there I couldn’t read as a kid! Yes, I loved Charlotte’s Web when I was little, and yes, I have a battered old paperback on my shelf, but it doesn’t exactly tempt me to pick it up every time I walk by it. But when a new full cast audio version came out in 2019, it did tempt me, and friends, let me tell you: the four hours I spent listening to this magical audiobook are still some of the best of my audiobook-listening career.
Rereading can be as simple as the act of giving yourself a gift.
Revisit a Beloved Book to See How it Holds Up
A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, read by Colin Farrell, Dallas Roberts, Blair Brown, and Jennifer Van Dyck
I know I’m not the only reader to be haunted by the question: “Will I still love this book that was so important to me once upon a time?” I was 20 when I first read A Home at the End of the World. It is the first book I can consciously remember reading about queer family — not coded queer family (like so many sci-fi and fantasy series I loved) but textual queer family. At the time, it felt revelatory. I couldn’t believe it was real. Happily, in the almost two decades since then, I’ve read dozens of books about queer family, many of which I love more than I love this one. But you never forget your first, right? So I decided to reread it.
For some reason, rereading it on audio seemed less scary than reading it again the way I’d first experienced it. It gave me some distance. I didn’t have the same muscle memory of turning pages and crying into them. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover I loved it even more the second time around. I appreciated it in a different way. I’ve grown and changed, and though the book has stayed the same, my understanding of it has grown and changed, too. Listening to it highlighted just how much. I know I won’t have this experience every time I decide to listen to book that was so formative, but doing it once has made it easier to imagine taking the plunge again.
There are so many other great reasons to reread books on audio. I listened to both Between the World and Me and The Fire Next Time soon after reading them for the first time. I love nonfiction, but I sometimes have trouble absorbing it. Reading books in multiple formats helps. Certain ideas strike me differently when I hear them out loud. I often relate to the material more viscerally when I’m listening to it. For books like these, audio rereads become a kind of extended study.
I’ve also started using the audio reread as a way to experience new translations. I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf in high school and I’ve always loved it. Last year, on a whim, I listened to Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation and “loved it” doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s a triumph. (As is JD Jackson’s narration.) I can’t imagine anything will ever top it, but people are going to go on translating Beowulf forever, and, honestly, I can’t wait to listen.