The movie is never better than the book, but sometimes the audiobook is
We all love reading books. And there is something so special about feeling the weight of a book in your hands, leafing through the pages, and smelling that ink-on-paper new book smell. But also—there are just some books that are simply better to listen to than to read.
We’ve collected our very favorite audiobooks for you—stories that we are super sure are better to listen to than to read silently. What makes them better? In some cases, it’s killer production value, like added music, sound effects or other extras. Other times, it’s a celebrity reader, like Tom Hanks or Cate Blanchett. And still other times, it’s because it’s read by the author, and that adds a layer of closeness and power and intimacy (we cannot think of a better word for it, sorry!) that it takes it to the next level.
So: if you’re off on an amazing road trip or plane ride, or if you’ve got seven loads of laundry to fold (we are projecting), or if you need company on your daily walk, we have some amazing audiobook picks for you. Best of all, Audible is having a major deal right now: Audible Premium Plus will be available to customers at 53% off, so if you don’t have Audible, but are interested in trying it out, now’s the time. This promotion only applies if you’re a Prime member (sign up today if you’re not — you get a free 30-day trial).
And never forget: listening to an audiobook is just as good as reading! It’s science!
Audiobook novels that are better than the hard copy
It’s so hard to find time to read a novel, especially if you have kids, but even if you’re just juggling a lot of responsibilities. Audiobooks allow us to read while we’re cleaning, cooking, jogging, or basically any other –ing, and the following fiction audiobooks can be an even better experience than if you really did have time to put up your feet and read traditionally.
From the author of the amazing Dublin Murder Squad books comes The Searcher, a slow-burning crime novel about a retired Chicago policeman who finds himself investigating a missing child case in a small village in Ireland. Beautifully written and completely engrossing, listeners will hang on every pretty Irish word that comes out of the mouth of narrator Roger Clark. As much as we love her ongoing series, we seriously love this standalone book and couldn’t stop listening.
This book is what audiobooks are made for—and perhaps our strongest example of a listen being better than a read. In this best-selling novel, which follows the arc of a famed 1970s rock band headed by Daisy Jones, a wide cast of characters give an oral history of how the band formed, what their rise to fame was like, and their eventual downfall. It’s superbly cast, with actress Jennifer Beals taking the lead, and it truly shows the power of audiobooks and the worlds they can create.
When a woman named Josephine begins to revisit her past at an elite girls school, she begins to uncover secrets revolving around a long-ago scandal that affected everyone around her. Read by actress Imogen Church, this beautiful page turner (what’s the audio version of page-turner?) will have you looking up other books written by Ellie Eaton and other books narrated by Church.
This book is narrated by Tom Hanks. Need we say more? Okay, we’ll say a little bit more. The Dutch House was named a best book of the year by tons of media outlets, and the audio version was a 2020 Audie finalist for audiobook of the year and best male narrator (Tom Hanks!!). But in case piles of awards don’t matter to you, we’ll also say that the book follows two siblings, Danny and Maeve, through five decades of their up-and-down lives, all centered around an estate that their father bought when times were good. The book is great, but Hanks’ warm and reflective reading sends it over the top into amazing.
This series of books is simply a joy to listen to, and a must for sci-fi fans of all walks and interests. An Audible Original that has sold more than a million copies, the book is a fast-paced look at the adventures of Bob Johansson, a software company CEO who suddenly wakes up in the future. It’s of course much more complicated than that, but we won’t give it away. Narrated deftly by Ray Porter, listening to this book is amazing because each character (really, each Bob) has such a unique voice, and the story isn’t one you’ve heard before—not even close.
Sometimes when authors—especially fiction writers—narrate their own work, the outcome is not the best. They simply don’t have the skills of an actor, and creating a range of different voices can be difficult. But not so for Neil Gaiman, who is a fabulous reader of the stories and worlds he creates. Our personal favorite is Norse Mythology, in which the author retells the oldest Norse stories, weaving them together and staying true to the originals. You can feel how much he cares about these stories, and it feels like getting a bedtime story read to you each night.
Memorable audiobook memoirs
Many of our top picks for audiobooks that are better than the actual book are memoirs—and that makes good sense, because hearing a person’s story straight from their mouth can be even more powerful than reading their written words. This seems to hold especially true for memoirs by comedians and memoirs that cover tough or sensitive topics (and some of the following memoirs do both).
You might know him best as the current host of The Daily Show as well as a notable stand-up comedian, but after you listen to his memoir, Born a Crime, you’ll think of him as your new best friend who made you laugh like a complete idiot for hours. We love Noah’s South African accent, his impressions of friends and family, and how he brings all of the stories of his life to your ears, from the hilarious to the touching. There’s one story about his friend Hitler (no, not a typo) that is a must-listen.
This Grammy-winning audiobook won a Grammy for a reason, people! It’s the charismatic, smart, funny former First Lady Michelle Obama telling the story of her amazing, historic life. First of all, the audio version is way easier to carry around than the huge tome that is Becoming. Secondly, hearing her voice tell her own story is powerful and inspiring at a point that words on the page can’t reach.
For years after her nationally-covered sexual assault, Chanel Miller remained an anonymous victim who was acted upon. In this award-winning, best-selling autobiography, she tells her story for the first time. We cannot stress enough how powerful and important it was to us to hear her story in her own voice, from her own mouth. There are points in which you can hear her on the verge of tears and points when you can hear her joy and healing—and the entire journey is worth it.
Can a renowned musician also put together a really amazing audiobook? Yes she can. In this 10-hour memoir, the world-famous hit singer and songwriter takes a reflective look back at her life, from her beginnings growing up in New York, to her strained relationship with her father, to her rise to fame. In the audiobook version, she often sings snippets of songs and her own music is woven into the story. At the same time, celebrities like Jay-Z, Michelle Obama, Bono, and Oprah Winfrey stop in to talk about Keys and her music.
Let’s just start with the book itself: this collection of personal essays are heartfelt, rough-and-tumble, and funny as hell. They follow the author through her troubled life growing up in a sex cult (no exaggeration) and afterward trying to find her place in society in a meaningful way—from joining the military (spoiler: that doesn’t go well) to being a cable guy (spoiler: also does not go well) to being a bouncer in a gay bar (well…. it does not go as bad as the other things). On top of all that memoir goodness, the audiobook is narrated by the incomparable Cate Blanchett. You should be throwing your Audible credits at this right now!
An Earphones Award Winner, Broken (in the Best Possible Way) is the third memoir from the extremely funny Jenny Lawson, who continues to write with an open heart about her struggles with depression and anxiety and life in general. No exaggeration: this book is laugh-out-loud funny, and listening to the audio version of Lawson telling it like it is with her own voice makes it feel like you are on the best friend date of your life.
Okay, we will be the first to admit that we did not think we were the target audience for this memoir by actor Matthew McConaughey. But it turns out that the guy is heartfelt and introspective, kind and thoughtful, and has maybe the sexiest voice in existence. Your opinion will soar from “I guess I like some of his movies” to “I just binge-listened to seven hours of Matthew talking about his amazing life and I would do it again.”
We want to say first and foremost: any book by David Sedaris fits into this category, and he has quite a few. The famed writer and humorist is a complete delight, and we could listen to him read his writing all day and all night with no problem. We’re signaling out Theft By Finding because it’s Sedaris’ early journal entries, and they feel so comforting and personal that we wished they would never, ever end. To hear the author reading his own words, written years or decades before, is so sweet and special—and there’s a laugh on every page.
Audiobook YA picks that we love
In the past decade or two, young adult literature has grown so much as a genre, gaining respect and readers from every age group. The below audiobooks are so good you don’t need a kid to have an excuse to read them at all, although they’re also great for family time and family trips, whether you’re driving cross country or washing the dishes after dinner.
The Hate U Give is one of those YA books that transcends the genre and has something for people of all ages to learn from and enjoy—and the audiobook is an experience that goes beyond the book. The story, which follows a Black teen’s coming of age, is narrated by Bhani Turpin, a storyteller who is dripping in awards for audiobook narration, including Audible Narrator of the Year in 2016, and The American Library Association’s Voice of Choice for 2017. Seriously, she is literally in the Audible Hall of Fame, which we didn’t know existed, but we’re glad it does so she could be in it.
How can a graphic novel translate into an audiobook this good? You have to listen to believe it. This is a full-cast audiobook production, complete with music and sound effects, and it makes the experience of getting to know Nimona and her fantasy world—filled with dragons, magic, and lots of villainy—so much fun. On top of that, it’s (and we never ever say this lightly) fun for the whole family. Finally at just about two hours long, it’s great for a road trip.
If you really want to level up to an amazing experience, try listening to the audiobook while reading along with the award-winning graphic novel.
If there are audiobook celebrities, Jim Dale would be at the top of the list. An accomplished comedian, actor, and storyteller, his performance narrating the seven Harry Potter books has elevated the series to the point where many fans listen repeatedly while their hardcovers gather dust. Dale expertly brings every character in the books to life, giving distinct voices to the entire cast, down to the most minor characters, from Hagrid to Doby.
Just how good is this audiobook series? So good that it has won several Grammies. So good that it helps us ignore J.K. Rowling’s problematic views of important social issues. So good that Jim Dale has literally been honored by Queen Elizabeth II.
Highly emotional and touching, The Lucky Ones centers on two teen survivors of a school shooting who are looking for a way forward in their lives and a way through their grief and trauma. Narrated by Emma Galvin and Robbie Daymond, the story switches between the pair with pitch-perfect teen voices and dialogue. While it may seem like a downer, it’s ultimately hopeful and optimistic—and it will keep you up nights listening.