Audiobooks for Amateurs

Last week, a friend of mine asked how I tear through so many books a year. My secret to success is,  like most millennials, through my iPhone addiction: I listen to a whole lot of audiobooks.

Y’all, I spend a lot of time in my car. Last year, I commuted from Boston to my first “real” job as a dentist and on a good day, my commute was an hour and a half. EACH. WAY.  Now I live in Atlanta (the city of collapsing interstates) where I spend the majority of my free time sitting in a gridlock of honking cars.



a typical day in Atlanta rush hour. Photo credit via fox news.

I used to get irrationally angry over losing what little precious reading time I already have to the gods of automobiles…until I rekindled my love of audiobooks. Back in college, I would listen to audiobooks when I drove the six hours between South Carolina and home to pass the time. Somehow over the years, I dropped off the habit but picked it up again last year. I also started switching on my latest audio-read to entertain myself while doing household chores or in the mornings while getting ready for work. To put it mildly, my Audible subscription is put to VERY good use.

Plus, audiobooks are currently seeing a bit of a renaissance period right now, what with the success of podcasts, which has opened up a whole new world of audio possibilities (I see you, S-Town). But that’s for another time and blog post.

I’ve been through a lot of trials and errors through my Audiobook consumption, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to give you some tips and tricks if you’re new to the audiobook world:


  1. Start with something light and (ideally) nonfiction


I think the biggest complaint of audiobooks that I’ve heard (even from myself) is that the soothing (and at times, monotonous) narrator voices “make me sleepy.” And I definitely understand the concern – I once downloaded a history of New England and nearly dozed off in hour one of my 6 AM commute, which is undoubtedly a road risk.

So I always tell my friends interested in starting an audiobook habit to begin with a memoir, preferably one that tends toward the comedic, a la Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” or Mindy Kaling’s “Why Not Me?”.

I have a couple of reasons for this: 1) listening to a memoir is more like a radio interview or a podcast, and an easier transition for new audiophiles.

2) these memoirs often have the celebrity in question narrating, and they tend to be better narrators for obvious reasons (more on this later).

3) Their stories tend to be ones that make me laugh out loud and thus perfect for the car, but if I were reading them in a physical book I might find them a waste of time (you would not see me wasting precious bookshelf space on Lauren Graham’s “Talking as Fast as I Can.” War and Peace it is not).

Some good memoirs I’ve listened to besides the ones mentioned above include Leah Remini’s “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology,” (see my review here), Anna Kendrick’s “Scrappy Little Nobody,” Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime,” “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren (get ready to cry), and Jenny Lawson’s “Let’s Pretend this Never Happened” (<— this one made me laugh so hard I cried again, just an FYI).


2. If you’re ready for “the harder stuff,” start listening to more educational nonfiction.


Think titles like “The Tipping Point,” “Freakonomics,” and ‘The Big Short.” In case y’all haven’t figured it out by now, I am a bit of a nerd and simply love to learn. Although I don’t miss dental school one single iota, I DO miss the academic environment, and these books helped fill the void. You could even venture into the historic, like Stacy Schiff’s “The Witches,” or the creative inspiration route, a la Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic.”

I also love the “New Journalism” style of stories. One of my FAVORITE audiobooks ever was “Midnight in the Garden in the Good and Evil,” which is part murder investigation, part character study, and part social commentary on small Southern cities. The narrator is also incredibly talented – I don’t even mind when he does different voices for different characters, which is typically a pet peeve of mine because so few narrators do it well. Jeff Woodman somehow pulls it off.

3. Once you’re ready to transition to fiction, start with suspenseful page-turners.


I don’t want you to lose any sleep over scary stories or anything if you’re sensitive with those types of things, but gripping suspense novels are PERFECT for keeping you entertained on long road trips or subway commutes. It’s just like when you were a kid telling ghost stories at sleepovers – they’re SOOO much better told aloud versus reading them on the page.  I usually end up disappointed when I read mysteries in physical books , but listening to them makes the tales so very delicious.

Some Audiobooks I’ve listened to and enjoyed from this genre include “The Handmaid’s Tale” (especially relevant with the new series out!), “The Woman in Cabin Ten,” “My Husband’s Wife,” “The Widow,” and “A Separation.”


4. If You’re Determined to Listen to a Classic or Literary Fiction title, pick an OUTSTANDING narrator.


of course one of my favorite female actors would narrate my favorite book!!!!

After months of memoirs, mysteries, and educational selections, I finally decided to bite the bullet and spend some of my audiotime with those classics I’ve been meaning to read for forever but have never gotten around to.

It took me some time to find the right titles and narrators, but right now I’m on hour 18 (out of freaking 35!!!) of Anna Karenina, with the charming Maggie Gyllenhaal narrating, and I haven’t dozed off once. I love celebrity narrators, especially those who I’ve seen in several films – because you recognize their voice, you’re automatically more hooked.


My other current Audiobook obsession is the cast of “Lincoln in the Bardo,” an absolutely GORGEOUS and heart-wrenching book that includes narration by David Offerman (Ron Swanson to the rescue!), David Sedaris, and Lena Dunham just to start with the celebrity cast billing.

Maggie’s brother Jake has recently released his narration of The Great Gatsby. Claire Danes was an excellent narrator for “The Handmaid’s Tale” as well. Anne Hathaway, whose voice is basically made of fairy dust, has gotten rave reviews for her narration of The Wizard of Oz.

Of course, they don’t have to be celebrities – but be picky with your narrators. Some other well-rated narrators include Constantine Gregory (he covers a lot of Russian literature), Bill Homewood (he has the Frenchies covered with The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Miserables, etc), and David Armitage (he covers Charles Dickens and Shakespeare, among others).


Hope these tips are helpful in inspiring your first (or next!) audiobook pick! What audiobooks have you liked best? What do you look for in a narrative voice? I’d love to hear in the comments below!


(P.S. I am pushing forward with my Make America Read Again project, and have finished my fourth state on the list, but I’m behind on the actual reviews because the books are just so good I feel like my writing hasn’t done them justice! I keep editing and editing…one day I’ll just hit post on the dang things).


5 thoughts on “Audiobooks for Amateurs

  1. Harry Potter series with Jim Dale narrating got me hooked on audiobooks (back when they were in cassette tape form). The library use to be my go to source for affordable audiobooks, but now I love my audible subscription. “In Cold Blood” is one of my favorite audiobooks, it is a bit dark but would probably appeal to folks who enjoyed “Serial” season 1. Thanks for the suggestions!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, I used to love listening to audiobooks when I had a long commute! I’m trying to train myself to listen to them at home, but I find it much harder to concentrate on them – something about car journeys just works for audiobooks. Couldn’t agree more about the importance of the narrator – a good one can really add to the whole reading experience. Recently, I’ve loved Hugh Fraser’s narration of some of the Agatha Christie books, and I’m currently enjoying Jonathan Cecil’s narration of PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves books.


  3. The celebrity-narrated classics always tempt me to get an Audible subscription, but my library has a good selection of audio books, so I can’t justify a paid subscription. Plus, I am so picky with narrator and content that I am always afraid I would waste my credits on a book I won’t enjoy. One of my favorite narrators is Adenrele Ojo (The Mothers, Someone Knows My Name, The Turner House), and I have found that Miss Marple mysteries, preferably narrated by Richard Grant, are perfect for the car.


  4. Pingback: My Podcast Playlist – Green Gables State of Mind

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