If you don’t have the time or attention span to read a novel, consider an audiobook. The wealth of fiction and non-fiction options on Spotify and Audible now go beyond straightforward narration—adding another dimension to moving texts. Listen to Diane Keaton reading Joan Didion’s seminal essay “Goodbye to All That,” or a full cast bringing to life the many graveyard spirits depicted in George Saunders’s masterful Lincoln in the Bardo. Then, of course, there are authors reading their own works to savor. What could be more powerful than hearing Maya Angelou speak the poetic words of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? Or Ta-Nehisi Coates expressing his own feelings about race in America in Between the World and Me? Below, we share a guide to the best audiobooks available now.
queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, narrated by Shvorne Marks
Candice Carty-Williams’s phenomenal debut follows the titular Queenie, struggling with low self-esteem, as she navigates the end of a toxic relationship; a complicated family dynamic; and a soul-destroying job at a major newspaper. Tackling a range of complex subjects from race and mental health to consent and class, it is all beautifully narrated by actor Shvorne Marks.
loved by Toni Morrison, narrated by the author
The trailblazing late author reads her peerless 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the ghosts that continue to haunt the home of an escaped slave. The poignant tale draws inspiration from an article Morrison came across about a real-life runaway who killed her own daughter instead of letting her return to captivity.
Lincoln in the Bard by George Saunders, narrated by a full cast
George Saunders’s 2017 Booker Prize-winning novel is brought to life by a staggering 166 actors and writers, including Miranda July, Lena Dunham, David Sedaris, Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, and Susan Sarandon. The experimental take takes the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son as its subject, exploring the president’s indelible grief from him.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, narrated by Sissy Spacek
With wide-eyed innocence and a gentle drawl, actor Sissy Spacek immediately transports you to the rural South as the young narrator Scout in Harper Lee’s 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic. Exploring themes of justice, prejudice, and courage, it tracks her de ella, her de ella brother de ella Jem, and their de ella lawyer father Atticus, as the latter defends a Black man wrongfully accused of rape.
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, narrated by Weruche Opia
Artfully brought to life by Weruche Opia, best known for her exuberant performance as Terry in I May Destroy You, this dark novella by Oyinkan Braithwaite tells the story of two sisters. The older sibling is the narrator, a hilariously deadpan hospital nurse, while the younger is more beautiful and wild—and has killed three of her boyfriends.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, narrated by the author
Hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me reads aloud his own deeply personal letter to his 15-year-old son. In the National Book Award-winning work, Coates coaches him through the dangers and blessings, highs and lows, mythologies and realities of the African-American experience.
Persuasion by Jane Austen, narrated by Cynthia Erivo
Considered one of the most poignant love stories to come from the great Jane Austen, Tony Award-winner Cynthia Erivo breathes new life into the tale. Her last novel by Ella speaks to second chances, following Anne Elliott, whose family led her to reject a suitor without a fortune. Eight years later, he makes a frosty return to the neighborhood.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, narrated by David Sedaris
Considered something of a modern classic, this comedic collection of personal essays touches on the legendary humorist’s childhood, his move to France (without speaking the language), and forays into performance art and teaching. Told in his own brilliantly dry way, the audiobook might just be the best way to absorb his hilarious tales of him.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, narrated by a full cast
Inspired by real events, Marlon James’s epic Booker Prize-winning book recounts a failed plot to assassinate Bob Marley. Wildly imaginative, grisly, and moving, the novel switches perspective between an astonishingly diverse medley of voices that range from CIA bosses to bitter ghosts to the gunmen at the lowest rung of warring gangs.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, narrated by the author
Is there a more reassuring voice in this world than Maya Angelou’s? The late, great poet narrates her own groundbreaking memoir about her deeply painful yet achingly beautiful life of her growing up in segregated America. A coming-of-age tale, the inspiring story sees Angelou overcome her trauma through her own strength and a passion for literature.
Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby, narrated by the author
Recommended by both Candice Carty-Williams and Jia Tolentino, this bestselling book of essays by comedian Samantha Irby is timely, morbid, and hilarious. With deadpan humor, the author cleverly reflects on turning 40 in a newly middle-class life with her wife and stepchildren in a small, white, Republican town.
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, narrated by the author and JD Jackson
Written by the brilliant mind behind The Underground Railroad, Nickel Boys is a harrowing study of the experience of children in Jim Crow-era America. Based on a real story, this 2020 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Fiction is somehow even more powerful when read by its author, with the actor JD Jackson.
face it by Debbie Harry, narrated by the author, with guest contributions
Blondie’s frontwoman added critically-acclaimed writer to her CV in 2019 with the publication of her buzzy memoir, face it. Listening to the audiobook feels like a personal conversation with the star—with Harry reciting old stories about playing CBGB and going on world tours with bandmate Chris Stein.
coming by Michelle Obama, narrated by the author
The former First Lady’s deeply personal memoir became the biggest selling book of 2018 when it was published. It’s wonderfully hopeful, especially when delivered in her recognizable voice. In fact, her narration by her earned her a Grammy for best spoken word album at the beginning of 2020.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, narrated by Diane Keaton
Who better to voice Joan Didion’s coolly detached reporting on ’60s America than the inimitable and Academy Award-winning Diane Keaton? The varied collection of essays includes many of Didion’s newspaper columns by her; articles written while a junior editor at fashion; and observations on the dire realities of countercultural San Francisco, like preschoolers fed acid by their parents.