6 Books that work better on audio

Strained eyes from staring at a screen all day? Give your eyes a break and dive into these audiobooks instead

There’s still a slight snobbery about audiobooks—a belief that they’re somehow cheating and, if you’ve only listened to the audio version, you haven’t really read the book.

The good news is that there’s no need to feel guilty—researchers from UC Berkeley have found that listening to an audiobook stimulates the same parts of the brain as reading does. Audiobooks are also helpful if you’re feeling anxious or depressed as, according to psychologists, they can replace negative thoughts and occupy the mind.

It goes without saying that they’re more convenient than their physical counterparts (you can’t read a book while doing the ironing, or dog walking). And, of course, they’re a boon for those whose eyesight isn’t what it once was.

But it’s not just about ease of listening—the fact is, some books simply work better on audio. Here are a few examples:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Few audiobooks can boast a cast list that includes Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, Lena Dunham and Don Cheadle. But this tale of Abraham Lincoln mourning his son in a graveyard full of ghosts, winner of the 2017 Booker prize, boasts more A-list talent than an Emmy red carpet.

The book has no less than 166 different narrators—the result being that some readers complained of getting lost in all the voices. But the audiobook makes easy work of distinguishing between the varied, and sometimes surprisingly hilarious, characters. And it tells you something that actors of this caliber were scrabbling for what are mostly pretty tiny parts.

ramblebook by Adam Buxton

The story of Adam Buxton’s (by any standards, fairly privileged) life and upbringing might not sound like the most compelling listen, but fans of his hugely popular podcast will know that he flits between humor and poignancy to produce a show that’s regularly as moving as it’s funny.

Ramblebook is, as the title suggests, a meandering romp through the author’s childhood, friendships, and 1980s pop culture. The audiobook trumps the hard copy because Buxton is such an amiable guide. He’s also recorded jingles for each chapter, and at the end there’s a very funny conversation with his comedy partner Joe Cornish, where they discuss what he thought of it.

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

There’s no shortage of LOTR audiobooks knocking around on Audible, but the one to look out for is the most recent, narrated by actor and director Andy Serkis (best known for playing Gollum in the Peter Jackson movies). At this stage, few people can know the books better than him, and it shows—he has an uncanny way of capturing each character’s intonation.

LOTR has broad appeal across all age groups, making it the ideal company for family car journeys. Long ones, too—these are complete and unabridged, and clock in at a full 22 hours and 38 minutes, perfect for those looking to get their money’s worth.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

The word genial was invented to describe Bill Bryson, and you’re reminded why when you hear him read his own books. Bryson’s genius lies in his ability to write about hard subjects—from Shakespeare to the human body—while making them seem so easy.

A Short History of Nearly Everything will teach you about everything from the Big Bang to particle physics, without ever feeling like a lesson.

Alan Partridge: Nomad by Steve Coogan

Sometimes (often?) you just want to hear something funny, in which case, this, the third volume in Alan Partridge’s memoirs is perfect. Jealous of the likes of Clare Balding and Michael Portillo for turning their walks into lucrative TV series, Partridge decides to get in on the act by following in the footsteps of his late father and hiking from Norwich to the Dungeness “A” Nuclear Reactor.

Like Adam Buxton’s ramblebook, having a comedian—particularly one with a voice as recognizable as Partridge’s—elevates this over and above reading the text. As a rule, books by comedians almost always work better on audio—as you’d expect, given their knack for timing. See also: I’m Alan Partridge by Steve Coogan, and any book by David Mitchell or Stephen Fry.

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

If you’ve heard the humorist David Sedaris read his autobiographical stories on Radio 4, you’ll know what to expect and are probably already a fan. But for newcomers, this best-of compendium is the ideal way in. Listening to the audiobook means you’re hearing the stories as they’re meant to be heard, in his own distinctive voice.

And if you like this, you’re in the fortunate position of having some ten more story collections to enjoy.

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