Half of all Americans have listened to an audiobook, according to a new study by the Audio Publishers Association. Maybe you’re not one of them, but you’re interested in trying it out. After polling some of my friends and coworkers, I’ve noticed that many people who don’t listen to audiobooks have similar hesitations: some worry they won’t be able to follow the plot or absorb the information, fear a bad narrator might ruin the experience, or just don’t know where to start. These are all valid concerns, but they don’t have to stop you from giving this format a try. Here are 11 tips for getting into audiobooks, each paired with a recommendation handpicked for its acclaimed narrator, engrossing story line, ease of listening, and/or audio extras.
Listen to an audiobook from your favorite podcast
The rising popularity of audiobooks goes hand in hand with the rise of podcasts. If you already listen to podcasts, adding an audiobook into your rotation is an easy step—especially as more podcast hosts are becoming authors who narrate their own audiobooks! A great example is STAY SEXY AND DON’T GET MURDERED by the hosts of the popular true crime podcast My Favorite Murder. Featuring a little less murder and a little more memoir than the podcast, this audiobook offers something fresh to long-time fans and new listeners alike.
Narrated by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark with Paul Giamatti
Or start with a celebrity memoir
One of the best ways to get started with audiobooks is by listening to a memoir written and narrated by a celebrity you love. It’s easy to get hooked as they tell the backstory to their life and rise to fame. There are so many great celebrity memoirs narrated by the author to choose from, but one worth highlighting is AROUND THE WAY GIRL by award-winning actor Taraji P. Henson. You may know her for her recent roles in Empire and Hidden Figures, but this memoir dives deep into her family life, college years at Howard University, and the hustle it took to launch her Hollywood career. It was also a 2017 Audie Award finalist in the autobiography/memoir category!
Narrated by Taraji P. Henson
Listen to essays from some of your favorite voices in culture
If you’re not ready for a full memoir, try dipping into an essay collection or anthology. AMERICA LIKE ME, edited by America Ferrera, offers a collection of short essays by notable figures from multicultural backgrounds. Contributors include Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, author Roxane Gay, actor Kumail Nanjiani, and Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan, to name a few. Though there is a thematic arc to the collection, the beauty of an essay anthology is that you don’t have to listen from start to finish—feel free to skip around and take your time.
Narrated by America Ferrera with a full cast
From award-winning actress and political activist America Ferrera comes a vibrant and varied collection of first-person accounts from prominent figures about the experience of growing up between cultures.
America Ferrera has always felt wholly American, and yet, her identity is inextricably linked to her parents’ homeland and Honduran culture. Speaking Spanish at home, having Saturday-morning-salsa-dance-parties in the kitchen, and eating tamales alongside apple pie at Christmas never seemed at odds with her American identity.
Still, she yearned to see that identity reflected in the larger American narrative.
Now, in American Like Me, America invites thirty-one of her friends, peers, and heroes to share their stories about life between cultures. We know them as actors, comedians, athletes, politicians, artists, and writers. However, they are also immigrants, children or grandchildren of immigrants, indigenous people, or people who otherwise grew up with deep and personal connections to more than one culture. Each of them struggled to establish a sense of self, find belonging, and feel seen. And they call themselves American enthusiastically, reluctantly, or not at all.
Ranging from the heartfelt to the hilarious, their stories shine a light on a quintessentially American experience and will appeal to anyone with a complicated relationship to family, culture, and growing up.
Let a beloved actor read to you
Maybe you want to dive right into fiction on audio. In that case, I recommend listening to a celebrity-narrated audiobook. Hearing a voice you already know and love read a story to you can make it easier to focus and also enhances your listening experience. Will Patton is a great example—in addition to being known for his performances in Remember the Titans and Falling Skies, he is also an acclaimed audiobook narrator who has received nods from the Audie Awards for his work on several of Stephen King’s audiobooks. A great starting place for new audiobook listeners is THE MIST, a chilling 5-hour novella about a small town facing violent unnatural forces in the aftermath of a devastating thunderstorm. AudioFile magazine promises that “Patton’s narration will send shivers down the spines of listeners.”
Narrated by Will Patton
Listen to an amazing short story collection
Worried about sustaining your attention for a full novel? Start out with a short story collection on audio! Nafissa Thompson-Spires’ HEADS OF THE COLORED PEOPLE is an incredible collection of darkly comic literary shorts, each offering a compelling narrative arc that can be consumed in the span of half an hour. Narrator Adenrele Ojo captures the nuanced emotions and experiences of numerous black characters as they navigate life in contemporary America, dealing with everything from microaggressions to police violence. While each story stands alone, listeners will notice a few recurring characters who add a greater sense of unity to the collection.
Narrated by Adenrele Ojo
Find a critically acclaimed narrator and make your way down their narrated audiobooks!
A narrator’s voice can make or break an audiobook listening experience, so you want to start out with someone who’s been vetted by avid audiobook listeners and critics alike. One of AudioFile magazine’s “Golden Voice Narrators,” Bahni Turpin has been inducted to Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame, won an Audie Award for Best Female Narrator, and was named Narrator of the Year by Publishers Weekly in 2016. She’s also a personal favorite among me and my audiobook-listening friends, who agree that anything she narrates is worth checking out. If you love contemporary fiction, try Jodi Picoult’s A SPARK OF LIGHT, in which a gunman bursts into areproductive health clinic. The story, told in reverse chronological order, offers the perspectives of numerous characters in a heart-pounding hostage situation. Bahni seamlessly transitions between them, providing nuanced, compassionate performances of each.
Narrated by Bahni Turpin
Give self-help a try from a trusted source
Self-help has long been a popular audiobook genre, and it’s easy to see why. The same part of me that loves audiobooks because they allow me to multitask also loves learning new tips for how to improve my work, relationships, and life. In YEAR OF YES, introverted TV producer Shonda Rhimes shares what happened when she stopped saying no to opportunities that scared her—like making public appearances—and spent a year challenging herself to say yes! YEAR OF YES is a funny, relatable mix of memoir and self-help that will inspire listeners to embrace new opportunities, and in doing so, push themselves to reach new personal and professional highs. If you listen while folding your laundry, you’ll feel doubly accomplished!
Narrated by the Shonda Rhimes
Revisit an old favorite
If you don’t listen to audiobooks because you’re worried about missing important plot points, then I recommend starting with a book you’ve already read in another format. That way if you do zone out for a moment, you won’t get lost. That’s not the only reason to revisit an old favorite, though; rereading a book on audio is a great way to experience the story in a whole new way. The narrator may bring out a side of the characters you never considered before. At the recommendation of several friends, I’m currently revisiting the Harry Potter series on audio—and it is truly magical.
Narrated by Jim Dale
Jim Dale does every.single.VOICE, you guys. JIM DALE! Go look him up and see all the roles he's had over the years. And then, start playing this audiobook. We promise you'll be blown away with his funny characters, the frightening ones (his "Snape" voice will make you recoil and shiver) and especially the kind ones (his "Dumbledore" will have you wishing you had this guy in your own life).
Narrated by Jim Dale
Get swept up in a twisty thriller
You know how some books inspire a “can’t-put-it-down” feeling? The same stories can offer a “can’t press pause” sensation when you’re listening! Thrillers have always been a popular audiobook genre because of this—if you choose something with a suspenseful, engaging plot, it will be easier for you to lose yourself in the story. A good place to start is Ruth Ware’s THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY. Ware has been called a modern-day Agatha Christie, and this audiobook was nominated for an Audie Award in the thriller category, so you can’t go wrong!
Narrated by Imogen Church
Laugh along with your favorite comedian
Humor is a great hook for new audiobook listeners, and when a comedian reads her own audiobook, it’s even easier to get sucked in. EVERYTHING’S TRASH, BUT IT’S OKAY by Phoebe Robinson combines cultural commentary with relatable personal stories that will have you snickering to yourself if you listen in public. When life starts to feel like a raging dumpster fire, listening to Phoebe’s hilarious narration can help you feel a little less alone.
Narrated by Phoebe Robinson
Believe us when we say “This audiobook is a must”
Sometimes, the audiobook is objectively better than other formats because something about the recording enhances the reading experience. A great example of this is AS YOU WISH by Cary Elwes, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Princess Bride. If you’re a fan of the film (and who isn’t?), you’ll definitely want to listen to this one: while Elwes is the main narrator and offers delightful imitations of his costars, many members of the cast and crew stopped in the studio to record their own contributions.
Narrated by Cary Elwes and the cast of The Princess Bride
Inconceivable! "The Princess Bride" debuted in theaters almost thirty years ago, and today it endures as a cult classic. In AS YOU WISH, Cary Elwes, who played Westley in the movie, gives fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film. Members of the cast reunited to record the audiobook, and the whimsy and magic of the film live on in this entertaining listen.
Narrated by Cary Elwes, Carol Kane, Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Chris Sarandon, Wallace Shawn, Robin Wright, and more