30 of the Best Audiobooks to Listen to Right Now
Stuck at home (or somewhere else)? You won't mind so much when you're listening to something terrific.
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People throughout the country and world are confined to their homes due to social distancing, and they’re looking for ways to pass the time. Well, there aren’t many things that can make time pass faster than getting engrossed in a book. Sadly, the spread of COVID-19 has forced many libraries and bookstores to close, limiting your options for obtaining physical books. (If you want to help support a local bookstore, Bookstorelink.com has some great options.) But, fortunately, reading books isn’t the only way to consume them. You can access these engaging, unique, and critically acclaimed audiobooks through Amazon (for free with a free Audible trial) and/or e-reading platform Libby by OverDrive. And there are plenty of other ways to listen to free audiobooks (legally), too!
Lincoln in the Bardo
This is the first novel by acclaimed short story writer George Saunders. He reads it, with the help of such big names as Nick Offerman, Julianne Moore, and Don Cheadle, in this 2018 winner of the Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year. It’s a groundbreaking work of historical fiction that explores a lesser-studied period of Honest Abe’s life: during the first year of the Civil War, Lincoln was dealing with a far more personal tragedy—the death of his 11-year-old son, Willie.
The former First Lady sold-out stadiums for her book tour when she rolled out this memoir at the end of 2018. If by chance you haven’t read it yet, now could be the time. Michelle Obama narrates her own story, from growing up in Chicago to her time at Harvard Law School to her eight years as First Lady. Not to mention, the audiobook for Becoming won the Grammy in 2020 for Best Spoken Word Album. Is there anything she can’t do?! In addition to these best audiobooks, here are some more ideas for what to do when your whole life gets canceled.
His Dark Materials
If you picked up these considerably-sized young-adult fantasy novels—The Golden Compass and its two sequels—in high school, maybe it’s time to do so again with this wealth of free time. “Pullman plays the narrator, but every character is played by a different actor and the audiobook is like watching a movie in your head,” said one Libby user. But, of course, listening to these three audiobooks will take up more time than any movie. Far more time—listening to all three will consume more than 34 hours! Talk about useful things to do when you’re bored.
It’s Not What It Looks Like
There’s a reason It’s Not What It Looks Like is on the top of our list of best audiobooks. This audiobook, written and read by blind YouTuber Molly Burke, is somehow both deeply inspirational and still lighthearted, fun, and full of laughs, not unlike the writer herself. Molly Burke is a motivational speaker, YouTube personality, and now author, all at the age of 25. This book covers topics like how and why a blind girl loves makeup and tattoos she can’t see, as well as her ideas on the current social model of disability. This audiobook will open your eyes and make you laugh, and it will do it in just ten short chapters. Here are our choices for the funniest books of all time.
We’re willing to bet that you’ve heard of one of Margaret Atwood’s books. The Handmaid’s Tale has been turned into an international phenomenon with the Hulu adaptation, and Netflix came out with its own series adaptation of Atwood’s Alias Grace. Each short story in this collection of nine, all by Atwood, is read by a different voice actor but each story demonstrates her literary genius and will keep you desperate for more.
If you liked the Netflix movie (or even if you didn’t) you may want to check out the book that started it all, Bird Box by Josh Malerman. This riveting story is all about something you can’t look at without going crazy, and as a result, the narration and characters are all focused on sound rather than sight. Listening to this story rather than watching or physically reading it will help you dive into the narrative and truly experience this literary masterpiece.
Tara Westover’s memoir was named one of the best of 2018 by the Washington Post, the New York Public Library, TIME Magazine, and countless others. If you haven’t read it yet, now is a great time to listen to actress Julia Whelan tell this story of overcoming some of life’s biggest obstacles all in the name of getting an education. If you’re a fan of these best audiobooks, you’ll love the city that is transforming its subway cars into moving audiobook libraries.
The Trial of Lizzie Borden
If you think you know anything about Lizzie Borden, think again. Author Cara Robertson dives into over 20 years of research and newly unearthed evidence into the crime that enthralled the world. This story is hailed as a “definitive account to date of one of America’s most notorious and enduring murder mysteries” by Publishers Weekly, starred review, and allows the listener to act as judge to the infamous Lizzie Borden. Here are some more true crime books that will keep you up at night.
Daisy Jones & the Six
This 2019 book by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the fictional story of a hugely successful ’70s band that broke up for unknown reasons. Reading it is a rich experience, but listening to the audiobook might be even more so, because the narrators (including Benjamin Bratt and Judy Greer) perform original songs and conduct “interviews” to bring the story to life. And now’s the time to listen to it before it becomes an Amazon TV series! Here are some more of the books that inspired your favorite TV shows.
This audiobook, a centuries-spanning story of two Ghanaian sisters and their descendants by debut author Yaa Gyasi, combines writing talent with narrating talent. The narrator, Dominic Hoffman, plays an enormous number of characters, transitioning voices and accents with ease. “I did a double-take when I realized it was performed by one person!” commented one Libby user. The Homegoing audiobook won a 2017 Audie Award.
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
Need we say more?! Westley himself, Cary Elwes, narrates this book (which he also wrote) chronicling the making of the classic. He also snagged interviews with castmates Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner. And if you haven’t seen the movie in a while—or have never seen it—make it a double feature! After all, it’s one of our favorite family movies everyone will love.
The Silent Patient
This 2019 psychological thriller by Alex Michaelides will have you on the edge of your seat. Unlike many stories of this nature, the author tells you right away “who dun it” but the real mystery here is why. This audiobook made OverDrive’s list of the best audiobooks of 2019.
This coming-of-age novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014…and if you haven’t had time to read it, it’s time to change that. Considered one of the best audiobooks ever, the audio lets you take Donna Tartt’s crystalline prose and intricate storytelling to go. Available from numerous online platforms in digital or CD format, The Goldfinch is narrated by actor David Pittu. Here are some of the best debut novels from the past 50 years.
Still Foolin’ Em
Need a laugh? (Who doesn’t nowadays?) The beloved comedian’s bio is just the ticket, as Billy Crystal looks back on his 65 years with humor and hard-won wisdom. Read by the funnyman himself.
The Cuckoo’s Calling
Unless you’ve been trapped in a dungeon at Hogwarts, you know that this detective novel by “Robert Galbraith” was really written by J.K. Rowling. But have you heard it yet? The audio is narrated by actor Robert Glenister. Harry Potter itself, unsurprisingly, is one of the best audiobooks to listen to as a family.
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
With Steve Martin narrating his own memoir, you know you’re in for a good time! This four-hour audiobook is “like watching Steve Martin perform live,” said one Libby user, or at least the next best thing. But don’t take our word for it; Born Standing Up was nominated for a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album. “When you have the opportunity, every comedic memoir should be listened to as an audiobook,” the user suggested.
How to Be a Woman
Need some humorous empowerment during this weird time? Journalist and author Caitlin Moran provides in spades with this exploration of how far women have come, how much further there is to go, and the seemingly endless “rules” for being a woman—and how to break them. Check out these other free things online everyone should take advantage of.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants
What better way to wait out a pandemic than by listening to this witty and informative explainer on human bodies and how they work? Written and narrated by well-known nonfiction humorist Bill Bryson, The Body reveals fascinating little-known truths about the vessels we spend our entire lives in.
Life After Life
What if you could live again and again until you got it right? Kate Atkinson’s novel about Ursula Todd, born in 1910, was a big hit with critics and readers when it debuted in 2013, and the audio version remains one of the best audiobooks of the last few years. The book is narrated by actress Fenella Woolgar.
When We Were the Kennedys
Monica Wood’s memoir about faith, family, and growing up in the ’60s strikes a chord in everyone who reads it. Recorded by the author. Here are some more fantastic memoirs everyone should read.
The Princess Diarist
Even if you’re not a Star Wars aficionado, you’ll be riveted listening to the late Carrie Fisher chronicle her time spent on the set of films that changed cinema forever. This Grammy-winning audiobook also features Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, who narrates the passages that focus on Fisher’s young life. OK, maybe you’re a Star Wars fanatic and have already listened to (or read) this one. Did you know C-3PO wrote a book too? Anthony Daniels narrates his own Star Wars experience in I Am C-3PO: The Inside Story.
Should you listen to a collection of the best detective stories of all time, read by British author and Holmes fan Stephen Fry? Elementary, my dear. This audio collection features eight of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best stories about the genius detective, complete with introductions by Fry.
The Bad Beginning
Lemony Snicket’s haunting and humorous middle-grade series has been made into a movie and a Netflix series, but why not hear the original read aloud by none other than Tim Curry? Not to mention, the characters are played by some huge names, including Meryl Streep and Jude Law. The Bad Beginning is actually one of the 100 books you should read in your lifetime!
Superhero fans, rejoice—this isn’t the real-life Civil War. It’s inspired by the graphic novel chronicling Iron Man and Captain America’s calamitous showdown. You’ve probably already seen the movie once, twice, or 15 times, so dive into the source material with this audiobook. “Featuring a full cast, cinematic music, and sound effects and soundscape, this story is truly acted out as opposed to read,” said one Libby user. “It’s like being in a movie theater.”
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
The host of The Daily Show chronicles his turbulent upbringing in apartheid South Africa in this autobiography. This is one of the best audiobooks to listen to if you like an intriguing, thought-provoking story that also sparkles with relevant humor.
This book, the debut novel of now-science-fiction-superstar Neil Gaiman, is one of NPR’s Top 100 science fiction and fantasy books of all time. Even if this genre isn’t your favorite, this supernatural London-set tale is sure to captivate you while read out loud by the author himself.
If you haven’t read this bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, it’s time to do just that, and the audiobook is a great way to experience it. Just like the story itself, the audiobook is narrated by multiple different women, including Octavia Spencer, who won an Academy Award for her role as Minny in the film adaptation. The funny and poignant 1960s-set story celebrates the power of female friendships to conquer divisions and prejudice. Here are some more of the best books to read with iconic female friendships.
The Undoing Project
Written by Michael Lewis and narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris, The Undoing Project tells the fascinating true story of the two Israeli scientists who developed the field of behavioral economics. Despite incredible odds, they published their groundbreaking research, would eventually win the Nobel Prize. This book is as much about the unlikely friendship between the two scientists as it is about the world-changing discoveries they made.