So you want to get started listening to audiobooks. It can be overwhelming. One look at the length (an average of 10 hours or more) and I don’t blame you for being put off. But I’m here to tell you–as a former audiobook naysayer, that by eschewing the platform, you’re missing out on some of the best reading experiences of your life.
A caveat: this list of recommendations and tips are purely subjective. I understand that for some readers, audiobooks are the best accessible option and the preferred method of reading. For more information on that, you can read here. For me, audiobooks are a comfort, but not my only way of interacting with books. I don’t want to speak to that sort of engagement or speak over voices that require audiobooks. I write as an avid listener–I’ve been reading audiobooks non-stop for the past couple of years and I wanted to share the magic that is being swept up in an auditory tale.
Audiobook Beginner Tip #1: Don’t let the length of the book intimidate you.
As mentioned earlier, the average length for an audiobook is around 10 hours, but you don’t have to start there. There’s no one size fits all rule to audiobooks–you can listen to a novella or a middle-grade novel or poetry. And if you really enjoy the book, the hours fly by.
Audiobook Beginner Tip #2: Not every audiobook is for you.
If you’re only reading for fun and trying to get used to listening, this is a good thing to note. And at the start, this is incredibly important to keep in mind. Some audiobook narrators won’t work for you. Or you’ll realize you don’t care enough to listen to the story hours on end. The best part about this is that you can always try another audiobook.
Audiobook Beginner Tip #3: You don’t always need to listen at 1x speed.
Most digital audiobook platforms allow you to increase the speed of your listening. It might seem outlandish to think you could listen to a book on 1.75x or even 2.0x speed, but trust me, for some books this is a requirement. If I really want to listen to a book (or I have to listen to it), but the narrator isn’t working, I will speed it up so that I can get it done quicker. Also, sometimes, the narration improves.
Audiobook Beginner Tip #4: There are so many different audiobook platforms.
I prefer listening to audiobooks via by library’s digital apps, Libby and Hoopla. But I love Libro.Fm because I get to support an independent bookstore when I buy an audiobook and they function similarly to Audible with a credit system. And they have fantastic curated book recommendation playlists from booksellers around the country. I also enjoy Audible because of their plus catalogue, which lets me listen to many books without using the credit.
Some Narrator Recommendations:
I first had the privilege if listening to Adjoa read Get A Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert and I fell in love immediately. Her voice was soothing but also she conveyed Chloe’s hilarious personality with gusto. Adjoa has narrated an impressive selection of audiobooks, including being a part of a full audiobook cast of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman.
Billie Fulford Brown
Billie Fulford-Brown is the incredible narrator of one of my favorite romance series–the London Celebrities series by Lucy Parker. I have a weakness for British narration and she’s one of the best. Her catalogue ranges from high fantasy to non-fiction and thriller/mystery. Whatever genre you’re in the mood for, you can’t go wrong with her at the helm.
I usually get annoyed when an audiobook narrator switches halfway through a series. I’ve become so used to the cadence and interpretation of the characters that a change might put me off listening to the rest. That said, Ione Butler was such an incredible narrator on one of my favorite series, The Brown Sisters series I mentioned earlier, that I was happy with the switch. She’s incredibly talented and her delivery is perfect.
Christian Coulson first endeared me as a audiobook narrator in A Gentlemen’s Guide To Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. His narration was equally charming and hilarious. Though he hasn’t narrated many audiobooks, I highly recommend his work and can’t wait to dive into more of his audio.
I stuck with Soneela for three very long epic fantasy books and it was worth every second of listening. Like many of my favorite audiobook narrators, her range is incredible–I relished her ability to voice characters and make me feel like I was listening to a full-cast narration. If you’re up for a sweeping and transporting audiobook, start with her City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
Funny books are perfect by audio. There’s nothing better than driving to work and listening to something that makes you want to stay in the car just a little more, gigglesnorting the entire time. Jenny Lawson’s relatable, inspiring, and hysterical collection of essays is one of the first books I recommend to new listeners.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
I don’t listen to a lot of nonfiction on audio as a personal preference, but memoirs work surprisingly well on audio. This is mostly because they’re read by the author with the gravitas of a person relating their life stories and all the foundational moments they want to share. This often leads to moments for me when I have to think about finding a place to pull over the car because I’m sobbing. Becoming was one of those books. I felt inspired, motivated, and awed by Michelle’s strength and intelligence.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I swear I didn’t mean to select three books off the bat that are all narrated by their authors. It’s just that these are some of the audiobooks I started at the beginning that made my listening experience a lovely, life-changing one. The Graveyard Book is hopeful, spooky, and imaginative, the best of middle-grade and such a great listen that even if you’ve read the book already, I encourage you to reread with the audio.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
What an incredible experience. I always feel like I’m fully immersed in the story when listening–especially since I often listen with headphones or in my car, which creates a little bubble of sound that I can’t help but be caught up in it. Robin Miles does an outstanding job of making the city come alive through its analogues and every character is so distinct and well-narrated that I felt as if many different narrators came together. Highly recommended.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
If you love romance and a little bit of angst, I urge you to read this dual narration audiobook. It’s stunning and not only one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but one of the best narrator combinations. Kwaku Fortune and Carrie Hope Fletcher work so well together that it’s so easy to get lost in the novel.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
You might have read my evangelical thoughts on this series before but if you haven’t actually read the series, I urge you to stop what you’re doing and download the entire set now. Jennifer Ikeda convinced me that she’s a magician; her ability to voice different characters so distinctly was so impressive. I’ve found myself getting nostalgic for the first time I listened to the first in the series and it will always remind me of Fall and cups of tea. I might just have to relisten.