Audiobook Advice

Firstly, thank you all so much for your recommendations of book to take to a spooky old mansion last weekend. I took Lesley Glaister’s Little Egypt which might have actually been recommended on Twitter. Anyway it was lovely to get all your recommendations, almost as lovely as it was to stay in a house where I had several moments mentally being Mrs Danvers. As it was I actually did no reading all weekend as it took so long to get to Kent (6 hours) that we arrived with just enough time to change into our glad-rags and get to my Great Aunt’s 80th, the next morning waking up for (one of my favourite things in life) the hotel breakfast before deciding we would dash straight home in case it took the same time again, which it nearly did. Too much time in a car. Though this does lead me into my ponderings of this post, audiobooks.

I have always had very mixed feelings on audiobooks in the past, I completely understand why they are brilliant for many but have never been that sure they are for me. I have had some dalliances and some have been brilliant (Agatha Raisin is wonderful on audiobook) others I have tried I soon realise I have missed a chapter of because I have been too busy watching the world go by and ignoring my headphones. However on the first lengthy road trip we stopped early on, well as early as two hours is out of six, and I was looking at CD’s I could buy to possibly stop The Beard going mad from my 1990’s-early-2000’s pop music fest, when I saw there were audiobooks.

What stopped me from buying any was a) the choice was somewhat limited in a motorway service station b) I couldn’t work out what would work to both mine and The Beard’s tastes c) the price, so expensive were they in this franchise of a high street store that I won’t name them, I opted for a wifi-dooberry-whatsit-thing – official name – that means I can transmit my whole iPod to a radio station and play that. Many hours of The Archers, Woman’s Hour and The Beard’s favourite, Cher, then ensued. The allure of the audiobook was there and has remained, as we have another epic drive next week for a wedding, we may call on them then as I don’t think (no matter how good I think they are, and I am gutted one is leaving us) book podcasts will do the trick now we have run out of the other variety.

Yet I have realised this week that this is not the only time audiobooks could work. I have quite a lot of admin hours at work where I could ‘pop a book in my ears’, plus with several festivals ahead quite a lot of setting up and de-rigging hours ahead, oh and there is the fact I have rejoined the gym (and the dreadful ‘diet’ world) which I am really enjoying as you can see…


(I know, any excuse to share a picture of me looking sweaty and beardy on the internet!) So I could possibly have books in my ears in all those times, I think the question is which ones are best for me. This is of course where you come in. I would love to get some recommendations of audiobooks for me that a) have a great plot b) a hook so I want to listen on c) a narrator I can bear to listen to. My normal tastes of literary novels, thrillers, short stories etc apply. I would just love for you to rave about some that you have listened to and loved. I would also love some recommendations of narrative non-fiction ones which The Beard (or Mr Non Fiction as I may rename him) and I could listen to together. That would be lovely. Thank you.

Oh and PS – Reviews are coming, I have a long weekend this weekend and so can play catch up. PPS – I hope all is well and lovely with you all?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

28 responses to “Audiobook Advice

  1. For non fiction I can recommend the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Jobs was a horrid man but there is a morbid fascination in learning about his weird ideas some of which of course proved inspirational

  2. Kateg

    For nonfiction, The Boys in the Boat narrated by Edward Herrman. I know, I know it is about a boat, or more accurately, a rowing shell. It may be too USA, but the story is wonderful and he was an amazing narrator.

  3. David

    Your timing of this post is remarkably coincidental, Simon. I have always steered well clear of audiobooks as it doesn’t feel like “reading” if you’re being read to – somehow it seems like cheating. But this past week I have listened to five of them, one each day. This is because I might be doing new cover illustrations for them (the books, not the audiobooks), but the deadline is so tight I simply won’t have time to actually read the physical books, so instead I decided to listen to them whilst painting like mad to try and meet my current deadline. And I’ve loved them! They’re kids/YA books so only two or three hours each but I’ve been rapt and it’s actually helped me to concentrate on the work I’m doing without being distracted. I’m not sure I’d want to listen to the sort of literary fiction I’d actually read as a book (that still feels like cheating), but I might try some non-fiction listening.

    • David

      For the past few days I’ve been listening to Poirot audiobooks. I’ve never enjoyed it on TV (I find it remarkably slow) but thought I’d give the audio a go and they’re great. David Suchet is wonderful at doing voices for all the characters, and oddly, even at seven or eight hours in length, the time just flies by. So far I’ve listened to “Death on the Nile” (enormous fun), “Murder on the Orient Express” (ingenious but ultimately a bit daft), and am halfway through “Evil Under the Sun” (really enjoying this one).
      The only drawback is how expensive this is all proving to be (I’m downloading from iTunes). I looked at Audible but it seems like you can only download one book per month(?), and the OverDrive selection seems very limited.

  4. I have a very old Kindle that has the text-to-speech function, so I can toggle between reading and a computer-generated voice. Sure, the voice isn’t great but I soon got used to it. Alas, I’ve nearly run out of books on my old Kindle (it’s no longer supported by Amazon and the new Kindles don’t even have speakers in them) so I tested my first ‘real’ audiobook a few weeks ago (borrowed via my local library via an app called Borrow Box – free! Yay!). I began with Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, read by Flanagan himself. I loved it. Next up was Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last – the narrators made me want to put pins in my eyes (or ears?!). It was terrible and I stopped listening. Have just started McEwan’s The Children Act – narrator is perfect. I think if you can listen to a sample first, you’ll be okay.

  5. I highly recommend The Guernsey Literary Potatoe Peel Pie Society. This is an oldie, but goody….and so well done with different voice actors for every part, with enough history to appeal to Mr Non-Fiction.

  6. FeminstsCreate

    In a shoemaker without shoes scenario, I turned to audio books over 15 years ago as I’m a college professor and read way too much with my “mature” eyes and found I wasn’t reading for pleasure at all!!

    What I thought was just a poor solution to a problem has become a delight in that most readers are actors and make the books come alive for me. My book club can’t believe how many tiny details I remember and feel this is a better way for me to focus–I must be an auditory learner.

    Though my son is apoplectic about it (age 34–won’t even read on Kindle), I find I get more reading done this way as can do at the gym, on drives, walking, cleaning the house, airplanes, etc. In fact, there is NO cleaning the house if I don’t have an audiobook in my ear.

    For instance, just read Zadie Smith’s NW. Could NEVER have appreciated the book as much as I did if the “voices” weren’t individualized as they were.

    When I read DIane Keaton’s book about her mother, I sobbed in places you wouldn’t normally, as the tone of Keaton’s voice revealed her emotion.

    You do have to learn when to listen and when not to so you don’t end up tuning it out without thinking. But, don’t we do that on paper, too? Audible is a good choice if you get a membership–maybe I pay $11ish us dollars per book and read about 2.5 a month. Books and yarn are my drugs and am profligate with both.

  7. I have never had success downloading audible books but bought and enjoyed Ulysses (reading it at the same too) on CD..
    Radio 4 Extra has serialised all sorts of lengthy literary works that I have enjoyed while cooking, washing up, driving etc.

  8. I listen over 100 audiobooks a year, so be warned, this is going to be a long message with lots of suggestions (But only fiction, sorry). I tend to find that books that have a strong plot work best as audiobooks. Also books that have a single POV work well. A good narrator is terribly important. I would recommend to listening to a clip of the audiobook before buying it.

    Since you are unsure about whether you will like listening to audiobooks, I would recommend trying them free from the library. Liverpool libraries have ebooks and audiobooks on OverDrive at You can sign in using your library card and PIN number.

    Here are some suggestions from their collections: Amelia Peabody -series by Elizabeth Peters is light and fun historical crime fiction in the late 19th century Egypt. The first book in the series is Crocodile on the Sandbank. Unfortunaley their version of the audiobook is not narrated by Barbara Rosenblat, who does a wonderful job of giving a voice to Amelia, a prickly 32-year old spinster. Maybe you would like to try something that’s already somewhat familiar and continue with a series you’ve already started? They have all the Naepolitan Novels of Elena Ferrante. The Golem and the Jinni is a wonderful story of two emigrants from different cultures in the late 19th century New York. Yes, they also happen to be supernatural beings, but so what? It’s a magical, if quite slow story. Other suggestions: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender and Frog music by Emma Donoghue.

    I second the recommendation for Audible. The membership is £7.99 for one audiobook a month. But when you are a member, you can also purchase from their sales and daily deals. Daily deals are usually £2.99 per audiobook, so it’s good value for money.

    Personally I like listening to classics on audiobooks. I know you loathed Mary Barton (so did I), but I’m positive that you would enjoy Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Classics are usually rather cheap as audiobooks. If you by the ebook version first you can often get the audiobook for a reduced price.

    Rereading your absolute favourites is also a good way to get into audiobooks. I loved Anna Bentinck’s reading of Gillespie and I by Jane Harris and I’m pretty sure you would like it as well. Kate Atkinson’s books have always worked well on audio for me.

    To finally end this very long message are the last few recommendations: Dinner by Herman Koch, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. And anything by Sarah Waters.

  9. sharkell

    I listen to a lot of audio books because I am on the road a lot. Some of my recent reads that I recommend highly are:

    One Life: My Mother’s Story by Kate Grenville (NF) – Kate’s mother was a pharmacist back in the days when pharmacy was not a career option for women, especially married women (narrated by Kate)
    12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup (NF)
    Vera by Elizabeth Von Arnim (F)
    A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (F) – a crime novel set in South Africa in the 1950s (I’ve listened to #1 and #2 in this series – it’s really well narrated by Humphrey Bower and a great story)
    Me and You by Niccolo Ammaniti (F) – translated from Italian it tells a story of a young boy who escapes from home only to run into his estranged brother with whom he spends a dramatic weekend
    The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally (F) – about the ANZAC nurses in WW1 – beautifully narrated by Jane Nolan

  10. Karen B

    I love audiobooks. However, a bad reader can kill the whole book for me, so I always listen to a sample through my library sites or one of the audiobook sites. I may be remembering wrong, but I thought you recently mentioned not having read the Robert Galbraith (aka JKR!) books yet. I really enjoyed the audio versions. I also have liked some of the Jennifer McMahon books. I’m thinking that maybe something that’s more of a mystery or thriller might be a good way to start. If the subject is too heavy or complicated, my mind starts to wonder.

    When I find a really good audiobook, it can be the BEST “movie” out there! Good luck!

  11. Ready Player One read by Will Wheaton

  12. The Deaths of Tao read by Michael narramore

  13. Annabel (gaskella)

    I’m not an audiobook fan, so can’t help there, but on the diet front I’ve lost 7.5kg since Feb by just eating a little less but importantly for my gut bacteria, not eliminating anything from my diet. I’ve lowered carbs (and choosing the better ones) but going ultra-low carbs is the way to hell on those days when only a naughty slice of cake will do. I’m also mini-fasting – I try to have my last food (other than green tea) before 6pm whenever possible so I have nearly 14 hrs food-free for my gut and body to do its thing. (The Diet Myth by Tim Spector and Gut by Guilia Enders were revelations to read).

  14. I do my audiobooks through my library and the Overdrive app. They are so pricey this is the only way I can afford it. I highly recommend any Neil Gaiman on audio. He reads his own work and is a brilliant narrator. For non-fiction I’ve liked all of the Mary Roach I’ve listened to. If you ever want to dive into the Song of Ice and Fire series, Roy Dotrice is probably the best narrator I’ve heard.

  15. Jill

    The Secret River by Kate Grenville read by Simon Vance.

  16. I also read via subscription…
    would strongly recommend Howards End : such a great reading of it! And then for myself I love Nevil Shute novels as audiobooks…yes, I know they are dated and somewhat corny but translate well to audio …enjoy your disoveries!

  17. Jan Crowther

    Any Peter May book read by Peter Forbes

  18. I have never liked audio books that much either, usually I either find the narrator annoying or else they read too slowly. But I loved Beside Myself by Ann Morgan and thought that the narrator did a brilliant job.

  19. Ooh spooky! I’ve just blogged today about audiobooks too:
    Audiobooks – Are they ‘cheating’ ?

    I love audiobooks and they’re a really important part of my bookish life.
    My particular favs have been when they’ve allowed me to enter into the language/ accent/culture of an author/book, so e.g. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Americanah’ and Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’

    I find that books that switch dates/locations/times/narrators a lot don’t work so well in audiobook. Ali Smith’s How to be Both didn’t work for me at all on audiobook – not least because I had a hardback copy of the book which started with the first story, and then the audiobook started with the second one, and there I was thinking ‘WTF is going on here ?’ 🙂

    I have a MASSIVE audiobook wishlist saved on my local library account and then when one becomes available I have an audiobook binge session with the ironing board. [Yes, it gets that exciting at my house…]

  20. Reader

    You haven’t read the Robert Galbraith ones – they are good on audio, with Robert Glenister narrating. He even does a Cornish accent for Cormoran Strike.

  21. I listen to a *ton* of audiobooks. Even though I’m a librarian, I use so I don’t have to wait on hold for books I want to listen to. Some of my favorites are Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee, and His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. I have a hard time listening so I tend to listen to teen books and steer clear of nonfiction. But I’ve listened to Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which was good, and right now I’m listening to Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and so far that’s really good as well. Good luck!

  22. I am a big fan of audiobooks. I love books and I realized that there are too many of them out there and so little time to sit down and just read. Since I do quite a bit of sewing most days, I pop on the earphones and away I go. Just like books, you have good ones and bad ones, but I ended up mostly with the very long classics. I want to get my money’s worth! At the moment I am listening to “Nobody’s Fool” Richard Russo.

  23. louise

    I can also recommend Audible – the have sales where the books are 4.95 dollars a few times a year – and I stock up!

    Tel Aviv Noir or Paris Noir – thriller/crime stories by different authors set in different areas of the towns (the have lots of different ones, but those I listened to and liked)

    An unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine – brilliant, about a woman who lives on her own in Beirut, despite family and civil war, with all her books.

    Levels of life by Julian Barnes

  24. I agree with all of the advice above – narrators I love are Simon Vance and Carole Boyd.

    If you get an audible subscription and want value for money then Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is enormous and wonderful, and there’s the whole of Sherlock Holmes in one credit. I really liked The Help by Kathryn Stockett because of the authentic narration, and also Q&A by Vikas Swarup. I didn’t enjoy Terry Pratchett until I tried it in audio form. Oh, there are so many! Non-fiction – This Sceptred Isle is good.

    I now have a 12-book yearly subscription, but for a time I was getting 2 books a month and buying extra when there were deals!

  25. Oh that gym selfie – I pull much the same face when I’m working out!

  26. Rob

    I had a few false starts with audiobooks. I think I had to train my brain to focus on them, but now I’m in love. I probably listen to as many books as I read, especially now that I have a dog.

    I’d start with something simple with a great narrator, just to help ease yourself in. I listened to the first couple of Harry Potter books with Stephen Fry’s narration at the beginning.

    A few of my recent favourites:

    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Dylan Baker narration)
    Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome (Steven Crossley narration)
    Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (self narration)

  27. Elizabeth Schubert

    I am very picky about audio books, because I find myself wandering mentally. The voice of the reader is important to me. Here are a few that were able to keep my attention and I loved the ‘reader/narrator’. 1) The Girl on the Train (this was by far the easiest audio book I’ve tried), 2) The End of the Affair by Graham Greene read by Colin Firth, and 3) The Round House by Louise Erdich, read by a native Canadian and since its about a native American community, it helps that the voice has the similar cadence. I have also heard that the Dracula version with Alan Cumming (the actor) is very good.

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