They say the printed book is technology perfected. They say stupid zeroes and ones will never beat a nice woven spine holding straight-cut pages. But whoever they are, they’ve obviously never heard a good audiobook. Five minutes of Richard Poe reading Steinbeck aloud will make hard-copy books look like 19th-century dental tools. They’re pretty on a shelf, but we’ve found a better way.
So here are six audiobooks perfect for when your kids aren’t listening.
By Lev Grossman
Read by Mark Bramhall
Here’s a hilarious, intense, and inventive take on the wizard school genre. Its main characters have read Narnia, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings, yet the narrative never quite tips into intertextual jibber jabber. I would describe these books as Harry Potter for grownups, but grownup Hogwartsians might bristle at that, and they know magic.
By Michael Chabon
Read by Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon has spent his career writing fiction exploring the various ways men feel, seek out, express, hide, and sometimes spoil love. He deserved and received the Pulitzer for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Here he delves into nonfiction with a stack of essays exploring fatherhood. They’re exact, they’re opinionated, and they’re full of sentences so good you might end up listening twice. I’m on listen number four, myself.
By Sean Astin with Joy Layden
Read by Sean Astin
This is a strange one. The writing’s not great, and Samwise’s reading is just okay. But if you love The Lord of the Rings, you’ll enjoy all the candid, warm, and kind of catty stories Astin has to tell about his years working on that beautiful trilogy. It’s half insight and half gossip from a fussy and experienced actor. We both know you want that.
By Lauren Beukes
Read by Christine Lakin, Terra Deva, Sunil Mohatra, Robert Morgan Fisher, and J.D. Jackson
So far the books on this list would be fine for little kids, but Broken Monsters is 100% not for little ears. This gripping and multifaceted story centers on a serial killer, the detective hunting him, and that detective’s precocious millennial daughter. It’s a convincing depiction of a smart and single mom. It also makes the movie Se7en seem tame. Do not listen during, just after, or just before a meal.
By Sarah Vowell
Read by Conan O'Brien, Stephen King, Dave Eggers, and Jon Stewart
If you love American history, you probably already know about this book. If American history doesn’t really interest you, this book might fix that. Vowell is not just a regular contributor to This American Life, and she’s not just the voice of Violet in The Incredibles. She’s also a clever, perceptive, and well-researched historian. This book chronicles her visit to the site of every assassination or assassination attempt on a U.S. president. It’s haunting, brisk, and funny, not least because O’Brien and Stewart lend their voices. Stick around for the piece about John Wilkes Booth’s less murdery brother.
By John Steinbeck
Read by Richard Poe
There’s no way to objectively prove this is the greatest American novel, but come on, guys. Seriously. Dustbowl drama. Brothers and bullies and Bible-thumpers. Desperate and powerful characters trying to figure out how family history does or does not define us. I say this heartbreaking and heartwarming epic will make anyone a more thoughtful and empathetic parent. There. Rant over.
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