The best books to read aren't always the best audiobooks – they require two different ways of thinking. A great novel is a great novel in any circumstance, but the wrong reader can take away from its appeal when it's translated to audiobook form.
UPDATE: It's time for Adam Kay fans to listen up, because our favourite sarcastic doctor is back for a Christmas-themed installment. Following on from the success of his debut offering This Is Going To Hurt, Kay is returning with Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas. It's yet another dose of dark humour from the former NHS doc, who depicts the disgusting, heartbreaking, horrifying and hilarious moments shared by those working and visiting those in Hospital over the Christmas period. This is one not to be missed.
With that in mind, we’ve picked out the best audiobooks, taking into consideration the voice and delivery of the person doing the reading. After all, if you’re spending hours listening to them, that’s important. Sometimes you want no one other than the original author delivering their words, but there are other occasions where a fresh voice or professional cast allows you to see the book differently.
We've included a mixture of genres, including brand new books, classic novels, fantastical cult favourites, an anti-self-help book, autobiographies and even a bit of comedy – something for every taste.
We’d also recommend consuming some of these as audiobooks even if you’ve read the original paperback. Upvote the one you'd like on your phone, and add your own suggestions at the bottom.
Check out the best wireless headphones, to make these sound even better
1. James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes – James Acaster
Read by James Acaster
James Acaster’s rise from occasional panel show guest to top-tier British comic has been so gradual that we can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but his best-selling book and the audiobook equivalent show us it was no fluke. Anyone who has been to one of the comedian’s live shows will know he’s a fantastic storyteller, whether he’s delivering a yarn in one go or breaking it up with equally hilarious asides, and the same goes for this audiobook.
2. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay
Read by Adam Kay
Kay’s tales from his time as a junior doctor made for the surprise hit of 2017, sparking a live tour and upcoming BBC series. The former medic details his life in the profession with great humour and honesty, at a time when discussion around the National Health Service has never been more pertinent. Anyone familiar with Kay’s live shows and TV spots will know there’s no one better suited to delivering these anecdotes than the man himself.
3. Becoming – Michelle Obama
Read by Michelle Obama
There’s every chance you’ve already read Becoming – after all, it’s one of the best-selling memoirs ever, and with good reason – but this is one that can benefit from the author’s actual voice. The former First Lady speaks with honesty when recalling her journey in sensitive detail. As much as you might have read the book with her voice in your head, nothing compares to actually hearing her.
4. Circe – Madeline Miller
Read by Perdita Weeks
Do you ever look around your friends, or even on public transport, and start noticing everyone is reading (and loving and raving about) the same book? Well, that's how we feel at the moment about Circe. It's a powerful rewriting of the Odyssey, which turns a story about subjugation into one of feminist empowerment. Don't be put off if you're not into Greek mythology, the prose are superb and the characters brilliantly written. Narrator Perdita Weeks does a great job of turning Miller's mythic words into a magical listening experience.
5. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Read by Elisabeth Moss
You’ve probably already seen the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, in which Mad Men star Moss plays Offred, and the American actor does just as good a job narrating the audiobook version of Margaret Atwood’s modern classic. If you haven’t read the book or watched the show, this can act as a great introduction. If you’re already familiar with it, don’t let that act as an obstacle to you jumping in for the audiobook too.
6. Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
Read by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell’s work is best received when delivered by the author, allowing him to introduce the intricacies and attention to detail you might have missed when reading it yourself. Nowhere is this more true than in Outliers, in which he looks at what it takes to be the best in any number of disciplines across sport, business and more. Prepare to feel inadequate, but in a good way.
7. A Song of Ice and Fire – George R. R. Martin
Read by Roy Dotrice
Perhaps you’re getting Game of Thrones withdrawal after watching the final season, or perhaps you’re one of those people who has deliberately avoided the HBO show until it was all done and dusted. Either way, we should be grateful British actor Roy Dotrice lent his voice to this audiobook series before his death in 2017. At more than 33 hours for book one, or 200 hours for the whole series, it’s a bit of a commitment. But it'll be worth it.
8. Three Women – Lisa Taddeo
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is one of the best-selling books of 201 so far. It's described as a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions. It's narrated by the author herself, as well as a number of other narrators, including Mena Suvari.
9. Happy – Derren Brown
Read by Derren Brown
I know what you're thinking, not another self-help book, right? But Derren Brown's Happy is a little special. It may look like a self-help book, but the over-riding premise is that everything is actually quite fine – not ecstatically happy or terribly awful. It shines a considerate and fascinating light on all of the problems with many traditional approaches to feeling happier, bringing a refreshing new perspective that's grounded in a lot of Stoic thinking and traditional mindfulness practice. There's a version narrated by Derren himself too, which all goes to prove he's not just a great stage performer and mentalist, but a wise and compelling author and narrator.
10. Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Read by Martin Jarvis
Good Omens is currently one of our best Amazon Prime TV show picks at the moment, but the audiobook is just as fantastic – especially if you've got a vivid imagination It's not read by authors Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett, but by British actor Martin Jarvis, who does a brilliant job at drawing us all into the fantastical narrative. It's well worth a listen, whether you're a fan of the original novel and new TV series or not.
11. Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
Read by various
George Saunders’s ambitious Booker Prize-winning novel is arguably even more ambitious in audio form. A cast of 166 actors comes together to read the experimental tale of Abraham Lincoln’s reaction to the death of his son. Julianne Moore and Nick Offerman are among the narrators, a blend of famous names and individuals close to Saunders himself, for a version unlike any other. Not just an audiobook, but rather an audio experience.
12. Educated – Tara Westover
Read by Julia Whelan
Educated, Westover’s memoir about the transformative power of education after escaping her survivalist upbringing, has been praised by the likes of Bill Gates and featured on plenty of end-of-year lists. American actress Whelan has received praise for her work on fiction audiobooks such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and she does Educated justice in her telling of Westover’s work, a true story like no other.
13. Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory – Raphael Bob-WaksbergView now at Audiobooks.com
Read by various
BoJack Horseman creator Bob-Waksberg has already given us one fantastic televisual musing on the human condition, and Someone Who... shows he’s just as capable on the page. His collection of short stories gets even better when placed in the hands of some TV greats, with Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz and Orange is the New Black’s Kimiko Glenn among those giving life to Bob-Waksberg’s words.
14. Call Me by Your Name – André Aciman
Read by Armie Hammer
Hammer put in a career-best performance in the film adaptation of Aciman’s novel, earning countless award nominations for his part in Luca Guadagnino’s big-screen version. If you want to go back to the source material, then, it feels like a no-brainer to have Hammer himself relay it to you. Even if this is your first exposure to the coming-of-age novel, the actor’s delivery ensures the audiobook version is a wonderful place to start.