No matter the destination of the road trip during my childhood, there were three things I could count on: snacks my mother didn’t usually let us have at home, my siblings squawking and bickering with one another, and endless cassette tapes of the Harry Potter audiobooks read by Jim Dale. As an adult, I still listen to the entire Harry Potter series about once a year, but I’ve also expanded my audiobook repertoire to include books from all genres. I listen in the car, at work, on the treadmill, and while walking the streets of Boston.
I’m not the only one who uses audiobooks to help cut my TBR list down; over the past few years, the digital audio market has been on the rise, and publishers are increasing the quality and innovation of their audiobooks to provide listeners with even better listening experiences. Houses like Penguin Random House enlist celebrities to perform some of their titles, and companies across the board are experimenting with multivoiced recordings, audio-only bonus content, and more to make the audiobooks on their lists stand out.
With more and more audiobooks out there, it can be difficult to choose what to put on your audio TBR list. Every reader has their own preferences and criteria for books in any format, but here are a few of the factors I consider when choosing my next audiobook.
If I had to choose the one factor that can make or break an audiobook for me, it would be the narrator. A mediocre reader can distract from the story and make the listening experience unenjoyable. Again, every listener has their own preferences, but the biggest reader faux pas in my book are poor gender voicing (in my listening experience, women tend to perform male voices better than males perform female voices) and over the top or inaccurate accents (some readers are proficient in adopting accents that are not their own, but some turn accents into caricatures). A good narrator does justice to the text by delivering it with enthusiasm, poise, and accuracy. The good news is that most platforms will let you listen to a sample of an audiobook before purchasing so that you can decide if the narrator is to your liking.
I’ve found that there are certain genres that I like in print, but that I actually prefer in audiobook format. If there’s a new sociology book or memoir out that I’ve got my eye on, I’m more likely to listen to it than to read a print or ebook copy. If you’re just getting into audiobooks, try starting with your overall favorite genres—but keep in mind that there may be certain types of books you simply don’t enjoy in the audio format. I love reading YA novels, but for a variety of reasons, I don’t generally enjoy them as audiobooks. But the opposite might be true as well; I’m not usually a fan of time travel sci-fi books, but thoroughly enjoyed listening to the audiobook of All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai.
Since I tend to listen to audiobooks in shorter chunks of time, it can often take a week or more make it through an audiobook. For this reason, I usually prefer books that take no more than eight hours to listen to. There are exceptions, of course—Harry Potter being the most notable—but in general, it’s harder for me to stay engaged in longer audiobooks, simply because they take so long to get through.
I tend to stay away from abridged books and books with multiple narrators, but I will almost always pick up a memoirs read by the author, such as Lab Girl by Hope Jahren or Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my number one recommendation for anybody new to audiobooks is the Jim Dale version of Harry Potter. His character voices are distinct and masterful, his performance makes you feel like you’re in the recording studio alongside him, and the overall experience is a great introduction to the world of audiobooks.
Madeline Greenhalgh is the co-founder and editorial director at Yellow Taxi Press. She also works as a technical editor and has interned at Deseret Book and served as an editor for multiple collegiate publications and freelance projects. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.