I love audiobooks. There’s no way I could read nearly as much and as widely as I do without them. This year, as a member of Libro.fm’s Listening Squad, I’ve gotten to up my audiobook game while simultaneously supporting one of my favorite independent bookstores, BookBar. Libro.fm* is the only audiobook company that lets readers purchase their audiobooks directly from independent book sellers. This is a game changer! Not only do I feel good about my purchases, but I also love getting recommendations from independent book sellers all over the country.
I’m very excited because this year I listened to enough audiobooks to justify an entire “best of” list. All but one of these is a 2019 release (another reason I love audiobooks is that I hate reading hardbacks) and each stood out to me both because of the book itself and the narration. I hope you find something you love or something to gift on this list!
*Use this link or enter code FICTIONMATTERS at checkout to get your first two Libro.fm audiobooks for the price of one and start supporting independent bookstores with your listening!
Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister | Read by the author
Traister is incredibly thoughtful and offers cultural and historical insights that often go overlooked. This exploration of women’s anger and political activism was simultaneously infuriating and inspiring.
- Why audio? Traister readers this herself and you can truly hear both the rage and hope in her voice at various points throughout the text.
Know by Name by Chanel Miller | Read by the author
Chanel Miller was known to the public as “Emily Doe” during the Brock Turner sexual assault trial. In this memoir, she reclaims her name and her story in a way that’s shatteringly vulnerable and incomparably brave. Miller is an extremely talented writer and the way she describes her experience is painfully evocative.
- Why audio? Hearing Miller read her own story is particularly intense, inspiring, and empowering.
She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey | Read by Rebecca Lowman
This behind-the-scenes look at the investigation of Harvey Weinstein was a reminder of the necessity of good investigative journalism. Twohey and Kantor won a Pulitzer Prize for their work so you know the level of writing is outstanding.
- Why audio? Kantor and Twohey only read the intro and epilogue to their book, but Rebecca Lowman lends extremely propelling tone to the work overall.
Bad Blood by John Carreyou | Read by Will Damron
Between a book, a podcast, a documentary, and a movie in the works, it’s fair to say that Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos had a moment in 2019. This book is the definitive look at the whole scandal from the journalist who first broke the story. Whatever the audio version of “unputdownable” is, this book is that.
- Why audio? I guess I just like investigative journalism on audio. This one in particular felt like sitting down with a friend who has a really crazy story to tell you.
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino | Read by the author
This collection of essays is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read all year. Tolentino has an incredible skill for interweaving seemingly disparate stories into one insightful cultural examination. She’s funny, but earnest; biting yet hopeful; she made me literally laugh out loud while helping me see the modern world more clearly and critically.
- Why audio? Each essay is about 40 minutes to an hour on audio, which makes listening to each chapter of this book like listening to the most insightful podcast you’ve ever heard.
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey | Read by Xe Sands
I love a book with magic and Sarah Gailey’s take on the magic school trope is original and entertaining. The details of this particular magical world were creative and more than a little dark. And I was very compelled by the murder mystery element, which was approached as methodically as a masterful procedural.
- Why audio? I also enjoyed Xe Sands’ narration of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and I think it’s because she voices gritty, hardened, but likeable women extremely well.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong | Read by the author
This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Vuong is a poet, and his writing is imagistic and visceral. Vuong tells a heartbreaking story of growing up and coming out while commenting on immigration, homophobia, the opioid crisis, and the legacy of the Vietnam War.
- Why audio? Like all poetry or near poetry, I really believe this book is meant to be heard. Plus Vuong’s narration is perfectly tender and subdued.
Bunny by Mona Awad | Read by Sophie Amoss
Bunny is a mean girl book unlike anything else out there. A campus novel set in a competitive MFA program, this novel tackles everything from writing workshops to cliques with a viciously satirical lens. I also appreciate that Awad managed to completely shock me--a rare feat for a book.
- Why audio? The satire comes across sharply and hilariously on the audio version. I loved Bunny, but I really don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much on the page.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan | Read by Dion Graham
From the nuanced characterization to the epic adventure, Washington Black is a fantastic novel. Edugyan’s writing is tremendous and I love the way this book subtly but skillfully upends the “white savior” narrative we see too often in literature. This book spans the globe taking readers to completely unexpected places.
- Why audio? Dion Graham’s accent and skilled voice work really brought this one to life for me.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson | Read by Marin Ireland
This weird little gem of a book is really one-of-a-kind. Wilson tackles motherhood, friendship, and privilege with a story about twins who spontaneously combust and their damaged, but steadfast caregiver. While there are certainly elements of darkness, I was surprised by how uplifting this book was and appreciated the tone that was equal parts snarky and sweet.
- Why audio? First and foremost, the southern accents are stellar. I also appreciate how Marin Ireland really emphasized the snark in Lillian’s perspective.