You all already know I’m a huge fan of audiobooks. And even though my listening habits have changed in the past few years – before I started working primarily from home, I listened to audiobooks almost exclusively on my commute – I still try to listen to audiobooks when I can. I won’t go into all of the reasons I love them here – I’ve written about that a few times already – but I do want to talk about the audiobooks I loved this year
My enjoyment of audiobook depends not only on the story or the writing, but also the narration. A bad narrator can ruin a book for me (always listen to the sample!), but a good narrator can make a book even better. In the past there have been books I’m convinced I wouldn’t have loved as much as I did had I not listened to the audiobook.
So today I wanted to share my top ten audiobooks of 2021. These are not all favorites for the year in any other category (though most of them are), but they are the audiobooks that gave me the most enjoyable listening experiences.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Matthew Sullivan, read by Will Damron
I honestly did not remember why I picked this one up until I looked back through my blog and realized it was actually for the reading experiment in which I read the highest rated books on my TBR. And despite the fact that this was so highly rated, I can’t say I was particularly excited to pick it up, and definitely put it off for a while.
I probably decided to pick up the audiobook thinking I could just listen while I worked and get it over with. But this turned out to be an audiobook I had trouble pressing the pause button on. Until it made me cry and I had to pause several times toward the end. Still, it was absolutely worth the read. I should not have doubted it’s extremely high rating and great reviews.
The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson, read by Kathe Mazur
Pretty sure I would have loved this book whether or not I listened to it on audio. But I did thoroughly enjoy listening to it. For me, I feel that listening go nonfiction in particular helps me to focus more on the information and I end up learning a little better (which is weird, because I’m generally more of a visual learner).
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, read by Julia Whelan
When this book was announced, I remember reading a post from Victoria Schwab about how excited she was that Julia Whelan would be narrating this book. And I can see why. Julia Whelan is one of those audiobook narrators that you will see everywhere. Weirdly enough, though I’ve read quite a few books she’s narrated, I hadn’t listened to any of them on audio. So this was a pretty fun experience.
I think Whelan did a great job bringing Addie to life. I do think I would probably have loved this book regardless of whether I’d read it or listened to it, but I think the audiobook added a great element to this story.
The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker, read by George Guidall
I was so, so excited when I saw that George Guidall would be narrating this book! He also did the audiobook for the first book in this series, The Golem & the Jinni, which I have listened to several times. His voice works so brilliantly for the story and is genuinely a pleasure to listen to. Honestly, I think he might be a selling point for me in choosing audiobooks in the future. He’s that good.
The Lost Family by Libby Copeland, read by Cindy Kay
This is definitely one of those books I think I enjoyed more as an audiobook than if I’d just picked up a physical copy or an ebook. I don’t think I’ve listened to any other books read by Cindy Kay, but I think she did a great job. I may or may not have stayed up too late listening to this one.
The Lost Family is all about how genetic testing is bringing up a lot of things, both good and bad, that were not the most accessible in the past, and were also more easily hidden. Grandma didn’t have to admit to that affair until her granddaughter submitted her DNA to 23andme out of pure curiosity. It was kind of interesting to hear about all of the things genetic testing has uncovered, not all of which you might expect.
From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty, read by the author
This is the third Caitlin Doughty book I have read, all of which I’ve listened to as audiobooks. In case you are not familiar with Doughty, she is a mortician. And her books are all about dead bodies. Which she somehow makes pretty fun (sounds weird, but trust me on this one).
I particularly enjoyed this one because it was all about how different cultures treat their dead. Most of these methods would be appalling to a lot of Westerners, but I found them fascinating. I’ve never liked the idea of ending up in the ground, so it was cool to learn about other cultures, specifically how they handle something we don’t talk about a lot.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, read by the author
Early in the pandemic, I fell into an internet rabbit hole of watching videos of Mount Everest expeditions. It is something that terrifies me and I will never do – as Krakauer puts it “you have to be a little crazy” to attempt that. But it was fascinating to learn about, even though it probably did not help my anxiety.
This fit perfectly into one of the reading challenges I participated in this year, so I figured I might as well pick it up. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. This was my second Krakauer book – the first being Missoula – and I definitely really like his writing style. This one in particular was really impactful since it was so personal – Krakauer was on Everest during the 1996 disaster, in which eight people died. I know this was huge when it came out in the late 90s, but I think it stood up pretty well. I may or may not have stayed up very late finishing this audiobook, which we all know is a sign that it’s a good one.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, read by the author
I read this for a reading experiment earlier this year – it was on the Harvard Summer reading list – and was really glad I ended up choosing the audiobook. I always love going with the audio version of memoirs, especially if it is read by the author. It just feels a lot more personal and I find it has more of an impact on me.
This one especially, because the subject matter didn’t exactly call to me. It’s about Helen Macdonald’s journey of taming a hawk. For whatever reason, that just didn’t feel like my thing. But I felt the audiobook made it a lot more interesting and accessible to someone like me who isn’t the most interested in hawking.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, read by the author
Like I mentioned earlier, I really love listening to audiobook versions of memoirs when the author reads them. It feels so personal, like they’re telling you the story of their life. This one was an experimental memoir, which used different narrative formats. While I did wonder if I might have been able to notice/appreciate that a little more reading it, I did really enjoy the audiobook.
I do also appreciate books like this more because of how difficult it must have been for the author to not only write this book, but also record the audio. This memoir in particular was hard to read, because it is about the author’s experience in an abusive same-sex relationship. It was interesting to read how the reactions to her toxic relationship, and even how the author herself viewed it, were different than if she’d been in a relationship with a man. I thought it was a difficult read, but definitely a story that deserves to be told. Because female abusers are just as bad as male abusers, and I think our society needs to destigmatize that a little more.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, read by Carey Mulligan
After reading How to Stop Time last year, and loving it, I was really looking forward to this book. I decided to go with the audiobook because Carey Mulligan is awesome, and she honestly killed it. The Midnight Library is about depression and looking back on some of the choices you might regret. That hit home for me kind of a lot, but I found her voice to be pretty soothing while listening to a story that could have been triggering for me.
That said, this book wasn’t quite as amazing as I had hoped it would be. Not a favorite book, but I think the whole listening experience was really well done. Everything just worked really well.
And that’s it for my favorite audiobooks of 2021! Did you listen to any audiobooks this year? What was your favorite?
If you want to try audiobooks for yourself, check out Libro.fm – you can get discounted audiobooks (with or without a monthly membership) and support indie bookstores! And if you sign up using this link, I get a free audiobook, so it’s a nice way to support this blog, too.
And check out my bookshop, where you can buy books and also shop my curated collections of my personal favorites AND all of the books I’ve read for my reading experiments. Or you can just buy whatever books you want to. I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, and you get to support your choice of indie bookstores – it’s a win all around!