I have never been an audiobook person – I always thought my attention span required both my eyes and brain to be active in order to remain focussed on anything or I’d just zone out and/or fall asleep. Initially, this was a big issue when I decided I wanted to listen to audiobooks, which acted more like midday bedtime stories than lunch break entertainment. But I’ve learnt that there is such a thing as audiobook fitness and that once you’ve trained yourself, you can kick back, eyes closed, with an audiobook on, without drifting off or starting to compile a mental shopping list before you’ve had time to stop yourself.
I started my training (hah) by doing other physical things while I listened – walking (always, if I’m by myself), commuting (less during the pandemic, and not on the Jubilee Line because it’s so bloody loud), running (when I actually go running), and cooking (FAVOURITE). Mostly, these are still the primary ways I listen to audiobooks because I tend to prefer reading a book if I have the capacity to just sit down. But I can also now happily stare out of a window while listening and absorb just as much as if I was reading.
With this said, you need the right audiobook to properly immerse yourself in a story. I feel mean saying it, but some people’s voices are just too annoying for the job, while some storylines (particularly ones with multiple timelines) can be extremely confusing without the words on the page. Other times, you’ve got to be able to say, “Wait, who the hell is this person again?!” and flick back a few pages to find out. Even an experienced audiobook listener like myself can’t simply say, “I think they were first mentioned 23 seconds ago”.
Some people prefer to listen to non-fiction, especially books which are number-dense, or when it’s a memoir read by the author. However, I think fiction can be just as enjoyable – a number of audiobook producers use multiple voices and music, too, making it more like a radio play than simply the narration of a book.
HOT TIP: I use a platform called Scribd to listen to audiobooks. It’s £9.99 per month for unlimited, instant access to ebooks, audiobooks, articles, podcasts, sheet music and documents — all in one digital subscription. I only use the audiobook function because I have a Kindle, but there are a lot of ebooks there for people who can read from their phone/non-Amazon device. Here are six audiobooks available on Scribd which will get you well and truly hooked:
By Amrou Al-Kadhi
Amrou Al-Kadhi has written a simultaneously gritty and glittery memoir about their life, from a childhood in Dubai and Iraq to an education at Eton and then Cambridge; from a young Muslim desperate to appease their family’s expectations, to the fabulous Glamrou, a beloved drag performer. They narrate the audiobook and it feels like when a friend rounds everyone up to tell a story about something that has happened to them, from the heartbreaking to the hysterical. Read my full book review here.
By Tayari Jones
When Roy is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, yet another man in the wrong place with the wrong skin colour at the wrong time in America, his marriage to Celestial enters a realm it was never intended to exist within. Roy, in prison longer than he has even been married to Celestial. Celestial, living half a life that she didn’t sign up for. Narrators Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis bring Roy and Celestial to life through the deeply personal, first-person narration. Read my full book review here.
By Emma Barnett
If you ever had any doubt of the shame that is forced onto the topic of periods and the damage this has caused people who menstruate throughout the world throughout history, this book sets it in stone (or should I say it writes it in blood?) Author Emma Barnett narrates the audiobook, which really emphasises how deeply she cares about the topic. Read my full book review here.
By Edna O’Brien
Edna O’Brien’s fictional reimagining of the 276 Boko Haram girls who were abducted in Nigeria in 2014 is already devastating, but I’d argue that hearing the words said aloud adds the sort of weight and realism that the story demands. The poetic writing style translates beautifully to audio and I felt emotionally connected to the story through the narration. Read my full book review here.
By Elizabeth Day
Author Elizabeth Day’s podcast, the book’s namesake, is an interview show where she chats with successful people about what they consider to be their biggest failures. The audiobook is narrated by the author, but it samples voice clips from the interviews that Day conducted on her podcast, which I think was a great way to keep the content interesting and varied for a listener. Read my full book review here.
By Kate Elizabeth Russell
This novel contains themes of grooming, rape and sexual harassment: We are offered a window into the life of Vanessa Wye, both as a 15 year old and in her early 30s. Both 15- and 30-year-old Vanessa believe that the relationship she entered into with her 42-year-old teacher was a consenting, loving one. It is a truly uncomfortable experience “knowing better”, seeing toxic patterns and manipulative, coercive behaviour unfold between an old man and a child, but also having the first person narrator unquestionably believe the opposite to be true and to be told it, repeatedly, in her “own” voice. This was incredibly powerful to listen to. Read my full book review here.
Other audiobooks I’ve enjoyed:
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