Summer vacation is coming to an end. (Sigh.) You’re likely hoping to squeeze one last hoorah in before returning to school or work after the long weekend, which may mean a bit a travel as you set off on one last adventure. What happens if you encounter a bit of traffic along the way? Try audiobooks.
There are few better ways to be productive while on a long drive. Audiobooks are perfect for entertaining yourself, your friends, and your family, and the best news is: car companies are starting to catch on. More and more cars are catering to audiobook lovers, with built-in apps and connections to Wi-Fi so you can easily switch to a new read if the one you’re listening to just isn’t cutting it. On a recent road trip, Read it Forward’s editor Abbe and I headed north from Brooklyn in a loaned 2016 Buick Regal GS, which has both of the aforementioned features, as well as a signature “library-quiet interior” that tuned out the sounds of the highway and allowed us to get fully absorbed in the narrator’s voice. And though we hit traffic (miles and miles of red taillights ahead of us), being immersed in a great audiobook made the crawling traffic bearable.
If you’re heading somewhere this weekend, check out this list of great audiobooks to listen to on your trip. Happy listening!
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (Run Time: 12 hours, 30 minutes)
It’s a rare feat for a writer to produce a bildungsroman that’s brimming with confidence; yet, that is exactly what Stephanie Danler’s captivating debut novel accomplishes. Sweetbitter follows Tess as she enters and experiences New York City while developing a taste for oysters, champagne, and other (admittingly, more interesting) appetites. And it is a treat to hear. Alex McKenna’s narration exudes both the lonely confidence and self-deprecation of our heroine and commands the listener’s attention. This audio will leave you craving more.
Siracusa by Delia Ephron (Run Time: 7 hours, 28 minutes)
Delia Ephron is back in full force with a tale of tense marriages and complicated friendships. While on vacation, two couples confront the complexities and consequences of their entwined relationships. The best part about the Siracusa audiobook is its star-studded cast. Ephron recruited real-life celebrity couples to narrate: John Slattery and Talia Balsam and Katie Finneran and Darren Goldstein. It’s a fun production.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (Run Time: 12 hours)
What if Jane Eyre was a serial killer? In this humorous reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s classic, we meet Jane Steele. She resembles the strong, young woman that we’re acquainted with; only, she’s not so innocent. Read by Susie Riddell, the audiobook plays with the relationships of these beloved characters. Riddell commands the French that interjects the dialogue as well. Brontë fans are sure to love this twist on an old classic.
Dead Wake by Erik Larson (Run Time: 13 hours)
There are few better ways to pass the time stuck behind a turned-over tractor-trailer than learning about interesting history. The extraordinary Scott Brick (who’s read more than 600 audiobooks!) narrates Erik Larson’s Dead Wake. Further elevating the narrative of the Lusitania’s last voyage, this audiobook examines the moments that led to the submarine’s unfortunate sinking and to the United States joining the side of the Allies in World War I.
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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (Run Time: 6 hours)
Get ready for some laughs with the audiobook of Modern Romance. Read by Aziz Ansari himself, this feels like a 6-hour comedy sketch on relationships in the age of Tinder and Facebook. Who could “swipe left” to that? This hilarious look at what technology does to help foster relationships, and hinder real intimacy, is thought-provoking and wildly entertaining. True to form, Ansari’s narration will make you cry from laughter, as you also rethink your next text to BAE.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Run Time: 12 hours)
If you’ve always wondered what the hype around Lolita is, but weren’t sure if you could take on the novel, then the audiobook is for you. Actor Jeremy Irons seamlessly takes on the lyricism of this classic and his narration of Lolita captures the disturbing and fascinating tones of this controversial novel.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Run Time: 12 hours)
Fasten your seatbelts for this thrilling ride. Hawkins’s debut thriller became an instant bestseller and recently won the Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year. A three-person cast elevates the high-speed suspense, taking the notion of an unreliable narrator to another level. You’ll definitely want to hear The Girl on the Train before seeing the film.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Run Time: 13 hours, 39 minutes)
The legendary Jim Dale voices another epic fantasy in The Night Circus. He’s known for bringing The Boy Who Lived to life with his astounding narration of the Harry Potter books and in The Night Circus, he takes us on another whimsical adventure in this performance. This is the kind of audiobook that will sweep you away. You’ll never think of traffic the same way again!
And I Darken by Kiersten White (Run Time: 13 hours, 30 minutes)
If you’re looking for something to tide you over until the return of Games of Thrones, the royal family in And I Darken cannot be missed. Set in the Ottoman Empire, with a fierce female protagonist, Kiersten White’s debut novel will have you hitting the replay button. In a time when political unrest is everywhere, Princess Lada must use her ruthlessness to her advantage. Read by Fiona Hardingham, this audiobook is the first in what is sure to be a hit series.
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis (Run Time: 10 hours)
For a different kind of climbing-to-the-top story, tune into Fiona Davis’s The Dollhouse. The Barbizon Hotel for Women, which once served as a residence for Grace Kelly and Liza Minnelli, was known for its opportunities (and secrets), when it was a boarding-house and refuge for career-driven women in New York City during the 1950s. Tavia Gilbert’s delightful narration brings all of the story’s unique characters to life.
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (Run Time: 7 hours)
Progressing into a different kind of feminism, discover Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes Me Modern Girl. Read by the music icon herself, this is a deeply personal account of the ups and downs of her career. With immense courage, Brownstein bares all and offers us insight into the life of a Sleater-Kinney band member. The audio is heartfelt and gripping in its candid nature. The bonus for audio listeners is some original music from the author and an additional interview with Carrie.
Never Go Back by Lee Child (Run Time: 13 hours, 30 minutes)
Gear up for October’s movie release by listening to the electric Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. It’s commonly known among Lee Child readers that our narrator, Dick Hill, is “the real Jack Reacher” and he means business. In this installment of the series, Reacher is on a fast-paced cross-country trek to find the new commanding officer of his old unit. Hold on to your hats, folks. This is one heart-thumping and suspenseful thriller.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster (Run Time: 10 hours, 30 minutes)
Marc Thompson delivers another brilliant performance with his reading of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Layered with themes from the film’s score and other sound effects, this audiobook sweeps the listener into a galaxy far, far away. And you don’t want to miss Marc Thompson’s incredible impressions.
Little Victories by Jason Gay (Run Time: 5 hours)
Now, if you’re looking for a quick listen, check out Little Victories. Written and read by The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay, these essays are a frank and funny record of how to make it through the world today. So kick back and relax as you hear Jason’s attempts to make you laugh and reflect on your own little victories—like finally making it through stalled traffic.
American Housewife by Helen Ellis (Run Time: 3 hours, 46 minutes)
Domesticity has never sounded as entertaining as it does in American Housewife, another collection of uproarious short stories about not-so-normal homemakers. Pucker up your glossy lips as you pamper yourself with Ellis’s riotous imagination—there are stories about women who battle over their shared hallways wainscoting and another about a new reality show called “Dumpster Diving with the Stars.” We promise, the next three-mile slog will be filled with laughter.
Originals by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg (Run Time: 10 hours)
Perhaps, as you drive, you want to explore new ways to think about originality? Discover the behaviors that have inspired great innovators and strategists with Originals. This compelling book by Adam Grant, a thought leader from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, with a foreword by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and author of Lean In will teach you how mentors can cultivate originality in children, how to voice your unique opinion, and much more.
Cooking for Picasso by Camille Aubray (Run Time: 13 hours, 30 minutes)
Sometimes originality takes form within innovation, which is what Camille Aubray masterfully accomplishes with her novel, Cooking for Picasso. How much do you think you know about the titular artist? Aubray’s fiction dives into a tumultuous moment for Picasso when his love of art and his love of another collide. Paralleled by the contemporary story of his paramour’s descendant, Céline, the reader will fall for the magic of art, food, and what inspires the creation of both. Read by Mozhan Marno, this summer story will sweep you away.
At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier (Run Time: 9 hours)
For another delicious slice of historical fiction, check out Tracey Chevalier’s novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, which follows pioneers during the American frontier as they attempt to start an apple farm. With deference to the period and delicate care, which made her novel The Girl in the Pearl Earring such a success, Chevalier taps into a family’s struggle like no other. A four-person cast completes the richness of this audiobook.
The Circle by Dave Eggers (Run Time: 14 hours)
From the American frontier to the digital frontier, follow Mae Holland as she begins working for The Circle, the most admired online company in Dave Eggers’ exhilarating novel. While Mae feels incredibly lucky to earn this opportunity, things turn sour quickly (as they tend to do) when the company grows to be a little more Big Brother than Mae would like. Hang on to your hats folks; the intrigue in this novel will leave you at the edge of your seats.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (Run Time: 10 hours, 7 minutes)
A fast-paced, family epic revolves around the accomplishments of a Minnesota chef, as she becomes a cooking star. Told in chapters that focus on specific plates that our protagonist makes, J. Ryan Stradal’s heartwarming Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a literary delight. Listen to Michael Stuhlbarg and Amy Ryan narrate tales of lutefisk and chocolate habaneros, and learn how food molds this delightfully eccentric family.
The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (Run Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes)
There are few families as well-known as the step-family of Cinderella… Revisit this and other classic stories in this recording of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, read by Jim Dale, Janis Ian, Katherine Kellgren, and Alfred Molina, among others. Become enchanted with these performances and share these timeless tales with your loved ones. This production is sure to please everyone in your family—or your car!
Photo credit: John F. Martin for Buick