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The rise in popularity of audiobooks

Cindy Burnett
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TUNING IN Listening to audiobooks has become more widespread these days, especially as it’s easy to listen while on-the-go. Looking for your next great audiobook experience? Try Daisy Jones and the Six, which is read by a full cast of narrators. (Photo: Cindy Burnett)

In our busy world, many do not have time to sit down and read a book. Audiobooks have become a popular way to consume a good story while running carpool, folding laundry, or going on a walk. I even have one friend who listens while grocery shopping. 

I am a relatively new participant in the audiobook arena, but I have found that it is a great way for me to enjoy nonfiction. My mind tends to wander as I am walking or loading the dishwasher, so nonfiction works better for me than fiction because it usually does not matter if I miss a bit of the story. However, I am beginning to try listening to fiction as well because of the creative manner in which audiobooks can bring a story to life.

Originally, audiobooks were available on cassette and subsequently on CD. Now, audiobooks are available to download from many places, including Spotify,, and the library through a free platform called Libby. If you like to shop local, is a great choice because it is an employee-owned social purpose corporation that shares profits from audiobook purchases with the purchaser’s chosen bookstore, giving individuals the power to support local bookstores. When you sign up, you designate which bookstore you want to support and then every audiobook you acquire benefits that store. In addition, it is a fabulous resource for finding your next audiobook because the site includes bookseller recommendations from across the country as well as detailed lists in various genres and themes.

When I first started listening to audiobooks, I struggled with the slow pace of the narration, not realizing that most listeners bump up the speed. Once I was privy to this trick, I found that listening at 1.8 to 2.1 (depending on the narration) moves the book along at a good speed for me. My husband laughs when he walks into the room while I am listening because the rapid speech sounds funny if you are not the one immersed in the book. 

Narrators can make or break the success of an audiobook as well as a listener’s enjoyment of a book. Some of my friends that are diehard audiobook listeners find narrators that they love and track down other titles that they have worked on to listen to more by that individual. My friend Kelly Hooker says, “A fantastic audiobook narrator can completely elevate the story. I often seek out voices that have become familiar to me like Julia Whelan and Karissa Vacker for an immersive reading experience.” AudioFile Magazine is an in-depth, comprehensive resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the narration of a particular book, information about narrators including the titles they have worked on and awards they have won, which books have entire casts for the audio, and awards for books that were spectacular on audio. AudioFile also reviews and recommends audiobooks and classifies books by narrator on one portion of its site. 

One benefit to listening to audiobooks is the extra content that can be provided in this format. Several months ago, I listened to It Was an Ugly Couch Anyway by Elizabeth Passarella, a collection of essays about her family’s life in New York City and their saga trying to buy an apartment owned by a widow who was struggling to let go of the property. At the end of the audiobook, Elizabeth included a compelling interview with this woman, which added an element that couldn’t be included in the physical book. 

While additional content is an added benefit, there can be downsides to listening versus reading a print copy of a book, such as the inability to view photos or maps or other content that must be digested visually. One of my recent favorite listens was Being Henry….the Fonz and Beyond by Henry Winkler, which Henry and his wife narrate. Hearing him relay his own story was delightful, but I did miss perusing the photos that are included in the physical book; the images add depth and a personal touch to his tale.

Celebrity memoirs frequently show up on the audiobook bestseller charts. Notable titles from the last few years include The Woman in Me by Britney Spears (narrated by Michelle Williams), Being Henry….the Fonz and Beyond by Henry Winkler, If You Would Have Told Me by John Stamos, Will by Will Smith, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry, and I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. All of these, except the Britney Spears memoir, are narrated by the celebrities themselves; I love hearing these individuals tell me their story.

Full-cast narrations also create an enjoyable listening experience. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff are two standouts that worked well for me and that I hear people mention regularly. 

The boom in audiobooks has led to the creation of new content such as Audiobook Originals – stories only available on audio. Authors are experimenting with this method by adding shorter stories to a long-standing series. In addition, companies such as Emerald Audio are launching serial podcasts, fictional stories relayed over a number of episodes, much like the radio serials created before the advent of television.

Looking to try an audiobook? Libro.Fm lists these as some of the bestsellers of 2023: 

  • I Have some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
  • Yellowface by R.F. Kuang
  • Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto
  • Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
  • The Wager by David Grann

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