A talented audiobook narrator makes for a memorable listening experience. Great audio performances elevate and enhance a book and pull you in, going beyond on-paper reading for an immersive event. I feel the same joy discovering an excellent narrator as I do when finding a new favorite author.
After I’ve read a fabulous audiobook, I’m likely to want to read more works by the author—and to listen to more works performed by the narrator. Often, narrators work in specific genres or pair with certain authors, so if you absolutely loved the narrator of your recent audiobook, they’ve likely read another book suited to your taste as well.
If a narrator has a long backlist of titles (books that are already published, or in this case, recorded), there are hours and hours of listening ahead of you. Services like Libro.fm, Audible, and other audiobook services allow you to search by narrator, and I make good use of this feature. Many narrators also have websites listing their notable works or, sometimes, their entire audiobook catalog.
Over the last few years, I’ve come across several exceptional voice performers whose narration will encourage me to pick up a book even if it’s outside my usual taste. I know that I’ll enjoy listening to their voices—and that their performances will enliven the characters, ideas, and settings of any book.
Today I’m sharing ten of my favorite audiobook narrators, plus three audiobooks I recommend from each of their audio-backlists. If you’re looking for a place to start with audiobooks, or if you’re an avid listener in search of your next read, try one of these narrators for an immersive and textured listening experience.
30 amazing audiobook experiences narrated by talented voice performers
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Dominican-American poet, novelist, and performer Elizabeth Acevedo narrates her own work, plus one of my favorite Austen adaptations, Pride by Ibi Zoboi, with passion and skill. I can’t wait to talk with her in Book Club on September 29th (and ask her to do a live reading, of course!).
Seventeen-year old single mother Emoni has always been told she has a magical touch in the kitchen. She dreams of a career as a chef but she doesn’t have the time or money for her school’s new culinary arts class, not if she’s going to still be able to work part-time and provide for her child. She’s torn in a lot of directions but her passion for food is clear. Told in stunning prose, this novel captured my heart—and made me want to bake! Acevedo creates fabulous characters to root for, and you’ll be cheering for Emoni as you listen. More info →
The Poet X author Acevedo dedicates her new novel in verse to the memory of the lives lost on American Airlines flight 587, the passenger flight that crashed en route to Santo Domingo from JFK on November 12, 2001. Taking this historical event as her leaping off point, Acevedo tells the story of two teenage girls—one in New York, one in Santo Domingo—who are shocked to discover they are sisters in the aftermath of the crash, when the truth of their father’s double life was unceremoniously revealed. The girls tentatively bond as they explore the love—and pain—they share. A lyrical, heartfelt exploration of what it means to discover secrets, to find family, and to discover your own hidden resources in the face of great loss, and surprising joy. More info →
This is our September Book Club pick as we dig into coming of age-themed novels this fall. Acevedo’s first novel-in-verse won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Xiomara finds her voice as she pours her soul into her notebook. Every frustration, every harassment, every triumph and every secret is turned into a poem. When she gets invited to share her work in slam poetry club, Xiomara isn’t sure if she can keep her passion secret from her strict family. But she soon learns that speaking up and living her truth is the only way to be fully herself. If “novel-in-verse” gives you pause because you don’t love poetry, trust me: the audiobook version is AMAZING. Acevedo is an incredible storyteller and narrator. More info →
The first audiobook narrated by Zeller that I listened to was Loveboat, Taipei. I LOVED it, and it made me want to listen to her entire catalog.
Kondo is a Japanese personal tidying expert (she doesn’t like to call herself an “organizer”). She originally wrote her decluttering manifesto to help the Japanese clients languishing on her waiting list. This translation has been praised for preserving the quirkiness of her voice. (Which comes across even better on audio.) It’s since become a global publishing phenomenon, and now, a Netflix series. I appreciated this book, especially the ability to listen to Kondo’s advice as I follow it. More info →
One day, 11-year-old Deming Guo’s mother leaves for work and never returns home. With no other family to care for him, two white professors adopt Deming and move him from the Bronx to upstate New York, renaming him and reshaping him into their ideal “all-American boy.” Deming, now named Daniel, struggles to reconcile his new life with his past, his memories, and his mother’s disappearance. Set in New York and China, this book is beautifully narrated and weaves a moving story around themes of immigration, identity, and belonging. More info →
Ever Wong is an eighteen-year-old Asian American girl in Ohio, a talented dancer who, unknown to her parents, harbors dreams of pursuing professional dance when she graduates. When her parents find out she’s considering abandoning the medical school path they’ve always dreamt of for their daughter, they promptly put her on a plane to Taiwan to spend the rest of the summer at Chien Tan—an immersive high school program that focuses on language and culture. She does NOT want to go, but when she arrives she’s surprised to discover that far from the scholarly summer she expected, the students themselves call the program “Loveboat,” because so many long-term relationships begin here, and they have so much unsupervised leisure time. Her roommate has even come in search of a husband. This was a fun listen about a girl traveling halfway around the world to find herself, and maybe find love, too. More info →
An audio fan-favorite, Julia Whelan is a prolific narrator. In 2019, she won the Audie award for her narration of Educated by Tara Westover.
In her bestselling memoir, Tara Westover tells of how she overcame her oppressive childhood: her survivalist family lived in the mountains of rural Idaho and practiced extreme fundamentalist Mormonism; her father’s manic depression was undiagnosed and untreated. There was no question that Tara would marry and settle near her family to raise a family of her own, but she found a way out. This is her story of how. Many avid listeners say they love listening to memoir on audio. While this isn’t narrated by the author, Whelan does an excellent job striking the right tone for Westover’s grim family story and coming-of-age journey. More info →
In the debut novel from Pop Culture Happy Hour host Holmes, a grieving widow and a disgraced Major League pitcher start over after each suffers their own kind of tragedy. Evvie’s husband dies in a car accident, but the truth surrounding his death is painful for reasons her small town community can never know. Dean’s career took a nosedive when he inexplicably developed “the yips”—he can’t pitch for reasons that might be all in his head, but nobody can figure it out. Evvie needs the income a boarder would bring, and Dean needs a refuge, so a mutual friend connects the two. Out of mutual kindness and witty banter, a friendship develops, and then something more … but starting over as a grown-up is complicated. A warm, witty, and satisfying listen. More info →
January is a 29-year-old romance writer who no longer believes in happily-ever-after. Demoralized and broke, she moves into the beach house she inherited when her father died, hoping to lick her wounds and finish her current manuscript. But then, in a cruel twist of fate, she discovers her neighbor is the beloved literary fiction writer Augustus Everett, her college rival (and crush), whom she was hoping to never see again. But it turns out Gus has troubles of his own, and so the two make a bet to get their writing back on track: January will try her hand at the “bleak literary fiction” that Gus writes, and Gus will write a romance novel. A warm and delightfully meta take on love, writing, and second chances. More info →
A recipient of the Golden Voices lifetime achievement for audiobook narrators, JD Jackson says his favorite genre to narrate is “a well-written first-person urban crime/detective novel. The grittier, the better. I love getting caught up in an inquisitive mind on the hunt for truth.”
Colson Whitehead brings Jim Crow-era Florida to life through the real story of a reform school in Tallahassee that claimed to rehabilitate delinquent boys and instead abused and terrorized them for over one hundred years. Elwood Curtis is bound for a local black college when an innocent mistake lands him at The Nickel Academy instead. Elwood finds comfort in Dr. Martin Luther King’s words and holds to his ideals, whereas his friend Turner believes the world is crooked so you have to scheme to survive. All this leads to a decision with harrowing repercussions for their respective fates. This was a tough read emotionally, but such a good one, especially as narrated by award-winning audio performer JD Jackson. More info →
As a Black Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews has an intricate understanding of racial tensions in East Texas. He’s proud of his roots and his family, but when his loyalty lands him in trouble, he agrees to get out of town and investigate a crime for a friend. He drives up Highway 59 to the town of Lark, where a recent murder has stirred up hatred and history. Atmospheric and timely, and terrific on audio. It ends on a cliffhanger, so you might want to queue up the second book, Heaven, My Home, right away. More info →
When he was 25 years old, John Lewis marched in Selma, Alabama and was beaten nearly to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. This was only the beginning of his lifelong fight for justice and equality. From an early age, Lewis practiced nonviolent protest and the call to love his neighbor as himself. In this intimate portrait of one of our nation’s greatest leaders, Meacham draws on decades of interviews with Lewis, sharing stories from his early childhood to his final days. This is sure to be an inspiring listen, out on August 25, 2020. More info →
One of my favorite authors AND narrators, Jackson’s theater background opened the door for her to narrate her own novels. She considers herself a novelist first, so when she reads other people’s work, it’s kind of a big deal. You’ll usually see her audio credits in southern fiction.
I love Marybeth Whalen, and was over the moon when I found out Joshilyn Jackson would lend her voice to this Southern story: it’s perfect. On a small-town Southern Friday night, after the football game, two cars driven by local teens collide, killing three cheerleaders instantly. The only survivor is the driver at fault. Whalen expertly weaves together four voices, of four women whose lives were upended by what happened that night, to reveal to the reader what really happened—and why. Gripping, timely, and hard to put down. More info →
Every family has secrets…and this literary truth makes for absorbing audiobook listening. Lena Donohue reinvented herself in New York City after she was betrayed by her sister on her wedding day. She rarely returns to her small Southern hometown, until her father’s worsening Alzheimer’s calls her back. As she and her siblings work together to preserve his failing memories, a secret from his past emerges. Lena will have to decide whether she has the strength to forgive in this absorbing story. More info →
One of my favorite Jackson novels is about a complicated Alabama family and the “two Souths” it inhabits. It begins when Leia is summoned home to Alabama to clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and while she’s there, she has to break the news to her conventional Southern family that she’s pregnant. But Leia can’t share her own secret before other powerful, long-buried family secrets start to pour out—her stepsister’s unraveling marriage, her grandmother’s worsening dementia, and a shocking secret hidden in the family attic. Jackson almost always reads her own novels (and other authors’ novels as well—she’s that good). More info →
I got hooked on Brick’s narration while listening to This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. Krueger himself had great things to say about Brick’s narration, and I can’t wait to listen to more of his work.
Many readers recognize this as the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. It’s also THE definitive biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton, from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow, author of Washington: A Life. This well-written biography reads like a novel, and makes the fascinating life story of a fascinating man spring off the page. Clocking in at nearly 36 hours, you’ll get your audiobook credit’s worth with this well-narrated tome. More info →
I’m so glad I discovered William Kent Krueger: recommended by a reader as good for someone who had run out of Louise Penny (whose books are also excellent on audio). This tough and tender coming-of-age story focuses on four Minnesota kids during the Great Depression, whose respective situations become ever more impossible due to human cruelty and circumstance. After a tornado demolishes the last of life as they know it, they realize no one is going to save them—and so they make a plan to save themselves that starts with escaping down the river. This is one of my husband Will’s favorite books of the year. A great story, beautifully told. More info →
Ashley and Brent put this on my radar as on of their favorites on Episode 155 of What Should I Read Next. Perfect for readers who are leaning into pandemic-related reads during this time, Brick narrates the definitive account of the 1918 Flu Epidemic. With deep research and a model for handling modern outbreaks, Barry writes with authority and narrative skill. A sobering and timely read, but a propulsive one. More info →
Turpin’s name is always top-of-mind when asked about my favorite audiobook narrators, and my interest is automatically piqued when I see she’s narrating a new title. She’s been narrating books for a long time, and the last few years have brought her acclaim with titles like The Hate U Give and The Underground Railroad.
I usually listen to Turpin’s fiction narration, but her reading here is perfection. Drawing on her personal experience and years of work and research, Oluo thoughtfully engages complex issues like micro-agressions, cultural appropriation, police brutality, affirmative action, the model minority myth, the n word, and more. She dismantles myths, exposes often-unseen narratives that govern our actions, and gives advice to those who want to do better. I know I’ll be listening to this one again. More info →
I listened to this audiobook on a road trip down to Memphis, and it made the miles fly by: I was engrossed in the story of 15-year-old Brianna, who is confident in her dreams—and has a chance of making them come true—but first has to navigate a whole slew of pitfalls, both the ones forced upon her and the ones of her own making. If you appreciated The Hate U Give, add this to your TBR immediately. Bri is an aspiring rapper, and rap battles feature prominently in the plot: for that reason I’m so glad I listened to this instead of reading it on the page. Bahni Turpin’s narration is exceptional. More info →
This fascinating and multi-layered spy thriller is told from the perspective of a black woman, recruited by the CIA in the all-white, boys’ club-era of the 1980s for an important African mission. Her assigned task is to fall in love—or pretend to—with Thomas Sankara, the president of Burkino Faso, known as “Africa’s Che Guevara.” (Sankara is a real historical figure and I was so curious about how Wilkinson would handle his story.) The book’s epigraph is from Ralph Ellison: he refers to being “a spy in enemy country,” and I’m grateful this work inspired me to learn more about the rich literary history of African American spy novels and the theme of double consciousness. This worked so well on audio. A rewarding listen on so many levels. More info →
I recognized Newbern’s voice from my audiobooks before seeing his face on TV and putting the two together. Now I know him as Charlie on Scandal and a fabulous narrator.
I couldn’t get into this as a hardcover but then a friend with great taste suggested I give the audio a try. I started again from the beginning, and this time this grumpy old man story hooked me. Don’t you love when that happens? A great narrator can truly make or break the reading experience. George Newbern’s accents—especially for Ove—are fantastic. I laughed and cried and couldn’t stop listening. But do yourself a favor: don’t even think about finishing this novel in a public place, and consider removing your mascara first. More info →
Newbern features among a full cast for this audiobook experience. Forensic accountant Nora Trier has devoted her life to finding and prosecuting fraud. She’s flattered and surprised when the co-owner of feminist fitness empire Strike comes to her with a problem: he needs Nora to find a missing twenty million dollars, and find it fast. The #1 suspect is his co-owner—and wife—Logan Russo. Nora knows she should say no: Logan is her trainer, and her idol. And worse, Nora once had a one-night-stand with Logan’s husband, before she knew who he was. But Nora can’t resist. As she investigates, it’s clear something strange is going on with this case—and Nora soon realizes it’s personal, and goes beyond just business. This is a matter of life and death. A thrilling, gritty psychological suspense with a fascinating setting. More info →
Newbern’s narration brings this true story to life. Before Hillenbrand got a hold of Louie Zamperini’s story for Unbroken, she was an editor at Equus magazine, having fallen in love with horses as a kid when she began reading Come On, Seabiscuit! over and over again beginning at age eight. In this true story that reads like a novel, Hillenbrand takes her reader on a remarkable ride, masterfully weaveing together the stories of a knock-kneed racehorse and the three men who made him a champion: a bookish half-blind jockey, an eccentric trainer, and a limelight-loving owner. An incredible tale, and not just for horse lovers. More info →
I fell in love with Americanah and wanted Adjoa Andoh to read me books forevermore. Fortunately, she’s read some incredible titles over the last few years (but Americanah will always stand out as a favorite).
I loved how Adjoa Andoh’s narration helped me sink into this sweeping story, which takes place in Nigeria, the United States, and briefly in the U.K., and taught me how to correctly pronounce the characters’ Nigerian names and cities. The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves Ifemelu’s blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. I was hooked from page (or minute?) one. Page-turning, moving, incredibly well done. More info →
A powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide’s mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband’s second wife, that she didn’t know he’d married. What follows is an unforgettable novel about sacrifice that sticks with me to this day. Andoh perfectly gives voice to the characters; her narration adds to the compulsively readable nature of this literary fiction debut. More info →
Perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory, this rom com is laugh-out-loud funny. Andoh makes the witty banter between the heroine, Chloe Brown, and her landlord, Redford “Red” Morgan crackle and spark. After a near death experience, Chloe comes up with a to-do list to help her “get a life,” including things like “ride a motorcycle,” “go camping,” and “do something bad.” When she enlists Red to help her accomplish the list, their flirtation quickly escalates as they learn more about each other. Readers, take note: this book is charming, delightful, and VERY steamy. I recommend listening via headphones (I still couldn’t help blushing). More info →
I got to learn all about what it’s like to be a narrator behind the scenes on What Should I Read Next Episode 31: Lifetime favorite books and reading for a living with Adam Verner. Since then, I’m always on the lookout for his work—and especially excited he’s reading Jack, one of my most-anticipated fall releases.
Currey lays out the daily routines of 237 writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers, and scientists. Listen straight through, or parse out each artist’s daily rhythms like individual podcast episodes. Take inspiration where you find it, and return to listening again and again when you’re feeling stalled or stymied in your work. Learn how Octavia Butler wrote, when Nina Simone rehearsed, and where Frida Kahlo painted—and take heart—because for every artist who works in bitter isolation, there’s also one who does his best work after he drops the kids off for school in the family minivan. (I’m looking at you, Charles Schultz.) More info →
This zany series is perfect for fans of Dogman. Two young friends and rivals try to one-up each other in a good-natured series of escalating pranks. Adults may not choose to read these solo, but the wisecracking banter makes these excellent family audiobook experiences with kids as young as 6. My own kid loves this series, and we’ve all enjoyed the characters’ goofy antics, as narrated by Adam Verner, on road trips or during chores. More info →
Robinson returns to the world she created in Gilead—a world I can happily spend time in. Her books contain some of the most beautiful sentences ever put to paper. In this, the fourth novel, Robinson tells the story of John Ames Boughton and his romance with Della Miles. A prodigal son and a brilliant teacher, John and Della face struggles as an interracial couple in segregated St. Louis. I’m thrilled to listen to Verner narrate what is sure to be another stunning work in this series. More info →
Do you have a favorite audiobook narrator? Please add to our list in the comments.
P.S. Get hooked on a new mystery series with these 10 addicting audiobooks and my favorite audiobooks of 2019. New to audiobooks? Try these 7 ways to discover your audiobook style.