In a panicked frenzy after New York City lockdown was first announced in March, I made a commitment to tear through my 50-plus to-read pile by the time I went back to work. I have read exactly three (3) novels in the two months since I left the office. Don’t worry if you’re in the same boat. There’s something paradoxically exhausting about staying inside all the time, worrying over what’s going on outside your walls. Even cracking open a spine feels prohibitively demanding. So take comfort in something easy and escapist: a stranger telling you stories.
Audiobooks offer not only an effortless means to knock out your reading list—literally, just press play—but they’re also a uniquely transformative experience in their own right. Sometimes I’ll read a book and then listen to it so I can notice things I missed before, or hear a cadence in the narrator’s voice I didn’t imagine myself. But best of all, an audiobook makes for an admirably easy quarantine companion: You can listen while washing dishes, trimming your bangs, slathering on a face mask, or tricking yourself into thinking you can bake good sourdough. Audiobooks give you someone to listen to who isn’t a newscaster, your roommate, or Donald Trump. Hallelujah, right? Get started with these recommendations for an instant isolation escape.
A trip to the Italian coast sounds nice, doesn’t it? In this sprawling tale of stardom, sunshine, and very flawed people chasing very real dreams, a ghost-like American celebrity arrives on the coast of the Ligurian Sea circa 1962 from the set of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary film Cleopatra. Her sudden appearance enchants a local innkeeper, setting off a series of events that span five decades and hop from character to character in this smart, stunning romance.
Given how quickly short stories shift from one tone to another, a collection read by multiple narrators with both skill and sensitivity can seem like a tricky feat to pull off. But Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s astounding collection of stories about Indigenous Latina women laid the ground for an incredible performance, and the cast behind this audiobook did not take the mission lightly. This is an essential listen, not an easy one, but you’ll thank yourself later for pressing play.
Whoever cast the narrators for this dynamite rendition of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s transfixing rock novel is almost certainly underpaid. Daisy Jones and The Six is written like an oral history, weaving one narrator with the next as each unveils the downfall of a legendary 1970s rock ‘n’ roll band. Loosely reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, the story is fantastic, but I’d argue the vocal performances are even better, perfectly attuned to the personalities and quirks of each erratic musician.
Tomi Adeyemi pulls from West African mythology to build her world of magic and monarchy in this dazzling fantasy epic. And please don’t let the “YA” label make you blink—this is no Twilight. Bahni Turpin, actress and voiceover artist who also narrated The Hate U Give and The Underground Railroad, lends her rhythmic, wizened intonations to this engrossing story, sure to whisk you away to a world not so unlike our own.
What better quarantine narrator than America’s Dad, a man who has endured COVID-19 himself, the legendary Tom Hanks? Reading Ann Patchett, no less? In this stirring story of siblings, money, identity and forgiveness, all surrounding one glittering estate in eastern Pennsylvania, Hanks is balanced, measured and still so endlessly charming. This is one voice you absolutely need in your head.
It’s time to tackle Frank Herbert’s famous fantasy before the film comes out on December 18. The story shares slight similarities with Star Wars and Star Trek lore, but free of the former’s predictability and the latter’s tropes. Protagonist Paul Atreides’ arc from child to avenger on the desert planet Arrakis is a political, environmental, and spiritual conundrum that’s delicious to untangle alongside the audiobook’s talented cast.
Michelle Obama, read by Michelle Obama! Do you need any further explanation? This memoir, exploring her pre-White House years as well as her time as First Lady, has already sold more than 10 million copies and was recently adapted into a Netflix documentary. Obama is an inspiring storyteller with a memory so sharp it feels as if her history happened only moments ago. Read by the legend herself, this audiobook is the ultimate pick-me-up for quarantine fatigue.
I will hear the way narrator Marin Ireland says “fire” (like “fahwr”) in my dreams, probably for the rest of my life. And I don’t mind, because it makes me laugh every single time she says it—which is a lot, considering this book is literally about two kids who spontaneously, unpredictably combust. It’s a riotous but surprisingly heartwarming story about motherhood, status, and the lengths we’ll take when we finally find the love we were looking for.
To turn this literary heavyweight into a magnetic orchestral experience, Random House Audio turned to a cast of 166 voiceover artists—yes, 166—including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Ben Stiller, Lena Dunham, Keegan-Michael Key, Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader, and even George Saunders himself. The result is a wild but remarkable audio treat, as rich and unexpected as its plot, following a grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln and the ghosts that float beside him.
Okay, hear me out: This mythological tale of a woman trapped alone on a deserted island might sound like a crazy thing to read in the midst of our own isolation. But misery loves company, and the heroic tale of Circe, a witch banished by Zeus to live alone is as inspiring as it is dream-like. This is an adventure for our times, leaping thousands of years back to a time of loneliness and power we all still recognize.
I love an audiobook that uses its full cast to craft a performance as visceral and visual as a Shakespearean play. This exquisite tenth-anniversary edition of one of Neil Gaiman’s best books feels like a legend passed down through the generations. I recommend taking a walk while listening; it will feel like protagonist Shadow—and the many beguiling mythological characters surrounding him—are plodding right beside you.
You’re spending a lot of time at home. Maybe you’re noticing things you’ve never noticed before, and asking yourself questions like, “What is a foyer, and why does it exist?” Bill Bryson has the answers in this deeply researched, surprisingly entertaining tome about life inside our safe places.
I may never catch up on all the stacks of New Yorkers I promised I’d read some day, but I can catch up on my nonfiction books—and I want to start with this monumental, haunting account by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ronan Farrow. Along with the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, Farrow was the first to break the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017 and pave the way for countless #MeToo stories to follow. In this self-narrated account, he describes the lengths he and his fellow reporters went to in order to reveal Weinstein’s hideous secret—and the power of the women who chose to take a stand.
It’s just good to hear his voice, isn’t it? Medium Raw, a follow-up to Bourdain’s bestseller Kitchen Confidential, is a tough-love letter to food, the food industry, and all the blood, sweat, and tears that make it tick. No one writes about dining with quite the passion and precision that Bourdain could, and this account, read by Bourdain himself, is an excellent companion for any quarantine cooking expedition. Whether you’re just baking a batch of box brownies or trying to boil your first lobster, Bourdain’s gruff but undeniable charm will guide you through.
If you still haven’t read one of the most groundbreaking young-adult stories of our era, now is absolutely the time. Angie Thomas’s depiction of a young black man’s tragic death—and the national headlines sparked by the shooting—remains, sadly, as timely as ever, made even more crushing and heartfelt by its 16-year-old narrator, Starr Carter. Read once again by the legendary Bahni Turpin, this is an utterly engrossing story of grief, community and love.
No shade to Elisabeth Moss, but Claire Danes is still the Offred of my dreams thanks to this spine-tingly reading from the Homeland star. If you’ve waited this long to dive into the dystopian drama that started it all, quarantine is a good time to have a long listen—and a long think about the ways our world could avoid Margaret Atwood’s nightmare.
Oh, Toni. How we wish you were here to share your wisdom now. You could pick any number of Morrison classics to read in quarantine and all would be wise choices, but I’ll opt for this version of Beloved read by the author. A shattering account of loss and grief, of a freed enslaved woman still trapped by her memories, this is a true must-read, a testament to the power of love and freedom in the face of horrific tragedy.
Narrator Cassandra Campbell has a floating, feather-soft drawl that sticks to your memory long after you’ve finished this worldwide bestseller. In the heartbreaking story of Kya, the “Marsh Girl” living alone in a shack along the North Carolina coast during the 1960s, you’ll witness pain and grief, but Campbell never neglects Kya’s unshakeable awe. This is a tale for solitary listening, a story of loneliness and resilience—in other words, a perfect quarantine read.
Hey, you. Yes, you, who watched and loved and tweeted about Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film but still haven’t read Louisa May Alcott’s classic. The time is now, friends. Performed byLauren Dern (!!) and a full cast, this sweet tale of sisterhood and strength has proved its timelessness again and again. Now, whip out your gingham and get listening.