Audiobooks for the best road trip ever

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In African Town (7 hours), co-authors Charles Waters and Irene Latham use a series of first-person narrative poems to tell the story of the Clotilda—the last American slave ship—and to reveal the fates of the enslaved passengers and their captors.

Each character’s perspective unfolds in a particular poetic structure that reflects their personality, and the audiobook cast members incorporate the cadence of these poems into their performances without ever sounding forced or contrived. Consequently, the listener experiences not only an epic story of terror, grief and heroism but also the unique humanity of each character, including the Clotilda—a ship that is infinitely more humane than her masters.

The accompanying downloadable PDF is packed with valuable information, including a glossary, timeline and additional information about the characters. African Town is an emotionally complex, searingly honest and extremely rewarding experience for teen and adult listeners alike.

Irene Latham and Charles Waters discuss ‘African Town,’ their novel in verse about the last group of Africans brought to America and enslaved.

African Town is an emotionally complex, searingly honest and extremely rewarding experience for listeners of all ages.
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In How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question (9 hours), Michael Schur, creator of “The Good Place” and co-creator of “Parks and Recreation,” explores philosophical questions about how humans define good character and behavior and how to achieve it. The audiobook is read mostly by the author, whose well-paced, attentive narration keeps his humorous, personality-driven (albeit sometimes meandering) content clear and engaging.

Actors from “The Good Place” comprise the audiobook’s remaining cast, with Kristen Bell, D’Arcy Carden, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Marc Evan Jackson, Jameela Jamil and even philosophy professor Todd May (who had a cameo on the show) bringing distinctive tones, attitudes and comedic gravitas to their performances.

This is a lively audio production for thoughtful readers interested in questions of goodness (“Should I punch my friend in the face for no reason?”), and it’s perfect for listening in both spurts or over a single long stretch. How to Be Perfect turns serious questions into playful thought exercises to aid in making better decisions with less angst.

With guest appearances from the cast of “The Good Place,” this is a lively audio production for thoughtful readers interested in moral dilemmas.
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Actor and rapper Will Smith considered himself a coward for many years. As a boy, he was scared of his abusive, perfectionist dad from whom he wished he could protect his mom. He discovered that performing, both musically and as an actor, mitigated the risk of vulnerability with the chance to gain everything. His onstage humor, charm and originality won him worldwide fame and love—but also cost him. In Will (16.5 hours), Smith tells his incredible true story of rising, falling and discovering himself.

In the same way he studies his TV and film characters, Smith analyzes himself through vivid, theatrical anecdotes and stark metaphors. Rickety basement stairs become a descent into hell, and a game of Monopoly turns into a contest between success and death. Through his clear narration, Smith becomes not just a character but also himself, and the listener can easily “get” him.

As Smith relates his story of learning how to move beyond simply surviving to thriving, his delivery is spot on, with masterful imitations of family members, friends and colleagues. Musical interludes and background music create a soundscape from which epiphanies burst brilliantly. Smith’s autobiography is a hero myth for readers seeking self-awareness.

Will Smith’s autobiography is a hero myth for readers seeking self-awareness.
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In 2019, the New York Times Magazine published 10 articles written by a team headed by Pulitzer Prize winner Nikole Hannah-Jones. Collectively known as the 1619 Project, these essays argue that the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia in 1619 ​​was a defining event for our nation, one that has affected basically every aspect of life in the centuries since. The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (19 hours) expands on this original work with additional essays and literary works.

The essays alone would have made compelling listening, but the pairing of historical analysis with artistic interpretation makes the audiobook especially moving. Some pieces are read with great passion, such as Hannah-Jones’ “Democracy.” Others, like Khalil Muhammed’s reading of “The Sugar Trade,” have a determined objectivity that underscores the human misery behind the historical fact. But nothing compares to the gut punches delivered by ZZ Packer’s short story “An Absolute Massacre” or Rita Dove’s poem “Youth Sunday.”

The audiobook’s variety of voices and styles allows the listener to understand American history on a profoundly human level. The result is a powerful lesson not only about what our history is but also how it feels.

Read our starred review of the print edition of ‘The 1619 Project.’

The variety of voices and styles in The 1619 Project audiobook allows the listener to understand American history on a profoundly human level.

The success of Amazon Prime Video’s adaptation of the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is enticement enough to revisit his epic fantasy novels, which debuted in 1990. But even more exciting is listening to the new audiobook of book one in the series, The Eye of the World (33 hours), narrated by Golden Globe- and Emmy Award-winning British actor Rosamund Pike. Pike stars in the series as Moiraine Damodred, whose quest is to find a hero to defeat the Dark One, and she brings a unique familiarity to the characters and storyline.

Previously recorded by narrators Michael Kramer and Kate Reading for the 2004 audiobook, The Eye of the World benefits from Pike’s smooth voice and dramatic, slower-paced rendering, which extend the length of this edition by almost three hours. She gently invites the listener into Jordan’s richly detailed world before powerfully amplifying the high stakes and tension.

Through her smooth, dramatic performance, award-winning actor Rosamund Pike amplifies the new audiobook of book one in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.
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Good Omens (12 hours) is the most fun you’ll have at the apocalypse. Amazon adapted the 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett into a TV series in 2019, and while fans wait for the second season, they’re rewarded with this audiobook update featuring an all-star cast, including the show’s two lead actors. David Tennant reprises his role as Crowley, a demon tasked with overseeing the end times but who is rather enjoying life on Earth. His portrayal comes off as part sardonic badass, part buffoon. Likewise, actor Michael Sheen returns as foppish and erudite Aziraphale, the angel who is happy to help Crowley thwart Armageddon despite their supposed enmity. Both actors have a long list of Shakespearean stage credits to their names, and their performances here are some of the best character work ever recorded on audiobook.

Rebecca Front, known for her BAFTA-winning role in the British comedy series “The Thick of It,” provides the perfect narration to balance the weight of the topic with the silliness of the execution. An ensemble cast rounds out the other characters.

Good Omens would make great listening for a road trip, especially for families with precocious tweens and teenagers.

An updated audiobook with an all-star cast, Good Omens is the most fun you’ll have at the apocalypse.
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Best known for his role as Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” Nick Offerman offers an escape from the grind with his latest audiobook, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside (11.5 hours).

The book is a response to a challenge put to Offerman by agrarian philosopher Wendell Berry in 2018: to experience nature more like Aldo Leopold than John Muir. Instead of gazing upon pristine sights, Offerman’s project entails getting dirty, digging into the past and infusing daily life (including social media) with the gifts of the wilderness. He does so by way of three excursions: hiking in Glacier National Park with friends George Saunders and Jeff Tweedy; visiting British author Jeff Rebanks’ sheep farm; and traveling cross-country in an Airstream with his wife, actor Megan Mullally. Tales of pit stops, gear purchases and dangerous falls give the book a gritty, grassroots feel.

Offerman infuses this refreshing take on America’s environmental and social landscapes with disarming humor, and his husky voice is a perfect invitation to the great outdoors.

Read our review of the print edition of ‘Where the Deer and the Antelope Play.’

Nick Offerman’s husky narration of Where the Deer and the Antelope Play is a perfect invitation to the great outdoors.

Author Ann Patchett narrates her essay collection These Precious Days (11 hours) with a warm familiarity that inspires reflection.

Patchett adopts a conversational, easygoing style in these 22 personal essays, which include anecdotes about growing up in a blended family, decluttering her life and managing social expectations for women and couples, especially pertaining to having children. Amid this mosaic of moments, she also shares wisdom about her writing practice and thoughts on life and death. The common thread in this collection is the value of our experiences, and Patchett’s grounding and encouraging voice emphasizes that our imperfections have a unique place and perfection of their own.

These Precious Days is a mindful and life-affirming journey that is sure to inspire contemplation in writers and nonwriters alike. It’s especially recommended for readers who enjoyed Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom and The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

Read our starred review of the print edition of ‘These Precious Days.’

Ann Patchett narrates her essay collection These Precious Days with a warm familiarity that inspires reflection.
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Filled with humor, misadventures, triumphs and sorrow, Amor Towles’ novel The Lincoln Highway (16.5 hours) follows Emmet Watson, his kid brother, Billy, and their friends Duchess and Woolly on an epic road trip from Nebraska to New York.

Each chapter is told from a different point of view, and Edoardo Ballerini narrates as all but two of the characters. He brings nuance to each voice, but his reading of Billy’s perspective is especially convincing. Billy, the precocious child who inspires much of the novel’s action, runs the risk of becoming more symbol than character, but Ballerini captures the wistfulness and vulnerability of a young boy far from home. Marin Ireland is gloriously brassy and brittle as Sally, a sassy Penelope figure who refuses to stay home, and Dion Graham imbues Ulysses, a homeless African American veteran doomed to crisscross America, with weary dignity and courage.

Sometimes, audiobooks merely narrate the original text. In this case, the performances by Ballerini, Ireland and Graham augment it, giving The Lincoln Highway increased complexity and humanity.

Read our starred review of the print edition of ‘The Lincoln Highway.

Narration by Edoardo Ballerini, Marin Ireland and Dion Graham augment Amor Towles’ text, giving The Lincoln Highway increased complexity and humanity.
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The new audiobook of Melissa Lenhardt’s groundbreaking 2018 novel, Heresy (14 hours), will transport you to the Old West of the 1870s through stellar performances from a diverse cast. Telling the tale of a gang of female bandits, the seasoned group of seven narrators (Barrie Kreinik, Bailey Carr, Ella Turenne, Nikki Massoud, Natalie Naudus, Imani Jade Powers and James Fouhey) brings their characters to life, whether reading from the journals of gang leader/former aristocrat Margaret Parker or from a 1930s interview with elderly former outlaw Hattie LaCour.

If you love the action and grittiness of this genre but long for more novels about the women, people of color and Indigenous people who shaped the American West, then this is the audiobook for you. Women didn’t have many options in the Wild West, but this gang of outsiders carves their own path, taking the law into their own hands and forming strong bonds along the way.

Read our review of the print edition of ‘Heresy.’

The new audiobook of Melissa Lenhardt’s groundbreaking 2018 novel will transport you to the Old West through stellar performances from a diverse cast.
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The essay collection Black Nerd Problems (8 hours) presents the opinions of William Evans and Omar Holmon, creators of the website by the same name. The two explore geek culture topics ranging from the frivolous to the serious, from the shifting definition of nerd to deep dives into Black superheroes.

The think pieces in this collection beg to be read aloud, and Evans and Holmon deliver high-energy performances with humor and verve, making this audiobook a real treat for fans of pop culture critique. It won’t surprise anyone to discover that the authors are poets as well, and the conviction behind each of their declarations makes the listener feel like they’re hearing a lively podcast or sitting around a table arguing with friends.

Whether you disagree with their opinions, find them insightful and thought-provoking or are indifferent to the subject matter, you will undoubtedly be entertained by Evans and Holmon’s performance.

The authors of this essay collection perform their audiobook with humor and verve. It’s a real treat for fans of popular culture critique.

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