It took me longer than most people to get into audiobooks. Even while friends raved about flying through so many books on their commutes or while sitting in carpool lines, I had tried a few novels on Audible — good ones! — and just couldn’t get through them. I tended to listen to music or podcasts instead. That’s when it struck me — I like podcasts. A lot.
I’ve always been fascinated by Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and had been listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast, in which Gladwell relates interesting true stories about topics that are misunderstood, or overlooked. Each episode is self-contained, even as they add up to a better understanding of a single broad topic. So for my first audiobook, I downloadedGladwell’s Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know and..
it was like a podcast! Nonfiction audiobooks are like podcasts.
Finally, audiobooks clicked for me.
This post contains affiliate links and some purchases may generate a small commission that helps support our work at no additional cost to you.
I hate admitting it, but I guess I have trouble with novels in audiobook form. It feels like an old-fashioned “radio play” to me and I have trouble staying engaged. But non-fiction? I adore it. No one’s trying to create a magical world or spend 10 minutes describing the beauty of the hilltop by the farm. There are rarely people “acting out” dialogue of other people’s voices; in fact, audiobooks may even incorporate actual interviews or reenactments — podcast style.
Since then, I’ve realized the joy of of so many different nonfiction audiobooks. I’ve even named them among my favorite cool picks of 2021.
If you need some non-fiction audiobook recommendations, here are a few favorites of mine:
By all means, if you love fiction, go for it! There are some brilliant writers out there and a great narrator — often the writer themselves — can really make a book fascinating to listen to. But if you’d like some non-fiction audiobook recos for summer, feel free to borrow a few of my favorites.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb — a moving and wonderfully funny memoir of the comedy writer’s close relationship with her very New York grandmother, and the history that helped get her here. If you know a Jewish grandma or wish you did, you will be grateful that Bess has shared her own with all of us.
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacobs – the author’s beautiful memoir about growing up in a family of immigrants, the joys and struggles of her interracial family, and how she sees those challenges reflected through her son. (I will note that while nonfiction, this is one audiobook I’ve found that’s nearly entirely dialogue, and thanks to good casting and Mira’s own voice, it works seamlessly and perfectly.)
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates – If you loved this best-selling multi-award winning Pulitzer finalist about racial history in America told as a personal letter from Coates to his own son, listen again in the author’s own words. It’s incredibly powerful. And it’s just over 3 hours, making perfect for one long, solo car trip. (Bonus: it’s one of the top banned books by white nationalist politicians and insular school boards these days, so you know it’s impactful.)
Yearbook by Seth Rogan – If you want to laugh, and you love insider Hollywood gossip, this is a terrific audiobook that you can turn on and off over time, since it’s more of a collection of personal essays rather than a single narrative. It’s wonderful hearing Seth Rogan describe the making of Superbad…and other less successful films. Also, you will never be able to look at Nic Cage the same way again. (Just note, he does a lot of drugs, so keep that in mind if the kids are in the car.)
Caste: The Origins of our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson – If you listen to only one audiobook this year, make it this one. It entirely changed my worldview, and gives a fresh and important perspective on American history and how privilege is (or isn’t) baked in. I loved Caste so much, I even bought the hard copy so I could share it with my kids and re-read it again.
Of course there are all kinds of non-fiction audiobook genres to listen to.
Here are several more that I have liked or have in my library now:
-celebrity memoirs like Mel Brooks’ All About Me!
-political memoirs like Michelle Obama’s Becoming
-self-improvement like Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly or Karen Walrond’s The Lightmaker’s Manifesto
-parenting help like What Do You Say? by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson (it’s life-changing!)
-biographies like Eleanor by David Michaels
-true crime like American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan
-history like The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy (fascinating!)
Just think of the kinds of podcasts you like. Then, find a book in that genre, dust off your headphones, and dig in.