Winter is perfect for an audiobibliophile, as so much time spent indoors equates to more opportunities to dive into a great audiobook. But no winter, not even The Long Winter of 2018, can last forever. So as the butterflies start their spring fluttering, the cherry blossoms wrap up their late-winter blossoming and the superhero blockbusters start swinging into theaters, let’s take stock of some of the best audiobooks of 2018 (so far).
A few notes before we begin:
First, this list only includes audiobooks released from January through April of this year. Second, some of the year’s biggest titles (so far) are not included in this list, but only because they are still in our TBL queue. Look for their likely inclusion in future 2018 lists. And third, following the model of our Best Audiobooks of 2017 list, the books below are organized by run time—from household-chore length to cross-country road trip length.
Narrator: Jonny Sun (jomny sun)
Run time: 1 hour and 32 minutes
Everyone’s a Aliebn When UR a Aliebn Too was a phenomenon in 2017, one of the few genuinely incandescent spots of pure, bright loveliness that the year had to offer. But it wasn’t until the end of January that @jomnysun’s person, writer Jonny Sun, got the chance to send a (truly delightful) audio rendition out into the world. “SURPRISE!! i made an audiobook!!” he tweeted at his aliebn-loving fans on January 30. “i’ve always wanted to read the book to all of you, so i recorded this with an all new script that narrates what happens on each page!!” Then, explaining the creative novelty of the project in a crisper, more demonstrably joyful way than anyone else possibly could, he described how, “whereas the book is intentionally minimal with text, the audiobook script clocks in at just over 16,000 words!! it’s based on how i’d read the book out loud!” And that’s exactly what it is! It’s Twitter’s best aliebn reading you a picture book you can’t see with the most guileless, loving narration imaginable. You will listen to this one with one hand clutching your heart the entire hour and a half, so make sure you aren’t about to be operating any heavy machinery when you turn it on.
Narrator: Elizabeth Acevedo
Run time: 3 hours and 3 minutes
Elizabeth Acevedo’s bracingly fresh The Poet X is a novel in verse. But more precisely, it’s a novel in spoken word verse, which makes the audio version of it—performed by the author herself—the perfect way to experience it. With Acevedo’s powerful voice bringing narrator-poet Xiomara Batista to life, Harlem and Dominican teen girlhood burst alive. Xiomara’s world is not an easy one, but it is exhilarating. And at only three and half hours long, it’s one you’ll be able to return to again and again, catching new subtleties to the gradually increasing confidence of X’s bars—and new feelings about the love between X and Twin and the rest of her family and friends—each time.
Narrator: Guy Lockard
Run time: 3 hours and 7 minutes
Guy Lockard rolls into Sunny’s lolling, goofball voice from the moment you press play and hear the character telling his not-diary that he’s brought it “backity-back-back-back.” The third in Jason Reynolds’ Track series, Sunny follows the titular third member of the series’ pre-Olympic middle school track team as he figures out how to contribute to the team if he hates running, but loves dancing. His solution: Discus. Trailing Sunny as he makes this journey is, as one teen Audible review described it, “gucci,” and not least because of Lockard’s perfect performance of the stream of consciousness flow constantly coming out of Sunny’s pen. The whole series is a must-listen, but Sunny is a particular treat.
Narrator: Cassandra Morris
Run time: 7 hours and 25 minutes
Compiling a list of go-to narrators is a surefire way to end up with a stellar audiobook experience, but there is a serendipitous kind of magic to be gained from skimming your local library shelves and picking up whatever looks promising. Cassandra Morris’ charmingly determined performance of John David Anderson’s modern middle grade fairy tale, Granted, made our list after one such serendipitous find. Morris—who brought to life 12-year old Paloma in the terrific audio version of The Elegance of the Hedgehog—fills Granted’s novice wish-granting heroine, Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, with all the grit, blind optimism and impressively blue vocabulary the little Type-A fairy demands. She also bestows upon Ophelia’s companion, a street mutt named Sam, the most guileless, open-hearted loyalty a talking dog has ever had. Tightly plotted and as harrowing as a G-rating might manage, Granted is an ideal listen for anyone in the mood for some heartwarming entertainment.
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Run time: 7 hours and 41 minutes
The beginning of 2018 has seen a burst of memoirs and essay collections from women on the front lines of social, racial and gender justice, from Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele of Black Lives Matter to Morgan Jerkins to Roxane Gay to Cecile Richards. And all of their voices—the joyful ones, the angry ones, the triumphant ones, the blistering ones, the measured ones, the ones that are every one of those things and none of them all at once—are worth pumping into your ears. Iljeoma Oluo netted the indomitable talent of Bahni Turpin to bring her instructive collection, So You Want to Talk About Race to extra vibrant life, so that’s the one highlighted on this list. Oluo’s writing is as much an unapologetic clarion call in longform as it is on her Twitter feed and in her essays (now on The Establishment), and Turpin is at her most brilliant while delivering it. It may be challenging to hear, but in this case, hearing it might be precisely what makes Oluo’s words extra effective. It’s easy to walk away from words on a screen, but once they’ve gotten in your head, those words will stick around. Let them.
Narrators: Gabra Zackman, with Gillian Flynn and Patton Oswalt reading their own Introduction and Afterword, respectively
Run time: 9 hours and 45 minutes
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was always going to be on this list, but the breaking revelation of the Golden State Killer’s identity, matching up with the details Michelle McNamara investigated and illuminated before her death, adds a certain sweetness to the fact. And while many readers will prefer to have a print copy of the book as visual reference (and to physically put away when the story gets too harrowing), a podcast-bred murderino will appreciate the fact that what you lose in visuals you gain in the close intimacy of a voice walking you through the case. Plus, hearing Patton memorialize his wife’s crime-fighting genius and empathy in his own voice, professionally honed but still lanced with emotion, is incredibly satisfying. And while it would have been incredible to have McNamara herself read the book, narrator Gabra Zackman performs as admirable replacement. She’s frank and dynamic in her performance of McNamara’s guttingly lovely prose, her differentiation of character coming more from a subtle slouching in emotional weight than from modulation of pitch in a way that is perfect for this grim subject matter. It’s not a read that will bring you a lot of joy. But between McNamara’s deeply empathetic determination and the new knowledge that her work paid off in the end, it is gratifying.
Narrator: Jayne Entwistle
Run time: 9 hours and 47 minutes
[Warning: Spoilers from Books 1-8 ahead.] In my love letter to Alan Bradley’s murderously delightful Flavia de Luce series, I called Jayne Entwistle’s performance of tween sleuthing heroine and poison aficionado, Flavia de Luce, “exuberantly devious.” While I stand by my description of my favorite unreliable narrator, it’s worth noting that over the course of nine books, Flavia has undergone several major ordeals and has matured a great deal—a maturity Entwistle’s empathetic performance has rendered not just believable, but utterly lived-in. If the final scene of Book 9 is any indication, Flavia’s adventures are nowhere near finished; get on board with her now, so you’ll be ready when Book 10 sees Flavia—and Entwistle’s terrific talent—return.
Narrators: Dr. Cornel West, LeVar Burton, Mike Colter, Colman Domingo, Danny Glover, Gabourey Sidibe, Wanda Sykes, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Michael Kenneth Williams, Bahni Turpin, Robin Miles and Kevin Free
Run time: 11 hours and 13 minutes
Earlier this year, Dr. Cornel West partnered with Audible Studios to produce an exclusive multicast version of his 2015 anthology, The Radical King. The 23 essays, sermons, speeches and assorted other writings included in his curated anthology are performed by an ensemble of heavy hitters from both the acting and professional audiobook world. As I described in my review of the title, it is these 23 unique performances which prove to be the audiobook’s greatest strength, placing Dr. King’s famous words on new tongues as an “object lesson of both the universality and the specificity of the human experience” that gives them a “visceral clarity, a sharpness that makes it possible to understand that these speeches and sermons and essays are not historical record but living documents.” Not one of the pieces in the collection sounds like Dr. King’s original version, and in that, the lesson is to be found. Listen to this at home, listen in the car, listen with friends and family and—if you’re bold enough—enemies.
Narrator: Euan Morton
Run time: 12 hours and 9 minutes
Two of the best times to pick up an audiobook are 1) when you want to get sucked into a great mystery, and 2) when you want to do a backstroke through an accent not your own. Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake series, set in the croc-infested north of Australia, lets you do both. Following ex-drug cop Ted Conkaffey as he tries and fails to escape the life that was shattered when he was falsely arrested for raping and nearly murdering a young teen girl, and private investigator Amanda Pharrell, herself a woman with a possibly false conviction, Crimson Lake find as its subject the unreliability of a person to their own mind—a task narrator Euan Morton takes on with equal parts acerbity and depth. The mystery Ted and Amanda chase does include a terrible cliché of a journalist-turned-femme-fatale twist, but the ways in which these two pariahs do (or don’t) solve it are as fascinating as discovering just how many individual vowel sounds there are in an Australian “no.” While the first book took over a year to make it from the Australian market to U.S. shores, the series’ second (and final) book, Redemption Point, is expected to hit stateside in May. Get ahead of the game by queuing up Crimson Lake now.
Narrator: Rosie Jones
Run time: 12 hours and 57 minutes
Dhonielle Clayton weaves a glittering delicacy of the sharpest order with her debut novel, The Belles. The book takes the grotesquery of the consumerist patriarchy that shapes power and the social order in our actual world and, with a single click of the knob into unreality, turns it into a full-on horrorshow. Narrator Rosie Jones is a pitch-perfect choice for young protagonist Camellia Beauregard, a magic-wielding Belle who is at once a wide-eyed Pollyanna amazed by the world beyond the walls of her sheltered upbringing and a keen-eyed judge of the world’s moral hypocrisy. For all that Camellia is a magical creature in a world of a morally and physically ravaged human majority, Jones imbues her narration with a sense of tender wonder and aesthetic clarity that makes Camellia relatably human. One might wish that Camellia uncovers the secrets hidden in plain sight a bit earlier than she does rather than leave all the good action for future installments, but the world of Orleans and the magic of the Belles is so mesmerizingly novel—and holds up such a provocative mirror to our own world—that, especially in Jones’ talented hands, the long journey through the first book will feel plenty satisfying on its own.
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Johnathan McClain, Carla Corvo, MacCleod Andrews, Erin Spencer, Andrew Eiden, Lisa Cordileone, Lincoln Hoppe, Matthew Frow, Olivia Mackenzie-Smith and a full cast
Run time: 13 hours
The digital recording technology that makes audiobooks possible offers so much creative storytelling potential that it was only a matter of time before a producer got wise and found the right book to rocket the whole artform forward. That book? Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s 2015 Illuminae, an experimental novel-in-computer-file set aboard a corrupted-AI-controlled spaceship hundreds of years in the future. The book’s print version is a visually erratic feast, and the audio version took on a sprawling cast and major SFX production to match. Obsidio is the third and final installment of the YA sci-fi trilogy, and it’s just as richly textured, thrillingly paced and surprisingly moving as the two that came before it. In its commitment to both the diversity of the casting and the complexity of the production, Obsidio reveals how compellingly human the future of audiobooks is.
Narrator: Nikki Amuka-Bird
Run time: 13 hours and 52 minutes
Zadie Smith’s writing is at once ambling and precise, capable of soothing you into the kind of meditation that when you wake from it, you discover that you possess complex and nuanced opinions on subjects you’d never even heard of before you dove into her writing. Performed with gentle, quiet depth by Nigerian-British actress Nikki Amuka-Bird (Hard Sun) in this audio production, the essays of Feel Free pack an especially concentrated meditative punch. Amuka-Bird ambles right along with Smith, exploring topics from Willesden Green to Brexit, from Key and Peele to Bieber. Between Amuka-Bird’s smoothness and Smith’s shrewdness, you will be wishing the book lasted longer than 14 hours while at the same time wondering what facets of reality you should start interrogating when it’s over.
Narrators: Tim Gerard Reynolds, John Curless, Julian Elfer, and Aedin Moloney
Run time: 23 hours and 22 minutes
Pierce Brown’s original Red Rising trilogy wrapped in 2017 with the publication of Morningstar, but the culmination of Darrow’s uprising against the brutal “Society” reigning over his space dystopia was less a conclusion than a transition to an entirely new brutality. Iron Gold, the first in the Red Rising saga’s second trilogy, picks up 10 years into the reconstruction period following Darrow’s big victory. The book reframes the whole world by pulling the lens back to incorporate three new players—a teen girl who’s lost her family to the war’s fallout; an ex-rebel thief and con artist; a fallen prince in exile—who are experiencing the new order in entirely different ways. As a result, the vocal talent for Iron Gold includes not only the first trilogy’s accent-leaping narrator, Tim Gerard Reynolds (see the Red Rising excerpt below), but also John Curless as the heist man, Julian Elfer as the honorably aristocratic fallen prince, and Aedin Moloney as the spitfire teen overcome by righteous grief. While equally terrific, the new readers don’t necessarily sound like they belong to the same book, let alone the same world; they each read at remarkably different speeds, with remarkably different rhythms. But after a few hours (this book’s one downside is its length), the significance of these differences clarify: Darrow’s world is enormous and contains every possible kind of person living every possible kind of experience. Trying to incorporate those vast gulfs of difference without overwhelming the reader is an ambitious move on Brown’s part, but between the world-building groundwork he laid in the first trilogy and the addition of Curless, Elfer and Moloney’s new voices, that ambition is paying off.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibiliophile whose writing has appeared on Forever Young Adult , Screener and Birth.Movies.Death. She’ll go 10 rounds fighting for teens and intelligently executed genre fare to be taken seriously by pop culture. She can be found @AlexisKG.