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15 of the Best Audiobooks for Road Trips and Plane Rides

By Shannon Reed

Jun 28, 2021

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Long drives don’t feel so long if you’re listening to a good book. 

Cover images courtesy of the publishers

Long drives don’t feel so long if you’re listening to a good book. 

Laugh-out-loud memoirs, poignant novels, even a Pulitzer Prize–winning play are among the picks for our favorite audiobooks to listen to on your next long drive or flight.

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The first hour or so of any long trip is exciting, but then travel fatigue usually sets in—likely even on your first postpandemic outing. Luckily, we’ve got a stack of audiobooks that will make the hours and miles fly by, from novels you won’t want to turn off to engrossing celebrity memoirs. Here are 15 of the best audiobooks for a road trip or a long plane ride.

Engrossing Fiction Audiobooks for Adults

Dive into other worlds and compelling characters with these page-turners. 

1. Normal People

by Sally Rooney (Random House Audio, 2019)

Buy now: amazon.com

Entertainment Weekly selected this, the second novel by Irish writer Sally Rooney, as one of the best of novels of the decade, and it’s since been adapted into a popular, Emmy-nominated television miniseries on Hulu. The conversation-heavy book is read by Irish actor Aoife McMahon, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and brings authenticity and insight. Connell and Marianne, the young lovers of the story, are complicated, mismatched, maddening, and ultimately deeply appealing.

2. Sabrina & Corina: Stories

by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (Random House Audio, 2019)

Buy now: amazon.com

The great writer Sandra Cisnero says that the stories in this debut collection “blaze like wildfire.” She’s right. Fajado-Anstine writes about women of the American West, most often Latinx and/or Indigenous in background. All are struggling, whether with financial woes or family concerns, but each has a powerful and riveting tale to tell. You’ll cheer as the characters, mostly female, attempt to free themselves from the violence, misogyny, and racism of their families’ histories, often with grace and humor. It’s an added bonus that the stories are read by a variety of women narrators, bringing to life the multitude of female voices the book encompasses.

3. An American Marriage

by Tayari Jones (Recorded Books, HighBridge 2018)

Buy now: amazon.com

In 2018, this title was long-listed for the National Book Awards, won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in fiction, and was selected by Oprah for her eponymous book club. Veteran audiobook readers Sean Crisden and Eisa Davis take on the parts of Roy and Celestial, newlyweds whose lives are destroyed when Roy is arrested and imprisoned for a crime Celestial knows he did not commit. You won’t want to hit stop as you’re learning what happens to them.

Obsessive Nonfiction Audiobooks

The real-life twists and turns of these three books will keep you listening mile after mile.

4. The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity

by Axton Betz-Hamilton (Grand Central Publishing, 2019)

Buy now: amazon.com

For listeners who prefer their true crime riveting but less murder-y, Betz-Hamilton’s memoir is the perfect choice. She details how identity theft nearly destroyed her parents when she was a child, and how her own identity was stolen, trashing her financial life before she was even old enough to have one. The book’s final revelations about the thief make it un-put-down-able. You won’t want to deplane.

5. Life, Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA

by Amaryllis Fox (Random House Audio, 2019)

Buy now: amazon.com

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The New York Times said this book reads as if “a John Le Carré character landed in Eat Pray Love” which is the kind of hook any fan of spy stories and Alias will love. The author tells her own, true story of joining the CIA post-9/11, and the compromises, moral and personal, she had to make once she was in, not to mention the reasons she finally got out. Fox, who now hosts the Netflix series The Business of Drugs, reads her book in the audio version and does justice to her complex-yet-action-packed tale.

6. Furious Hours

by Casey Cep (Random House Audio, 2019)

Buy now: amazon.com

This buzzy book from 2019 manages to combine true crime and To Kill a Mockingbird. Writer Casey Cep dives deep into the history of Alabaman serial killer Willie Maxwell, as well as Harper Lee’s intention to write about the trial of Maxwell’s murderer, in what could have been an attempt to follow up Mockingbird with an In Cold Blood–style book of her own. Reader Hillary Huber unspools Cep’s tale so adeptly, you’ll be tempted to keep driving just to listen to it.

Audiobooks for the Whole Family

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, read by actor Jim Dale in the American version, are widely considered the gold standard in family-friendly audiobooks. If you’ve already listened to all seven books in the series, these newer titles for middle grade and young adult readers will also keep your crew entertained.

7. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

by V.E. Schwab (Macmillan Audio, 2020)

Buy now: amazon.com

Best-selling author Schwab’s dark and engaging romance about wishes granted, for better or worse, is a perfect listen for families with preteens and older. The title character is granted her wish to be immortal, but it comes with a harsh price: She’s also unmemorable, forgotten after a few minutes of interaction by everyone she encounters across the centuries of her life. Until, one day, someone remembers her. Actor Julia Whelan, whose best-known audio work is her compelling read of Tara Westover’s acclaimed Educated, ably narrates the page-turner.

8. See You in the Cosmos

by Jack Chen (Listening Library, 2017)

Buy now: amazon.com

Reader Kivlighan de Montebello won an Audie—the American Publishers Association’s annual awards—for his narration of this middle grade–level novel. Author Chen crafts an enthralling story about an 11-year-old boy obsessed with Carl Sagan, space, and his iPod, as he journeys across the United States in hopes of finding a place he fits in.

9. From the Desk of Zoe Washington

by Janae Marks (HarperAudio, 2020)

Buy now: amazon.com

Marks’s debut book is about Zoe, a 12-year-old who’s just heard from her father for the first time. For as long as she can remember, he’s been in jail for a terrible crime, which he tells her he didn’t commit. Zoe’s decision about how to respond is engrossing alone, and her interest in baking—she wants to be on the Food Network!—will hook most middle-grade readers and their families. This book appears on many anti-racist reading lists for youth and was one of the Chicago Library’s best books of the year in 2020. It’s recorded by Bahni Turpin, a popular reader of YA books.

Audiobooks Read by a Big Cast

Sometimes a sweeping epic with a gigantic cast is exactly what you need to take your mind off, say, bumper-to-bumper gridlock on I-95.

10. The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett (HarperAudio, 2019)

Buy now: amazon.com

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How does spending 10 hours with Tom Hanks sound? As the reader for Patchett’s novel, he’s got an amazing story to tell you, one about five decades in the life of a family and the house that broke them—except for the bond between siblings Danny and Maeve. The book’s narrator is Danny, and Hanks richly embodies him as well as voicing the rest of the sprawling cast of characters. Patchett is widely agreed to be one of the great American novelists working today; this, her latest book, is her best yet.

11. Angels in America

by Tony Kushner (Random House Audio, 2019)

Buy now: amazon.com

Kushner’s play won the Pulitzer Prize upon its premiere in 1992, but the audiobook is a recording of the epic American classic’s 2018 stage revival, specially made for listeners at home. Kushner wrote additional stage directions in order to help clarify the action for listeners. They’re read by award-winning actors Bobby Cannavale and Edie Falco, who join the rest of the Broadway cast, including Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane, in a sweeping drama about the Rosenberg trial, Roy Cohn, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and the AIDS crisis in America.

12. Homegoing

by Yaa Gyasi (Random House Audio, 2016)

Buy now: amazon.com

Gyasi’s debut novel, which spans several hundred years in the life of two branches of one Ghanian family, is read by Dominic Hoffman, who’s also been trusted with the audiobooks of Tyler Perry, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and other notable Black writers. Oprah picked this one for her book club, and any listener will be able to understand why. The book soars because of the assured way Gyasi moves between the two families, as her characters’ search for many kinds of freedom in settings ranging from an African village in the 1700s to Harlem in the 20th century. Hoffman’s empathic narration only adds to the effect.

Great Personalities to Spend Time With

Solo road trippers in particular might enjoy passing their time on the road with these three charming personalities, who read their own books.

13. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

by Cary Elwes (Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014)

Buy now: amazon.com

Actor Elwes reads his thoroughly entertaining memoir about his most famous role— Westley in The Princess Bride. The author’s tales are low-key but charmingly told, and as a fantastic bonus, others involved in the film make cameos in the audiobook as well: Mandy Patinkin, Carol Kane, Rob Reiner, and Billy Crystal all turn up. Even those who aren’t super-fans of the movie will likely enjoy the time spent in Elwes’s jovial company.

14. Dolly Parton, Song Teller: My Life in Lyrics

by Dolly Parton (Recorded Books, 2020)

Buy now: amazon.com

Over 6,000 five-star reviews on Amazon can’t be wrong! The grand dame of country music tells the stories behind nearly 100 of her best songs, and—a plus for audiobook listeners—performs many of them. Come to hear her reveal the person who inspired “I Will Always Love You” and stay to hear her iconic version. A delightful storyteller as well as an amazing singer-songwriter, Parton offers the best possible travel combination: great stories and a killer playlist.

15. Home: A Memoir of My Early Years

by Julie Andrews (Hyperion Audiobooks, 2008)

Buy now: amazon.com

Dame Julie wrote one the loveliest memoirs around, introducing readers to her career as a child vaudeville star in war-torn England before her rise to global fame and fortune in My Fair Lady on Broadway. This volume stops just before the filming of Mary Poppins begins, and Andrews has written a sequel, Home Work, if you need more time with her.

This story was originally published on June 19, 2019, and updated on June 28, 2021, with current information.

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