The Best Audiobooks of 2023

The experiences that authors and narrators supply to those who read with their ears seem to resonate ever more strongly, as our annual list of the best audiobooks, 10 fiction and 10 nonfiction, attests. 

Adjei-Brenyah, Nana Kwame. Chain-Gang All-Stars. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593669143. SCIENCE FICTION

In a dystopian future United States, incarcerated people hoping to win their freedom participate in televised gladiatorial death matches. Adjei-Brenyah debuts with a chilling commentary on the prison industrial complex and the corrosive power of reality television. An ensemble of narrators, led by Shayna Small and supported by Aaron Goodson, Michael Crouch, and Lee Osorio, give voice to the heartbreak, pain, and fragile hope fueling this off-kilter and all-too-imaginable world. 

Cosby, S.A. All the Sinners Bleed. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781250897626. CRIME FICTION

Cosby’s latest grim and powerful crime novel follows Titus Crown, the first Black sheriff to be elected in Charon County, VA, as he confronts the corrupt machinations of town politics and neo-Confederate protesters while navigating a sickening case involving the murder of Black children. In a deep, resonant voice, narrator Adam Lazarre-White captures the grit, tension, and grimly held sorrow of a man contending with his thorny past as he desperately seeks a vicious killer.

Holton, India. The Secret Service of Tea and Treason. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593675786. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Narrator Elizabeth Knowelden sublimely captures every nuance and literary nod in Holton’s delightful tale of two secret agents working undercover at a pirate house party, complete with flying buildings, deadly tea parties, and plots to assassinate—well, anyone, it seems. With great glee, heaping doses of wit, and an emotional intensity that carries listeners fully into this charmer of a story, Knowelden manages multiple voices and intonations, creating mood and moment such that one cannot help but chortle and enjoy.

Kelly, Anita. Something Wild & Wonderful. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781668619612. LGBTQIA+ ROMANCE

Narrator Mark Sanderlin presents a pitch-perfect presentation of Kelly’s irresistible romance about two hikers trekking the Pacific Crest Trail. Ben and Alexei began their respective journeys with different expectations; both are surprised to find love on the trail. Sanderlin tenderly traces the arc of their budding relationship, capturing Alexei’s endearing hesitance and Ben’s gentle humor. As sparks begin to fly, listeners will hope their chance encounter turns into a happily-ever-after.

Kraus, Daniel. Whalefall. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797158525. SCIENCE FICTION

While diving to find his father’s remains off the coast of Monastery Beach, 17-year-old Jay Gardiner is swallowed by a sperm whale. With his oxygen supply quickly being depleted, Jay must free himself from the whale and the weight of his troubled past. Kirby Heyborne offers a propulsive narration of Kraus’s latest, viscerally communicating Jay’s panic and confusion, punctuated with moments of revelation, insight, and hope. An unputdownable audio that is both nerve-wracking and raw.

Kuang, R.F. Yellowface. HarperAudio. ISBN 9780063250864. FICTION

Kuang’s latest, brilliantly narrated by Helen Laser, is a scathing critique of cultural appropriation, racial privilege, and the publishing industry. After her Chinese American friend Athena dies, June, a down-on-her-luck white writer, passes off Athena’s unpublished book as her own. Laser skillfully communicates June’s increasingly outrageous self-delusions as she shrilly justifies her actions. Her perfectly orchestrated depiction of June’s descent is riveting and deeply unsettling.

Nguyên Phan Quê Mai. Dust Child. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781649041425. FICTION

Vietnamese American narrator Quyen Ngo immerses listeners in Nguyên’s moving depiction of three people reckoning with the lasting impact of the Vietnam War. With magnificent emotional range, Ngo traverses two timelines, voicing moments of quiet tenderness, anguished loss, and bewilderment as a Vietnamese woman, her child, and a white returning U.S. soldier seek understanding and forgiveness. A genuinely affecting story of loss, kinship, and grace.

Rooney, Kathleen. From Dust to Stardust. Brilliance Audio. ISBN 9798400131929. HISTORICAL FICTION

Rooney’s latest follows actor Eileen Sullivan, now in her 60s, as she records an audio tour of her Fairy Castle dollhouse, which was exhibited across the country during the Great Depression. Narrator Xe Sands mesmerizes with her portrayal of Eileen, capturing her clear-eyed assessment of the Golden Age of Hollywood and her wry remembrances of her eager younger self. Listeners are in for a treat.

Sutanto, Jesse Q. Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593675366. MYSTERY

Narrator Eunice Wong sparkles as 60-year-old Vera Wong, the owner of a languishing tea shop who determinedly follows a strict daily routine while hoping for something new. When she wakes to discover a corpse in the middle of her shop, she dismisses the police as incompetent and promptly embarks on an investigation of her own. Wong vivaciously gives voice to Vera and her motley group of suspects, deftly balancing quirkiness with the sweetness of newfound friendships.

Verghese, Abraham. The Covenant of Water. Recorded Books. ISBN 9781705070246. HISTORICAL FICTION

In India’s St. Thomas Christian community, three generations of the Parambil family are followed by a mysterious affliction, with one person in each generation dying by drowning. Verghese narrates his own novel with compassion and warmth, illuminating the delicately unfurling relationships, fierce motherly love, and chasms of sorrow marking the family’s tragic history. Verghese’s distinct character voices and precisely delivered accents make for an immersive listening experience.


Dungy, Camille T. Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797159355. MEMOIR

Award-winning poet Dungy lyrically describes how she transformed her plain suburban lawn in Fort Collins, CO, into a sustainable, heterogeneous refuge for plants, animals, and insects. As she narrates her own account, Dungy’s voice is full of wonder, marveling at the magic of the natural world as she reflects on issues of race, history, writing, and motherhood. With her graceful delivery and her mellifluous words, Dungy’s talent as a poet is on full display.

Eig, Jonathan. King: A Life. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781250899446. BIOGRAPHY

Narrator Dion Graham offers a fluid, perfectly timed performance of journalist and biographer Eig’s expansive, balanced study of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Graham adroitly captures the headiness and fear of the early days of the civil rights movement while effectively conveying Eig’s prodigious research, which draws upon declassified FBI files, transcripts, and interviews. Graham’s stunning rendition of King’s tone and cadence is arresting, as is his sensitive portrayal of King’s complexities and flaws. 

Jamison, J.R. Hillbilly Queer: A Memoir. OrangeSky Audio. ISBN 9781667076126. MEMOIR

Jamison, a happily married gay man, and his father, a Trump supporter, seem like complete opposites. But when Jamison accompanies his father on a road trip to his high school reunion in Missouri, he realizes that despite their differences, their relationship rests on an unshakable foundation of love and respect. Though he allows his genuine hurt and confusion to be heard, Jamison’s sincere quest to understand his father is communicated with care and compassion.

Katwala, Amit. Tremors in the Blood: Murder, Obsession, and the Birth of the Lie Detector. Dreamscape Media. ISBN 9781666629187. CRIME

Award-winning journalist Katwala’s history of the polygraph, engagingly narrated by Paul Bellantoni, explores the development of this groundbreaking and controversial device and the 1920s landscape that ushered in its creation. In conversational, well-modulated tones, Bellantoni introduces listeners to San Francisco police chief August Vollmer, whose innovative and strikingly compassionate attitude heralded an era of scientifically based policing. Bellantoni’s performance, augmented with tasteful character voices, brings the people of this bygone age to life.

Kelly, Mary Louise. It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781250882554. MEMOIR

In this heartfelt memoir, Kelly, the cohost of NPR’s All Things Considered, reflects on her endeavor to be wholly present during her eldest son’s senior year of high school. Kelly brings the perfect amount of emotion and intimacy to her narration of this pivotal year, inviting listeners to sit with her as she contemplates motherhood, marriage, aging, and the challenges of balancing work and family. This honest, funny, and moving memoir resonates.

Marshall, Greg. Leg: The Story of a Limb and the Boy Who Grew from It. Tantor Media. ISBN 9798350835403. MEMOIR

Essayist and editor Marshall proffers a generously narrated account of coming out as a gay, disabled man. At the age of 30, Marshall, having grown up in a conservative Utah community in the 1990s, accidentally discovers that though his parents dismissed his physical differences, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at birth. Frankly describing his coming-of-age and sexual awakening, Marshall is boisterous yet eloquent, delivering his lines with precision and impeccable comedic timing.

Martin, Steve & Adam Gopnik. So Many Steves: Afternoons with Steve Martin. Pushkin Industries. ISBN 9798985080216. MEMOIR

Listeners are invited to join in as New Yorker writer Gopnik and actor Martin shoot the breeze and delve into Martin’s storied past, touching on his many incarnations—musician, magician, comedian, art collector. Their friendly conversation, accompanied by Martin’s fantastic banjo rolls and distant city sounds, feels unmediated and real. Listeners may feel like they’re right in the room, hearing Martin’s footsteps as he goes to grab a favorite book or hearing him take a call from Martin Short.

Rambo, David. The Confession of Henry Jekyll, M.D. L.A. Theatre Works. ISBN 9781682661772. DRAMA

A full cast of dynamic narrators, led by Seamus Dever and Matthew Hancock, present playwright Rambo’s atmospheric take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This live theater performance includes eerie background music and sound effects while still taking listeners into the unsettling recesses of Jekyll’s mind. Though listeners will likely know the story’s outcome, they will nonetheless be gripped by this portrait of a man in torment.

Sinclair, Safiya. How To Say Babylon: A Memoir. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781797157115. MEMOIR

Poet Sinclair reflects on her fraught childhood, raised in a strict Rastafarian household in Jamaica. Surviving the unpredictable rage of her often abusive father, Sinclair left the island for college in the United States, embracing a new life while reckoning with trauma, both lived and inherited. Sinclair brings her skills as a poet to her narration, delivering her lyrical account with exquisite pacing, rhythm, and emotion. This raw and profoundly compassionate story sings.

Thomas, R. Eric. Congratulations, the Best Is Over!: Essays. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780593739891. MEMOIR

With warmth and aplomb, Thomas showcases his talents as a natural-born storyteller in this joy-filled, self-narrated essay collection. Prompted by his cautious homecoming to Baltimore, Thomas shines a light on topics ranging from Oprah’s Favorite Things to his ongoing bouts with depression. Whether describing a class reunion gone wrong or his father-in-law’s death, his narration is fully alive, bursting with frank humor, compassion, and sincerity.

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