5 min read

Do you ever see other people enjoying something that you think you should love, but every time you try it you hate it? That's how I feel about audiobooks.

I read lists of top audiobooks and come away with lengthy to-be-read lists of my own, only to click off the audio sample in disgust one minute in. For every audiobook that I listen to, I sample 10 or more, and usually buy and then return a couple that I thought had passed but, on further listening, also belong on the 'too annoying' pile.

Why? Poor quality audio recording. The narrator putting their emphasis on the wrong part of a sentence. Lack of flow in the narration. Inflection that irritates me. Monotonous voices. Pretentious voices. Terrible character voices. I could go on.

If, like me, you've followed people's audiobook recommendations only to wonder how on Earth their tolerance for annoying narration is so high, fear not. The recommendations below have passed the tests of the most pedantic audiobook listener.

1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling, read by Stephen Fry

A classic. I'd venture that no audiobook series is more widely adored than Stephen Fry's reading of the Harry Potter books.

Fry is great at giving the characters appropriate voices and keeping them consistent throughout, which makes the experience immersive.

If you already know the Harry Potter books well, they're a great option if you want to listen without the commitment of needing to stay focused on the story. The first book is the perfect bedtime listen for children and adults alike. Forget the mindfulness app and choose this instead.

2. David Attenborough's New Life Stories, written and read by the man himself

Does this one need an explanation?

If you love David Attenborough documentaries, you'll love his narration of his New Life Stories book (and his Life Stories book, and probably his autobiographical books too).

Like the documentaries, the book takes us on a journey around the world to peek into the incredible lives of some of the beings that we share this world with. Endlessly fascinating and entirely calming, Attenborough's narration is exactly as you'd expect.

3. Spider Woman, written and read by Lady Hale

This is an autobiography of an incredible woman. From 2017 to 2020 Lady Hale was the President of the Supreme Court, the highest judicial office we have. This role of extraordinary importance is only one of an incredible career of academic and judicial appointments.

The book is a wonderful mix of personal history, exploration of some of the cases that the author gave judgement on, and insight into wider issues in the legal system, particularly with respect to the treatment of women in and by the law.

To fellow former law students, the discussion of key cases will bring back what are hopefully fond memories of reading Lady Hale's judgements. Even if you have no legal knowledge, the book is a great introduction to the way that our justice system works, and the cases will be of interest to anyone that has an interest in how the law should operate (or enjoys watching the likes of the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial).

Listening to Lady Hale speak is a bit like listening to Olivia Coleman as the Queen in The Crown. She is very well spoken, clear, and engaging.

Trigger warnings: Lady Hale was a family law judge for many years, so some of the cases before her involved sexual assault, domestic abuse, and child abuse. There are explanations of the facts of the cases in the book.

4. Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump, written and read by Rick Reilly

Left field for me (I'm told), but I loved this book about golf and Trump.

I have a lot of respect for golf; it requires patience, skill, commitment, and honesty. Unsurprisingly, given how little respect he has for most things, Trump doesn't have much respect for golf. He cheats on the course, but he also cheats when he builds golf courses, in his ownership of them, and in the claims he makes about his golfing ability and his courses.

Why? And why do other people put up with it?

Reilly explores the cheating of Trump and the possible explanations for it and wonders what those revelations might tell us about his political behaviour.

I learnt a lot about both golf and Trump whilst listening to this book. The effects of his behaviour in relation to golf are wide-ranging, and although many of Trump's courses are in the US, Reilly tells us about Trump's shocking actions in relation to his Scottish and Irish courses too.

Reilly's narration is energetic, funny, and engaging. His Trump voice is occasionally slightly off, but usually the quote is so ridiculous that any voice will do.

5. Four Thousand Weeks, written and read by Oliver Burkeman

If we live until we're 80, our lifetime will have consisted of only 4,000 weeks. This finitude, says Burkeman, has led to a whole host of problems for us. We don't cope well with the realisation that our time is short.

We don't have enough time. For anything. We don't have enough time to spend with our loved ones, to achieve our goals, to travel the world. And we certainly don't have enough time to do all of those things, plus put the wash on and feed the cat.

Four Thousand Weeks is a philosophical journey and a practical guide. Unlike many infuriating self help books it isn't unrealistic. Burkeman doesn't tell us to live every day as if it's our last. What he does is help us understand why we always feel rushed, and then gently suggest some ways to ease that feeling.

This book might revolutionise the way you live your life, or it might merely provide food for thought. It is essential reading either way. The learnings from this book, even if they don't feel revolutionary at the time, will appear by your side the next time you need to make a big life decision or feel yourself spiralling at the impossibility of living such a short life.

If you're interested in this book, check out my full review.

Happy listening

I hope you agree that these recommendations are relief from the proliferation of annoying narrators and poor quality recordings.

I'll add another list with more audiobooks soon (after much sampling), so subscribe if you'd like more recommendations from a fussy listener!

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