In Praise of Audiobooks

A friend recently asked me if audiobooks “count.”

If by count, you mean are they the best gift to always-optimizing, hyper-scheduled human beings, that they make drugery magical and car rides infinitely more enjoyable, that they are the greatest technological advance of all time, then . . .


(Okay, no, that last bit is hyperbole, but it feels true.)

There seem to be many people who “love to read” but haven’t read since childhood, grown-ups who remember the March family antics better than their own, but can’t remember the last time they read anything they couldn’t scroll through while waiting in line at a food cart (this is Portland we’re talking about).

I read eighty-three books last year, and that clearly isn’t because my life allows for lots of lounging in the hammock. You, too, can read more than a book a week and – this is the magical bit – without changing one thing on your schedule. Here’s what you need to know:

Getting the Audiobooks

If you’re willing to spend some money to make the process a breeze, subscriptions like Scribd or Audible provide audiobooks on your smartphone, making access incredibly easy. I prefer Scribd because there are no limits, but I honestly don’t use either service unless someone gifts it to me for a holiday, because I’m incredibly cheap.

If you, too, want to pay zero dollars for your fun, the library is your friend. Most libraries have an app for your smartphone (our county uses Libby). You should immediately fill up your holds with books you are interested in reading. Every time you hear of a title you’d like to read, put it on hold. When you pick up your phone to scroll through Instagram, tap the library app first and put a few titles on hold. By using this system, you will always have books arriving in your loans category and will be able to choose what you feel like reading and won’t have to wait on a hold request.

If you’re a little more old-school, just check out audio CDs at the library. They’re easy and safe for kids to use (no web browsing to tempt or distract), and in our many years of checking out audiobook discs, we’ve only had one that was too scratched to play.

When to Listen

The list is truly endless here. I read my own books during any task that doesn’t require headspace: dishes, laundry, making the bed, chopping vegetables. Just wait. You will actually be thrilled to clean your bathroom when the latest Ann Patchett novel pops up in your loans.

Don’t forget the car. Oh my goodness, the car. When my kids are tired and cranky from the crazy extroverted environment that is school, they are more likely than not going to fight over something ridiculous, like the fact that one must have known the other was thinking of picking up that book or that the other is singing a song that is too scary (i.e., in a minor key). The solution to all your car woes is to turn on one of the Harry Potter books and let J.K. Rowling solve your problems. No parenting necessary.

My kids also listen while building LEGO sets, having a snack, getting ready for bed. If you are listening as a family at home, I highly recommend getting a small, portable speaker to connect to your phone or laptop, to avoid the inevitable, “Shh!! I can’t hear!!”

Bonus Benefits

In The Read-Aloud Family, Sarah Mackenzie shares the story of a woman who says that C.S. Lewis’s Aslan will always have the voice of her father. I love that idea, that my kids will hear my voice when they think of Jo March or Anne Shirley. At the same time, I also recognize that Jim Dale’s Hagrid sounds a lot more like a half-giant than my version. If you have any self-conscious feelings about reading aloud to your child, whether because English isn’t your first language or because you feel silly doing voices or just because you’re tired, audiobooks are ideal, especially if you listen alongside your child.

You may think your read-aloud days are done the second your child reads her first Elephant and Piggie book, but it’s really not true. My husband and I are grown-ups (mostly) and we still read to each other; we’re in the middle of Mistborn right now. We feel very strongly about never aging out, and audiobooks are the perfect bridge to keep the read-aloud spirit alive in your family.  If your tweens cringe at the thought of being read to, they may not object to listening to an audiobook in the car. Or, well, even if they do, you can say it’s just for you and wait for them to get sucked in.

Below are a few of our favorite audiobooks. Enjoy and happy listening!


If you’re listening to Palacio’s Wonder in the car, make sure you have tissues. And maybe skip the mascara that day.


Stockard Channing and Neil Patrick Harris are practically family at this point, thanks to years of listening to them read The Ramona Quimby Audio Collection and The Henry Huggins Audio Collection


Jessica Almasy sounds exactly like Clementine. Lots of giggles as we listened to this one.


Tom Hanks reading Ann Patchett. TOM HANKS reading ANN PATCHETT! What are you waiting for?


Jim Dale has been our constant companion over the past few months. I think the entire Asby family is going to mourn when we finish Book Seven.




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