As a recent convert to audiobooks, I was curious to find out which were the most popular this year. I asked Libro.fm — an audiobook service that splits profits with independent bookstores — to share their top 2020 releases. Here are 23 best-sellers in both fiction and non-fiction.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama, read by the author
Length: 29 hours, 9 minutes
The first volume of Obama's highly anticipated memoir follows his journey from his college days to the first term of his historic presidency, shedding light on his perspective during a global financial crisis, the fight for the Affordable Care Act, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and more.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle, read by the author
Length: 8 hours, 21 minutes
Doyle's third memoir follows her divorce and the rebuilding of a new, blended family. It describes her journey toward prioritizing herself, honoring her desires, and letting go of the expectations she was taught as a girl and woman.
Bookseller recommendation: “I read this book non-stop for a week, underlining, reading passages to my friends & recommending it to anyone with a pulse. There are many great stories inside, but their charm & power, really, is all Glennon. She is a spiritual seeker & leader who loves reality tv, a formidable activist on the global scale who gets anxiety sweats when the doorbell rings. Equal parts poetic & conversational, memoir & manifesto. Her love story will make you swoon. Her shamelessness & relentless self-interrogation will make you feel deeply exposed. This is not a "you can do it, girl!" book. It's more like a spiritual marathon that invites you to jump the guardrail & take off.” —Elon, Apotheosis Comics
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, read by Daniel Henning
Length: 12 hours, 12 minutes
Linus Baker is a caseworker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, and it's his job to determine whether a group of dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world. But Arthur Parnassus — head of the orphanage they call home — will do anything to keep them safe.
Bookseller recommendation: "There aren't many books that can leave you wishing you were a parentless magical child feared by the rest of the society. But with characters like the ones in The House in the Cerulean Sea, you can't help but wish you belonged to such a wonderful, magical family. And the dialogue! You will not be able to drive while listening to it because you'll be laughing way too hard!" —Chris, Belmont Books
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson, read by John Lee with a note read by Erik Larson
Length: 17 hours, 48 minutes
The Splendid and the Vile is an in-depth look at Winston Churchill's time as prime minister — which began the same day that Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Larson explores Churchill's political career and domestic life, drawing on diaries, archival documents, and intelligence reports to paint a picture of the man who led the UK through World War II.
Bookseller recommendation: "What a riveting trip through the war on the capable albeit somewhat eccentric shoulders of Churchill. Not only does Larson provide a top-notch history of World War II, but he also provides an intimate look at the man and the family and associates of that one man, that unlikely hero, who now seems the only one who could have led Britain through the fight against Hitler. Highly recommended.” —Kelly, Raven Book Store
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, read by Shaun Taylor-Corbett
Length: 8 hours, 37 minutes
Lewis, Gabe, Cass, and Ricky are four Blackfeet men facing the consequences of a youthful indiscretion. While out hunting elk one snowy day, the young men are frustrated when the herd retreats to land reserved for elders. They disregard the community law but the trip quickly turns chaotic, and one elk puts up a fight, taunting Lewis as he tries again and again to bring her down. Years later, after all of the young men have moved off the reservation, Lewis sees that elk again — or something evil that's taken its image.
Bookseller recommendation: "I loved this book. Jones has a unique narrative voice, allowing ‘the entity’ to step in and take over unexpectedly, amping up the horror. Also, each character has a distinct voice that brings them to life. Jones combines the culture and traditions of the Blackfeet and Crow people with the social truths of their contemporary life. It is refreshingly different from any other horror novel I’ve read. This book is gruesome and honestly scary. I couldn’t put it down." —Kristine Jelstrom-Hamill, Buttonwood Books and Toys
Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby, read by the author
Length: 10 hours, 3 minutes
In this collection of essays, 40-year-old Samantha Irby hilariously explores the new chapter of her life, including going from a veterinary clinic receptionist to a successful published author, moving from Chicago to a Hallmark-esque small town with her wife, her complicated love–hate relationship with Hollywood, and more.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, read by Jason Reynolds
Length: 4 hours, 11 minutes
Stamped is a remix of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning, a National Book Award winner that scrutinizes the history of anti-Black racist thought in America from its very beginning to now. Jason Reynolds adapts (and narrates) this version, directed towards young adult readers, discussing the history of racist ideas in America and the hope for an antiracist future.
Bookseller recommendation: "I was blown away by this book. I listened to the audio and Jason Reynold's narration is engaging, funny, and moving all rolled into one. I found myself interested in history in ways I hafve not been in the past. As white women I found myself grieving for the crimes my race has committed. For hatred that continued to take root and spread. Yet I also found hope. This book does a great job of engaging the topic of race, why racism persists and gives hope that things can change. I wish I could make everyone read this book." —Kristin, Fables Books
Open Book by Jessica Simpson, read by the author
Length: 11 hours, 21 minutes
Simpson's tell-all memoir describes her years as a pop star and then a reality star — including what it was like to grow up in the spotlight and what was going on behind the scenes. The audiobook includes six new songs.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, read by Marin Ireland
Length: 9 hours, 53 minutes
A group of strangers are forced into close proximity when a failed bank robber interrupts an apartment open house and takes them hostage. Each brings their own strengths, anxieties, secrets, and desires into the mix, creating a tense and unpredictable environment — one that will teach them all surprising truths about themselves.
Bookseller recommendation: "At its simplest, we could just say this is a story about the human condition. Backman’s wry and deceptively simple storytelling provides us an exquisite and astute study of the little complexities that fills our lives with joy and pain. Through his rich story exploring second chances, missed opportunities, and unintended consequences, he captures the essence of what it means to be human and the complexities of navigating relationships with each other by exploring what we say and do not say to one another. The audio version is absolutely spectacular. The narrator brings each character to life with unique and spot-on personalities that I cannot imagine creating myself in my head. Her delivery of the dialogue and story is spot on and kept me laughing throughout." —Cori, Bright Side Bookshop
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; read by Frankie Corzo
Length: 10 hours, 39 minutes
Noemí Taboada is a socialite who delights in parties, fancy dresses, seducing men, and anthropology. After receiving a garbled letter from her recently married cousin and dear friend Catalina, she travels to the distant village of High Place and the decaying mansion that is now Catalina’s home. There, she finds Catalina incoherent and lethargic among an inhospitable family — except for the young, shy Francis, who becomes an unexpected ally for Noemí. Meanwhile, the house itself seeps into her dreams and slowly comes alive around her.
Bookseller recommendation: "A bit spooky with some underlining themes of science and the power of racism. There’s a feel of modern Bronte sisters here which adds to the intrigue of this original gothic tale. I loved Noemi, the well-educated bright young protagonist who has a great sense of justice and can stare down evil all while being sophisticated and alluring. Great listening!" —Karin, Bookworm of Edwards
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, read by the authors
Length: 5 hours, 33 minutes
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, hosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend, chronicle their first decade in each other's lives, describing the way their Big Friendship — the type of strong bond that survives life's biggest shifts — helped them get through health scares, career woes, relationship pitfalls, and more.
Bookseller recommendation: "This is one of the most meaningful and thought provoking books I’ve read in a long time. It will forever change how I think about the friendships in my life. I was provided valuable tools to develop and maintain these valuable relationships with greater intent and thoughtfulness. The audio book is narrated by Ann and Aminatou and also includes sound clips from various people they interviewed from their book. It was certainly lovely to hear more about their lives and their friendship. Their narration elevated and personalized this reading experience for me." —Cori, Bright Side Bookshop
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, read by Shayna Small
Length: 11 hours, 33 minutes
Bennett's bestselling novel follows identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella after they run away from their small Southern hometown, Mallard, in 1968 and their lives diverge — Stella goes north to live as a white woman, marrying a white man who knows nothing of her past; and Desiree has a daughter with an abusive man intent on punishing her for her light-skin privilege, eventually leaving with her daughter and returning to Mallard. The novel spans decades, following the sisters’ daughters as their own stories intertwine in themes of race, gender, class, and family.
Bookseller recommendation: "The Vanishing Half definitely lives up to the glowing reviews it has been receiving. The story reveals an interesting perspective on this history of race in the US, while also telling a universal story of difficult decisions that change the course of life forever. Bennett doesn't offer pretty bows to tie up her narrative, but a realistic portrait of what we will sacrifice on behalf of our futures." —Tina, Leaves Book and Tea Shop
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, read by Robin Miles
Length: 14 hours, 25 minutes
Wilkerson argues that an invisible caste system exists in the US, exploring the features of caste systems around the world and throughout history and revealing the ways in which they influence our lives, beliefs, and behaviors.
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad, read by the author
Length: 5 hours, 19 minutes
In 2018, educator and activist Saad began an Instagram challenge asking white people to really confront their racist behaviors and ideas through a 28-day exercise guided by a free workbook. This book is an expansion on the original workbook, adding cultural insight and historical context.
Bookseller recommendation: "Want to learn how to be a good ancestor? Need to address your privilege and feel uncomfortable about talking about racism? You need to read and work through Me and White Supremacy." —Rachel, Avid Bookshop
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, read by Julia Whelan
Length: 17 hours, 9 minutes
In 18th-century France, Addie LaRue, desperate to get out of an arranged marriage, makes a deal with the devil, trading her soul for immortality. But there's a catch: For as long as she lives, everyone Addie meets will forget her after their first encounter. Centuries pass and Addie never has a second conversation with anyone — until 2014, when she meets a bookseller who miraculously remembers her.
Bookseller recommendation: "Schwab has a masterpiece on her hands with this title. I loved it from the beginning, and that love grew until the very end. Addie needed to find a way to escape the life she is supposed to live as a woman in France, 1714. 'No matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.' As the sun sets, she is praying to any god that will listen to help her be free, someone eventually hears her... and they answer. 300 years later Addie walks into a bookstore to find a young man at the counter. Upon her return she realizes he remembers her..." —Maxwell, Paragraphs Bookstore
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, read by Robin Miles
Length: 16 hours, 12 minutes
Every city has a soul, and a dark, ancient monster has come to steal New York's. This threat — which naturally takes the form of cops — awakens powers in five different New Yorkers, each from a different borough and background, and they must band together to save their city. But with tensions high, will this group of strangers be able to defeat this evil force before it takes over New York and then the world?
Bookseller recommendation: "What did I just listen to and why did I like it so much? Part of falling in love with this book was the listening experience, to be certain. The narration was stellar. The production was on point. But the story... the story itself is sublime. The City We Became is so incredibly layered and nuanced — diving into discussions of racism and sexism and the fallacy of good vs evil. Witty, subversive, imaginative, unbelievable." —Britt, Second Star to the Right
Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall, read by the author
Length: 6 hours, 57 minutes
In her first collection of essays, Kendall, a military veteran who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, addresses the pratfalls of white feminism, explaining how providing basic needs like adequate health care, housing and access to food, destigmatizing sex work, and dealing with gun violence, among other issues endemic in working-class Black communities, are actually bedrock feminist issues as well.
Bookseller recommendation: "Powerful. Important. Compulsively readable. Kendall’s narrative style is top notch — riveting and un-put-down-able. Not only is this a must read, it's a must pay attention, must revisit and keep learning kind of book. Kendall dives deep and doesn't pull punches, but she doesn't seek to shame either. This is necessary reading for anyone who considers themselves a feminist. Because solidarity needs to be for ALL." —Britt, Second Star to the Right
The Guest List by Lucy Foley; read by Jot Davies, Chloe Massey, Olivia Dowd, Aoife McMahon, Sarah Ovens & Rich Keeble
Length: 9 hours, 53 minutes
Every detail of Jules and Will’s wedding on a secluded island off the coast of Ireland had been expertly planned — down to the designer dress and luxe wedding favors. But as the festivities begin, past slights, resentments, jealousy begin to surface: A bridesmaid ruins her dress, the groomsmen are getting inappropriately drunk, and the bride’s oldest male friend seems to think of her as more than a friend. And then someone turns up dead.
Bookseller recommendation: "The wild Irish setting was perfect for this Christie-esque whodunit that will keep you guessing until the end! This is a great listening experience as the cast of talented voice actors help tell the story from varied perspectives." —Janet, Watermark Books
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel, read by Dylan Moore
Length: 10 hours, 28 minutes
St. John Mandel’s sprawling novel follows the fallout of a wealthy investor’s Ponzi scheme, drawing unexpected connections in its wake. At the center is Vincent Smith, a woman who leaves her bartending gig in the Canadian wilderness to try her luck in New York (“the kingdom of money”) as the trophy wife of Jonathan Alkaitis, the man whose financial scam will ruin countless lives. The novel moves forward and backward in time, jumping from one perspective to the next as St. John Mandel explores themes of love and art, fate and freedom, ambition and consequences.
Bookseller recommendation: "In this ghostly story of ignoring what’s right in front of you, a group of characters try to grapple with what seems like inevitable choices. Mandel’s book is like the glass in the title: her language glitters while offering clarity and reflection, and her characters are like broken shards, mesmerizing in one light and dangerously ordinary in another. Combining the humanity and structure of Station Eleven with the brutal realism of her earlier works, The Glass Hotel is an exceptional novel." —Marika McCoola, Porter Square Books
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, read by Elizabeth Acevedo and Melania-Luisa Marte
Length: 5 hours, 32 minutes
Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic and Yahaira Rios in New York City. Far apart, both suffer the devastating loss of their father after his plane goes down. As both girls enter each other's lives through their grief, they find solace in each other. Acevedo returns with a powerful and emotional story that's both heartbreaking and hopeful.
Bookseller recommendation: "Through Acevedo’s transcendent poetry, the tragic crash of AA587 becomes a song to family in all of its complexities and a tribute to the power of Latinas. This book is incredible and makes me yearn to gather my sisters around me, grab a machete, and destroy the ugliness in this world. Acevedo is one of the brilliant, bright lights in literature and listening to her read it is soul nourishing." —Linda, Cellar Door Books
Beach Read by Emily Henry, read by Julia Whelan
Length: 10 hours, 12 minutes
Gus is a literary fiction author known for killing off his characters. January is a bestselling romance novelist known for her happy endings. Not only do the two writers happen to live in neighboring beach houses, but they're both also suffering from a bad case of writer's block. To keep things fresh, they make a deal: Gus will write something happy and January will write something gritty. Over the summer, the two work to get outside of their comfort zones and do something unexpected, and not just with their writing.
Bookseller recommendation: "This was so much fun, both in story, and also to listen to. Packed with emotional depth and plenty of hi-jinks, this is the perfect novel to lighten your heart while challenging your preconceived notions. I wanted to reread it right away!" —Tildy, Belmont Books
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, read by Bahni Turpin
Length: 8 hours, 40 minutes
Gifty is a doctoral candidate at Stanford’s medical school who is dealing with family tragedy: Her brother, a talented high school athlete, has died from an opioid addiction and her mother is suicidal. Once a committed Christian, Gifty struggles to understand the purpose of human suffering, turning back to the roots of her faith.
Bookseller recommendation: "This is a flippin’ gorgeous book. The writing is exquisite, the story is moving, and the characters are rendered with the skill of a true artist. If you need a book that is heartfelt and honest, read this one." —Izzy, Off the Beaten Path
The Searcher by Tana French, read by Roger Clark
Length: 14 hours, 32 minutes
Recently divorced Chicago detective Cal Hooper is ready to embrace a slower pace of life and retires to a bucolic village in western Ireland after over 25 years on the force. But when a local kid named Trey convinces Cal to investigate the disappearance of his 19-year-old brother, Cal finds himself back at the center of an investigation. And he soon discovers that even small towns can hide dangerous secrets.