In the Quick by Kate Hope Day, read by Rebecca Lowman
Time: 7 hours, 58 minutes
This inventive retelling of Jane Eyre is set in space. 12-year-old June's beloved uncle created a fuel cell for a rocket that ultimately failed, leaving the crew stranded and presumed dead, though her uncle died before learning of his failure. June thinks they're still alive and has discovered evidence to prove it, but no one listens to her. Her aunt sends her to space training school, where June is thrust into classrooms with students far older than her. As an adult, June becomes an astronaut and engineer, working closely with her uncle's protégé James. Despite the many years that have passed, June has never been able to forget about that rocket stranded in space, nor about the issues with her uncle's fuel cell.
Meaty: Essays by Samantha Irby, read by the author
Time: 7 hours, 40 minutes
Irby’s debut essay collection is uproariously funny. Whether she’s talking about her Crohn's disease, her dating life, her difficulties with budgeting, or her knack for getting along with moms, Irby’s essays are both deeply revealing and relatable. Her narration is as dry and hilarious as her essays.
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, read by Aja Naomi King, January LaVoy, Landon Woodson, LeVar Burton, Ngozi Anyanwu, Tomiwa Edun
Time: 7 hours, 36 minutes
This perfectly written short story collection has a full cast audio. In the first story, “Control Negro” narrated by Lavar Burton, a Black professor conducts an experiment comparing his estranged son with the ACMs (American Caucasian Males) that populate his classroom. If his son has the exact same upbringing and opportunities as his ACM students, will he still experience the systemic racism the protagonist experienced? The second story, “Virginia is Not Your Home,” written in the second person, is about a Black woman who longs to live anywhere but America. All six stories in this collection deftly explore the Black experience in America, whether it’s the present or the future.
Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas, read by the author
Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
This charming and funny memoir-in-essays describes comedian and playwright R. Eric Thomas’s life as a Black gay Christian. From his struggle to situate his sexuality within his religion, to accidentally going viral for a sarcastic college essay taken way too seriously, to falling in love with a gay pastor and becoming an internet sensation, these essays are honest, heartfelt, and show the same wit he brings to social media. The audiobook is delightful, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments.
Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig, read by the author
Time: 7 hours, 33 minutes
Taussig shares her experiences of being disabled in eight thought-provoking and stunning essays, from her happiness as a child playing with her siblings unconscious of how society viewed her body to teaching disability-themed classes to marrying, divorcing, and finding love again. While all the essays in this collection are fantastic, I especially enjoyed her essay describing the problems with kindness and the frequently threatening and condescending ways nondisabled folk try to “help” her. Her essays on teaching and feminism are also equally provocative and will help nondisabled people confront ableism.
Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma, read by the author
Time: 7 hours, 30 minutes
Disability rights activist and lawyer Haben Girma describes her childhood and how she became Harvard Law School’s first Deafblind graduate in this powerful and often funny memoir written in short episodes. Her parents were refugees of the Eritrean and Ethiopian war, and Girma credits them with teaching her a resilience that she applied to navigating the world as a Deafblind child and later as a college law student. Haben sees her disability as a source of strength and a way to make the world a better place rather than as a weakness. Girma’s narration for the audiobook is expressive and gripping.
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce, read by Claire Rushbrook
Time: 7 hours, 23 minutes
This creepy and cleverly written thriller plays with perception. Cassandra met the faerie Pepper-Man when she was a child. He haunted her steps, hurt her when no one was watching, yet no one else believes he exists. Despite his abuse, Cassandra comes to love him, and they have a child together. Either this story is real or, according to her therapist, she's a victim of traumatic child abuse and has created the faerie community as a coping mechanism. There are no easy answers and, as the story unfolds, the plot grows increasingly more disturbing as murders are added to child abuse. It's an unsettling and captivating audiobook, the kind where it’s impossible to stop listening.
Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome, read by the author
Time: 7 hours, 20 minutes
In this compelling and moving memoir, Broome uses a bus ride watching a Black father and son interact as a jumping-off point for reflecting on his coming-of-age in a small Ohio town as a Black gay man living in poverty. Much like the father on the bus, Broome’s father had tried to instill into him a sense of Black masculinity, something he failed at again and again to the ridicule of everyone around him. A childhood full of trauma leads to dangerous habits when he reaches adulthood. It’s often difficult to listen to the brutal and raw moments in Broome’s life, but this poignant and literary memoir is an essential look into the harm of perpetuating masculine stereotypes.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, read by the author
Time: 7 hours, 19 minutes
This 2019 MacArthur Genius Grant winner made his fiction debut with this raw and poetic letter from a son to his illiterate mother. Little Dog, as his family calls him, is the child of Vietnamese refugees. In Little Dog’s letter, he reflects on the shared history he’s inherited of living in war-torn Vietnam, memories from both his mother and his grandmother. Threaded within these memories are his own experiences with racism in the U.S., growing up poor, his first serious relationship with a man, and his grandmother’s death. Vuong reads the audiobook, and it’s a searing performance. If you’ve yet to read this contemporary classic, now is the time to do it!
Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, read by the authors
Time: 7 hours, 1 minute
This science-based self-help book for women provides actionable insights into reducing stress and finding self-compassion. The authors use a combination of cognitive science, anecdotes, and activism to discuss a range of topics that lead to burnout, from body positivity to the power of rest to what to do about the societal pressures to be everything for everyone. Even for readers who aren’t experiencing burnout, this book can provide some compelling ways to reduce stress.
Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, read by the author
Time: 6 hours, 57 minutes
Cooper's combination of memoir, research, and sociology makes this a compelling nonfiction about Black feminism and what it means to be a Black feminist. Cooper focuses on Black women's anger and how society often demeans that anger, but how essential that anger is. Her concentration on anger begins with a porch conversation with her grandmother, who rages about love, sex, and marriage. Entwining her own experiences and her research as a sociologist, she writes essays about Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, respectability politics, and more.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, read by the author
Time: 6 hours, 52 minutes
These brutally honest and thought-provoking essays depict the contradictions between Asian American stereotypes and lived realities. The essays range in topic from art and poetry theory to friendships and intergenerational trauma, all analyzing the Korean American experience and the ways Asian Americans have been reduced, erased, and stereotyped in the U.S. Two essays particularly moved me: Hong's discussion of her friendship with two Asian American art students in college — one of whom was bipolar — and her essay about Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, the author of the seminal Korean-American hybrid work Dictee, who was raped and murdered shortly after the launch of her book.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, read by JD Jackson
Time: 6 hours, 46 minutes
Set in the 1960s, this heartbreaking novel is based on the true story of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, Florida’s first juvenile detention center for boys, where child inmates were tortured and murdered. Elwood Curtis is a good kid who always tries to follow the rules set out by his strict grandmother. He has just been accepted into a local Black college when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, and cops arrest him for a car hijacking. He’s sent to The Nickel Academy, where supposedly boys are rehabilitated for society, but the academy’s idea of rehabilitation is, literally, torture. Elwood tries to hold onto his idealism, but his fellow inmate and friend Turner thinks he’s a fool for doing so. Switching back and forth between the 1960s and several decades later, this must-read audiobook is an evocative, wrenching listen.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Kahn-Cullors and asha bandele, read by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Time: 6 hours, 30 minutes
The first half of this powerful memoir details the childhood of Patrisse Khan-Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. She describes life as a poor, Black girl raised by a single mother in Los Angeles, the development of her queerness, and the unjust treatment of her mentally ill brother. The second half of the book discusses how the Black Lives Matter movement developed and its future goals. After Trayvon Martin’s killer went free in 2013, Khan-Cullors and activists Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi coined the phrase Black Lives Matter and spearheaded the BLM movement.
This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno, read by Robb Moreira
Time: 5 hours, 56 minutes
Thiago has just lost his wife Vera in a tragic accident, and under a mountain of grief, he recalls the eerie circumstances leading up to his wife’s death. It started with their Itza, a smart speaker practically every household has, but theirs sometimes purchased strange items they never requested, like a pink dildo and a book of black magic. Then it would speak when no one was in the room. After Vera dies, the strangeness amplifies, and Thiago escapes into a Colorado forest only to find that the horror followed him, and it’s about to get even worse. This intense cosmic horror with a touch of Mexican American folklore is incredibly creepy and moving. I listened to the phenomenal audiobook narrated by Robb Moreira.
Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy, read by the author
Time: 5 hours, 38 minutes
The essays in this collection draw on Egyptian journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy’s experiences as a Middle Eastern woman and her observations and research into the misogyny present in the Arab world. From descriptions of how the Arab Spring began to a discussion of niqabs and the problem with viewing virginity as sacred, Eltahawy unpacks the core issues with how women are treated in the Middle East, and also shows how the misogyny in the Arab world isn’t so different from the misogyny in Western countries. It’s an insightful listen.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones, read by the author
Time: 5 hours, 34 minutes
This gorgeously written memoir about being a Black gay man in the South is captivating. Jones shows how little space there is for a gay man to explore their sexuality, especially when they're at the intersection of other marginalized identities. It’s also a love letter to the single mother who raised him and to the poetry that gave him hope. The joy he finds in poetry comes across in the lyricism of his writing as he describes emotionally fraught moments of his life and how he came to embrace his identity and survive. (Jones used to work at BuzzFeed News).
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, read by Christopher Myers
Time: 5 hours, 33 minutes
Jam is a Black trans girl who lives in the utopian city of Lucille, where the angels vanquished all the monsters long ago, or so Jam and her best friend Redemption are taught in school. Then one day, a creature climbs out of a painting and tells Jam there’s a monster in her midst. She names him Pet, and the two must find the monster before it’s too late. This engaging and heart-wrenching listen shows how sometimes the monsters are the ones that appear to be the safest.
Tales from the Cafe by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated by Geoffrey Trousselot, read by Kevin Shen
Time: 5 hours, 32 minutes
These short stories all connect around a central place: a Tokyo cafe where a single chair can transport the sitter to either the past or future. But there are rules. You have to wait until the ghost that usually sits in the chair stands up to go to the restroom. If your coffee gets cold, you can't return. If you stand up from the chair, you're immediately transported back into the present. Each person that travels back in time begins the story as melancholic, but the trip backward in time, though only brief, leads them to an epiphany about happiness. Also check out the author's first book in the series, Before the Coffee Gets Cold, which is under 8 hours.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, read by the author
Time: 5 hours, 29 minutes
This brilliant and harrowing memoir about Machado’s life with an abusive girlfriend uses elements of literary criticism, history, and the gothic to contextualize her trauma. Machado’s relationship began with hope and love, as they often do, but it took a dramatic, dark turn when the two moved in together. The memoir also describes an earlier abusive relationship Machado experienced with a religious authority figure during her teen years. Through her story, she shows the stereotypes surrounding who is and isn’t considered an abuser, the types of relationships that become abusive, and the hidden history of abusive queer relationships. This genre-bending memoir is a riveting audiobook. I can distinctly remember where I was and what I was doing while listening to certain passages.
Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons by John Paul Brammer, read by the author
Time: 4 hours, 55 minutes
This hilarious and heartfelt memoir-in-essays chronicles popular LGBTQ advice columnist John Paul Brammer’s life as biracial and queer. Using questions from his readers as prompts for his own story, he describes his childhood growing up in a rural Oklahoma town, from being bullied in middle school to his experiences with sexual assault — something he was only later able to identify as such. He tackles these tough topics with both humor and honesty. Intermixed within the memoir are Brammer’s trademark wisdom and advice.
Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson, read by the author
Time: 4 hours, 46 minutes
In this harrowing audiobook, sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson discusses recent murders of Black folk by police, such as the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and more. By unpacking the brutality and injustice of their deaths, he shows the effects of the U.S.’s devastating racism. No one can finish this book without acknowledging there must be reform. Also be sure to check out his most recent book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, which is under 6 hours.
The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes, read by Daveed Diggs
Time: 4 hours, 1 minute
Rivers Solomon was inspired to write The Deep after listening to a song by the rap group Clipping in a This American Life episode. In both the song and the novella, mermaids descended from the pregnant African women thrown overboard by slavers. Solomon uses this premise to examine trauma narratives, history, how the knowledge of history passes down trauma, and the potential of collective healing. The characters are rich and well-drawn, the story fascinating and complex.
Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings, read by the author
Time: 4 hours
This YA memoir describes Jennings’ early life, from declaring to her parents that she was a girl at 5-years-old to fighting for her right to play soccer on the girls team to dealing with anxiety and depression. Written when she was 15, the audiobook is conversational and a perfect listen for teens or adults who are learning what it means to be transgender.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, read by Rainy Fields
Time: 3 hours, 45 minutes
In this lyrical memoir-in-essays, Mailhot relates her traumatic childhood growing up on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest and her later diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder. As a means of healing, Mailhot turned to writing this memoir, and relates her experiences with motherhood, her activist/social worker mother, reconciling with her abusive father, surviving trauma, and more. It’s a gorgeous collection, often fragmented and non-linear, but connected by a framework of memory, Indigenous heritage, and trauma.
I Think I Might Love You by Christina C. Jones, read by Dana La Voz & Dontavious Breighton
Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Contemporary romance audiobook listeners will love this steamy and funny romance. Jaclyn Love has a history of trouble, but she’s been trying to stay out of it for the last few years. She now owns an ice cream shop and is only a few weeks away from graduating college. Then she finds out her ex-boyfriend is married. In a drunken rage, she smashes his car, then escapes to her sister’s apartment, forgetting that her sister has rented it out. She crashes right into the handsome and very naked Kadan Davenport and, thinking him an intruder, punches him. While the mix-up is resolved, Jaclyn is still arrested for the damage she caused to her ex’s car, and the judge sentences her to 400 hours of community service. The only place available for that community service is a veterinary clinic where, you guessed it, Kadan is a vet. This is the first book in a trilogy, and each book centers a different character and is under 4 hours on audio.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells, read by Kevin R. Free
Time: 3 hours, 17 minutes
Murderbot doesn’t mean to be all murder-y, but that’s how the Company programmed it and what it knows best. Unlike the other bots, Murderbot has managed to reprogram itself and now serves as an independent entity, though it’s best not to let the Company know. Its current mission is to keep a group of human scientists alive — something they’re not very good at — while they conduct surface studies on a planet Murderbot hasn’t bothered to learn the name of. This first book in the Murderbot series is a blast to listen to on audio. With five other audiobooks in the series, all but one under 8 hours, this is a great series to become invested in if you’re trying to finish a reading challenge.
Men, Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, read by Luci Christian Bell
Time: 2 hours, 47 minutes
Solnit’s searing and all too relatable title essay inspired the term “mansplaining.” In it, she describes a man explaining her own work to her at a dinner party, and the ways men make themselves authorities on subjects and silence women as a result. All the essays collected in this spare yet dynamic collection focus on the ways society silences women, from putting the impetus on women to protect themselves from rape vs. teaching men anti-violence, to a deep dive into the life of Virginia Woolf. Solnit has many essay collections under 8 hours on audio, though this remains her most popular.
A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian, Read by Morag Sims
Time: 2 hours, 43 minutes
Molly Wilkins has a troubled past, but she’s leaving everything behind her to become a lady’s maid. No more thieving, no more murdering. She’s turning all her energy toward serving the attractive Lady Alice Stapleton, who is maybe a little bit too attractive. Meanwhile, Alice is becoming equally distracted by Molly when a man from her past arrives, threatening her safety. When Molly and Alice decide to team up, they’re out for both revenge and fun times. This lesbian historical romance is an absolutely delightful way to spend two and a half hours.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, read by Robin Miles
Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Binti is the first of the Himba people to be offered a place at the prestigious intergalactic Oomza University. However, to attend the university, she has to leave her family and friends behind, and no one outside her planet understands the Himba people’s culture and traditions. The university has made enemies with the alien race called Medusa. As Binti travels on the spaceship between her planet and the university, the Medusa attacks the ship, and Binti is the only one who seems able to communicate with the alien race. This space opera trilogy is dark and thought-provoking. All three books are under 8 hours on audio.
The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri, read by the author
Time: 1 hour, 3 minutes
In this essay collection, award-winning novelist Lahiri reflects on book covers and connects them to her experiences as a reader and writer. She asks readers to look beyond the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” to the ways covers do indeed get judged and how they influence both book choices readers make and how readers interpret books. It’s a brief, mesmerizing listen.
Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman, read by the author (December 7)
Time: 1 hour
The first Youth Poet Laureate of the United States Amanda Gorman makes her poetry collection debut with these beautiful and empowering poems. The collection includes “The Hill We Climb,” which Gorman read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, as well as poems referencing the global pandemic, the need for imagination, finding identity, and the power of language. While I have yet to listen to these poems on audio, having watched Amanda Gorman’s powerful performances online, I know that this is a collection that will be all the better on audio.●