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I’ll speak from the heart and say yet once again that listening to audiobooks is on equal terms with reading physical books. I acknowledge that the experience is different, but through audiobooks, I personally was able to open doors to book genres that I would not read on a normal basis.
One genre I rarely read before I began listening to audiobooks was nonfiction. I incorrectly assumed that nonfiction books were dull, but audiobooks made them come to life in my mind’s eye. For one, many (not all) nonfiction books are narrated by their writers. In fact, some of the best ones feel like a fantastic podcast, in which I feel as though I have a personal relationship with the writer/narrator. Their personalities and intentions are sometimes more accurately relayed while reciting their own stories than if I imagined their voices in my head.
I think nonfiction books lend themselves well to audio because the subjects the books address, which can be anything from immigration reform to the history of the Roman Empire, are almost always discussed out loud among people. That’s not to say that reading about these topics is unusual, but my most vivid memories of learning about these subjects are from discussions rather than book. I think that audiobooks bridge this gap, to where readers can feel as though they are in conversation about important topics relevant to their lives while also reading a book.
So the next time you’re on a hot girl walk or on a long road trip, consider giving these nonfiction audiobooks a try.
Memoirs in particular lend themselves well to audiobooks. A well-recited memoir can make a reader feel like they’re sitting with the author while the former recites their story. If you want to begin your reading journey into the realm of nonfiction, then I strongly recommend a memoir on audio. Hearing the personal story of a writer is deeply meaningful and will help you connect with them.
Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey, read by Natasha Trethewey
Trethewey is a poet, which becomes abundantly obvious in her beautiful recitation of her story. Trethewey’s mother was murdered by an ex-husband when Trethewey was only 19. Memorial Drive is both Trethewey’s story and the story of her mother, who grew up in the segregated South. What I personally loved about this audiobook is that while Trethewey’s narration reveals the depths of her loss, it also reveals her deep love of her mother.
Heavy by Kiese Laymon, read by Kiese Laymon
I went to high school in Mississippi and have a soft spot for stories about teenagers growing up there. Laymon’s story is also about his relationship with his mother, a brilliant Black woman raising a defiant Black son in a place that refuses to create or maintain space for them. Laymon’s narration makes you feel like he’s in the room telling you his story. He shows the events of his life in vivid detail, and you can’t help but cheer him on.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, read by Michelle Zauner
There might be a theme here. Zauner’s memoir is also about her mother, who died of cancer, leaving her daughter to pick up the pieces. Growing up half Korean in the Pacific Northwest wasn’t easy, but after her mother passes, Zauner begins a journey to reconnect with her Korean heritage through the foods her mother made for her growing up. The audiobook brings each dish to life and will definitely make your mouth water.
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci, read by Stanley Tucci
I could hardly create a list of nonfiction audiobooks without including the iconic Stanley Tucci and his famous (or infamous) negroni. This book is also about food — Italian food — which Tucci grew up eating. The audiobook is a decadent auditory tour of Tucci’s favorite foods from his mother’s table to tables of famous Italian chefs. I don’t suggest listening to this audiobook without a bowl of pasta in front of you (and perhaps a negroni). And considering that it’s Stanley Tucci narrating, you should probably be seated.
If you just want to dive into the deep end of nonfiction, then here are some great nonfiction audiobooks that will discuss everything from anti-fat bias to world travel. Don’t believe that nonfiction is boring or dry because each of these books will prove just how important the genre is in examining the human condition.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon, read by Samara Naeymi
I absolutely love listening to Maintenance Phase and had to listen to Aubrey Gordon’s audiobook. In the book, she dives into her experiences as a queer fat woman in a world that passes cruel judgment on her figure. Even though Gordon didn’t narrate the audiobook, I still loved the narration because it made me feel like I was having an important conversation with a friend.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, read by Robin Miles
Isabel Wilkerson is a talented journalist and writer. In Caste, she explores caste systems in three nations: Nazi Germany, India, and America. She makes an important argument about how American society is caste based, in which those with darker skin do not have access to the same resources or regard as those with lighter skin. The audiobook was the perfect way for me to read this book because the subject matter is dense, and I found the narration kept me going and engaged.
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe, read by Patrick Radden Keefe
Along with Caste, I would say that Empire of Pain is one of the most important nonfiction books from the past few years. Keefe dives deep into the history of the Sackler family, who are responsible for the opioid crisis. It’s a profound story of family legacy being in sync and then in the thrall of capitalism gone awry. The audiobook made me feel like I was listening to a particularly fascinating documentary on the History Channel (I was a nerdy kid).
World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever, read by Laurie Woolever, Shep Gordon, Christopher Bourdain, Jen Agg, Matt Walsh, Bill Buford, Claude Tayag, Nari Kye, Vidya Balachander, and Steve Albini
I want to round everything out with the legendary Anthony Bourdain. His TV shows meant a lot to me in my early 20s, and I loved how he brought travel and food into perspective for me. For Bourdain fans, World Travel will have chapters that seem familiar because the content is taken from episodes from Bourdain’s TV shows and is interspersed with commentary from friends, family, and colleagues. We can’t get new content from him anymore, but the audiobook will make you remember why you enjoyed him on screen so much. Oh, and of course don’t listen to this on an empty stomach.
Want to read more nonfiction? Check out some great memoirs by AAPI writers and learn about what makes a good biography.