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A great audiobook can make time fly when you’re on a long car trip. But choosing a book to listen to is more complicated than choosing a book to read—a compelling story is important, but the quality of the narration is crucial.
Lean toward books read by professional narrators or actors instead of those read by their authors unless you’ve read positive reviews of that author’s narration skills. Many authors are skilled at telling stories in print but not as skilled as performers.
Some of the best audiobooks* for car trips…
FOR KIDS AND ADULTS
One of the challenges of listening to audiobooks on family car trips is that the story must appeal to everyone. Good choices for parents and kids…
Black Ice by Andrew Lane, read by James Langton. A teenage Sherlock Holmes must clear his brother of a murder charge in this delightful novel set in 1868. Appropriate for ages 12 and up. (Macmillan Young Listeners…7 hours…$29.99.)
Similar: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories translate very well to audiobook format. The versions narrated by David Timson are among the best. (Naxos Audiobooks…prices and lengths vary.)
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, read by Pullman and multiple actors. This absorbing fantasy story is based loosely on Milton’s Paradise Lost. It’s read by a full cast of actors, which helps bring the characters vividly to life. Appropriate for ages 10 and up. (Listening Library…10 hours, 49 minutes…$30.)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, read by the author. Audiobooks read by their authors often are best avoided, but Gaiman is an exception—he’s a wonderful storyteller as both writer and narrator. Gaiman wrote this story about an orphan raised by ghosts for kids, but it’s fun for adults, too. Appropriate for ages 10 and up. (Harper Audio…7 hours, 30 minutes…$29.95.)
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, read by Rob Inglis. The popular Hobbit movies offer incredible special effects, but Inglis’s reading of this audiobook is a better way to lose yourself in Tolkien’s story and incredible richness of language. Appropriate for ages 10 and up. (Recorded Books…11 hours…$39.99.)
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, read by Alfred Molina. There are many audiobook versions of this classic pirate tale, but seek out this one read by Molina, who draws listeners right into the action-packed story. Appropriate for ages eight and up. (Listening Library…7 hours, 12 minutes…$29.95.)
Your listening options expand if there aren’t any kids in the car…
Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author. Fey’s wit is well-known from TV shows Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. In this memoir, she also shows tremendous heart. Fey isn’t playing a character here…she’s sharing her story in a very human—and humorous—way. (Hachette Audio…5 hours, 35 minutes…$29.98.)
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy by Tracy Chevalier, read by Jenna Lamia. Chevalier’s beautifully written historical novel tells the story of a 16-year-old 17th-century Dutch maid who modeled for artist Vermeer. The book’s rich language is conveyed wonderfully by Lamia. (HighBridge Audio…4 hours, 45 minutes…$26.95.)
One Shot by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill. Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers grab you fast and keep you hooked all the way through. One Shot is among the best. It was turned into a Tom Cruise movie last year, but do yourself a favor and listen to the audiobook instead. Hill has narrated all of Child’s Jack Reacher novels and knows the characters well. (Brilliance Audio…12 hours…$14.99.)
One Shot at Forever by Chris Ballard, read by Mike Chamberlain. Sports Illustrated writer Ballard penned this engaging true story of the 1971 Macon Ironmen, a rural Illinois high school baseball team that overcame long odds to become the smallest school in state history to make the state final. (Tantor Media…9 hours…$24.99.)
Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand, read by Campbell Scott. Seabiscuit was a 1930s racehorse whose electrifying success was a surprise to the racing establishment, which had written off the crooked-legged horse with the sad tail. (Random House Audio…6 hours …$14.99.)
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham, read by Edward Herrmann. If you’re in the mood for serious nonfiction, try this excellent biography of the third President of the United States by Pulitzer Prize winner Meacham. Edward Herrmann is among the very best narrators of nonfiction. (Random House Audio…19 hours…$50.)
*Prices are list prices for audiobooks on compact disc. Digital downloads and other versions might be available as well, or you might be able to borrow these audiobooks for free from your library.