A long drive can either be excruciatingly boring, or beautiful and memorable. While good company and scenic views can do the trick, sometimes we have to make a trip alone (or with a less-than-ideal passenger) along an unsightly road. In that case, entertainment is the most reliable solution. Since we've all been there, we decided to come to the rescue with a roundup of the best audiobooks for road trips and long commutes that make any voyage better.
Complete with gripping mysteries, wise essays, hilarious short stories, and poetic epics, we included books that really come alive when read out loud. In fact, since they're read by the likes of Claire Danes, Roxane Gay, John Waters, and Diane Keaton, these audiobooks are worth listening to even if you're staying at home.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Plot: Set in London right after WWII, this novel is about the end of an affair, hence the title—but it's so much more than that. Even William Faulkner agrees: "For me, [it's] one of the best, most true, and moving novels of my time, in anybody's language," he once said.
The Narrator: Colin Firth
The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark
The Plot: A woman goes on vacation to an undefined European country and ends up running into (Seeking? Manifesting? Imagining? It's not quite clear) a violent mess. It explores all sorts of notions of control, free will, gender norms, time, identity, and more, hence leaving you to wonder: Who's really in the driver's seat?
The Narrator: Dame Judi Dench
White Girls by Hilton Als
The Plot: For those of you who prefer nonfiction but still want to be pulled into an engaging, poignant story, this is the audiobook for you. It's a hybrid of forms, including fictional vignettes, critiques, and essays. In it, Pulitzer Prize winner Hilton Als takes an analytical look at an array of figures that redefine the category of "White girls," from Flannery O'Connor to Michael Jackson.
The Narrator: Miron Willis
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Plot: Mysteries were practically made for road trips, and this one is especially good because it explores racial identity and family dynamics, too. Set in 1970s Ohio, a mixed-race family is grappling with the disappearance of their eldest daughter, Lydia, while trying to work through some of their own demons. It's told from the perspective of different family members, ultimately letting the reader hear Lydia's voice at the end.
The Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A. by Eve Babitz
The Plot: If that title doesn't hook you, we don't know what will. For anyone who has ever lived in Southern California, this book will take you right back. It's also segmented into short sections marked by the narrator's lovers both in human and landscape form. Though it gives you a glimpse inside Los Angeles during the '60s and '70s, it feels incredibly resonant today.
The Narrator: Mia Barron
I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
The Plot: In a quest to discover the man responsible for 10 murders and 50 sexual assaults, and to help the survivors heal, Michelle McNamara wrote I'll Be Gone in the Dark. Tragically, she passed away at 46 years old in her sleep while working on this book, but her husband, comedian Patton Oswalt, published it for her posthumously. McNamara's sense of respect, profound commitment to justice and truth, and intelligence shine through the violence of the subject: the Golden State Killer. (A few months after this book was published, authorities identified the killer as Joseph James DeAngelo, and he was arrested.) If any writer can take you inside these horrific crimes without shattering your sense of safety, it's McNamara.
The Narrator: Babra Zackman
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Plot: Whether you've read this controversial classic over and over or this is the first time you're picking it up, the lyrical prose and disturbing narration are truly unforgettable. At once witty, enraging, and heartbreaking, Nabokov presents us with a pedophile's obsession with a young girl, as well as exploring the clash between European and American culture.
The Narrator: Jeremy Irons
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
The Plot: It's a rare occasion that we get to hear an audiobook read by the author, so this is pretty exciting. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a funny collection of essays inspired by Sedaris's attempt to learn French when he first moved to Paris. Since delivery is (almost) everything, his humor comes across even more in the audible version.
The Narrator: David Sedaris
Carsick by John Waters
The Plot: Here's another audiobook narrated by the original author, and it's equally as incredible. Written by the inimitable John Waters (he's the genius behind the cult classic Pink Flamingos), this book is about his hitchhiking journey across the U.S. He presents us with his fantasies of both the best- and worst-case scenarios and ends with the story of what actually happened. It's uplifting, exciting, and weird in the best, John Waters–way possible.
The Narrator: John Waters
Hunger by Roxane Gay
The Plot: Did we mention that we love listening to audiobooks narrated by the original author? There's just something so rewarding about hearing a writer's words in their own voice that makes it that much more engaging and inspiring. In Roxanne Gay's memoir, you'll hear the intimate and honest story of her relationship with herself and her body. As with all of her work, it's incredibly effective and insightful.
The Narrator: Roxanne Gay
One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
The Plot: Five students—each one representing a high school trope: the brain, the beauty, the athlete, the outcast, and the criminal—walk into detention, and one ends up dead—so who's the killer? You'll hear from the four surviving voices as this mystery unfolds, so you can try to solve the crime along with the fictional investigators.
The Narrators: Kim Mai Guest, MacLeod Andrews, Shannon McManus, and Robbie Daymond
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
The Plot: Joan Didion captures the essence of elusive and formative cultural moments with the precision and poignancy of her language in this collection of essays about the Golden State. Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a great audiobook to listen to if you're from Northern California or driving through it. Didion also happens to epitomizes California cool, so get ready to take note.
The Narrator: Diane Keaton
What If? by Randall Munroe
The Plot: If you're always bugging friends and families with "what if?" questions and never getting any satisfying answers, this book is your solution. And even if you don't resonate with that, Munroe's book is hilarious and addictively captivating. Get ready to find out what might happen if an earthquake with a magnitude of 15 shook New York City, or what would happen if you went swimming in a pool of nuclear fuel.
The Narrator: Wil Wheaton
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Plot: Fertility rates in women are at a staggering low in this patriarchal American society of the slight future. Women with the ability to conceive are kidnapped, bought, and owned by wealthy families to keep their lineage alive at the violent expense of everyone else. The scariest part is that Atwood does such an expert job at creating this world with rules that we begin to accept as not at all far-fetched and with the potential to unravel in our reality. Just don't let it get too much in your head while you're on the road; otherwise, you may end up driving toward Canada as the protagonists do.
The Narrator: Claire Danes
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Plot: The Hate U Give was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. At the center of the story is a teenage girl from a poor neighborhood who attends a fancy prep school as she tries to find a balance between the two worlds after police fatally shoot her unarmed best friend. It's a resonant must-read that feels especially topical in today's political climate.
The Narrator: Bahni Turpin