The holidays mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but one thing they mean to almost everybody is: lots of traveling. Maybe that comes in the form of a plane or maybe it comes in the form of a train, but there's a pretty good chance it comes in the form of an automobile. And whether you're stuck in traffic trying to get out of Manhattan or cruising down seemingly endless miles of interstate on the way to... wherever interstates take people, there's no better way to while away the hours than with an audiobook.
Here are the 11 we think you should queue up this holiday season.
The Odyssey by Emily Wilson, read by Claire Danes (available here)
Emily Wilson's translation of Homer's epic—incredibly, the first translation of the classic text by a woman—has become a sensation since its publication late last year, thanks to Wilson's lyricism, sensitivity, and contemporary understanding of this monumentally captivating tale. Now, you can let Claire Danes, who captures Wilson's vibrant pacing beautifully, whisk you away into a time of war, when gods and goddesses toyed with men and women and Odysseus fought almost as hard to get home than you did to get through the traffic snarling the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, read by various narrators (available here)
This gorgeous rendition of grief and loss by George Saunders, one of the greatest living American writers, was a surprise to many readers when it was first published, as it was billed as being Saunders' first novel, yet seemed, in many parts, to be more like a play. Well, that only made Lincoln in the Bardo the perfect book to adapt into an audiobook, and vocal luminaries like Julianne Moore, Nick Offerman, Don Cheadle, and Carrie Brownstein (among many others) lent their talents to tell this tragic story of the events surrounding the death of President Abraham Lincoln's young son, Willie. This book is also an apt choice for a Thanksgiving road trip, as it was Lincoln who first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
Becoming by Michelle Obama, read by Michelle Obama (available here)
If there's anyone in American public life for whom we should all feel thankful, it's Michelle Obama. Her brilliance, humor, and honesty remain a rarity in political spheres, and these qualities are no small part of why her memoir is probably the only one written by someone who lived in the White House that we're really interested in reading. But honestly? Much better than reading this ourselves is letting Obama herself serve as narrator; knowing that she's out there is one of the rare things that makes us feel hopeful about this world of ours.
The Witch Elm by Tana French, read by Paul Nugent (available here)
There's nothing like having a good suspense story read out loud to you, and Tana French's latest is perfect for keeping you captivated while you're traveling home. This isn't an easy listen, despite the fact that French's prose often feels conversationally paced. The subject matter—full of violence and intrigue and torment—is as unsettling as it is compelling and will stay with you long after the final words have been spoken.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, read by Toni Morrison (available here)
For this ur-American holiday, why not listen to one of the greatest American novels of the last century, written by one of the great American novelists? The Bluest Eye was Morrison's first novel, and it is a profoundly moving story of the ways in which racism infects our society at all levels, and insidiously colors our perception of who we are. It's a story of longing and wish-fulfillment, and one you'll never forget, painful as it can be to hear.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron, read by Meryl Streep (available here)
This is a perfect literary appetizer to serve yourself before a weekend of eating with family and friends. It's a story of love, marriage, children, divorce, and food, and it's Ephron at her absolute finest, dispensing wit and wisdom and recipes (some better than others, many best to just leave untested). Meryl Streep's rendition is perfect, of course (Streep also starred in the film adaptation of this novel), making this the perfect companion on your journey home.
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, read by B.D. Wong (available here)
Set in a dystopian future, this provocative, riveting narrative tells of a future that feels not so much imagined as it does predestined. Lee's prose is elegant, yet muscular; it holds you in its grips, pulling you gently, yet insistently, along for what is, in this case, a truly unsettling voyage through an America ravaged by climate change, capitalism, and a merciless class system.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, read by Dan Stevens (available here)
One of Christie's most captivating tales, this is a perfect pre-Thanksgiving read—not least because it's set at a dinner party. One by one, guests are dropping like flies; tension is high, and the plot's denouement is just as unsettling as everything leading up to it. Listening to this will definitely make you think twice about the people sitting to the left and right to you as you eat your turkey.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Moseley, read by Michael Boatman (available here)
There are detective stories, and then there are Easy Rawlins' stories, and, for our money, there's nothing like listening to an Easy Rawlins story to transport you to another time and place, where nothing and nobody are quite what they seem. In this story, it's 1948, in post-war Los Angeles, and Easy's just been laid off from a factory job, so he decides to make some money by looking for an elusive blonde beauty, one Daphne Money. Just these names alone should be enough to get your interest piqued, but it's Moseley's conversational style and Boatman's excellent narration that make this one of the easiest listening experiences we've had in a while.
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, read by Jennifer Connelly (available here)
The holidays are the perfect time to listen to a story of existential despair and alienation, and Bowles is the master of that. So let this extraordinary story of three Americans wandering through the North African deserts sweep you away, as you grow to understand passion and despair in a more profound way than you'd thought possible.
Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs, read by Nick Offerman (available here)
This incredibly funny and informative look into a great American writer's eating habits is a wonderful way to prepare yourself for a great American feast. Who knew Mark Twain was such a gourmand? Not me! But as Offerman guides you through Beahrs' investigation into the gustatory loves of Twain (aka Samuel Clemens), you'll grow to understand the ways in which America's culinary history is a huge part of its larger historical legacy. This is a pure treat, enlivening all your senses, and definitely the kind of book that builds an appetite.
NYLON uses affiliate links and may earn a commission if you purchase something through those links, but every product chosen is selected independently.