Readers, “reading with your ears” is a great way to tackle the huge tomes on your TBR and get the most out of your audiobook credits. (Thanks to John Lee’s excellent narration, I finally read The Count of Monte Cristo this year, as well as this behemoth of a modern novel. Both were great!)
But for readers who are just getting acquainted with the audio format—or who just want to build some momentum in their reading life—short audiobooks provide a low stakes, low-commitment way to enjoy a good story and perhaps get acquainted with the format. You can try a wide variety of genres and listen to the end of the book, without spending much time doing so.
Shorter audiobooks also provide just the right amount of story for a week of quick commutes or a few hours of chores on the weekend.
Today I’m sharing a varied collection of audiobooks that clock in at four hours or less—the perfect amount of time for you to test the audiobook waters or finish a whole book in one week’s worth of walks.
This list includes a mix of sci-fi novellas, conversational nonfiction, and bite-sized literary fiction to suit any reading mood. I hope you find your next great (and quick) listen among today’s assorted titles.
15 audiobooks you can finish in one sitting, one short road trip, or one laundry marathon
Wendell Berry may not be the first author who comes to mind when you think “quick read,” but this short novel clocks in at just over four hours. The first book in a loose series introduces us to Nathan Coulter, a young boy finding his way through grief as he comes of age in the small community of Port William, Kentucky. You’ll see common themes from Berry here: farming, family, and the small moments that make up a fulfilling life. Narrated by Paul Michael, this audiobook makes the slice of life scenes leap off the page. Contemplative, absorbing, and classic. 4 hours 16 mins. More info →
When Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke received a series of verses from a young student with the request to reply with feedback, he poured his insights and advice into the letters compiled here. You’ve probably encountered snippets from this compilation somewhere along the way; in less than two hours you can hear the complete work. If you have a creative bone in your body, it’s well worth the time to give this a listen at least
once, especially because it’s read by Dan Stevens. 1 hour 52 minutes. More info →
This essay collection is written BY a book lover (me) for book lovers (YOU). And thanks to copious cups of Throat Coat tea, I narrated the audiobook, too. For so many people, reading isn’t just a hobby or a way to pass the time–it’s a lifestyle. Our books shape us, define us, enchant us, and even sometimes infuriate us. Our books are a part of who we are as people, and we can’t imagine life without them. I wax poetic on the magic of the library next door, bookworm problems, the books that made me fall in love with reading, and an “instructive” piece on how to organize your bookshelves that would fit right in at McSweeney’s. 2 hours 23 mins. More info →
I read this first in print, and then on audio because I really wanted to hear Acevedo perform the narration (SO GOOD). In this incredible novel-in-verse, Xiomara finds her voice as she pours her soul into her notebook. Every frustration, every harassment, every triumph and every secret is turned into a poem. When she gets invited to share her work in slam poetry club, Xiomara isn’t sure if she can keep her passion secret from her strict family. But she soon learns that speaking up and living her truth is the only way to be fully herself. If “novel-in-verse” gives you pause because you don’t love poetry, trust me: Acevedo is an incredible storyteller and narrator. 3 hours 30 mins. More info →
This tense and tautly-written novel-in-verse takes place in the short span of sixty seconds. Fifteen-year-old Will gets on the elevator with his brother’s gun tucked into his waistband. His brother Shawn is dead, and he wants revenge. The elevator stops on the sixth floor, and Buck enters. He tells Will to check the gun; one bullet is missing. Did Shawn ever use his gun? And then Will remembers: Buck is dead
. Another figure from Will’s past enters a few floors later, and then another, all connected to Shawn. Each one reveals pieces of Shawn’s story, and Will has a decision to make as the elevator reaches the ground floor. I loved listening to Jason Reynolds narrate his award-winning, fast-paced novel. 1 hour 43 mins. More info →
This Hugo and Nebula winner sat on my To Be Read list for too long before I finally listened to the audiobook edition by much-loved narrator Robin Miles
. Okorafor’s novella drops you right into another galaxy where Binti is the first of her people to receive an offer to attend Oomza University, basically an ivy league college. Accepting the offer requires a huge sacrifice and a treacherous journey. I sped through this quick audiobook thanks to the excellent narration and a propulsive plot. 2 hours 30 mins. More info →
I thought I’d read everything by Taylor Jenkins Reid … until our team member Shannan gushed about how much she loved this very short (just 86 pages) 2019 release, and told me she thought I’d love it, too. (She advised me to opt for the audiobook narrated by some of my favorites: Julia Whelan, George Newbern, James Daniels, and Dara Rosenberg.) In this epistolary novel, two strangers strike up a correspondence about the tie that binds them together: their respective spouses, who are having an affair—with each other. In every letter, a little more is revealed, until each couple is forced to decide what they ultimately want for their future. This little book worked for me. (Keep your ears perked for an effortless Daisy Jones reference.) 1 hour 19 mins. More info →
I loved listening to this one, narrated by Guy Lockard: the story was AMAZING in his voice, and delivered a wholly satisfying story for middle grade readers and adults alike. Black preteen ZJ has always had a strong relationship with his father, a football star who’s a living legend and fan favorite. But ZJ and his mom have been struggling lately, trying to make sense of his dad’s increasingly erratic behavior. The doctors suspect the many concussions he’s suffered over the years are the culprit, but they don’t know what to do about it. Woodson doesn’t sugarcoat the suffering, but a drumbeat of hope and resilience anchors ZJ’s story. (My son read this in his fifth grade book club last year. He loved it.) 2 hours 14 mins. More info →
I recommended this Audible Original novella to Ashley on What Should I Read Next Episode 274: #Bookstagram made me do it
. Jones explores common themes in her work: sisterhood, family bonds, and the creative process. In this short bite of literary fiction, identical twins Amelia and Camelia are total opposites, but their lives remain intertwined for years. When Lia decides to take drastic measures in getting a precious piece of art back from her ex-husband, their relationship is tested. I was riveted and listened to Bahni Turpin’s narration in one “sitting” aka long walk with Daisy. 1 hour 20 mins. More info →
I had to laugh when Emily selected this as one of her favorites on WSIRN episode 259
and described the series as “A Man Called Ove
.” Narrated by Kevin R. Free, the first novella introduces a curmudgeonly security droid that hacked its programming and can now control itself. It really just wants to be left alone to watch TV, but a team of annoying humans keeps interrupting it as they conduct interplanetary research. I find novellas to be an excellent gateway to science fiction, and this well-loved series is a great place to start. 3 hours 17 mins. More info →
Some stories in this collection are quick five page reads, and others are closer to 40 pages, and on audio you’ll be so absorbed you won’t know the difference—all of them make you feel like you’re right there in the main character’s life. This collection is about love, sex, relationships, work, mistakes and successes. Each story explores the unique predicament of one character, but they flow seamlessly from one woman’s life to another, thanks to Philyaw’s evocative prose and rich detail. I read my favorite story “How to Make Love to a Physicist” twice through (on paper) because I loved it so much. Janina Edwards narrates this fabulous collection. 4 hours 6 mins. More info →
For a short-but-sweeping read, I recommend listening to the audiobook performed by Daveed Diggs. Yetu takes on the role of historian for her people, descendants of pregnant African women who were thrown overboard built a new society underwater. Holding everyone’s painful memories is too much for Yetu, so she flees to the world above water where she learns more about the past and the future of her people. Originally inspired by a song from rap group Clipping that aired on This American Life in the episode “We Are In The Future,” this imaginative fantasy novella presents a powerful allegory. 4 hours 1 min. More info →
A book that is “as messy as life” for those moments when you need a little extra encouragement. In a wide assortment of essays, lists, quotes, recipes, and musings, Matt Haig shares his “life rafts,” the things he turns to for comfort and reassurance when he’s feeling low. As someone who has lived with depression and suicidal thoughts for many years, Haig collects snippets to cling to when it feels like life has thrown him overboard, such as an ode to peanut butter toast, 10 books that helped his mind, or an essay titled “Ferris Bueller and the Meaning of Life,” and shares them here with tenderness and wit. Haig narrates the audiobook with a conversational tone (and his British accent). 3 hours 9 mins. More info →
With her knack for combining quirky characters with surprising science fiction plots, Chambers helps us step outside the “real world” to examine modern society with fresh eyes. In the first installment of her next series, a tea monk dedicates his life to comforting humans in times of need, until he meets a robot friend with an important question. Endearing and delightful, this novella isn’t just for sci-fi lovers. In fact, Chambers dedicates it to “anybody who could use a break.” This one’s been making the rounds in our WSIRN team—about half of us have listened to the audiobook, narrated by Emmett Grosland. 4 hours 8 mins. More info →
This short epistolary novel might be slender, but it’s anything but lightweight. In it, two German friends exchange a series of letters discussing Hitler’s increasing power and changing sentiments in Germany. One friend is a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco; the other is his business partner, who returns with his family to Munich. The tone of their letters quickly changes as each grapples with current events in their native Germany. Reading this story now, it’s breathtaking to know it was first published in 1938. I’m grateful for the recent reissue that put this old book on my radar. It was excellent on audio, as narrated by Rob Shapiro and George Newbern. 1 hour 8 mins. More info →
Have you listened to any great audiobooks lately? What’s your sweet spot for listening time? Share your recommendations and thoughts in the comments.
P.S. Keep track of your audiobook TBR with my new reading journal, out September 21! Pre-order My Reading Life: A Book Journal today to get bonus book lists, bookmarks, and more! If you’d like a signed copy, place an order from my local indie Carmichael’s Bookstore and include a note in the order comments for personalization.
P.P.S. Check out 20 extra long audiobooks to make the most of those credits or find a new favorite narrator among these 10 stellar voices.
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