Listen Close: Six Worthy Audiobooks (under six hours) to Begin the Year

Many of us will be taking to the roads (or the skies) over the holidays and, in between Bing Crosby and Baby Shark, there might be a chance to sink into a good audio book. I always relish the chance, but all too often I leave titles unfinished after our transit time has ended.

So we set out to find six books that can be started and finished in under six hours of travel time, but which—even in their brevity—will offer plenty of inspiration on the eve of a new year.

This month, as you set intentions for the months ahead, consider choosing one or two of the following audiobooks to aid in framing and focusing on how you’ll navigate 2019. I’d love to hear any suggestions you would add!

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, Ada Calhoun (3 hours, 17 min)

“Dating is poetry. Marriage is a novel. There are times, maybe years, that are all exposition.”

Witty, direct, and smart, this collection of essays on marriage uses both Calhoun’s hilarious personal anecdotes and stories, as well as advice from experts, clergy, and friends to show vulnerable truths about marriage and relationships. Calhoun is raw and open about her own mishaps and successes in her relationships, but she never gets overly trite or idealistic. This is one of those pieces that you’ll finish listening to and will immediately text your girlfriends and sister to put on hold at the library.

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler (4 hours, 32 min)

“If I were to invent a sin to describe what that was—for how I lived—I would not say it was simply that I didn’t stop to smell the roses. It was the sin of arrogance, of becoming impervious to life itself. I failed to love what was present and decided to love what was possible instead.”

Bowler, a 38-year-old assistant professor of divinity at Duke, was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage IV cancer three years ago. A scholar of the divinity gospel—a religious movement based on divine promises of health, wealth, and happiness—Bowler interweaves substantial research with her personal story of struggle to come to grips with the tenet that tragedy is a test of character. to understand the tenets of the American belief system that all tragedies are tests of character. This is an engrossing listen, and you’ll often find yourself struck by Bowler’s ability to switch between humor and rage—sometimes even within the same sentence, stunned by her altered perceptions about what makes a life well lived. You’ll be thinking about this book long after you’ve finished listening.

Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham (4 hours, 35 min)

“Eventually I learned that, in the beginning at least, it was better for me to be finished than to try to be perfect. I had to get out of my own way. It wasn’t that the voice in my head-the one telling me my pages weren’t good enough- went away, exactly. I just didn’t let it stop me. An important tool against self-doubt is just to ignore it. Forge ahead anyway. Just keep going, keep going, keep going.”

Whether or not you’re a Gilmore Girls fan, you’ll appreciate this endearing look back on Lauren Graham’s life—her experiences with her beloved show, her journey in acting, and her childhood. She’s candid and hilarious—she even sings in places—giving witty anecdotes on acting (like the time she was asked to audition her backside for a role!) and all things Gilmore Girls. Her willingness to be upfront about real-life challenges many of us face (awkward dating scenarios or being surrounded by friends with kids when you haven’t even considered that road) really pull in the listener. This audiobook is for for when you need to pause, turn off the news, and relax.

Almost Everything, Anne Lamott (3 hours, 40 min)

“There is so much going on that flattens us, that is huge, scary, or simply appalling. We’re doomed, stunned, exhausted, and over caffeinated. And yet, outside my window, yellow roses bloom, and little kids horse around, making a joyous racket.”

Hilarious, uplifting, truth-telling, and poignant, this newest title of Lamott’s serves us in these times of both head-shaking incredulity and inspiring hope. What she offers here is that one should continue to find the good, be hopeful and do just as Mr. Rogers advised so many years ago: “Look for the helpers.” We know that while she’s half-joking in saying, “I am stockpiling antibiotics for the Apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen,” she meets us where it is needed: in the chaotic magnificence that is life. As with all of Lamott’s books, this one will force you to slow down, listen carefully, and work diligently to apply her nudges to your everyday choices.

Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, Hannah Fry (6 hours, 51 min*)

“As computer algorithms increasingly control and decide our future, [the phrase] ‘Hello world’ is a reminder of a moment of dialogue between human and machine. Of an instant where the boundary between controller and controlled is virtually imperceptible. It marks the start of a partnership – a shared journey of possibilities, where one cannot exist without the other.”

Using real world examples, and accessible mathematical explanations regarding algorithms, Fry offers many intriguing questions and scenarios about the power we give technology. Detailing all angles of everyday algorithms surrounding us, explaining how they are written and implemented, but also illustrating how human bias can be written into code, this audiobook comes in a bit longer than others on this list, but it will leave listeners intrigued and provoked: Are algorithms truly an improvement in the human systems they are replacing in droves? What is gained? And what is lost?

*Okay, a bit of a cheat at over 6 hours, but I often listen at 1.25 or 1.5x—do you?

The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations, Oprah Winfrey (4 hours, 54 min)

”Your spirit is the part of you that is seeking meaning and purpose. That’s one way someone can relate to that. Another way to understand spirit is that it’s the part of you that is drawn to hope, that will not give in to despair. The part of you that has to believe in goodness, that has to believe in something more.” Caroline Myss in The Wisdom of Sundays

An anthology of sample conversations from Oprah’s contemplative television show, Super Soul Sunday, is focused on powerful themes such as forgiveness, spirituality and the ego, presenting a compilation spectacular in depth of thought. This unique audiobook, adapted from the print edition, begins each chapter with a personal essay written and read by Oprah, followed by a conversation with a leading visionary on each chapter’s theme. Oprah explains the premise as “If you want to be more fully present and live your life with a wide-open heart, this is the place to come to,” exacting the methods by which we approach and understand our paths and purposes. A deep listen, this audiobook provokes in a steadily thoughtful way.

I’d love to hear if you have any to add to the list! My search for the under-six-hour listen started when I realized that I could hear the much-missed Nora Ephron read I Feel Bad About My Neck on a drive to Tahoe and back. 

Thank you to Molly Coyne for contributing this list of suggestions! 

P.S. Podcasts for kids and Aron’s favorite podcasts.

[Image via Up Knörth]

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