A colourful collage of various audiobook covers, including Daisy May Cooper's memoir featuring a photo of her and Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood which features an intricate black and white illustration.

Image: Alexandra Francis / Penguin

Featuring famous narrators, captivating soundscapes, full-cast dramatisations, and sometimes, even, extra content that isn't included in the printed version, audiobooks have come a long way since the productions heard on cassette tapes of yore.

With more audiobooks than ever being created, there's a whole lotta choice out there. If you're feeling a bit bamboozled about where to even begin, allow us to present with this handy little guide to some of this year's best audiobooks. 

Don't Laugh, It'll Only Encourage Her by Daisy May Cooper, read by the author

Growing up in rural poverty, Daisy May Cooper worked a succession of poorly paid and unrewarding jobs just to make ends meet. When things were really bad, her mum would remind her that these character-building experiences would be good fodder for her memoir one day. Like the time she auditioned to be a stripper and got laughed off stage, or the time when she got soaked in someone's urine while at a cleaning job.

Narrated by Cooper herself, the audiobook brings the writing to life in only the way she can, and contains a bonus Q&A with Cooper and her dad – who also plays her dad in her award-winning BBC series This Country. Ultimately, Don't Laugh, It'll Only Encourage Her is completely joyful, very silly and a reminder that, sometimes, the worst experiences make the most entertaining stories.

Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood, read by Stephen Dillane

On a mysterious island, inside a ruined building, The Armourer is enraptured in a terrible ritual. But five forms are on their way to stop him, crossing land, sea and time to reach their goal – coverging, eventually, to become Ness. 

This unique collaboration between Robert Macfarlane and artist and author Stanley Donwood is part-novella, part-poem, part-mystery play and modern myth.

Recorded over a year and a half, within the constraints of the pandemic, the audiobook features narration by Stephen Dillane, known for roles in Games of Thrones and Vigil, a soundtrack created in collaboration with Hugh Brunt, the London Contemporary Orchestra’s co-Artistic Director and co-Principal Conductor, and sounds recorded on location at Orford Ness itself. This haunting audio experience is unlike any other you'll hear this year.

The Upper World by Femi Fadugba, read by Tom Moutchi and Weruche Opia

“I had a hunch I could combine the everyday story of a few kids from south London with the otherworldly physics of space and time”, said Femi Fadugba in a recent interview. And that's exactly what The Upper World is: a strikingly original, high-concept thriller that starts with Esso discovering his ability to see into the future.

The Upper World has already garnered plenty of rave reviews and a film adaptation starring Daniel Kaluuya is on the horizon. In the meantime, you can have a similarly immersive experience with the audiobook, narrated flawlessly by Weruche Opia, of I May Destroy You fame, and Tom Moutchi, known for comedy series Famalam. What's more, Fadugba teamed up with friends to created a score that mixes a fizzing blend of drill, afro-beat and post-classical, sci-fi inspired music to accompany the text.

Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown, read by the author

Brené Brown's TED Talk on the power of vulnerability has racked up over 55m views, which goes some way to showing how much her work has shaped the cultural conversation, and how many look up to her work and wisdom. 

In her latest audiobook, narrated by Brown, she takes us on a journey through 87 of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. Drawing on her research from the past two decades, Atlas of the Heart uses her singular skills as a researcher and a storyteller to lay out the tools we need to create truly meaningful connection with the people around us.

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes, read by Samuel L Jackson

If you're a fan of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler's classic hardboiled fiction, you need to give Chester Himes a go. 

A Rage in Harlem – the first of his stories featuring Harlem detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones – begins when a money-making scheme fails, leaving Jackson broke, wanted by the cops and desperately racing get back both his money and his woman.

Read by Samuel L Jackson on audiobook, this underrated novel is completely gripping, funny, subversive and an evocative snapshot of Harlem in the 1950s

Keisha The Sket by Jade LB, read by the author

In the early 2000s, an anonymous teen wrote a series of stories about life in the ends. It was an instant sensation, passed around on pre-smartphone era phones, computer print-outs from furtively printed at school and word of mouth.

Keisha The Sket is the story of a girl who thinks she's got it all until trauma comes knocking, bringing with it a test that will define what kind of woman she truly wants to be. In print and on audio for the first time, the book features not only Keisha's story but essays from renowned contemporary writers, such as Candice Carty-Williams, Caleb Femi and more, that place LB's work in its rightful place in the British literary canon.

Rutherford and Fry’s Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything by Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry, read by the authors

Do you sometimes wish you just had one comprehensive guidebook to... everything? Well, you're in luck because scientist and broadcaster duo Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry's new book is crammed full of information about how stuff really works in this lil ol' universe we call home.

Narrated by the authors against a backdrop of fun sound effects and an original score, Rutherford and Fry take us on a journey from the origin of time and space, across vast galaxies and planets, all the way into our minds where they contemplate questions such as: what is time and where does it come from? Does my dog love me? Do you need your eyes to see? and much, much more. It's full of knowledge, of course, but it's also thrilling, hilarious, wise and warm.

Double Blind by Edward St Aubyn, read by Benedict Cumberbatch

Edward St Aubyn's hotly-anticipated novel, Double Blind, takes us on a journey across the planet as we follow three close friends, and those in their orbit, through a period of extraordinary transformation.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed St Aubyn's Patrick Melrose in the glitzy television adaptation, and here he's the perfect reader for this moving take on love, fear, courage and the interconnectedness of our lives.

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