I’ve listened to spoken word audio almost as long as I can remember — my dad was a fan of old-time radio shows and he managed to get his hands on cassette copies of The Whistler in the pre-internet 80s for my family to listen to in the car, and I used to go to sleep listening to the old children’s radio show Let’s Pretend.
Now that I think about it, that sounds kind of frustrating — would I just fall asleep at some point and not know where or how much I’d missed, then just keep rewinding and stopping to figure it out? Ah, the 80s.
Now as a grownup who can access basically anything at any time in the 21st century, I use Amazon’s audiobook service Audible and podcasts to take care of what cassette tapes used to. And it seems like a lot of you guys do, too!
A lot of people love listening to them as they clean, take walks, work, commute, whatever. I find that listening to spoken word stuff can turn any chore into something that I look forward to, or, at the very least, allow me to multitask and take a lot of books that I’m interested in off of the “I’ll Get To It Someday” list and onto the “Done, Boom,” one.
I’ve learned, been inspired and been entertained just by making a few clicks and keeping my ears open, and I thought I’d share the wealth.
The Body Book by Cameron Diaz
I love listening to audiobooks with celebrity authors — actors really know how to perform the hell out of a thing they wrote and care about.
So imagine my surprise when I realized I hadn’t read the fine print and Cameron Diaz only narrates the intro of this book, and then a ringer comes in to do the rest. THE NERVE. I guess Cameron Diaz was too busy helping Benji Madden get her name tattooed across his chest (this is a reminder that Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden of Good Charlotte are married/a very unexpected celebrity couple).
But I adjusted, even though the fact that narrator Sandy Rustin sounds distractingly like Cammie D without actually BEING her, which kind of took me out of it and occasionally bugged me. Maybe get the real person or someone totally different? But this is a preference, and a nitpicky one at that.
Narration aside, when I first heard this book a few years ago, it blew my mind. It turned out I knew embarrassingly little about the inner functions of my own body, and it took the Star of Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle and her voice doppelganger to bring that to my attention.
Perhaps unfairly because of its celebrity author, I was surprised at how science-ey The Body Book is about the way the food we eat and movement we engage in affects our bodies and minds for better or for worse. It’s not a diet or meal plan book and doesn’t idealize any one body shape, which is an essential for me.
Listen to this book, but prep your friends for the fact that you’re going to be randomly spouting facts at them like “When we eat plants, did you know we’re eating ENERGY from the SUN?” here and there.
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Mari Kondo
I fully understand that many people have hit a bit of a wall of fatigue with this book since it’s seeming omnipresence began a few years ago.
But if you haven’t read it and you just know that everyone talks about it, the audiobook is a perfect entry point into the idea of listening to self-help rather than physically reading it.
If you listen to the audiobook you still get all the information you want on-the-go, plus you could conceivably put this book’s tips about cleanliness and joyfully downsizing your way to minimalism to use while you’re listening to it since you’ll be hands-free.
I personally listened to this book on my commute in the week before I was preparing to pack my apartment for a move and I found it very motivating. So much so that, one day, when my husband Ryan was in the car with me, I told him that I wanted to put on this book I was listening to about how clearing clutter can change your life.
You know that thing when you tell someone to watch a TV show you love and they happen to catch the very worst episode, and you’re like, “No no, I swear, it’s actually good!” This was like that.
When I turned on the audiobook, the narrator, Emily Woo Zeller, was explaining that the time that socks spend in your drawer was the only time they had to rest and if you don’t roll them up neatly, they remain in a state of tension.
Eyes on the road, I could feel Ryan turn to look at me. I refused to look back. I knew had lost him. But there is actual, practical information that’s been useful in my life, I swear!
Yes Please By Amy Poehler
This is by far the most star-studded voice cast on this list, boasting the author, Amy Poehler, as well as Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, reading a chapter he wrote for the book, Mike Schur, Sir Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, and Amy’s own parents. Glitzy!
While not marketed as a self-help book, structurally there are some clues — its 3 sections are titled “Say Whatever You Want,” “Do Whatever You Like,” and “Be Whoever You Are.”
I found Poehler’s candidness about her life and her relatable struggles, both as just a regular human and as a human doing a public job with unique challenges as well as perks, to be pretty therapeutic.
Kara and I share a conviction that by sharing both what works and what doesn’t, we can either help other people do better or help them to feel less alone — and hearing about the neuroses of a celebrity who could buy and sell me all while still making me wish we were friends counts as self-help in my eyes.
Plus, she quotes Buddhist author Pema Chödrön at one point, what’s more self-help-ey than that?
Poehler successfully rides a line where you feel like she’s letting you in, but understandably not giving away the farm. She talks about sex and drugs but stops short of telling other people’s stories for them.
For example, rather than going in-depth about her divorce, she has a chapter of satirical titles for books about divorce that’s telling about her own experience. Amy Poehler doesn’t have it all figured out and doesn’t pretend to, which frankly, makes it seem like she does.
What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey
Full disclosure — I would follow Oprah Winfrey into hell, holding a BRRREAD baguette over my head for us to toast when we got down there. I love her and I think the world is a better place with her in it.
So this is not the most unbiased review of her book which, rather than a flowing narrative, is a compilation of columns from O Magazine that she’s updated and revised. But come on, you can trust a book written by Oprah. She got America to read! DO AS OPRAH BIDS YOU TO.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her tell me stories about her experiences that always contain a lesson, like some sort of non-judgey Aesop’s Fables written by an Aesop with amazing skin and an enviable vegetable garden. We can move on.
You don’t need me to tell you that Oprah is amazing. You need to hear her soothing voice assuring you that we’re all connected by love while you’re in traffic resisting the urge to lean your full weight on the horn.
This is comedian Michael Ian Black’s second memoir, the first being You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death and Other Humiliations, which I also really love.
Black peppers his books (and his act) with a shtick of bravado alternating with self-deprecation so specific that it could only be real, and you get the sense that he means them both.
He brings that acknowledgment of good and bad to all his relationships, expressing sometimes-uncomfortable truths that are only uncomfortable because you get it.
But he’s also, really, really funny and really, really sweet. These are feel-good books wrapped in cynicism, like some sort of self-help Trojan Horses.
Navel Gazing is about his experience as a human with a body, reflecting on little-talked-about male vanity, attempts at getting into shape, aging, and the natural consequence of aging — mortality. This is largely where his mother, who went through a bout of serious illness, comes in.
At the time I listened to the book, my elderly father was bouncing between hospitals and rehabs, so hearing someone talk about fear and feelings similar to mine was cathartic — and it was a relief to laugh about it. Like, sick people don’t instantly become angels, sometimes they’re still irritating, and that’s okay to acknowledge.
Between having someone to relate to at a time when that felt rare and getting a peek into real male feelings about appearance — let’s face it, so many guys act blase and “whatever” like they don’t care, but they obviously do — I loved the experience of reading this book.
Not unlike Yes Please, this is not specifically a self-help book, but Black is empathetic and sincere…and that to me (and perhaps you), is helpful.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to check out one of these books or to dip a toe into the world of audiobooks and podcasts out there if you haven’t already!
I’m telling you, you’ve never wanted to do the dishes more badly than when you know that afterward, you’re going to take off those repurposed hair coloring gloves that you use as dishwashing gloves (just me?) feeling a little better about the world and knowing a little more about yourself.