Ears and Tears: Audiobooks That’ll Make You Cry

Howdy audiobook lovers,

Whatcha been listening to? Thanks to the wildly effusive reviews of the Book Riot Insiders during our last Audiobooks Chat, I’m listening to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Although it seems like I am the last person on earth who hasn’t read the books or watched the show, I’ll give a quick summary (no spoilers, I promise).

Just for Book Riot readers: sign up for an Audible account, and get two audiobooks free!

Claire Randall and her husband are on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945, celebrating her return from war, where she was a nurse, when she walks through an ancient, standing stone circle. Immediately, she’s transported to the year 1743, where she’s a “Sassenach—an ‘outlander’—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding clans.”

This is not the type of book I normally gravitate towards–-I’m not much of a historical fiction, fantasy, or romance reader and Outlander is definitely a mashup of those three genres. I am, however, really enjoying the Scottish accents and the writing is excellent. I don’t know that I’ll make it through all of the books, but I’m way more intrigued than I would have thought and also…it’s a pretty steamy read, at least so far.

Now, I may have mentioned this a time or two, but I spent many years as a young adult librarian at a public library. And in addition to thinking teens are pretty freaking great, I’m also a huge fan of YA literature. Which is why I am especially jealous of all of you who can enter this giveaway: We’re giving away $500 of the year’s best YA fiction and nonfiction so far. $500 is a LOT of books and whoever wins will be set for reading material for the foreseeable future. Could it be you? Enter here.

A few newsletters ago, I mentioned an article that said audiobooks produce a more emotional reaction in readers than film adaptations of the same title. Some of you chimed in with stories of your most emotional listens.

Becky says, “Since I get emotional watching movies or TV and reading a book or article, listening to audiobooks get the same treatment. One memorable experience for me happened while I was listening to The Kite Runner in the car while I was driving somewhere by myself. By the second CD, I was distraught by the horrors of what was happening and needed to pull into a rest area to read the back of the cd box to help me decide whether to keep going with the novel. Strangely enough, I was relieved to discover it was a fiction book and not someone’s true story. Even though I know much of what happened in The Kite Runner really did take place, hearing a fictionalized version gave my emotions a little buffer space. Tears still fell, but I wasn’t distraught.”

This is kind of the opposite reaction that I had listening to Star of the North. It’s a fictional novel, so I assumed some of the worst/hardest to believe parts about North Korea’s government were exaggerated or outright fabricated. When I got to the end and read that everything was based on actual accounts of prisoners/programs implemented by the government, etc., it was even more chilling. It’s interesting how fiction can be a buffer for our emotional distress and the various reactions we have when we find out how much of the story is true. Also, I’m clearly desperate for someone to talk about Star of the North with. Have you read it? Tell me your thoughts @mamacb or email me at

Danni mentioned that, like my friend Emily, she didn’t cry at either the movie or the book of The Perks of Being a Wallflower (literally how is this possible?!). But she has a rec that might just crack even Emily’s cold, dead heart. She says, “I never never never cry at books or movies… I didn’t cry at the PERKS movie or book. But I was absolutely SOBBING uncontrollably while listening to Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley (highly recommend!).”

As for me, here are the last three audiobooks I remember shedding tears while listening to but still loved.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
So the kind of stuff that makes me cry isn’t when a character has some kind of deep, intense, trauma (and it’s not spoiling anything to tell you that Eleanor indeed has that) but more often it’s petty cruelty that does me in (and Eleanor faces plenty of that in this novel as well). See, Oliphant is a bit of an odd duck, both in terms of her behavior and looks. Unfortunately for her, she works in an office where the social dynamics are akin to a high school cafeteria.

However, it’s not just mean/sad stories that get my waterworks going but also when someone refuses to play that horrible game and shows genuine kindness and caring to the aggrieved party. And that’s really when I started to lose it. The kindness that her fellow coworker, Raymond, shows Eleanor and the way they develop a deep, meaningful friendship made me grateful I was listening to the audiobook and didn’t end up with embarrassing tear blotches on the pages of the book.

HungerHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Ok, sometimes the big trauma makes me cry, too. I don’t know what my reaction would have been reading this in print, but hearing Gay narrate it made me lose. my. shit. You can hear her voice crack as she recounts the most painful experiences of her life and the impact they had on the rest of her life. It’s not easy listening but, like everything Gay does, it’s brilliant and deeply meaningful.

not my fathers son by alan cumming coverNot My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming
It’s easy to think the successful actors we see on TV are trauma-free, well-adjusted individuals who get to go to fancy parties and collect big paychecks. This is especially true if they aren’t the type of celeb to cause a scene in hotel rooms or brawl with paparazzi. But that’s not always the reality and Alan Cumming is an example of a brilliant, successful actor who had it anything but easy growing up.

As the publisher notes, “Alan Cumming grew up in the grip of a man who held his family hostage, someone who meted out violence with a frightening ease, who waged a silent war with himself that sometimes spilled over onto everyone around him. That man was Alex Cumming, Alan’s father.”

What moved me so much about this book is how palpably you can feel Cumming trying to work through his complicated feelings about his father on the page.

He’s also, as one might expect, an excellent narrator and this smart, funny, and moving book will definitely make you shed a tear or…300.

I’m on the road next week, so I’ll be sending the next newsletter from Colorado!

Until then audiophiles, happy listening!