Olivia Langen Guest Post_What We're Listening To: Summer Anthems and Audiobooks
Staff Picks: Audiobooks to Match Your Summer Anthem Obsessions

By Olivia Langen, Pre-Production Associate at PRH Audio

In the few short months that I’ve been on the Penguin Random House Audio team, my headphones have become nearly one with my eardrums. Recently, the only thing that’s been forcing me to push the pause button on an audiobook is a new music release, and thankfully, 2021 has reaped a bountiful harvest of summer anthems.

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Olivia Langen

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been building up a steady playlist of summery bops since the singles first started to drop in early spring. And if you’ve already exhausted those singles by playing them daily, on repeat, then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a choose-your-own-adventure guide to finding the perfect audiobook to compliment your summertime ditty of choice.


If your anthem is “Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast
Your audiobook is Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

The indie-pop-darling-turned-memoirist Michelle Zauner is having quite a monumental summer. Not long before releasing her third studio album Jubilee in June, Zauner published her first-ever book, Crying in H Mart, a memoir that explores cultural identity, grief, and self-discovery. It might leave you in pieces, but here’s the good news: Jubilee is ready to comfort you in the form of synth-pop.

If you’ve become as obsessed with the track “Be Sweet” as I have, then it might be time to take a deep dive into Zauner’s inspiration behind the music. As the artist recently described in a book club with the PRHA team, Jubilee actively defies the “grief girl” label that the industry has placed on Japanese Breakfast over the years, choosing instead to celebrate happiness. I’d say that Jubilee is the perfect recovery album after the long year that was 2020.

If your anthem is “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat ft. SZA
Your audiobook is The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo Cover Image

I’m already dreading my Spotify Wrapped list for 2021, because I fear that “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat and SZA will dominate each and every category. If the same is true for you, consider distracting yourself with The Poet X on audio, narrated by the author Elizabeth Acevedo.

This flirty, thoughtful YA novel-in-verse blends poetry with prose, in a way unlike any book I’ve ever read or listened to, as the lovable protagonist Xiomara Batista finds her voice in slam poetry club.

Confronting a society that insists on sexualizing her, and challenging a conservative Catholic family that insists on punishing her for attempting to embrace said sexuality, Xiomara paves a poetic new path for herself in verse. This coming-of-age novel can (and should) be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of your proximity to teen-ness. In the words of Doja Cat, “We’re so young, boy, we ain’t got nothin’ to looooose, oh oh! (It’s just principle!).”

If your anthem is “Therefore I Am” by Billie Eilish
Your audiobook is Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Quoting RenĂ© Descartes, Billie Eilish fought back against body-shamers and clout-chasers: “You think that you’re the man / I think, therefore I am.” If the irreverence and depth of “Therefore I Am” really resonates, I recommend that you keep those headphones in and give Trick Mirror a try.

In this incisive collection of essays, culture critic Jia Tolentino dishes out wisdom on everything from classism to GirlBoss Feminism to the institution of marriage. We still have a few weeks until Billie’s wildly anticipated second studio album comes out; in the meantime, allow the voice of Jia Tolentino to bring you one step closer to self-realization.

If your anthem is “Best Friend” by Saweetie ft. Doja Cat
Your audiobook is Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Yes, this is the second Doja Cat collab on this list, but this song is too good to leave out. Every time it comes on, I’m overcome with the need to hype up my friends and defend them at all costs.

If you and your bestie are in need of a book club, Swing Time by Zadie Smith is the way to go. By way of Pippa Bennett-Warner’s captivating narration, this audiobook will take you from a fated sleepover scandal in North London, to a pop star’s New York penthouse, to a West African nation where said pop star tries to solve poverty.

Centering the tight yet tumultuous friendship of two young Brits, Zadie Smith weaves together themes of privilege, white saviorism, and power imbalances as they exist on both global and interpersonal scales. Swing Time will make you feel all sorts of childhood BFF nostalgia, sparing nothing in terms of philosophical revelation.

If your anthem is “MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)” by Lil Nas X
Your audiobook is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles Cover Image

Hear me out on this one. Sure, you could download Andre Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name, get swept away to an Italian villa, and daydream about Timothee Chalamet—that’s an option. But if “MONTERO” is truly your summer anthem, then The Song of Achilles is much more likely to transport you to the subversive, Lil Nas X-ian underworld of your dreams (if you haven’t already seen the video, where have you been?).

The Song of Achilles is a queer reimagining of the Greek classic, bringing you alongside the eponymous demigod’s relationship with the book’s protagonist, Patroclus. There’s seduction, deceit, revenge, and forbidden love. Pause button who?

If your anthem is “Vroom Vroom” by Charli XCX
Your audiobook is My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

If listening to “Vroom Vroom” by Charli XCX and SOPHIE makes you feel like the main character in a heist movie, boy do I have a recommendation for you: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is a thriller in every sense of the word. Consider this audiobook a lavender Lamborghini that will carry you through the tangled lives of two sisters in Lagos, Nigeria, as our protagonist tries to clean up after the bloody acts of her murderous sister, both literally and figuratively. And I still don’t know which is more terrifying.

Let’s ride.

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