Audiobooks for a roadtrip
August 6, 2009 10:47 PM   Subscribe

Recommend audiobooks for a four-person roadtrip, about 10 hours each way.

I'm driving from WI to MO with my brother and my parents and since all our musical tastes vary to the extremes, I thought it might be better to listen to audiobooks instead. We're all grown-up adults, so I'm thinking something informative/interesting or something quaint/comical.

As far as informative audiobooks go, my brother and I are both history majors and my parents both enjoy history. But obviously for a roadtrip, we wouldn't want any detail-driven book, rather something that is more of a narrative/story. (For example, we all enjoyed Band of Brothers and Ghost Soldiers.)

For comical/entertaining books, we've all enjoyed the works of Patrick McManus. So, basically good, clean humor.
posted by BradNelson to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Not exactly audiobooks, but perhaps some "A Prairie Home Companion" podcasts could fill in some miles, for an audience of divergent tastes?
posted by paulsc at 10:54 PM on August 6, 2009

I know that they are not strictly audiobooks, but what about stocking up on past episodes of This American Life? Only the most recently broadcast episode is available for free on their podcast, but there are back issues on Audible for 66 cents each. If you like narrative and storytelling, I can't think of a better choice. TAL episodes are my favorite roadtrip entertainment.

If you like history books with interesting stories that are not too heavy, I can also recommend the books by Mark Kurlansky, in particular Salt and Cod. Otherwise, try browsing around the Audible website, paying attention to comments that say whether a book is good as an audiobook or not - some books that are great in print suck as audiobooks (Getting It Done for instance comes to mind).
posted by thread_makimaki at 11:05 PM on August 6, 2009

I recently listened to and loved Captain Blood if you enjoy swashbuckling adventures!
posted by meta87 at 11:07 PM on August 6, 2009

I'm in the middle of Team of Rivals and find the story of Lincoln, Seward, Chase and Bates fascinating. It's 36 CDs for the unabridged version though - much longer than your driving time.
posted by jaimev at 11:17 PM on August 6, 2009

Anything by Bill Bryson.
posted by Netzapper at 11:20 PM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
Any of the "On Comedy" series, particularly Johnny Carson
posted by rhizome at 11:21 PM on August 6, 2009

Seconding This American Life!
posted by ellighi at 11:46 PM on August 6, 2009

Nth TAL. Great for road trips.
posted by bigmusic at 12:11 AM on August 7, 2009

2nding Bill Bryson
posted by N2O1138 at 12:20 AM on August 7, 2009

Given your common interest in history, I couldn't recommend too highly the brilliant History of Rome podcast. 70 odd episodes should keep you going for a while. Whilst it *is* detail oriented to an extent, the author of the podcast is just so damn engaging that I doubt it would be a hindrance.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:23 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing This American Life podcasts. Those seem to please a much wider variety of people than any particular book, and they're only an hour long with smaller segments so if someone doesn't like one they don't have to endure for long. My husband and I drove from Houston to LA three times using TAL podcasts, and when he goes on climbing trips, his friend plays them for everyone in the car as well.
posted by Nattie at 1:30 AM on August 7, 2009

The BBC Dramatization of the Lord of the Rings is brilliant. Could even be better than the original books.
posted by singingfish at 3:34 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

We downloaded a bunch of TED talks.
posted by wherever, whatever at 3:53 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Jim Norton narrated audiobook of Flann O'Brien'sThe Third Policeman” (amazon, audible) is outstanding, I can't recommend it enough. Be sure to get the unabridged version, it runs to about 7 hours long.
posted by nfg at 3:57 AM on August 7, 2009

All 5 Phases of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, as presented for BBC Radio total up to 13 hours or so, and are enormously entertaining.
posted by pupdog at 4:15 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Episodes of Radiolab, Studio 360 (including one fab episode entirely devoted to Moby Dick), the stories on the storytelling podcast The Moth, stories on The New Yorker's fiction podcast all come to mind. I also love the Slate gabfest podcasts, but they may be too current event-y for your purposes. Oh, and the Classic Tales podcast is really perfect for listeners of varying age and taste; the reader has a really intense and spooky reading voice and a penchant for choosing thrilling old tales. Listen, for instance, to him reading "The Yellow Wallpaper."

As for audiobooks, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is really provocative and fun. The Year of Living Biblically is entertaining, if gimmicky. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell is a treat. Stiff, Mary Roach's book about cadavers, is clever and totally engrossing, but not for the squeamish. Finally, we just listened to and really loved The Short Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but it's racy in spots and I wouldn't listen to it with my parents.
posted by cymru_j at 4:39 AM on August 7, 2009

One time, a few years ago, some friends and I listened to "The Rule of Four" by Ian Caldwell on a roadtrip. As history buffs, you might find it interesting.
posted by Precision at 4:55 AM on August 7, 2009

Freakonomics, Outliers, Blink, and Moneyball are audible page-turners (even though they're not exactly narratives). So are Jon Krakauer's Into The Wild or Into Thin Air.

You can also try anything by Sarah Vowell and nthing Bill Bryson.
posted by starman at 5:22 AM on August 7, 2009

Not a title recommendation, but a source -- since audiobooks can be expensive, look in your public library -- they'll have some CDs and cassette tapes (the latter unfortunately not very useful if you're looking to put audio files onto an iPod).
posted by Rash at 5:23 AM on August 7, 2009

Agreeing with "This American Life" and also recommending "Assassination Vacation" by Sarah Vowell. It was about 8 hours long and she makes American history dishy and juicy.
posted by knmr76 at 5:42 AM on August 7, 2009

Depending where your political tastes lie, the Al Franken audiobooks are an absolute riot. Also, America: The Book by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:42 AM on August 7, 2009

I came in to recommend This American Life as well. The other podcast I really enjoy is also by NPR, called "Wait, wait, don't tell me!" It's an hour-long news quiz show (with a lot of parodying and mocking of the news) and it might be a bit more light-hearted than TAL, which can cover some pretty sombre subject matter.
posted by Phire at 5:47 AM on August 7, 2009

I've got the perfect book for your trip! "The Killer Angels," by Michael Shaara, which is
an incredibly good novelization of the battle of Gettysburg written from the point of view of those involved.

I don't know if it's available as an audiobook, but "Fortunate Son," by Lewis Puller is another incredible piece of work. It deals with the Vietnam war and its aftermath.
posted by WyoWhy at 6:40 AM on August 7, 2009

I listen to audio books all day at work, here are some of my favorites:

Devil in the White City: by Eric Larsen
Thunderstruck: by Eric Larsen
Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign: by Stephan Talty
Water for Elephants: by Sara Gruen

Some audio books that I loved, but that contain certain sexy narrative or off-color descriptions that could be awkward to listen to in a car with your parents...

The Time Travellers Wife: by Audrey Niffenegger
The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao: by Junot Diaz
Any of the David Sedaris books
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:47 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

A few books I loved listening to were:

William Langewiesche- The Outlaw Sea
A.J. Jacobs- The Year of Living Bibilically
Jeffrey Toobin- The Nine
Atul Gawande- Better
Kurt Eichenwald- The Informant
Kurt Eichenwald- Conspiracy of Fools
Jon Ronson- The Men Who Stare at Goats
Steve Coll- The Bin Ladens
Steve Dublanica- Waiter Rant
George Crile- Charlie Wilson's War
Misha Glenny- McMafia
Riccardo Orizio- Talk With the Devil
John Grisham- The Innocent Man

Off color for parents:
Chelsea Handler- Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea
Chelsea Handler- My Horizontal Life
T.J. English- Havana Nocturne
posted by reenum at 7:14 AM on August 7, 2009

The David Sedaris audio books are good, he reads them himself, which is always a nice addition.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond I remember enjoying parts of at the least.

Anthony Bourdains Kitchen Confidential was great.
posted by nerhael at 7:34 AM on August 7, 2009

If you like history, you will like Sarah Vowell. She does the reading herself and has guests (Stephen Colbert, Conan O'Brien) as the voices of historical figures.

I also like everything by RadioLab.
posted by betsybetsy at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2009

Sometimes I like to listen to audio commentary while driving. The audio commentary for every season of The Wire, if you aleady watched the series, is very compelling.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2009

Here are a few listens I've enjoyed recently:

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan - well-written narrative of the Dust Bowl, from a variety of perspectives, also less depressing than I expected for a grim point in history.

One Christmas in Washington by David Bercuson and Holger Herwig - more detail-driven, but still quite listenable, story of the making of the Grand Alliance, when the US entered WWII.

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell - historical fiction, account of the Jewish situation in Italy during WWII.

Collapse by Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) - stories of various failed societies, and why it happened.

The Places in Between by Rory Stewart - his walk across Afghanistan in 2002.

Also would nth This American Life.

Almost all of these I got from, plus one from the local library.
posted by dorey_oh at 2:56 PM on August 7, 2009

A friend with a long commute listens to plenty, and she has a rule, now -- don't get audiobooks read by their authors. Apparently, the ability to write doesn't necessarily indicate an ability to read well -- a good reader/storyteller makes the different characters sound different, and accents, dialect, etc come easy to an actor, but maybe not to the original author. (Of course I'd personally make exceptions for David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell.)

Another personal experience, gleaned from a listening of Into the Wild -- the type of book which begins each chapter with a relevant quote from something else is infuriating in the audio-book format -- so easy to process (or skip) in written form, but a confusing disruption of the narrative in streaming audio.
posted by Rash at 7:07 AM on August 8, 2009

Nthing anything by Bill Bryson, but specifically A Short History or Nearly Everything.

Also seconding The World Without Us - it was fascinating!
posted by just_ducky at 10:36 AM on August 8, 2009

The Terror, which I learned of in this thread, is absolutely amazing, 28 hours unabridged, and I was able to download it for free from my library system.
posted by exhilaration at 11:30 AM on August 8, 2009

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