Help me not be bored during my commute
March 17, 2010 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Looking for interesting stuff to listen to during my commute. Where can I find some cheap/free audiobooks (or other ~1hr long listening materials) online?

I've started a job that involves commuting for an hour (give or take) every morning and evening, and I'd rather do something more productive/interesting with my time than listen to an album each way. I'd like to listen to audiobooks and such instead. Problem is, audiobooks are pretty expensive, and I don't think I have so much money that I can buy enough to fill 10 hours a week. So...

1) Is there any place I can get free (or cheap) audiobooks of decent quality? I mean to say: I expect quality'll be what I pay for, but something that won't make me wince and turn off the track would be ideal.

2) Alternatively, is there free/cheap text-to-speech software that I can use to make mp3s myself, out of ebooks? I have ebooks.

3) I have also toyed with the idea of using this time to learn a new language, but the resources I found always involved pausing and repeating after the track, or listening along while doing exercises out of a book, and neither are possible while standing on a crowded train. Does anyone know of listen-only language lessons? This one I'd be willing to pay for, if it was awesome.

Other suggestions on how to entertain myself for an hour at a time in a train are welcome too. I have an iPod Nano and a Nokia e72 (sans data plan, unfortunately, so websurfing is right out).
posted by Xany to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Radiolab. It's a science podcast and each episode last about an hour. I love listening to them as I work on projects around the house. I copied them onto cds (they're all free to download) for my parents who have very long commutes and they both absolutely loved them. Even though the topics sound pretty scientific, they are really easy to listen to and understand and quite thought provoking. Start with "stocasticity"; it's my favorite.
posted by FairlyFarley at 8:52 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

The public library has audiobooks.
posted by artychoke at 8:52 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about podcasts? There are about a babillion out there, on every subject imaginable. I listen to Keith and the Girl during my commute. You might try browing Podcast Alley to see what would catch your fancy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:52 AM on March 17, 2010

Librivox has volunteer-recorded public domain works for free. The quality varies a ton though.
posted by ghharr at 8:54 AM on March 17, 2010


You'll have to wade through a lot of get-rich-quick and score-hot-chicks titles, but there's some good stuff in there.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:55 AM on March 17, 2010

Good audio books are hard to find. I'm a bit of a connoisseur myself & even the stuff that gets good reviews I don't usually like.

Other than that - podcasts are great. I usually listen to podcasts on the train. Here are some of my favorites at the moment:

This American Life (an hour, you can buy the archives relatively inexpensively, I believe)
Planet Money (usually only 15 minutes or so)
The Economist
The Moth (usually only 15 minutes, but there's lots of archives for you to catch up on)
Memory Palace (usually only 5 minutes)
posted by MesoFilter at 8:56 AM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: PodCastle for fantasy fiction stories.

EscapePod for science fiction stories.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 8:57 AM on March 17, 2010

My public library has audiobooks, but even better, they have tons online that you can download to an iPod or MP3 player. All free!
posted by maxg94 at 9:00 AM on March 17, 2010

It seems weird to not talk about Audible, but I'm not super sure how I feel about it. If you want to try it out, wait until you get a free book code from one of the the umptillion podcasts it advertises on (Savage Love, TAL, Jimmy Pardo). Then check it out. I've heard some bad things about disentagngling from the service. But 1 book a month for $15 gives me 10-20 hours of not dealing with co-worker chatter and for me is well worth it. Their interface leaves something to be desired and they don't have a good recommendation system, you sort of need to come to askMe once a month to look up new ones.
posted by edbles at 9:04 AM on March 17, 2010

Also: librivox -wise this has some recommendations on the best ones.
posted by edbles at 9:06 AM on March 17, 2010

Its not free, but is actually quite nice. A monthly subscription lets you download books much cheaper than if you were to buy them al-a-carte and the quality is superb. They do stay in your library, available to you even if you cancel your subscription (I've tested this - I still have access to my old library that I dropped the subscription on years ago).

Additionally, I have a few podcasts that I subscribe to which keep my mind occupied (45-90 minute commute each way). I like the tech podcasts most (, mac geek gab), but also love a good episode of Car Talk or This American Life now and then.

I'd say I spend about 3 days per week listening to Podcasts and the other 2 days listening to Audiobooks. If I'm really into the book, I'll let the Podcasts go for awhile ...
posted by CorporateHippy at 9:08 AM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: turn any text, including pdf or various ebooks, to mp3. another version here, plus some links to a mac version. granted, i've never tried any of these.
posted by acidic at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2010 has conversations that are usually an hour long (sometimes less, sometimes more). Most of them are political pundits talking politics (often with a liberal + a libertarian or conservative, e.g. Matthew Yglesias + Megan McArdle), but there are also others about science, philosophy, history, etc. There's usually at least one of those humanities-oriented conversations over the weekend. They're video by default, but there's a link to download each conversation (called a "diavlog" on the site) as an mp3.

These are pretty much the only podcasts I listen to. The vibe is casual and extemporaneous (and actually amateurish sometimes) while also being intelligent and informed and thought-provoking, which is a pretty rare combination.

A few favorites that are more on the thought-provoking, apolitical side: this discussion of how kids learn ethics, this one about religious belief, Tyler Cowen on "appreciating neuodiversity," Bella DePaulo on her book in defense of single people (caveat: that last one is semi-self-linky since the person interviewing Bella is my mom). And all the diavlogs with John McWhorter + Glenn Loury have inevitably interesting discussion of race. is another great source (and an AskMe favorite), but those are each 20 minutes. They're probably more scintillating than Bloggingheads on average, but without the conversational vibe.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2010

I am a podcast addict. If you are interested in non-fiction, the world of excellent news/informational podcasts is so rich that you could probably get 12+ hours a day from the BBC, CBC, NPR, etc.

And they are not all current affairs stuff, though there is excellent current affairs material. Here are some of my favorite longer programs.

In Our Time (42 mins): Academic/historical radio show that consists of the host and three experts discussing a variety of topics in a way that both teaches you about the topic and lets you in on the latest research on it. I've listened to topics related to my dissertation and taken notes to cite, but I've also listened to topics I have no aptitude or knowledge in (like Philosophy) and understood what they were talking about and been fascinated.

BBC World Service Documentary Archive (23 mins average, some 2-3 parters): variety of documentaries from all over the world, though tending towards socio-political topics.

As it Happens (abt 1-1.5 hours daily, M-F): international news program ranging from world-shaking to sweet human interest shows, mostly done through telephone interviews with significant actors and/or witnesses. Some of the earliest stuff in the media on the Rwandan genocide and the current Liberian president was on this show.

History of Rome (15-25 miniutes per episode, 86 episodes so far): a non-academic, but excellent and entertaining introduction to the basic history of the Romans, from mythical beginnings to the fall of the Western Empire - who, what, when, where and fascinating stories.
posted by jb at 9:17 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Check out Overdrive, which is a service many libraries use to "lend" digital audiobooks. There is a library finder. With my library, I don't have to even go anywhere to borrow an audiobook, it's all online.
posted by tastybrains at 9:43 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All podcasts, all the time…

Changesurfer Radio: Transhumanism & emerging technologies. Has been around forever and has an impressive back catalogue (not everything is stellar, but still) 30-90m

Ask Mr. Biggs has recycled AM radio which is very well done and fun. 30-60m

Ideas from CBC. 60m

How to succeed in Evil. Podcasted book - Patrick has the best voice for narrating. Like the silky silk. 5-40m

How to disappear completely and other stories, by Myke Bartlett. 20-40m

You look nice today is awesome if you haven't already listened to it. 25-40m

Savage Love will have you blushing on your commute.

Penguin podcast, sample chapters and interviews with authors published on Penguin.

As far as audiobooks go, I'm going through all the Jeeves stories by P.G.Wodehouse right now, and it's a soothing way to start the day. Check the publishing houses if you'd like to sample their audiobooks (Iain. M. Banks recently podcasted an abridged version of Transition) before splurging on Audible or somesuch.

The teaching company has some interesting lecture series available.
posted by monocultured at 9:47 AM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: There are about 20 free entire courses (each 20ish lectures) at the open yale website.
posted by shothotbot at 9:58 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're not picky about copyright law, you can also download plenty of audio books via bittorrent sites.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:03 AM on March 17, 2010

Go here and select "Lizard Music" in the dropdown box.
posted by mikepop at 10:04 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

There have been a bunch of podcast recommendation threads, do a search on the Podcasts tag for a long list of recommendations. BBC, NPR and CBC are great places to start.

Amongst my Favourites:

BBC: Fighting Talk, Americana, From Our Own Correspondent, Excess Baggage, BBC NewsPod, Documentaries

CBC: R3 Podcast - gets you all their streams

NPR: WWDTM, All Songs Considered. All Songs second stage, World Cafe Next. This American Life

The Bugle - The Times Online, Guardian Technology
posted by arcticseal at 10:42 AM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: Seconding library audio books, and there are many listening-only language learning podcasts. Depends what language you're trying to learn, but one that comes to mind is the Mission Europe series:
posted by beyond_pink at 11:29 AM on March 17, 2010

Podiobooks has a large variety of free audiobooks, covering a lot of genres. You can donate to the authors if you feel so inclined, though it's by no means mandatory.
posted by Telpethoron at 12:06 PM on March 17, 2010

Love my public radio podcasts: CBC, NPR, BBC and Radio Australia top the list...

CBC: Listener's Choice, Ideas, Tapestry, Q, Rewind, And the Winner Is..., Quirks and Quarks, the Vinyl Cafe, Writers and Company.

NPR/PRI: To The Best of Our Knowledge, Radiolab, This American Life, NPR Shuffle, Speaking of Faith, The Sound of Young America.

BBC: Friday Night Comedy, In Our Time, Documentary, Natural History Podcast, Naked Scientists, Naked Astronomy, Five Live World Football Phone in podcast, 5 Live Football Daily, Thinking Allowed

Radio Australia: Rear Vision, The Night Air, the Spirit of Things,

For music, I tend towards folk stuff and my favourites are CiTR Edge on Folk, fRoots, Folk Alley Podcast, CBC Canada Live concerts, Folk Yourself from True North Records. I love the ambient podast Ultima Thule as well.

For fiction, the New Yorker has a monthly podcast with a featured author reading his or her story from the magazine and then later talking about it.

I am also a meditator and I like the dharma podcasts from Audio Dharma and DharmaSeed which are vipassana teachings.

And it all goes out the window if I get curious about something and a set of iTunes U lectures is needed to expand my knowledge further. Currently listening to a series of leadership conversations from the Banff Centre.
posted by salishsea at 1:21 PM on March 17, 2010

I adore audible, and don't have any problems cancelling, but maybe the british one is run differently to the US one? Here you get 2 audiobooks for £15 a month or 1 for £8. I never get through them so end up with a backlog so cancel for 6 months or so so I can catch up. Great quality, great catalogue. If you do buy through them, they are cheap as well, but I've only ever got them as my freebies in the subscription.

also, Craftlit is a knitting podcast which uses Librivox audiobooks; I only mention it, not because of the knitting, but by and large she only picks the ones which are read by good readers, so you might want to browse what she has covered, and get those from Librivox if you want classics.
posted by nunoidia at 2:18 PM on March 17, 2010

Yes, check out your public library. My public library (in Beaverton, Oregon) has books on tape, books on CD, and mp3/WMA e-books -- all of which can be checked out for free.
posted by elmay at 4:23 PM on March 17, 2010

Seconding RadioLab and This American Life as excellent podcasts to listen to. Librivox is good too, once you get a notion of which particular readers appeal to you. (Some that I like are Andy Minter, Elizabeth Klett, Tim Bulkeley, Ruth Golding, and Peter Yearsley.)

Other suggestions on how to entertain myself for an hour at a time in a train are welcome too.

You could spend your commutes teaching yourself to knit.1 Once you get good at it, you can then knit and listen to audiobooks/podcasts at the same time.

Doing that for two hours a day would be my idea of heaven.

1I taught myself to knit using this book, but I have heard that this book is good too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:14 PM on March 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the awesome suggestions everyone!

Public library - sadly I'm in Singapore at the moment where public library memberships are for either citizens or long-term residents, of which I am neither (my internship appears to be juuuust below the cutoff). But I'll try all of the others... thanks again!
posted by Xany at 6:25 AM on March 18, 2010

Response by poster: (I've marked as best answer the ones that I'm going to try immediately, but I imagine I'll work through all these suggestions in time. :D)
posted by Xany at 7:21 AM on March 18, 2010

Tank Riot: without a doubt the greatest podcast on the face of the Earth
posted by treyka at 8:53 AM on March 18, 2010

This guy's great: The Classic Tales. I've been listening to the free podcast for months, I just paid $7 for his reading of Kidnapped. And man, those audiobooks are cheap! I'll be buying more.

Also I love the New Yorker short story podcast.

And people have already mentioned the Moth and This American Life.
posted by exhilaration at 2:34 PM on March 18, 2010

« Older elephant in the room sketch   |   What's that smell?! OMG it's me :( Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.