Narrative, not-chatty audiobook/podcast suggestions
June 12, 2017 4:13 PM   Subscribe

I've got a lot of summer running and mindless lab work planned out. Can you suggest some excellent audiobooks or podcasts to keep me entertained?

What I really enjoy is wry/funny personal essays, non-fiction (pop science, politics), fictional shorts... stuff that I can tune in and out of without losing too much context. Especially important to me is production level: I want good enthusiastic voice acting, preferably more than one voice for variety. Sound effects/music (tactfully done) is a bonus.

I've enjoyed the following:

- For podcasts, I tend to listen to This American Life and Radiolab. I don't like the two-person "conversation" format podcasts (Radiolab bugs me a bit on this account) - I want to hear narratives or polished stories, not just hosts conversing. Some other recent favourites have been Radio Ambulante, You Must Remember This, S-Town and More Perfect.
- Sarah Vowell's books (funny, short stories, lots of good voice actors and cameos, and sometimes a bit of music)
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (highly recommended for the Billie Holiday impersonation)

I didn't like so much:

- Any podcasts that are just people talking. I don't mind them on occasion but mostly it just grates.
- The Martian (unpopular opinion, I know - I liked the general story line, but it kinda felt like listening to a Redditor for many hours)
- The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat - Oliver Sacks (I love Oliver Sacks, but the audio adaptation seemed boring compared to reading the book)
- New Yorker Fiction podcast (not enough emotive story-telling, from the samples I've listened to)

Hit me up, mefites!
posted by Paper rabies to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I enjoy the Escape Artists family of podcasts for short audio fiction. They tend to be fairly good with decent production value and are short enough that if I miss some detail that's important, I'm not so involved with the story that I'm upset to have missed it.
posted by Candleman at 4:35 PM on June 12, 2017

Best answer: The Vinyl Cafe series by Stuart McLean.

Maybe the No such thing as a fish podcasts
posted by Ftsqg at 4:37 PM on June 12, 2017

The Moth
Crime Town
Science Vs.
(all podcasts)
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:40 PM on June 12, 2017

You want these podcasts: Science Vs., Memory Palace, 99% Invisible, Every Little Thing, Twenty Thousand Hertz, Flash Forward.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:38 PM on June 12, 2017

Lore, Backstory, Everything is Stories, Gastropod, Unfictional
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:08 PM on June 12, 2017

Best answer: Welcome to Nightvale is a kinda creepy, kinda absurd fictional radio show from a fictional town in the southwest.

I also think tabletop gaming play podcasts might work for this for you (they have voice acting and multiple people and a storyline), but they are maybe an acquired taste. The two I listen to are The Adventure Zone and The Glass Cannon Podcast.

Theses are all a bit more long form, but I find I can tune in and out without losing too much.
posted by Night_owl at 6:31 PM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hidden Brain.
posted by delight at 6:41 PM on June 12, 2017

Best answer: Your tastes seem to run pretty similar to mine (except that because I also hate myself, I've accumulated a stupid number of Trump-related subscriptions).

99% Invisible, Love and Radio, Imaginary Worlds, Criminal, Lore, Science Vs, Weird History are all slam dunks. (If you don't want the actual reporters injecting their voices into the story like at all, you want Love and Radio.)

Pretty much anything on the Radiotopia network, really.

Things you might want to try: Case File True Crime if you're realllly into true crime. It's a weird show that goes probably way too in depth into the cases it covers and it's just, like, one Australian guy talking. Sometimes I nope out, but it's sometimes weirdly compelling. But again: must love true crime.

Oh No Ross and Carrie is indeed two people talking, but they are talking about first-person investigations they themselves have undertaken into cults, pseudo-science and the paranormal. They recently had a multi-part series about Scientology wherein they recounted actually going and being Scientologists for a few months. But the podcast itself is just them talking about it. They don't usually record while doing their investigations (that would kind of blow their cover).

Note to Self is sometimes interesting and sometimes so bougie New York I can barely stand it.

Reply All is frequently interesting, but does contain a lot of host chatter in between the reporting (or about the reporting).
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:50 PM on June 12, 2017

I really enjoyed the audiobook of A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.
posted by procrastination at 7:22 PM on June 12, 2017

Best answer: Every Little Thing is a new one from Gimlet that seems in your wheelhouse. Also Twenty Thousand Hertz, Song Exploder and the Allusionist should tick your boxes.
posted by General Malaise at 7:48 PM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Based on your favorites, I highly recommend Snap Judgement.
If you haven't heard it, I envy you for all the good content you're about to encounter.
Seconding The Moth.
posted by Knowyournuts at 7:57 PM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My previous recommendation of The Memory Palace and The Truth still apply.

I'd also add Criminal, Heavyweight, Imaginary Worlds, Longform, Short Cuts, The Story Collider, StoryCorps, This Is Actually Happening, Twenty Thousand Hertz, and Unfictional.
posted by maudlin at 7:58 PM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fresh Air (NPR) and Front Row (BBC) are both interview shows about current art and culture. It's mostly people spruiking their latest play or book, but they are generally interesting and well produced, and Front Row often goes to the venue. And I find great for lab work because I don't have to listen perfectly all the time.
posted by kjs4 at 11:30 PM on June 12, 2017

3rding The Moth. My first experience with listening to it was when I was on my lunchbreak, got so absorbed into it I managed to lock my keys in my car and ended up late back to work. The story in question was Flight by Bobby Stoddard. Highly recommended.
posted by FirstMateKate at 5:50 AM on June 13, 2017

Best answer: Risk is pretty good for personal storytelling anecdotes. Often rauchier than StoryCorps, but no less affecting.

As far as fictional goes, I like the Pacific Northwest Stories podcasts (The Black Tapes, Tanis, Rabbits) and The Truth is usually pretty good. Alice Isn't Dead is another favorite. I like Welcome to Night Vale a lot, but at this point I'm so far behind I'm not sure I'll ever catch up. Limetown was another really good fictional podcast, but it kind of ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger and I haven't heard anything about a season 2.

I tend to like short, informative, fun podcasts that are about something. Myths and Legends, Lore, Sawbones, and Shmanners are some of my favorites in this vein, although Sawbones and Shmanners both have two hosts.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:55 AM on June 13, 2017

Black Jack Justice, by Decoder Ring Theatre.
posted by RhysPenbras at 7:33 AM on June 13, 2017

Best answer: I've been listening to "From Our Own Correspondent" from the BBC for decades and still find it interesting almost every time. You'll find it wherever you find podcasts. It's BBC journalists from around the world giving intelligent essays on how they do their work: who they encountered, how they did it, what happened, what it means in the larger scheme of their careers and the world at large. Much of it is from overseas. It's very interesting. It's not op-eds. It's more diary-like, where they put their work into larger context — it's not tick-tock, today's news-style journalism. Each episode is introduced by a host and then the pieces, usually three, are read by the journalists themselves.

My top recommendation for anyone who is deep into voice-based produced audio is always BBC Radio 4 Extra (make sure it's Extra, and not just Radio 4! — they're different). Any streaming app, including iTunes and TuneIn, should have it. It's basically a rich stream of the best of the BBC Radio archives, minus news and weather. Drama, dramatizations, plays, readings, short stories, panel shows, serials, comedy, interviews, feature-y field reporting, documentaries, mini-documentaries, and more. A nice thing about it: no fiddling with subscriptions, downloads, or space on your phone! You just turn on the stream and go. No commercials (just promos for upcoming programming) — never hear the words "stamps dot com" or "square space" ever again. It's so varied! Could be a "Jane Eyre" dramatization, Doctor Who radio episodes, "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue" (a witty word-puzzle improv-style panel show), "I've Never Seen Star Wars" (a funny panel show where people are invited to do things they've never done before), a Nigerian-born Scotland-raised writer reading one of her stories, a celebration of 60 years of "Test Match," the show about cricket (interesting, I promise!), radio interviews from the 1950s with poets and playwrights, a reading of Edgar Allan Poe, and so much more that I'd never heard of until I heard it on 4 Extra. And it's all very professional. Even when what you're hearing is not your favorite, it's still well-done and bound to be soon followed by something different enough to entice you to keep listening.

There are a lot of recommendations above that I would also endorse, including 99 Percent Invisible. I'd add that as far as traditional podcasts go, "How I Built This" is great — it's about business but Guy Raz gets good tape that is good to listen to. They interviews play out like stories, with drama and comedy sewn into the knowledge that the person you're listening to succeeded in the end. I'd also recommend "Here's the Thing," hosted by Alec Baldwin. He's a good interviewer! His rapport with his guests can be so good.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:52 AM on June 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all, so many awesome suggestions! I had forgotten all about Welcome to Night Vale - I was mildly obsessed with it, but have also fallen (years?) behind. For whatever reason, I never loved The Moth. And my only real exception in chattery interview-like podcasts has been Dear Prudence, so I'll definitely check out the other options there.

If anyone has any more audiobook recommendations, keep 'em coming! I have already listened to some of Bryson's stuff; I liked A Brief History, but I find him to be not the most engaging narrator.
posted by Paper rabies at 1:44 PM on June 13, 2017

The complete edition audiobook of World War Z features a great cast, with each actor playing a specific character. And the interview-style format gives it a documentary feel.

I have really enjoyed some of the audio versions from The_Great_Courses, especially when commuting.

And I intend to investigate several recommendations of podcasts in this askme.
posted by Altomentis at 6:06 PM on June 13, 2017

Hah, I also don't much like The Moth.

Here are my recommendations:

- Nth-ing 99 PI
- Freakonomics (single main host)
- Invisibilia (multiple people but they kind of hand-off narrating - there is not a lot of chatting between them)
- Modern Love (someone reads an older NYT Modern Love column, then they usually have the author, the reader, and someone from the NYT (I think the editor for the column) talk briefly about the essay. Because these are usually older columns, there are sometimes interesting updates from the authors.)
- Selected Shorts (short stories read aloud)
- Possibly Amicus from Slate (somewhat chatty, but mostly Dahlia Lithwick talking and interviewing people)
- Possibly The Allusionist (British narrator talks about language)
- I also have to give a shout-out to the terribly-named Presidents Are People Too, which talks about one president each episode. I have learned a lot from this (though some of it is pretty trivial), and gotten some perspective. However, it has two hosts and they are a bit chatty.
- TED talks and the TED radio hour have the general NPR vibe like TAL and RadioLab but they get a bit... precious, perhaps? - for me after a while
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 7:16 PM on June 13, 2017

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