Good audiobooks for a California road trip
September 12, 2018 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Hi! Boyfriend and I are driving around this beautiful state for about 8 days and I'm looking for some good audiobooks to listen to. Problem is, I don't think I like audiobooks?

Or, I should say, I haven't figured out how to like audiobooks, though I'm a huge reader (of mainly fiction).

I am getting into podcasts and really enjoy some of the true crime ones, and am loving Slow Burn. I like the podcasts that tell a story.

So I guess I'm looking for a great story where things happen + a not-annoying voice. I don't think I'm a fiction audiobook person, but maybe I haven't listened to the right novel? (For example, when they read a short-story on This American Life I get SO bored--this is why I'm skeptical of novels in audio form.)

Thank you!
posted by namemeansgazelle to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How about you go with what you like, and binge listen to some podcasts?

I *highly* recommend Ear Hustle - the podcast out of San Quentin prison, They just started Season 3 (short seasons), but it’s super interesting. Interviews, music and some great info on what life is like inside San Quentin.
posted by jenquat at 6:32 PM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I listen to audio books while walking every day after work and while I generally prefer fiction, one non-fiction audiobook which I recently enjoyed was "The Woman Who Smashed Codes", a biography of Elizebeth Friedman. If you like stories of cryptography, espionage, or pioneering women in unusual professions it's worth a listen.

Also, check with your library first to see whether they have an audiobook collection available for loan. The library that covers my area makes audiobooks available through the Overdrive app. I can check them out, download them to my phone, listen to them, and then have them disappear from the phone when the loan expires. I love it. Many libraries have similar programs.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:08 PM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I spent two long days driving from Phoenix to Sacramento, and the "You Must Remember This" podcast's series on Charles Manson and his intersection with Hollywood was just the perfect, perfect thing. Tells a story, tells it well, and it's all about California. It's also 12+ hours long.

(Also, I HATE audiobooks.)
posted by mudpuppie at 7:14 PM on September 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

some people just don't like stories being read to them.

I love non-fiction audiobooks. It's my preferred way to 'read' history, archeology, science, psychology. But I hate having a fictional story read to me - even the short stories on This American Life (which I'll skip right through) For fiction, I want to take it in visually, through text.

luckily, my local library has massive numbers of non-fiction audiobooks, as well as lectures from the Teaching Company. I would recommend that you find some good non-fiction audiobooks, with a great non-fictional story.
posted by jb at 7:41 PM on September 12, 2018

I was coming in to this thread to recommend the You Must Remember This podcast in general, but mudpuppie has it right that the Charles Manson series is really good. So is the Jane Fonda/Joan Seberg series. And the Dead Blondes series. And honestly, most everything Karina Longworth has done on that podcast is entertaining in some way.

(Also to touch on jb's comment; I *hate* having stories read to me so I can't deal with audiobooks - I get nauseated - but I love a good factual or conversational podcast [You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes and Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell are my other two favorites].)
posted by elsietheeel at 7:59 PM on September 12, 2018

I personally enjoyed listening to John Waters read his hitchhiking audiobook Carsick, but the rest of my family trapped in the car did not enjoy the filth.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 8:39 PM on September 12, 2018

I read, I don't listen to books, so I prefer listening to books I've already read. With that in mind, I enjoyed listening to The Big Sleep, which would be great to listen to on a California roadtrip, and certainly a great deal happens in it.

You might also enjoy radio plays rather than audiobooks - I certainly prefer them. The BBC does a good line in them, from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to Vassily Grossman's Life and Fate. On Amazon they seem to be listed as 'dramatised'.
posted by tavegyl at 1:25 AM on September 13, 2018

Stepehen Fry reading Harry Potter is pretty enthralling.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:42 AM on September 13, 2018

I loved reading "travels with charley" from John Steinbeck when I was on a roadtrip through the American West. It's about his trip from Maine to California, and I enjoyed his musings on the nature of travel.
I can imagine that's nice on audio as well.
posted by Thisandthat at 5:25 AM on September 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan was great. When in doubt I go to the Pulitzer Prize list.

I also find the books of David Sedaris to be very enjoyable and casual for driving around.
posted by cross_impact at 6:48 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

My favorite audiobook is The Martian. RC Bray is a fantastic narrator, and since most of the book consists of Mark Watney's log entries from Mars, in audio format they come across as recorded audio journals, and have a kind of immediacy most audiobooks don't have. And Bray really captures the character's humor and wit. Audiobooks can be kind of hit or miss for me, but this is the only one I've listened to more than one. The movie was a letdown after experiencing it on audio.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:56 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a bad commute and like listening to non-fiction books. I love to read fiction in book form. Also for some reason if you are distracted in the car listening to non-fiction, it doesn't seem like it matters as much if you miss something.

I enjoy memoirs and hearing about other people's lives like:
Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming read in his own awesome Scottish accent
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Educated by Tara Westover

I also like listening to comedy or funny essays:
Anything by David Sedaris
Anything by Augusten Burroughs
posted by maxg94 at 7:10 AM on September 13, 2018

Once you get into audiobooks there is no turning back. Two recent great ones: Bad Blood by John Carryrou about the Theranos scam, and James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux.
posted by madstop1 at 8:36 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm an avid reader but have found that audiobooks only work for me if I've already read the book. I wonder if that might be true for you? I'm a fast reader and I understand things best if I read them (like keeping track of character names), so this combo makes audiobooks both plodding and confusing to me.

If I've read the book, though, I can really get into a good audiobook on a drive because it builds my anticipation for what I already know is going to happen and I don't want to murder my driving companion if they're chatty.

There are two audiobooks I listened to on a cross country trip without having read them, and both my traveling companion and I loved them, despite having totally different tastes in book and neither of these being ones we would have picked (just happened to be what the library had for audiobooks that day). I think they worked because they have GREAT narrators: Tina Fey's Bossypants (read by Tina), and The Help by Kathryn Stockett (read mostly by, I think, the cast of the movie).
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:40 AM on September 13, 2018

And oh yes, definitely agree with those recommending David Sedaris. They're readymade for road trips.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 8:42 AM on September 13, 2018

If it is fiction you're looking for, maybe the search term you want is "radio drama" instead of audio book?

In general, perhaps look for audiobooks where the reader is a professional actor or otherwise has some specific voice training (like for radio)? This will perhaps not have a large overlap with audiobooks read by the original book's author. I don't generally listen to audiobooks (or podcasts, for that matter) myself, but had a set of Maurice Sendak stories on tape (read by Tammy Grimes) as a kid that I still enjoy listening to, and used to quite enjoy the NPR show "Read To Me", where the stories were also read by professionals with specific training and experience related to reading stories aloud.
posted by eviemath at 10:27 AM on September 13, 2018

I am more inclined to fiction when I read printed books, but for audiobooks I prefer non-fiction and memoir. Bill Bryson is a fantastic writer and narrator, and a lot of comedians narrate their own books and do an awesome job (Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey spring to mind).
Nthing David Sedaris, who is *excellent*. David Rakoff (who also did quite a bit of TAL work) is also great, though less prolific.
The Harry Potter audiobooks are also amazing - both the North American and UK editions.
posted by dotparker at 10:39 AM on September 13, 2018

In my opinion the reader makes the audiobook. It almost doesn't matter what they're reading, but if the book is awesome too, then whoo, it can be an amazing experience. James Lee Burke's books, as read by Will Patton? Amazing. Will Patton is just great. I prefer single-reader books, but I listened to one recently with one male reader and one female reader and it was interesting. I will always pick an audiobook based on the sample of the reader.

That said, I don't really enjoy audiobooks when I am driving. I find that I get distracted by the actual driving part and miss bits in the narrative, and then have to figure how to rewind and find my place, etc. I've done it, but I don't find it as great an experience as I do if I'm, for example, listening while folding laundry or reorganizing my pantry or whatever. Maybe you don't actually like audiobooks! Having a kickass road playlist is pretty great. I found that most of the time that I travel I like to experience actually traveling, looking out the window, seeing all the sights, thinking about what I'm seeing. Music is a better background for that for me, and bonus is later, I can play the playlist again and remember the feeling of my trip. Have a great roadtrip, whatever you decide!
posted by clone boulevard at 10:49 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Jeremy Irons reading Lolita is a great way to read Lolita.

Audio books my husband and I have enjoyed together:

Anything by David Sedaris

Open Andre Agassi

They Call Me Supermensch
posted by loveandhappiness at 12:40 PM on September 13, 2018

From this previous thread, I picked up Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology. I'm not a audiobook person either, but the narration in this was great and funny.
posted by hooray at 2:48 PM on September 13, 2018

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