Audiobook suggestions
March 16, 2006 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Audiobooks: My Audible wish list is empty -- help me fill it with compelling, commute-friendly nonfiction and literary fiction.

I listen to the audiobooks on my long commute to work. I've found that lighter/more accessible stuff makes the drive go by faster. I'd prefer that they're available to U.S. members on because I'm currently tied to a a two-books-a-month contract, but I'll take any suggestions.

For example, the Harry Potter series would be perfect for commuting (but isn't on Audible).

Audiobooks I've enjoyed: All David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, Why We Buy by Paco Underhill, Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

I have NOT enjoyed: Atonement by Ian McEwan, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden -- I'm sure I will love reading these, but they are too heavy for car-listening.

If it helps, some other favorite authors of mine are Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace, Donna Tartt, and David James Duncan.
posted by kmel to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
How about a subscription to This American Life? There are also individual shows for download. I really liked Godless America, D.I.Y, What's in a Number, and A Little Bit of Knowledge.
posted by Alison at 9:38 AM on March 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

In my experience, there's a slight disconnect between your preference for "literary fiction" (and the authors you named), with your request for "lighter/more accessible stuff." Like you, I've found it difficult to get through complicated audiobooks that I suspect I would have enjoyed reading (although I did like the audio version of Middlesex very much).

Anyway, books I've particularly enjoyed listening to include:
  • All books by Michael Connelly (including the Harry Bosch detective series)
  • Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen
  • The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
  • Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer
  • Company Man and Paranoia by Joseph Finder
  • DisneyWar by James Stewart
  • Chatter by Patrick Radden Keefe (very timely
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke (although a bit difficult)
  • The Last Juror by John Grisham. Probably the best Grisham I've ever read. Very much a character and location piece; the legal angle takes a back seat.
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, although a bit dull in parts
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • The Company by Robert Littell (all 30+ hours of it!)
  • Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

posted by pardonyou? at 9:47 AM on March 16, 2006

I really enjoy Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. They're mysteries set in turn of the (19th) century Egypt featuring hearty archaeologist Amelia Peabody. The reader, Barbara Rosenblat really makes these charming and worth the listen.

I also really enjoyed Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, as read by Lenny Henry. I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much had I read it.

Others that I really enjoyed in part or directly because of listening to them in audio format:

Stephen Mitchell's Gilgamesh
Four Against the Arctic by David Roberts
Going Postal by Terry Prachett as read by Stephen Briggs (I have not enjoyed Prachett when read by others)
posted by ursus_comiter at 9:56 AM on March 16, 2006

I suggest the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake and the "His Dark Materials" series by Phillip Pullman. I also really enjoyed the Ender Wiggin series by Orson Scott Card. I think they're really great audiobooks.
posted by WyoWhy at 9:59 AM on March 16, 2006

Since you mentioned the Potter series, I'll recommend the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett . With around 30 books, there's enough to keep you occupied for a while and Nigel Planer is a fun narrator (I haven't gotten to the Stephen Briggs books yet.).

Each book is around 10 hours, unabridged. I suggest Guards! Guards! as a good starter book (Most the books do not require you read them in order, as the core casts rotate from book to book. I am very partial to the City Watch subseries.).
posted by Sangre Azul at 10:00 AM on March 16, 2006

I second Anansi boys, terrific reader. Here are some others:

21 Dog Years (life as a low-level person at
Fraud by David Rakoff (very funny)
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (very funny, highly recommended)
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (Travels through Australia)
Comfort Me with Apples and Tender to the Bone, by Ruth Reichel (food critic for NY Times)
America the Audiobook

Science Fiction/Fantasy
Snowcrash (Cyberpunk)
Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy (funny, classic)
Idlewild (dark, don’t read anything about it first)
Curse of Chalion (fantasy/romance in middle ages)

The Pirate Hunter (surprisingly gripping, about Captain Kidd)
O Jerusalem! (about Jerusalem 1947-1948)
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Planets

Incidentally, does anyone thing that Audible's selections are going down hill? Most of the recent stuff is self-help or mysticism.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:01 AM on March 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

If your Audible book limit is tapped, check out your public library. Often they will have audiobooks in CD format or, if you're lucky, audiobook downloads.

Also, I second the recommendation for Pratchett. I'm strongly biased towards Planer as the reader, but Briggs is OK (and seems to have replaced Planer completely).
posted by turbodog at 10:04 AM on March 16, 2006

Incidentally, does anyone thing that Audible's selections are going down hill? Most of the recent stuff is self-help or mysticism.

I do. It's beginning to concern me. I wonder if they've lost some agreements with publishers.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:11 AM on March 16, 2006

I would not be able to survive without audiobooks on my long commute. I recently listened to Company by Max Berry and it was very funny, especially if you work in a corporate environment. Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis is strange and terrific. I have also had lost of luck with James Patterson, Stephen King, John Grisham and Dean Koontz - they're not included in my usual reading but make great audiobooks. The Ricky Gervais show comes out weekly and is available on Audible as a subscription. It's short and makes for great filler when you are between books. Also, if you liked Freakonomics, Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and The Tipping Point are good choices.
posted by elvissa at 10:14 AM on March 16, 2006

Response by poster: pardonyou? - Yeah, I guess compelling/accessible is a very personal thing.

I should have also mentioned that I'd love to hear nonfiction titles in the fish-out-of-water or I-did-an-interesting-experiment or memoir-of-an-interesting-career genre, e.g. Ehrenreich, Julie/Julia, Bill Bryson, Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures by Louise Rafkin, Brothel : Mustang Ranch and Its Women by Alexa Albert.
posted by kmel at 10:14 AM on March 16, 2006

Oh, I second elvissa on Company, which I listened to one or two books ago. Very good satire (although I was disappointed in the ending -- thought it could have wrapped up more dramatically). I didn't love the narrator, but they had some interesting tricks -- like filtering the sound to make the text of voicemails sound like real voicemails (actually very funny recreation of the "cascading" voice mail).

I've also listened to a number of Dean Koontz books which, to me, are hit-and-miss. I enjoyed Odd Thomas (and the sequel, Forever Odd), but hated The Face. I think I hated the latter primarily because of the narrator (Dylan Baker), who also narrated the dreadful I Am Charlotte Simmons.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:19 AM on March 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm currently listening to Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile" as I take my daily constitutionals. It's read by David Suchet, and it's a campy good time.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:29 AM on March 16, 2006

Response by poster: Re: selection on Audible -- I wonder if they've lost some contracts with publishers to iTunes.
posted by kmel at 10:38 AM on March 16, 2006

I'm not familiar with Audible's selection - I used Simply Audiobooks, but a couple of books I really enjoyed were:
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America: The Book: The Audiobook: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction. (I just enjoy saying that.)
Jasper Fforde's Tuesday Next series
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (though, be forewarned that Vowell's voice might be incredibly annoying to you)
City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
posted by jacquilynne at 10:58 AM on March 16, 2006

I'm currently listening to Robert Greenberg's "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music" from The Teaching Company.

It's fantastic--he's a great, engaging lecturer who can somehow simultaneously be reverent and snarky. It doesn't fall into your fiction/nonfiction request directly but if you feel like getting a little edumacation, it's great. I'm sure I'm going to listen to his composer-specific lectures as soon as I finish this overview, and I'm someone who previously knew nothing about (and cared nothing for) the history of music.

(p.s. How does the audio book of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell work?? That whole book is a mess of footnotes and circular references!)
posted by bcwinters at 11:08 AM on March 16, 2006

I recently listened to:
  • The Long Way Down by Nick Hornby and really enjoyed it.
  • Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk is gripping but questionable in taste.
  • Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland is gripping then confusing then desperate then hopless, and an excellent book to listen to.

posted by DragonBoy at 11:13 AM on March 16, 2006

Depending on how you feel about extra-legal procurement, the Harry Potter books audiobooks are all available via torrent sites and the like. I believe you can also buy them on iTunes for a pretty penny.
posted by rossination at 12:05 PM on March 16, 2006

re: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I listened to the whole unabridged book, and it fell in the category of audiobooks that I call "perfectly pleasant" - not bad, not great, but good enough that you never feel annoyed that you are listening to it. It does drag at times, but it was entertaining.

And as a hidden gem, I really do recommend Idlewild to any SF fan, again, just don't read any of the reviews, because of the number of potential spoilers.

Also, both 1776 and Washington's Crossing are excellent.
posted by blahblahblah at 1:22 PM on March 16, 2006

Not exactly a audiobook, but the Pimsleur audio courses are an awesome way to learn a new language.
posted by Sharcho at 1:38 PM on March 16, 2006

I was a member of Audible for a while and I recall them having a book by the name of 'Into The Wild' by John Krakauer - it's a great nonfiction book by an excellent nonfiction writer.
posted by myodometer at 4:09 PM on March 16, 2006

I've just ordered The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore. I do not know how it will sound, but I can tell you reading it had me rolling on the floor for weeks. I'll know more once I've had the time to load the audiobook on my iPod, but just based on reading it, it might be worth a shot.
posted by angeline at 8:43 PM on March 16, 2006

In audible's fantasy collection, I've enjoyed Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (2-book series) and The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud (3-book series, gets better with each book).

Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier by Tom Bodett was quite engaging and touching.

But I'm off audible for now; don't like the whole buying idea: bad choices feel like insult to injury when I own them and use up credits with them, compared to Recorded Books Unlimited, which is run on a Netflix paradigm, so bad choices can just go back quickly and get replaced without altering the cash flow. Much better selection, too. It DOES take them a lot longer than Netflix to send on your next queue item, tho...
posted by dpcoffin at 10:16 AM on March 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I thought of another one I enjoyed that might fit your criteria: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:59 AM on March 17, 2006

I've been listening to the free book Ancestor by Scott Siglar. Riveting. Available through iTunes. Info at
posted by JamesMessick at 6:16 PM on March 18, 2006

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