x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fill your ears, and brain, with free audio books

App of the Week Curt Brandao reviews an app that offers thousands of free audio books for those long, boring commutes.

There used to be a time, let's call it the analogue age, when being "well-read" had some social cachet. A well-read person was immersed in literature, both classic and contemporary. A well-read person subscribed to both The Atlantic Monthly and The Economist.

A well-read person could keep a boring dinner party from death's door by comparing his efforts to get extra ketchup at Burger King to a passage from Oliver Twist.

But in the digital age, being "well-read" simply means having so many bookmarks and RSS feeds that you have to scroll past the bottom of your laptop screen to get to them all.

If Shakespeare had been born in the mid-1980s instead of the mid-1560s, Twitter would be forcing him to cram his genius into 140 characters or less ("Romeo+Juliet. XOXOXO. Feud. People die. Romeo thought sleeping Juliet was dead, kills self. She wakes up, sees him dead, kills herself. Aww").

The app

Fortunately, there's Audibly (free, iPhone) a service that bridges the culture gap between the nuanced 16th to 20th centuries and our hectic, don't-have-time-for-that 21st one. Audibly does this by offering us complete access to almost 3,000 books in audio format that we can listen to as we race back and forth between our work and home computers.

Android users might consider a similar app, Audiobooks for Android, which offers much the same service for their smartphones.

The details

The books are free because they are in the public domain, anything from Sun Tzu's The Art of War to Jack London's Call of the Wild. The app allows you to search for specific titles, or just browse the more popular selections. Once you find something you like, you can then either download it to your iPhone or e-mail the book to yourself.

While free, Audibly is ad-supported, meaning a fair bit of your precious touch-screen interface will be commercial in nature while it's in use, and it's easy to tap on a video commercial by mistake.

You can, of course, buy out of the ads, but those willing to pay for audio books would fare better with another app, Audible, which has a huge library (85,000 books) of more contemporary titles.

So if, for some reason, you want to know what that weird guy at the dinner party who wanted extra ketchup at Burger King was talking about but are too embarrassed to ask, download Oliver Twist and you'll get the joke soon enough.

Don't worry, the scene is pretty early in, you'll probably get to it on your next morning commute.

Have some great personal finance apps that you want to share? Write to Curt Brandao at cbrandao@thenational.ae