Since I got an iPod for my birthday earlier this year, my commute to work (about 40-60 minutes each way) has become much more enjoyable. I have a bunch of regular podcasts I enjoy (including Good Food, This American Life, Left Right and Center, Dan Savage). I've "read" a number of books from audible.com. I've been getting my dose of classic lit with The Classic Tales podcast (a free weekly download). And now, I've just started to sample from Apple's new offering iTunesU, which syndicates audio content from colleges and universities across the country. I spent the last couple of days listening to the Dalai Lama and Cornel West, courtesy of Stanford's Aurora Forum. I'd read both of them before, but you get such a different sense of the person from hearing their actual voices and their own more spontaneous words. The Dalai Lama took a bit of concentration, because he spoke some in English and some Tibetan through a translator, his accent was thick, and sometimes I wasn't sure when he switched gears. But it was worth the concentration to hear the words of this amazing man. He is much more down-to-earth and pragmatic than you might expect, and he laughs and jokes often. He is compassionate and politic in a way that is so foreign to the American temperament. A number of questions were put to him where he was encouraged to take a position, American-style, in such a way that the questioner hoped to be able to go off and say "I'm right about X, and the Dalai Lama says so." Instead, His Holiness' answers were always Solomonic, expressing his thoughts clearly, but with a lot of appreciation for context and the complexity of life, and not giving anyone any ammunition for an argument.
I've only just started Cornel West, but his voice is different than I had imagined. He speaks pretty softly and kind of raspy. I was a bit surprised at first by his cadence, which is somewhere between preacher, rapster, and poetry performance (think City Lights), but reflecting on some of his writings (his appreciation of jazz), it seems in character. It really makes the commute go by more enjoyably having such intriguing company in the car.