You would imagine that having a forty-five minute commute twice each day would have driven my ears into the arms of books on tape* long ago. But instead, for over two years, I endured that long drive each day with only NPR and a handful of various other radio stations (one classic Rock, several Top 40, one R&B and a delightfully obscure and indie-flavored college station to be exact) for company.
I am embarrassed to say this, but my excuse for not venturing into audio book territory was pretty sad. “I’m a very fast reader,” I actually thought to myself, a tad smugly. “Listening to someone tell me a story is going to frustrate me to no end. I’d rather just read books and listen to music.”
Man, was I full of it. I had no idea what I was missing out on. I’m so glad I didn’t wait any longer than this to find out.
The first book I listened to, several months ago, had been a Christmas gift from Mom, a giant, 14-CD tome entitled, “The Memory of Running”, by Ron McLarty. What drew me to it was the fact that the author was narrating his own book. This gave it some sort of extra authenticity, I thought. But not only that—the story was gripping, the characters were interesting, and best of all, I was reading while I was driving! I was actually accomplishing something while in my car, other than getting to and from work, which is not that big an accomplishment by itself, as it is more or less expected of me every day anyway!
I was still not sure this audio book thing was for me. But I went to the library and got another one. This time it was “Diary”, by Chuck Palahniuk, an author I had always been meaning to read. The narrator was different too, and I wasn’t sure I’d like that, either, since I was so used to my first narrator. But guess what, I did! I loved it!
So, recklessly, I checked out a third, and a fourth, and a fifth book, each of which I got through in a week or two, thanks to my long drive. Each time I listened, enthralled, to a new story, I thought, ‘There is a very specific reason I like this as an audiobook. It’s because it’s about writing, or it’s because it’s about New York City, or it’s because it reminds me of a particular time in my life.’ But really, I think I just liked them because I like books!
Right now I’m listening to a book that’s narrated by George Guidall, whose narrations I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of. He is somehow able to convey the distinct voices of the various characters perfectly—and even though he is an older man, and speaks in a slight falsetto when he reads the dialogue of a female character, he does so without sounding the least bit ridiculous. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s that good—and as a result, he appears to work a lot in the audio book business. So far, he’s narrated three of the books I’ve listened to. I like finding narrators whose readings I enjoy—and it’s particularly nice when they’ve recorded a lot of titles. When you like the book, and you like the narrator, there’s a nice little synchrony that goes on.
So, in conclusion, books on tape* are great! If you drive a lot, and you’ve been thinking about giving them a try, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Especially because you can generally get them free at the library, and I’m cheap. I now visit the library every two weeks like clockwork. It’s a ritual I very much enjoy.
Below are a list of the audio books I’ve listened to and loved so far:
The Memory of Running, by Ron McLarty, read by same. Fun, engaging story, great narrator.
Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon, read by Ron McLarty. While I like Pynchon’s colorful use of language, it’s sometimes hard for me to follow on the page. I feel like this would have been a hard slog to get through on paper. Plus it was a detective novel, and I am a complete flake when it comes to following mystery plot-lines. As it was, I was able to drift in and out of the storyline as I listened and let the language wash over me, which was delightful.
Diary, by Chuck Palahniuk, read by Martha Plimpton. I love books about small, creepy seaside towns and crazy artists and the artistic process. As a result, this one was right up my alley.
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, read by George Guidall. This was a great story, but really depressing. I’d still like to finish it, but I may have lost my momentum. Damn whoever requested it while I had it, which meant that I had to give it back to the Garner Public Library before I finished it! Also, who on earth requests the audio book version of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”?
The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler, read by George Guidall. This book was FANTASTIC. And the experience of listening to it was wonderful. I never thought I would be excited to get in my car and commute until I started listening to audio books.
Exit Ghost, by Philip Roth, read by George Guidall. Another excellent read. I can’t believe I’d never read Philip Roth before. Now that I’ve discovered him I keep wanting to say to people, “You know who’s a great author? This guy named Philip Roth!” This is probably unnecessary though.
*Yes, I know, they’re not on tape any more, they’re on CD. So shoot me.