Books on Tape: the Reckoning

While my mom drove my sister and me to Mesa Verde, to Yellowstone, to Rocky Mountain National Park and beyond over the course of several summers in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the two of us generally preferred devouring young-adult novels over enjoying the mountain vistas she had driven us dozens of hours to view. It was a real festival of American literature in that backseat: How could Pikes Peak hope to measure up to “Ten Kids, No Pets” and “Freshman Dorm”?

book on tape 1

When didn’t have our noses in actual books, however, we turned to books on tape. Our default author was Agatha Christie, so we fed one cassette after another into the Corolla’s hard-working tape deck. The fat plastic “books” we checked out from the public library back in Wheaton made a distinct rattle when you snapped a tape in or out, and they gave off real heat when we accidentally left them on the shelf behind our car seats for an afternoon. Naturally, when I think of the highways of the American West, I now think of Miss Jane Marple.

I could never get interested in audiobooks as an adult, however. The reader’s voice often sounds wrong; the pace is too fast or too slow; I have to find and press a button just to pause in my “reading.” Come to think of it, I don’t even like “Stories on Stage.” But spending thousands of miles alone in a car calls for a reassessment of the medium, so I’m planning on signing up for over the new few weeks and getting started. Here’s my initial list of books I hope to listen to over the next few months:

Travels With Charley,” Steinbeck’s account of meandering journey around the US in a trailer named Rocinante with a French poodle named Charley. “For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed,” he writes. “Americans are much more American than they are Northerners, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners.” I’m a total sucker for that Obama-ish optimism tinged with sentimental exceptionalism. More, please.

Roughing It.” Mark Twain goes West, and wit ensues.

Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry.” I loved Donald Hall’s “Ox-Cart Man” as a child, and I’ve since come to love his poetry and his earlier memoir “The Best Day the Worst Day,” which focused on his marriage to poet Jane Kenyon. His work lives in my mind next to Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead” and “Home” – quiet odes to rural routine and lifelong love. (I’m not sure this available in audiobook, but I’m keeping it. This is a wishlist, dammit.)

Lonesome Dove,” Larry McMurtry’s bit fat classic Western.

Home,” Julie Andrews’s memoir. Read by the author. Explanation of appeal not necessary.

Any other suggestions?

Meanwhile, it’s possible that I’ll discover I really just can’t stand to listen to books other than Agatha Christie after all. So for my real-live-book-with-pages needs, I’ll be consulting the blog maintained by novelist Marc Fitten, who is visiting 100 independent bookstores across the country.


One response to “Books on Tape: the Reckoning

  1. Nice, Ruth–both the blog and the trip.

    I thought Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley was marvelous–and, amazingly, could have been written last year. His blistering assessment/prediction of the effects of the “new” I-90 interstate then going in near Cleveland was prescient in its detail of the inevitable decline of the small town and the individual, local styles of cooking, etc. I’ll be interested to hear if you ended up “reading” it. Ellen and I never travel without good audiobooks….

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