Saturday, January 22, 2005

Time Travel

I am a recent convert to audiobooks. My daily commute to work is almost an hour each way and I’ve been making that round trip for 28 years. I cannot abide the glop that passes for commercial radio these days and even though I really enjoy the folks on National Public Radio, you can get tired of them from time to time. I have an extensive collection of music, ranging from classical to new age to bluegrass which has sustained me in the past, but when I’m stressed any flavor of music can grate on my nerves. And this has been a stressful year.

Awhile back I found a bargain on EBAY when a seller listed a complete set of the Harry Potter books on CD. The fifth book was due to come out during that summer and I thought it would be nice to refresh my memory of where the story had left off before I read the new one. The Harry Potter audiobooks are particularly well done and I enjoyed listening to them very much, for 2 hours a day for several weeks. But audiobooks are expensive, so I considered it a special case and didn’t think about buying more.

And then sometime last year I impulsively bought a Nero Wolfe mystery book on CD. And thoroughly enjoyed my commute time that week. The light finally dawned. I could relieve the boredom of 2 hours in the car every day and get some fiction in my literary diet as well. My reading time lately has been restricted to research, history and genealogy. I really missed reading the occasional mystery or best-selling novel. And that’s how it started.

Audiobooks are still expensive, but where there’s EBAY there’s a way. I have steadily built up a collection of audiobooks and have “read” books that have been sitting unread on my shelves in printed form for a year or more. I now routinely stop by Half-Price Books to check for used audiobooks and check the discount bookstores at the outlet mall in San Marcos. I’ve discovered some new authors that I like because their audiobooks were discounted to a few dollars at these stores.

And I’ve rediscovered some old friends. Yesterday I finished A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle, one of my favorite books as a child. How nice to discover that the writing was every bit as good as I remembered. I’ve finally “read” the Winnie the Pooh books that somehow slipped by me in my early days. I’ve refreshed my love of the Nero Wolfe mysteries by Rex Stout, the dysfunctional family novels of Anne Tyler and the Navajo detective stories of Tony Hillerman. I’m thinking of tackling some classics that I never got around to.

Commute time is no longer boring. The time is passing quickly these days. I find myself sitting a few more minutes in the car to hear the end of a chapter and having to restrain myself from taking the CDs in over the weekend to finish listening to a particularly exciting story. To escape the stresses of my life by traveling for a few minutes every day to another time and place has been wonderful.

My next airplane trip (coming up in April) will include my new Walkman and a long book on tape. I don’t like flying and I’m hoping a good mystery will take my mind off my fears and speed up that 3 hours. I’m even thinking of taking a book along with me for that weekly trip to the grocery store that I dread so much. Books of fiction were always my escape and I’ve missed them. How wonderful to have good stories to look forward to again.

Audiobooks are like printed books. There’s good ones and bad ones. A lot of books on tape are abridged. Avoid them like poison because you miss a lot of good stuff. A good narrator is a delight. Jim Dale has a hundred different voices for the characters in the Harry Potter stories and makes them come alive in your mind. Likewise George Guidall who reads most of the Tony Hillerman novels. One of the best books I’ve heard is The Red Tent, narrated by Carol Bilger, and I highly recommend it (in print or audio) to any woman. Garrison Keillor narrates his own novels and is always enjoyable. Romance novels are hard to take. If you think the flowery, erotic prose is somewhat comical to read, wait until you hear it spoken. It’s hard not to burst out laughing.

I certainly hope more people discover audiobooks. The major drawback at this point is the elevated price when compared to their printed counterparts. Perhaps if the volume sold increases, the cost may fall. When I can buy the audio book for the same price as the printed version, I will feel a little less taken advantage of. Which reminds me; it’s time to go check EBAY for today’s new listings.


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