How to Pass the Time on a Long Drive When NPR Gets All … NPR-y

PRINT SNOB that I am, I never gave audiobooks the time of day.

Until, after nearly a year of commuting 60 miles to work and 60 miles back, I realized how little listening to the radio helped all of that Turnpike traveling pass more quickly.

And so, last month, I used my iPad to borrow The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin from the library and gave myself over to reading a book in a voice other than my own.

Franklin’s work probably wasn’t the best book to start with. It’s written in 18th-century language, which I often found difficult to follow. And it’s not as if I could reread a difficult passage, either, though that may have been for the best–using my eyes instead of my ears would have tacked a hell of a lot of hours onto my reading time.

The point of the experiment was to see whether focusing my non-driving faculties on the linear structure of a book instead of the random blahblahblah of the radio would lessen the drive’s boredom. Happily, the answer was yes. Despite Franklin’s arcane writing, I was quite taken with how he described both the mundane and the significant portions of his life. (Although his failure to include anything of substance about the Revolution was surprising and disappointing.)

Turned out I hadn’t heard nothin’ yet.

I switched to fiction, and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, read by Elliott Gould, was a perfect companion. The twisting plot and smart, snappy dialogue kept my brain glued to the book, and Gould’s narration was spot-on. His recent turns as Rachel’s oafish father on Friends and as Reuben in the Ocean’s movies make you forget that the dude has chops. Gould’s Philip Marlowe is all matter-of-fact smarm, and he nicely inhabits the novel’s other voices equally well.

And I just finished John le Carré’s Our Kind of Traitor (to be discussed in a future post), read by the British actor Robin Sachs. The novel features several rotating points of view and numerous European accents, all of which Sachs handles deftly. As with The Big Sleep, I found myself occasionally wishing my ride were longer so that I could hear more of the book unfold through my car’s speakers.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to call what I’m doing “reading.” Strike that, actually–it’s impossible to call it “reading.” I’m listening, not reading. But my pleasure is none the less for it. | DL

Image courtesy of thanunkorn /

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