For about a decade between the years 2000 and 2010, I drove (roughly every third weekend) a round trip of about 650 km (400 miles) to visit my aging parents. The drive – and I love to drive – is not very interesting, to say the least, and the truck traffic heavy for about the first half of the trip. After that, it improves, and I can pay less attention to the road and more to the passing countryside, but even then….
So I started to listen to books on CD. My library had – and has – a good supply, and they relieved the tedium of the drive considerably. I listened to almost anything: thrillers, westerns, horror, classics – drawing the line only at romances, which just aren’t my cup of tea.
After 2010 my sister and her husband retired from the big city to the little town one east of my parents’ home, and I didn’t need to make the trip as often. But by then, I was totally hooked on audiobooks, and not just for driving. They are my bedtime stories.
In the same decade I was doing those long drives I also entered my mid-forties, and all the related mid-life changes that entails. Sleep became an issue, both from the joys of waking up too hot, too cold, needing the loo, etc., plus I’d changed jobs to one where there were a lot of problems to solve, and I’d lie awake thinking about work issues, too.
BD is extremely light-sensitive, so reading, even with a little book light, disturbed him. And it didn’t really work anyhow – I’d get sleepy, but then as soon as I put the book down it was back to thinking. So I tried audiobooks – in those days, using a Discman portable CD player. Most of the time, I’d be asleep in ten minutes, the ‘thinking’ part of my mind distracted by the story.
It wasn’t perfect. I had to guess where I’d fallen asleep on the CD and backtrack every time. But I slept better. And time and technology moved on; my library started to offer down-loadable audiobooks through a service called Overdrive. I bought an iPOD, and began to use the service, but it too had issues – a limited number of copies of books, long wait times, many titles I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in.
Then I discovered Audible and its thousands of titles. Sure, I had to pay for them, but that wasn’t an issue then and sleeping was! With a subscription, and buying credits in bulk on special offers, I figured I was spending about $5 a week on audiobooks, and that was a small price to pay for better sleep. And that is pretty well what I continued to use, up until retirement and the need to spend less.
I looked at the library downloads again – they now have two services, Overdrive and the 3M library. I am using those to some extent. But my preferred service now is the completely free Librivox.org. These are all public domain titles (titles whose copyright has expired) and they are read by volunteers. And there is a small ‘commercial’ at the beginning of each chapter for the service. Small annoyances – I’ve learned to tune out the commercial (I seriously don’t hear it anymore) and you can search the site for books read by your preferred readers, or to avoid those read by people whose voice just grates on you.
And what a world it has opened up to me! My father was a reader of Victoriana – the Brontes, Dickens, Trollope. I could never read them – too wordy, too convoluted – but I can listen to them with pleasure. One Anthony Trollope novel generally translates to between fifty and sixty hours of audiobook. That’s a lot of bedtime storytelling, especially now I sleep better, work worries being a thing of the past.
My greatest epiphany was Moby-Dick. This was the first book I never finished; we took it in grade 11, I think, and I just couldn’t read it. But listening to it was an absolute delight, the differing pacing and topics and voices of chapters like the movements of a symphony. I am now convinced that many nineteenth-century books were written to be read out loud, and are best heard rather than read.
Now my biggest issue are the books that are just too interesting – instead of making me sleepy, I want to keep listening! I save those for that long drive…my parents are gone now, but I have a sister to visit, and the road doesn’t get any more exciting. So I plug my iPhone into the auxiliary jack, adjust the volume, and I’m off.
PS: It’s possible some of you saw part of this post appear and disappear from WordPress…that was thanks to Pye-the-cat, who walked over the keyboard, pressing the right buttons to Publish, while I was in the middle of writing it.