There's only one thing better than curling up with a good book: heading off on a long drive with one. Since my rapturous first encounter with an audiobook 10 years ago (Garry Wills reading his mighty Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America) the floor of my car has been littered with cassette boxes. These days, I would no more leave on a road trip without a juicy Book on Tape than without a full tank of gas. It's hard to justify listening to (or reading) The Da Vinci Code when I could be working, paying bills, or vacuuming. But in the car, there's nothing more useful I could be doing. Hey, I'm getting somewhere and I'm getting some reading done.
But, as all audiobook addicts know, there's more to it than multitasking. The written word is a wonderful thing; spoken, it's magical. Listening to Toni Morrison read her haunting masterpiece Beloved counts as one of the great experiences life has to offer. And you can have it while you're driving I-5 to Los Angeles.
Authors reading their own work have a special appeal: Steve Martin reading Shopgirl; E.B. White reading Charlotte's Web; Eudora Welty reading The Optimist's Daughter. But don't limit yourself. No one could interpret Philip Roth's tragic American Pastoral with more feeling than Ron Silver, and I would argue that Scott Brick was born to narrate Dennis Lehane's Mystic River.
Audiobooks are available on cassette or CD. You can purchase them, but you can also rent audiobooks from outfits like Books on Tape (www.booksontape.com, 800-521-7925) or Recorded Books (www.recordedbooks.com, 800-638-1304) for about $10 to $20 a month. There's also a good selection available at most public libraries. Listening as you drive is safe, but recently while scrabbling around on the floor for the next installment of Jonathan Raban's Arabia: A Journey through the Labyrinth, I rear-ended an SUV. No matter how riveting the book, you should pull over to change tapes.
Photo Illustration by William Duke
This article was first published in January 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.