The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 21, 2001


Books on tape are a boon to multi-tasking

Finding time to read all those books piling up on the night-table (plus the new books under the Christmas tree) is always a challenge. Audio books (only unabridged, please) allow us to multi-task while we're being entertained or informed or both. For years, my daily commute to Cambridge was sweetened by my Books on Tape selections. On the way home, there were times when I drove past my street just to finish one side of a cassette and I often wondered how I avoided a collision while P.D. James hurled tantalizing clues my way. My friends usually chose less dangerous venues for tape-playing in the kitchen while cooking and cleaning up, on the exercise bike every morning before breakfast, and on the Walkman while running or gardening.

A membership to Books on Tape ( is a wonderful last-minute Christmas gift. While that company's selections are heavily weighted toward mysteries and light romances, there is enough literature and even the classics to satisfy a wide variety of readers. After several rentals, one begins to recognize the names of the readers; most are very effective, some are less so. (One reader had a tendency to drop his voice at the end of every sentence and I had to crank up the volume to hear him, only to be blasted at the beginning of the next sentence.) The rental periods are generous, usually four weeksplenty of time to finish a book.

One of my favorite books on tape is The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, read by Kimberly Schraf. I fell in love with this bookQuoyle, the enigmatic newsman, his unforgettable young daughter and his aunt, and the poetic and evocative descriptions of the rugged Newfoundland coast all add up to a first-rate novel that won several major book awards. I then bought the book in paperback.

I also enjoyed Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods read by Rob McQuay. Bryson's descriptions of his quest to walk the Appalachian Trail from end to end accompanied by his badly out-of-shape friend with his Snickers bars were often hilarious and always fascinating. Since that encounter with Bill Bryson, I've either read or listened to all his books on England and Australia.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy was read by Donada Peters, one of my favorite readers. After the final cassette, I was so captivated by the book that I immediately bought it (in print) and read it, with Peters' voice still in my head. The details of Indian culture and society are texturally rich and the unfolding family story is strange and suspenseful. This book won the Booker Prize a few years back.

Would I rather listen to a book or read it? My choice would always be to read, for all the warm pleasures that reading brings me. This winter my cassette players in the car and at home speak French to me as I relearn the language through a series of tapes from France. Perhaps nextyear I'll listen to Madame Bovary en francais!

2001 The Carlisle Mosquito