Books On Tape

Thanks to a recent road trip to Michigan to visit family, I am ahead of quota for summer reading. I should air quote “reading” because to me: Road trips = Audiobooks (or as Matt still likes to call them “books on tape”).

I’ve heard from some people that listening to books and driving makes them sleepy. From others, I’ve heard they get too into the book and forget to pay attention to traffic.

For me, listening to the story unfold keeps me alert, but I don’t worry too much about missing words. Michigan is a good 11-hour drive for me. If I miss a few story minutes due to some tight lanes, I figure I’ll catch up in the next while or so. I’ll admit, sometimes after driving through Des Moines (a city that should, but does not, have their traffic shit together) or Chicago (a city that does have their traffic patterns ironed out, but it’s just a really big city with only one way to get around it), when I get back to the story I’ll be like “oh hey, when did THAT happen?” But I always piece it together.

For this reason, it’s best to keep my audiobook content light.

On my recent trip, I enjoyed Death of a Celebrity by Marion Chesney. Previously unknown to me, this book is part of a series about Hamish MacBeth, a Scottish PI who, when he’s not solving crimes in the Highlands, tends to his sheep and chickens. It was an enjoyable bit of intrigue plus humor.

After that, I took a rec from Rocky and listened to The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, a book Cathy reported on last Summer (2022). If you recall, she thought it was an enjoyable metafiction in which the writer’s and the characters’ stories blur together. It’s a layered story, written in first person, with the narrative interrupted by letters to and from a character of questionable integrity. I liked it. It’s a good drive-listen. Thanks, C.

On my way home, I thought I’d veer from my typical light who-dunnit selections, and I chose a book I’ve always been meaning to read: Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I guess I imagined a little dated, yet nostalgic, maybe understated prose. Audiobooks don’t have pages, though I’m sure I didn’t make it through a quarter of the first page before I shut it down. It wasn’t preachy, but I felt it wanted to be. And it was for sure going to be “teachy.” And also…just Yawn.

So, at a rest stop, I scrolled through my Libby App. In my Boolean-esque search, I searched recent – available – and – entertaining.  Even though the books are in digital form, there is still limited availability when you “check them out” from the virtual library that is Libby.

I picked Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados. In my assessment, it ended up being Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance meets Bridgette Jones’ Diary (Helen Fielding).  I mean that in the best way: like Zen, the narrator takes in the surrounding environment and people, and frames them in a bigger life picture. But like Bridgette Jones, the tone is effervescent, with drinks and smokes and a bright young narrator. Yet, it is also unique. Twenty-thirteen NYC is the backdrop, the drinks are preferably French 75s, the cigarettes are rolled Gauloises, the preferred food is oysters, and there is not a bit of guilt or self-loathing for any of it. The only regret in this book is not having and doing more more more.

Twenty-one-year-old Isa is spending a summer in New York subletting a room with her best friend Gala. (They’ve been friends so long, Isa refers to their occasional bickering as “marital spats”). Wry and self-aware Isa describes their season spent working as little as possible during the day, while into the night, sliding themselves into elite gatherings over art, literature, and fashion. Isa becomes reputable for her clever conversation, someone who can keep a party going. Isa and Gala jump from party to party each night until morning (Isa asserts that while Gala can stay up all night, she, herself, believes nothing good can happen after 4:30 a.m.) Each morning they awake with temples pounding as they make their way to the small bodega where they sell clothing for a few hundred dollars a week. Although they’re constantly worried about making their rent, this doesn’t keep them from the hard work of collecting experiences and making the most of their youth as if they understand age begins to compound with the slightest forward movement of time.

The story is entertaining, and the diary style is effective in segregating the book into chapters by various parties, romances, and get-aways. While it might seem a little bubblegum for some, there is a beginning and an end. The author’s insights, both subtle and obvious, move the characters along and change them as they go.

If I could do this book all over again, I would read it, not listen to it. The narration was off-putting to me. Bronwyn Sazbo Narrates the first-person account in a pouty, bratty voice that does not ring true with the smart written composition. (I almost always turn on the narrator eventually, but this aversion was immediate). I nearly punted it when I first started it just east of Davenport Iowa, but the author’s sharp wit shined through (plus I needed to keep my eyes on the road) and I’m glad I stuck with it. I’ll be looking for more from Marlowe Granados.

Since I’ve been home from that road trip, I have a stack of summer reading on my nightstand and have been logging time on the patio with a book. I’ll look forward to discussing it all soon!

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