When my wife’s brother gave us an old treadmill, I decided to start using it for 30 minutes three times a week. However, I knew I’d need some kind of entertainment component to keep me interested. At first, I listened to music CDs. Then I watched Simpsons DVDs with the TV volume turned all the way up. But neither one seemed like a lasting solution.
Finally, I decided to try listening to audio books. I signed up for a $14.95 one-book-a-month subscription at Audible.com, and about two years later I’m still going strong. I download the books and burn them onto CDs, and the only time I allow myself to listen to them is when I’m on the treadmill in my Mormon underwear, junk afloppin' as I walk at 3.5 MPH. Without these audio books, I’m sure I would have stopped doing the treadmill long ago. I do it on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and I must admit I always savor my two days off in a row on Sundays and Mondays.
At ninety minutes per week, it can take me three months to get through a large 18-hour unabridged novel. Listed roughly in chronological order are the books I’ve listened to so far:
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides: Great narrator. Mind-bending and unpredictable family history and life story of a hermaphrodite raised as a girl but self-changed to a boy in late teenhood.
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood: Freaky sci-fi from probably my favorite female author, who has great range. Loved the narrator too--I can still hear his voice in my head sometimes, pronouncing those strange genetically combined animal names Atwood cooked up: pigoon, wolvog, rakunk, etc. (For more flavor, see http://www.randomhouse.com/features/atwood/ oryxandcrake/glossary.html.)
Seek My Face, by John Updike: My all-time favorite author of any gender weaves a lot of art history into this novel but still keeps it human and engaging, with his usual amount of frank sexuality. With the novel's real time confined to one day, the protagonist tells an interviewer about her life as the wife of several famous artists, with some interesting scenes from their day together as well.
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel: Another great narrator, with an India accent appropriate to the protagonist. Structurally the book is imperfect, but much of the story is quite vivid, excruciating, and fascinating. Basically, it’s about a boy stuck on a raft for months with a tiger, or maybe not.
The Vagina Monologues, by Eve Ensler: Fun to listen to, and all over the map in terms of tone and content. I don’t remember much from it, because it’s a series of fragments about different women’s experiences, but I do remember one woman’s name for her intimate parts: kootchie snortcher, or something like that.
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris: My first sustained exposure to a writer I’ve heard a lot about. It didn’t disappoint.
Seventh Son, by Orson Scott Card: I think this was an abridgement. I didn’t like it as well as I’d hoped, partly because the narrator tried a little too hard and bugged me. A thinly veiled allegory of Joseph Smith’s early life, set in an alternative world of folk magic.
Drop City, by T. Coraghessan Boyle: I’m about three-quarters through this one. It’s about a hippy commune that migrates from California to the Alaskan wilderness. Fantastic descriptions and scenes, less strong on plot and unexpected elements. Some great characterizations, but it’s hard to tell some of the hippy characters apart.
When I’m done listening to an audio book, I try to give away the CDs, since I see no reason to maintain a library of already-heard audio books--I hope I don’t regret that! I’ve given disks to three people but haven’t heard any comments back that they listened to them. Anyway, I have too many audio books piled up in my queue at Audible.com; I wonder if I can cancel my subscription but still download titles I’ve already purchased. Here’s what I have upcoming over the next 2-3 years, all unabridged except one:
Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Saturday, by Ian McEwan
The Inner Circle, T.C. Boyle
Magical Thinking, by Augusten Burroughs
I Know This Much Is True (Abridged), by Wally Lamb
The Human Stain, by Philip Roth
The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
Humboldt's Gift, by Saul Bellow
What I’m listening to this moment as I type: “Unconditional,” by The Bravery.