Reading while traveling in a car can be difficult. I had a friend who read magazines and books while we drove to bicycle races when I was a teenager. He was the driver. Audiobooks didn’t exist then, but I wish they had because this would have avoided many hours of extreme anxiety for me. My daughter claims that the “barf monster comes” if she reads in the back seat of our subcompact Toyota. My wife can read for about .03 minutes in the car without feeling queasy. The answer is audiobooks, whether you are traveling this spring break as a family or alone with your phone and a backpack. Unless otherwise noted, all audiobooks reviewed below are available on CD and/or downloadable mp3 formats through OverDrive.
I can’t begin to explain my joy in discovering, with my little girls, the Harry Potter series of books by JK Rowling. (I know, I know, it is totally lame that I have not read/listened to them until now). I relish each book. If you are taking a road trip with your kids this spring break, I would highly recommend listening to the series. Narrated by the sublime Jim Dale, the audiobook version will quickly immerse you in the world of Hogwarts and Hagrid while you ply the dreary Kansas plains (or on that long flight to the East Coast). Start with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” especially with younger readers in the car. Perfect for families.
What better way to pass the time while traveling than listening to a travelogue? Bill Bryson’s new book “Road to Little Dribbling” examines the societal and cultural changes in Great Britain during our relatively young century, throwing in his trademark humor and wit. A must-listen if you are traveling to the British Isles or, indeed, Europe during the upcoming break.
Car (or plane and bus travel) can be stressful, chaotic and tedious. A calm mind and Zen attitude can help. Jack Kornfield’s classic “Meditation for Beginners” is an excellent introduction to basic meditation practices. The audiobook is also filled with relaxing music. Exploring breathing techniques and other basic tenets of the practice, Kornfield’s approach is not to overwhelm the listener with theory but to impart basic tips and techniques to make first attempts at meditation easier.
If you are traveling out West this Spring Break, I would highly recommend what some critics argue is the best book written about the American desert and the Southwest: “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey. The desert comes alive in Abbey’s prose: “Lavender clouds sail like a fleet of ships across the pale green dawn – each cloud, planed flat on the wind, has a base of fiery gold.” Abbey also sends a clarion call out to the nascent environmentalist movement (the book was written in 1968), arguing that the protection of our native species and wild lands are in many ways the most pressing issues of our time.
Further, the audio version of this book also gives me a chance to mention another format that we have available here at DBRL. “Desert Solitaire” is only available through Hoopla, which is another great source for downloadable audiobooks as well as other media here at the library.
In addition to the fourth or perhaps fifth rereading/re-listening of the first three Harry Potter books that is going on in my family, we have also started reading the fabulous Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. Riordan just put out an excellent companion to his books, called “Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes.” One of the real attributes of this series of books is that, written in Riordan’s entertaining style, they introduce my family to the wondrous world of Greek mythology. I needed a refresher, and my kids are getting a great education without the drudgery that oftentimes accompanies Greek mythology textbooks. “Greek Heroes” is meant to further our education and fills in the gaps that some of the books might have created. Again, highly recommended for family car trips!
What are your listening plans for this spring break?
It feels like I’ve read millions of stories about smart and awesome children who are bullied by their peers and hated, or at least mistreated, by their parents (or, more likely, their legal guardian(s) or orphan master), but eventually they find the right mentor and/or peers and flourish. But when this template is used by a good writer, it remains satisfying no matter how many times it’s been slipped past my…head windows. And Charlie Jane Anders is, at least in this gentleman’s estimation, a great writer. And “All the Birds in the Sky” is a great novel, a new classic in the genre of “extra-special kid(s) with unfortunate upbringing(s) rise above their station and show the world their greatness.”
In order to judge the novel outside of the shadow of novels with similar conceits, I took the groundbreaking and head-breaking measure of attempting to induce amnesia. I tapped my noggin vigorously with all manner of mallets and took a number of tumbles down staircases, and in one regrettably memorable experience, sent myself plunging down my dumbwaiter, only to find that not only had my butler not been removing the now very rotten food scraps, but also one can earn a nasty infection from moldy silverware, and I don’t have a butler, and my dumbwaiter is just a second story window. Alas, the amnesia did not take. My mind, unfortunately, is still as sharp as…one of those, uh, sharp stabby things, the ones you use to affix pictures of your favorite monarchs to your dormitory walls…wallstabbers? Yes, wallstabbers.
Anyway, with my memory still as simultaneously boundless and confining as a prairie town, I am unable to judge “All the Birds in the Sky” without the knowledge of somewhat similar works coloring my perception. But, after further consideration, in what is a cruel twist given all I went through in order to provide a recommendation that would shatter all notions of what a recommendation could be and also my orbital bones, “All the Birds in the Sky” is a singular work.
For one, there are two protagonists. And the melding of science fiction, fantasy, comedy and action is so smooth, one would be forgiven for forgetting, even without a freshly battered head, to comment on its smoothness. Anders’ delivery and gift for jump-cutting to punchlines induce bountiful mirth. Also, I can’t think of another novel that features a school for witches. The school, Eltisley Maze, is fantastically imagined, and I doubt another author could, even with, like, seven whole volumes, create as fascinating a setting as Anders has here in just a few pages. It’s so cool. Go read the book, which describes the school, which I will not do.
The story begins with a girl saving a bird and learning she can talk to it. Soon she meets a boy who has followed cryptic instructions from the Internet to build a time machine capable of propelling the wearer two seconds into the future. This is a small aid in his quest to avoid bully fists, but using it too much will give the user a tremendous headache, as will wrapping your entire body save for your head in blankets and rolling down the steps of an amphitheater.
Difficulties abound. In order to get witchy again, Patricia must resort to taking unheard of amounts of spice in her food. Laurence’s parents insist he must go outside more. The guidance counselor at their school is actually an assassin (from an ancient order, naturally) plotting the pair’s demise. (To his credit, he’s only doing so because of a vision of apocalyptic catastrophe that featured the two children as adults at its center.) The children drift apart, though Patricia still converses with the artificial intelligence that is devouring Laurence’s closet space.
The novel really hits its highest…springy wheel thing with teeth that attaches to its wheel siblings to produce movement…when it jumps ahead to their early adulthood. Patricia is a witch who spends her time fixing wrongs, from turning a very bad man into a turtle, to making a heroin addict’s skin impervious to needles. Laurence is working as part of a billionaire’s think tank to create a wormhole that will transport a portion of the earth’s population to a fresh planet before this one is irrevocably torched. Also, this portion of the novel is home to the coolest tablet computer anyone has ever imagined, even if it is shaped like a…thing you use to scrape sounds out of a guitar.
With the duo at the height of their powers, and Patricia and her coven keen to save the world, and Laurence and his think tank keen to save some of the people on the world, even if the wormhole ray blows this one up in the process, one sees how the assassin’s apocalyptic vision may come to pass. Read the book and see if it does. Now I’m going to see a…person that puts cold metal on you to check for sickness.
As you’ve heard before, laughter is one of the best medicines, having positive effects on us physically, mentally and socially. This seems like a pretty big deal, that something free and fun can be such a gold mine of therapeutic benefits. If winter has you down low and feeling cabin-fever-confined, then stock up on some books from the library’s wit and humor collection and get your laughter fix.
No list of suggested humor reads would be complete without books by David Sedaris. I picked up his most recent title, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, Essays, Etc,” hoping for some comic relief. Within the first paragraph of his essay “Dentists Without Borders,” I started laughing, deep from the belly. I knew we were off to a great start! Sedaris is a gifted storyteller and uses his unique, quirky and twisted brand of humor in a quasi-autobiographical, non-fiction approach to recount tales of his odd-ball upbringing, job histories and ordinary daily life experiences. He tempers his humor with a dose of poignancy, lending insight to our human foibles.
Another side-splitting set of essays (in my humble opinion) is “Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk” by Shozan Jack Haubner. In hilarious (and sometimes crude) essays, Haubner scripts his trajectory from Midwestern Catholic boy, to Los Angeles screenwriter and stand-up comic, to Zen Buddhist monk living contemplatively in a mountain monastery. In this honest spiritual memoir, he describes, with biting wit, the rigors and challenges of monastic life, which provide him a longed for pathway to understanding his true nature.
For short, pick-me-up chuckles, try this clever dictionary of neologisms, “That Should Be a Word: A Language Lover’s Guide to Choregasms, Povertunity, Brattling, and 250 Other Much-Needed Terms for the Modern World,” by Lizzie Skurnick. A clever wordsmith, Skurnick authored a column (“That Should Be a Word”) for the New York Times Magazine where many of her originally coined words first appeared. Each word includes pronunciation, definition and usage as illuminated in these three choice entries:
Figital (FIJ-ih-tul). adj. Excessively checking one’s devices. Example: “Victoria grew tired of watching her figital fiancé glance at his iPhone every five seconds.”
Pagita (PAH-ji-tuh), n. The stress of the unread. Example: “Roderick stared desperately at the stack of New Yorkers before he went on his business trip, trembling with pagita.”
Roogle (ROOG-ul), n. Regret of a search. Example: “Samir stepped away from the computer filled with roogle. He hadn’t needed to know his new boss was a Civil War reenactor.”
Also, in the vein of quick laughs, try perusing “A Prairie Home Companion Pretty Good Joke Book,” with an introduction by Garrison Keillor. My family and friends have enjoyed many laughs from this title, thanks to my son, who brought it along on car trips or to parties to read aloud and entertain us.
Whatever the persuasion of humor that tickles your funny bone, we have it here at DBRL, so stop in and take advantage of this storehouse of humor. We want to help you scatter the last vestiges of winter with some hearty laughs.
photo credit: The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. via photopin (license)