Road Reading

I’m about to fly out to Los Angeles, where I’ll sleep in my childhood bedroom for a night before throwing my suitcase in the back of my mom’s Honda and pointing said Honda back the way I came.  Together my mom and I will be heading east: to Erie, PA.  We’re going to take a week to get there, and in time-honored Arthur tradition, we have no commitments or plans, beyond a general route (across the Rockies and then along minor highways is as much as I know).  Long road trips were a staple of my youth – almost every summer we drove across the country, or through the west, in my parents’ 1969 VW bus (as we called it: never a van), converted into a rolling death trap with a platform bed in back, instead of seats.  Seat belts, air-conditioning, a working radio – these were as foreign to us as hotel reservations (or hotels themselves).  My brother and I would roll around in the back, try and quickly abandon reading when nausea overtook us, and pray our dad wouldn’t spot the historical marker up ahead and take us on yet another detour.  One summer the starter broke and we had to park on inclines to get the engine running (yes, my brother and I loved “Little Miss Sunshine.” My dad, not so much.).   That same year, the only pop music my father would sanction (reluctantly) was “Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits,” and so we played it endlessly on a portable cassette radio that bounced around the bus, and 30 years later I still can’t hear “America” without feeling a small twinge of nostalgia, mixed with carsickness.

My parents continued to drive east every summer.  This year, I’ll take my dad’s place, and unlike the last time I made the trip, we’ll be equipped with all mod cons, including a functioning car stereo.  To make the most of this unaccustomed luxury, and to use up a gift subscription on, I put out a call on Twitter asking for audio book recommendations.  Many great ideas rolled in, and here’s what my mom and I will be listening to:

  • Barchester Towers/Trollope
  • Endurance/Lansing
  • Fry and Laurie read Alphonse Daudet and Jerome K. Jerome (my mom and I are both crazy about Hugh Laurie’s reading of JKJ’s “Three Men in a Boat”)
  • Great Classic Stories read by, among others, Hugh Laurie
  • Jeeves in the Morning/Wodehouse read by someone who is not Hugh Laurie
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself/Bryson
  • Let the Great World Spin/McCann
  • The Master/Toibin
  • Norwood/Portis

Unless we plan to drive back and forth a few times, I know we won’t make it through all of these, but at least we’ll have options.  And I’m bringing along Simon and Garfunkel, just for old times’ sake.


  1. Posted June 9, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Endurance is a great book to listen to, especially if it’s hot outside.

    My family drove to from Michigan to visit relatives in the Bay Area at Christmas, 1968, and while we were there, my brother Mike taped my cousin’s brand new copy of The White Album. He didn’t have a cassette recorder, so he taped it on a little reel-to-reel recorder by lying on the floor with the single microphone between the speakers and making everybody be really, really quiet. Then he played it in the back of the station wagon all the way back to Michigan, and he and I would sing along with “Ob La di, Ob La Da,” coming down especially hard on the word “bra” in the chorus, because we thought we were getting away with murder. In fact, why my parents didn’t kill us both, or at least through the tape recorder out the window, is still a mystery to me.

  2. Eve
    Posted June 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, read by Eric Idle — hilarious, with fantastic accents!

  3. Posted June 28, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Here’s an alternative: Jackie Leven Said.
    It’s a combination of Scottish writer Ian (“Inspector Rebus”) Rankin reading his story, Jackie Leven Said, whith musical interludes from Jackie Leven himself. The recording is taken from a live performance.

  4. Posted June 29, 2010 at 6:27 am | Permalink | Reply

    I really enjoyed reading The Rehearsal. I think I’d like to check out some of your list there. I haven’t heard Simon and Garfunkel in forever; my mom used to have the records. Good times. I hope you enjoyed the trip.

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