let’s hear it for the audiobook

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Got some family holiday car travel in your future? It’s kind of a quaint choice, nowadays, listening to a book on tape in the Age of Screen. We get our audiobooks from the library, either on CD or as mp3 downloads (fun fact: Toronto has the biggest public library system in the world). We listen in the car on the way north to cottage country when our No Media at the Cottage rule has everybody in wifi withdrawal and Minecraft mourning.

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I try to pick stories pleasing to both parents and children–but let’s face it: anything is more pleasing to parents than the punching and fart contests otherwise unfolding in the backseat. Time really does fly when you’re tuned into a good story. We’ve survived many a long-weekend traffic snafu thanks to audiobooks.

There’s something so fundamentally soothing about being read to, so dreamy and reassuring. I’m sure the emotion harks back to childhood bedtimes but it seems to exceed that, even. The golden-voiced actors hired to read (or, occasionally the authors themselves, though they’re never quite as good) seem like benevolent grandparents whose presence in our car says, ‘it’s all right, just relax,” no matter who backwashed whose water bottle or who made a wrong turn or who hogged the M&Ms.

A family listening to an audiobook together gets a common experience for which no particular one member is responsible. It gets a common vocabulary and the occasional in-joke, later on. It becomes better friends.

Here, then, are some of our favorites (in addition to The Hobbit, which I’ve raved about before) from the past vacation season (here “family”=Mom, Dad and two boys aged 13 and 9):

1. Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket): the author reads himself and sometimes mumbles, but these are natural read-aloud books and Count Olaf is delightfully sulky-sounding.

2. War Horse (Michael Morpurgo): drags in places but the war scenes pull it along.

3. Freak the Mighty (Rodman Philbrick): Older son read this for class the year before and loved it so particularly enjoyed sharing it with the rest of us: “Mom, are you CRYING? Geez.”

4. Watership Down (Richard Adams): amazing, this book’s momentum and emotional extremes!

5. The Spiderwick Chronicles (Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black): these are short tales strung together into a longer narrative. Good for rides with lots of pit stops, or multi-leg journeys.

6. Heat (Mike Lupica): this baseball story the kids liked more than we grownups did, but they really liked it…

7. Al Capone Does My Shirts (Gennifer Choldenko): same as above only more well-written.

Imageand two choices in the event you’re lucky enough not to have kids in the car:

8. On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan): read by the author but really, really well. Also a great story to listen to with your partner–awkward/honest in all the right ways.

9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows): I listened to this on a long trip with my mother-in-law, and it was the perfect choice for that context, at least. It’s read by several different actors (or at least two, male and female) doing the folksy accents with great artistry. Made me want to correspond with someone again the old way, with handwritten letters.

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