What I really love about audiobooks

Shine Shine Shine

They can be educational.

They can be entertaining.

The best ones are both.

They make running errands something to actually look forward to.

They make driving in D.C.-area traffic so much less of a nuisance.

At a point when “free time” is something of a misnomer, they’re keeping me immersed in books. And saving my books read list from ruin.

They take me back to elementary school — to the pure, simple, endless days when I looked forward to nothing more than having someone read to me. My parents, grandparents, a teacher . . . I could listen to stories all day. I did listen to stories all day — even after I could read them myself.

They push me out of my reading comfort zone. I grab audiobooks that sound interesting simply because I’m interested in them, and I’ve often gravitated toward non-fiction. The stories I’ve enjoyed are not ones I would have been likely to choose in print.

They’re . . . fun. They make me happy. They breathe life into “boring” days. They matter.

Book review: ‘gods in Alabama’ by Joshilyn Jackson

When Arlene Fleet fled small-town Possett, Alabama, she made a pact with God: in exchange for his help in keeping a murder quiet, she would stop sleeping around and telling lies — and flee, never returning to Possett again. Rebuilding a life in Chicago built around academia, Lena convinces herself that her torrid, unpleasant past is nothing but a memory. Life in Chicago is good. Life in Chicago is calm and quiet, void of the chaos that swept through her formative years.

But everything changes when high school classmate Rose Mae Lolley darkens her doorstep, asking too many questions Lena doesn’t want to answer. Her presence disrupts the carefully-created facade Lena has cultivated in Illinois and manages to throw her lawyer boyfriend on red alert, too. Burr is successful, handsome, supportive — and black. Deeply in love with her but frustrated by their stagnant relationship, Burr keeps asking to be introduced to her family. Lena can’t fathom bringing an African-American man to meet her conservative, religious Southern brethren, but forces conspire to draw her back to Possett for the first time in more than a decade. And it doesn’t seem like some remains can stay buried forever.

Joshilyn Jackson’s gods in Alabama is a sweeping, emotional and evocative story of love, redemption and family. If I was utterly absorbed in Rose Mae’s saga in Backseat Saints, a parallel piece to this one, then gods in Alabama totally blew me away.

What impresses me most about Jackson’s characters is their immediate way of burrowing into my heart. While I didn’t feel as though I knew Lena well in Backseat Saints, I knew enough of her past to feel somewhat wary of her at the start of this narrative. But her unique voice and humor definitely won out; like Rose Mae, I really felt for her. Wanting to protect and support Lena was effortless.

Being so swept up in Lena’s history with Jim Beverly, Rose’s high school love and star quarterback, I almost forgot to follow up on what was happening in the here and now. Burr was impossible not to love, being so patient and kind. You’d be hard-pressed to find a man willing to date such a damaged, skittish woman for years at a time . . . especially when their relationship could never progress beyond the passionate-kissing stage. When Lena promised God to stop sinning and “fornicating” with boys, she meant it. And after 10 years, she still means it . . . meaning Burr, already a sweetheart of a guy, had to have the patience of a saint.

As Lena makes her sojourn back to Alabama, I was on the defensive; Lena was fragile, I knew, and I didn’t want anyone criticizing her relationship with Burr. Furthermore, I was terrified of what her return to Possett would mean for the murder mystery that surrounded the story. But Lena’s obvious tie to Clarice, her cousin, was heartwarming; I loved how, despite many years and great distance between them, Lena was still so protective of Clarice. Their family history was heartbreaking and very telling of her Aunt Florence’s future actions. But despite her erratic and judgmental behavior, I couldn’t fault Aunt Flo for the things she did and didn’t do.

Having read Backseat Saints before gods in Alabama, I didn’t know what had become of Jim Beverly. When Rose leaves her abusive husband and goes on a search to uncover what happened with her first love, a man she once trusted more than anyone, I had no idea what had actually happened to him. The unraveling of Jim’s fate was riveting. Like its sequel, I listened to this one on audio — and more than once I found myself sitting in the work parking lot just to listen to a bit more before ending my lunch break. Errands became a welcome chance to reunite with Lena, Burr, Clarice and the family. And the story was anything but predictable.

If you’ve never read Jackson and love Southern fiction, especially when combined with mystery and family dynamics, I highly recommend both gods in Alabama and Backseat Saints. An infectious blend of love, intrigue, humor and tenderness, both novels bowled me over. They’re everything I love in storytelling: novels that make me chuckle, tear up, squirm, cringe, shift to the edge of my seat and back again. Don’t miss out.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0446178160 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audiobook borrowed from my local library

In uncharted waters with audio books

So I’ve been sick of my music and sick of the radio. Tired of everything I listen to during my commute, and even more worn out by the idea of going through my back catalog of CDs looking for something that won’t make me want to crash into a tree.

I have some depressing stuff in there.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the long drive my boyfriend and I made to New York and lamented the fact that, with nothing but time spread out before me, I couldn’t read in the car. I get terribly queasy and headache-y. And everyone was so supportive, chiming in that they have the same issue, but the same comment kept surfacing: Listen to an audio book.

Well, I actually have audio books . . . several of them. And after a brief attempt to listen to Emily Giffin’s Heart Of The Matter years ago, I’d preemptively decided they weren’t for me. The trouble was that I’d put several chapters on my iPod and was trying to listen at work, and . . . well, I was at work. I was doing stuff. Typing emails. Answering phones. Writing things. So of course I didn’t absorb anything. And of course the experience was lukewarm at best. I couldn’t concentrate on the words.

But I’ve been thinking about your comments. And though I didn’t think I spent anywhere near enough time in the car to make listening to an audio book worthwhile, I was wrong.

Heart Of The Matter has taken up residence in my Toyota’s CD player for the past week and let me tell you, friends: it is awesome. When calculating how much time I spend driving weekly, I somehow failed to add in the amount of time I drive to and from seeing my boyfriend (about 40 minutes a day, every other day or so); my time running errands at lunch (at least 20 minutes daily) and my drive to and from work (about 20-25 minutes daily). And that’s just, you know, on a normal day.

I find it soothing, having someone read to me — like I’ve gone back 20 years and am gathered around my second-grade teacher as she recites some of our favorite stories. Listening to a story opens me up for further visualizing what’s happening, too, and paints a surprisingly vivid picture of each scene in my mind.

I no longer cringe and smack my steering wheel when I miss a light or have to take a detour. These unexpected shifts in my driving schedule are an opportunity to squeeze in a few more “pages” of Giffin’s novel, a delightful listen narrated by Cynthia Nixon. As I know each route by heart, having taken these particular roads approximately 11,800 times, I can get lost in the story while still safely reaching my destination. And it is awesome.

I’m more than halfway done with the book and am already looking for how I can get my next fix. At our local library, I paged through the shelves of books on audio and marveled at the new world that’s suddenly opened for me. Even though I have four discs of Heart Of The Matter left, I couldn’t resist walking out with Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.

I’m officially converted.