My wife and I listened to 2.4 audio books last week as we drove to California on vacation. We put 4,000 miles on our rental car, one way. We saw lovely things, like the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and the red cliffs of Sedona, Arizona, where we rested up for a day. Then the endless Mojave Desert of Arizona-California caused me to whimper. While it did break my spirit, I dispute my wife’s assertion—however funny her impersonation of me—that I became catatonic as I drove. But look, I’m a once and future southern boy, a child of green and humid places. When the bare earth between plants stretches to more than a few feet, I get queasy.
Anyway, given the vast ranges we traversed in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, you’d think we would have made more of a dent in the pile of audio books I checked out from the library. We started with a short work, David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice, most of which we’d heard on NPR over years—though I had to wonder if we’d really ever heard all of his famous story about working as a Macy’s elf: like the rest of the collection, it’s hilarious but far sadder and darker than I remembered, maybe an effect of listening to one Sedaris story after another.
The bulk of the trip we spent with the dozen or so CDs of Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which is history for us ordinary folk who haven’t always paid close attention to history—because history sometimes requires that you know more history than you do. Bryson read it himself, and we loved his arch delivery, even if I never could reconcile his ritzy British accent with his photos that show him as the ruddy, beefy man from Iowa that he is. We finished up, driving through California’s fecund central valley, a true agrarian Eden, with Jennifer Egan’s remarkable novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. What a talent she is. One day I’ll finish this book, but I did hear enough to learn that the goons are a wonderful metaphor for aging.