Two Thousand Splendid Miles of Audio Books

Thanks to a long drive from our home in the Bay Area to Seattle and then on to Port Angeles, my wife, Josie, and I had the opportunity to listen to two great audio books. One, the runaway best seller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the other, Khaled Hosseini’s follow up novel to The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Audio books can be so entertaining, if like a good book, they are able to hold and capture your attention. Both of these audio books succeeded wonderfully at doing this. The problem with audio books, for me at least, is that unless you have the discipline to sit yourself down for an hour or two each night and listen, they just eat up too much time. But on the other hand, if you’re taking a 2,000-mile roundtrip, you’ve got all the time in the world.

Dragon Tattoo, which will be released as an American made film in 2012, I saw in it’s original Swedish film adaptation a couple of years ago. Having seen the film, I never invested the time to read Stieg Larsson’s novel by the same name. Still I was curious as to how much richer a broth Larsson cooked up for the book which was the first of his “Millennium Trilogy,” followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Of course, as anyone would suspect, the unabridged audio book, which ran in excess of 16 hours had countless details that the film, approximately two hours, left out. It was great fun, getting all the rich details and color of such a well- crafted mystery.

As for A Thousand Splendid Suns both Josie and I were deeply moved by the work. I had read The Kite Runner and loved it and although I knew that this second novel was not as well received as his first, I had read the first chapter and found it engaging. But, as is so often the case with fiction, at least for me, a thousand other articles and non-fiction books carried my attention away and I never do get around to finishing it.

Splendid Suns is an upsetting book because it portrays the brutal way women are treated in Afghanistan. At one point Josie insisted that we turn it off. About twenty minutes down the road after I assured her that The Kite Runner ended with redemption, she could no longer resist and with less than 200 miles left to our road trip we began the final two hours of the book. A Thousand Splendid Suns is bittersweet because while it ends with hope for the future it leaves you stupefied that any society could so disregard the basic rights of one half of its population. Women are virtually always in the wrong in this culture. It’s mind numbing to hear how abused they can be and that whatever a man does to his wife, or a father to his daughter, that is a “private family matter,” and not subject to any form of outside justice.

Add to this the backdrop of decades of Afghan wars and of course it can be upsetting. At the same time this is a story of great human strength and of the power of women to survive and ultimately thrive in the most trying of circumstances. Perhaps, like dessert flowers, not only live on, but to blossom against all odds.

Both of these audio books made me look forward to another long car trip. After all you can’t listen to 30-hours worth of storytelling without a good amount of time in the car. And while you certainly can listen in bits and pieces on your daily commute, I doubt that it would have the dramatic impact that all great novels should have.

To me, the most entertaining aspect of audio books is they take us back to a time when great storytelling was just that, telling and listening, not reading. After all the printing press is 500 plus years, but the traditions of storytelling date back countless thousands of years. For me, at least, I find it exciting that a good audio book recaptures some of that ancient tradition.

If you want to give audio books a try for your next car trip, a word of advice: take with you at least two, or more, that you think you’ll enjoy. Or, try listening to the first 30-minutes on one of the days before you go. Just like a book, if it doesn’t hold your attention it can’t work its magic upon your mind. Also, most readers are polished performers and they do a marvelous job. Every now and then, however, you’ll find someone with a voice that grates on your nerves. Someone you can’t listen to for 15-minutes, no less 15-hours.

But if an audio book can catch you in a web of suspense, make you laugh, gasp, cry, that drive, no matter how long, will just go flying by.

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–Martin Brown
Health Channel Editor,