Looking over my list of what I’ve been read so far this year, I couldn’t help noticing that half the books I didn’t actually read. I listened to them. I’ve loved listening to books since way back when my grandmother read to me from the Tasha Tudor Book of Fairy Tales.
After I outgrew the fairy tales–or after my grandmother got fed up reading me the same stories over and over– I spent a few dreary years on my own, picking my way through a lot of books with animals in them. Most writers I know have always been voracious readers. Not me. I read slowly (still do), I was choosy (no talking animal protagonist=no interest), and most of the time I would rather have been outside.
Then, in third grade, I got a new teacher, Mrs. Sides, who read aloud to us every afternoon right after milk break. This was heaven. She had a great reading voice—clear, not overly emotive—and the books she picked I can’t think of to this day without hearing her voice: The Yearling, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Little Prince, Caddie Woodlawn. I remember sitting in the back row of the class and not even caring that I couldn’t see the illustrations she was holding up. Mrs. Sides (and the authors, I suppose) painted better pictures with her voice than even N.C. Wyeth. I also remember the irritation (sometimes bordering on mutiny) that rippled through the class when she had to stop for the day. For the next twenty-three hours I’d carry the unfinished story in my head, reviewing it on the long bus ride home, impatient to find out what would happen next.
I’ve loved listening to books ever since. I was addicted to listening to The Radio Reader on NPR and was early fan of books on tape. I discovered Anthony Trollope by listening to The Eustace Diamonds, which I lugged home from the library in a suitcase-sized container of cassettes. I was seduced into The Game of Thrones books by listening to the incredible Roy Dotrice. I’ve always loved Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, but never so much as when I listened to Anna Massey reading it.
This year I suffered a couple of mini health breakdowns that required me to stay in the hospital—first for three weeks, then another stay of a week and a half. Lucky for me, my MP3 player was loaded up with books from Audible.com. I’ve listened to twenty books this year, many while trapped in the Jewish General hospital or at home recuperating. Among the books I’ve enjoyed were Empire of the Summer Moon, In the Woods by Tana French, The Spoils of Poynton, Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy (which I confess I picked simply because the wonderful Michael Kitchen was the narrator), and Dead I May Well Be by Adrian McGinty. More than ever, these books and more have been lifesavers to me this year.