If you’re in need of a little TLC, why not have Tom Hanks tell you a story? With just a smart phone and a library card, you can listen to everyone’s favorite Bosom Buddy read an audiobook such as my current title, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.
Audiobooks are the ideal way to spend long hours driving or walking. In the past few years, I’ve had occasion to make out-of-state trips by myself and decided to “read” a novel along the way. I listened to an Irishwoman voice the many characters in Maeve Binchey’s Minding Frankie. I loved Claire Danes’ dramatic rendering of The Handmaid’s Tale, a book I’d read many years ago and wanted to revisit. I even managed to complete such must-read titles as Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, all while clocking the miles.
I can listen to an audiobook while accomplishing other tasks. Chopping vegetables or folding laundry are mundane and repetitive activities that are much improved by listening to a good story. And audiobooks have even improved my fitness. If I’m listening to a gripping book such as Emma Donoghue’s Room while out walking, I am much more likely to want to walk farther and for longer periods of time. I also prefer listening to watching TV when I am on a treadmill. It’s hard to focus on a screen with my whole body in motion but easy to listen to a disembodied voice while learning about The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
The key to a good audiobook is, of course, a good reader. Sometimes authors read their own work successfully. Malcolm Gladwell has a great voice and reads all of his own books. But many authors are great at creating the written word but not so gifted at speaking it. A good reader – essentially a voice actor – can bring their work alive. Such is the case with Tom Hanks’s wonderful narration of The Dutch House.
I hadn’t been planning to read Ann Patchett’s newest novel. I’d read one of her books in the past and hadn’t loved it. But Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote a piece on recommended reading, and Hanks’s audiobook was one of her suggestions. The Dutch House is a story of a family and the centrality of the house to their development, trials and tribulations. Hanks has that warm and folksy timbre to his voice with just enough sass to enliven the first person narration and the brother-sister dynamic in the book.
There is a reason that being read to is such a cherished childhood memory for so many people. The warmth of a story cascading over us, allowing our imagination to conjure worlds while safely tucked under the arm of a loved one. Currently my daughter is rereading the Harry Potter series by listening to a succession of actors and ordinary readers voice the likes of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Snape and the rest. I fondly remember reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to a couple of my kids when they were younger. I’m sure that listening to the series recaptures some of that childhood for my youngest.
So if you have no time to read or your eyes are just too tired at the end of the day, give an audiobook a try. In these troubled times, it can’t hurt to be lulled to sleep by the likes of Tom Hanks.