As Thanksgiving approaches, many of you will be Homeward Bound and back again, on turnpikes or through airports, and you are starting to ask that key question: what recorded books ought I to obtain for the journey?
Well, for the certifiably insane geniuses and Christian masochists, who can navigate interstate traffic clogs while also unraveling philosophical theological problems, and who need to drive from Maine to San Diego and to swing by Florida on the return, there does exist an unabridged(!!!) audio version of Augustine’s City of God, narrated by a very British fellow named Bernard Mayes, whose very proper narration (of a regrettably stuffy translation) I managed to get used to while listening to the Confessions. The good thing is, just as you veer into that fatal auto accident, you’ll be meditating upon some pious profundity, unless of course you’re instead laboring through some bizarre typological-textual problem Augustine has dug up from Leviticus or such.
For more normal but nonetheless ambitious and Great-Booksy types, your ticket for a very long journey, or a month of happy commutes, is the Audio Connoisseur version of Herodotus’ History, although they title it The Persian Wars. The narration by Charlton Griffin is precisely right: an underlying energy, crisp diction, and intelligent but unobtrusive delivery. Expensive but worth every penny. Strauss-led Xenophon fans, of whom I am one, really need to get this Griffin guy cracking away on the Cyropaedia and co.!
Still, when its 2 o’clock on a grey afternoon somewhere on the I-40, locked in behind some endless line of trucks, and just as the sleepy consequences of you hamburger meal begin to tell, you don’t really want to be trying to concentrate (one more time) upon who’s related to whom in the two Spartan royal households.
No sir. What you need (besides of course some solidly swingin’ music–say, Count Basie, Bob Wills, or NRBQ) is Charles Portis, and his great comic American road-trip novel Norwood, as narrated/acted in pitch-perfect style by the amazing Barrett Whitener. Portis’s style of comedic storytelling here is more deadpan and subtle than that found in Confederacy of Dunces, the only novel I recall being as funny, and its content is very light. Travelling to New York City and back with Norwood, a proud marine, gas-station attendant, and unimpeachably normal and reliable resident of Ralph, Texas, is not at all like going with Kerouac’s haunted geniuses to California, or Percy’s haunted geniuses to Santa Fe. Portis is going to make you notice a few things amid the laughs, if you’re attentive, but Norwood himself is about as incapable of having existentialist meditations about the meaning of American civilization as is possible.
So take up and listen! Lots of laughter awaits, and trust me, there’s just no way you will read it in your head as well as Whitener does. And if you want to hear my take on the deeper meditations that do seem present amid this deft entertainment, read my next post.
And what are your recommendations for road-trip book-listens? Who’s your favorite audiobook narrator?