If reading were illegal, I’d have spent my life in prison. The most frightening book I ever read was Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than a life with no books.
As a kid, I literally read myself cross-eyed, but today, I have been redeemed by audiobooks. Early during the 1990s, I discovered audiobooks. I was a “wrong way” commuter, which meant my commute started in Boston and took me out to the suburbs. This was supposed to make the drive easier than going the other way.
The reality was different. Traffic was heavy in all directions, from Boston or from the suburbs. The east-west commute was nominally less awful than the north-south commutes, though coming from the north shore down to Boston was and is still probably the worst commute anywhere.
When we lived in Boston on the 17th floor of Charles River Park, we had a perfect view of the Charles River … and an even better view of 93 northbound. We could look out the window any time of the day or night. It was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see every day of the week, any time of day or night. Garry had a 5-minute walk to work. I always drove somewhere. You’d think at least once during the more than 31 years Garry and I have been together I’d have found one job near home. Funny how that never happened.
In New England, you do not measure a commute by distance. Distance is irrelevant. It’s how long it takes to get there that matters. No one talks in terms of miles. The mall is half an hour away. Boston is about an hour in good traffic, who knows how many hours during rush hour or when there’s construction. It can take you 2 hours to go six miles, but maybe you can travel 15 miles in half an hour. In which case 15 miles is the shorter commute. Ask anyone.
My commute was never short. Wherever my work took me, it was never convenient, except for those wonderful periods when I worked at home and had to go to the “office” only occasionally. The 1990s were serious commuting years. Boston to Amesbury, Boston to Burlington, Boston to Waltham.
It got worse. By 2000, we had moved to Uxbridge. It’s never easier to get from Uxbridge to anywhere, except one of the other Valley towns … and I never worked in any of them. Probably because there is no work there.
As jobs got more scarce and I got older and less employable, I found myself commuting longer distances. First, Providence, Rhode Island, which wasn’t too bad. But after that, I had to drive to Groton, Connecticut a few times a week — 140 miles each way — a good deal of it on unlit, unmarked local roads. It was a killer commute and unsurprisingly, I was an early GPS adopter. Even though I didn’t have to do it every day, Groton did me in.
Hudson was almost as bad, and Amesbury was no piece of cake either. The distance from Uxbridge to Newton was not far as the crow flies, but since I was not a crow, it was a nightmare. On any Friday afternoon, it took more than three hours to go twenty some odd miles. On Friday afternoons in the summer when everyone was taking off on for the weekend, I found myself battling not merely regular commuter traffic, but crazed vacationers, desperate to get out of Dodge.
The job market had become unstable, and it seemed every time I turned around, I was working in a different part of the Commonwealth or in another state entirely. If it weren’t for audiobooks, I’d probably have needed a rubber room.
First, I discovered Books On Tape. Originally intended as books for the blind, I and a million other commuters discovered them during the mid-1990s. They were a godsend. Instead of listening to the news, talk radio, or some jabbering DJ, I could drift off into whatever world of literature I could pop into my car’s cassette player.
I bought a lot of audiobooks and as cassettes began to disappear and everything was on CD, Books On Tape ceased renting books to the consumer market. Fortunately, audiobooks had become downright popular and were available at book stores like Barnes and Noble. Everybody was listening and most of us couldn’t imagine how we’d survived before audiobooks.
In 2002, along came Audible.com. At first, it was a bit of a problem, figuring out how to transport audible books into your car, but technology came up with MP3 players and widgets that let you plug your player, whatever it is, into your car’s sound system.
Audible started off modestly, but grew and grew and having been acquired by Amazon is getting bigger by the minute. I don’t mind a bit. The company was well run before Amazon, and Amazon had the good sense to not mess with success. It is still easy to work with them, literally a pleasure doing business.
Ten years ago, I became too sick to work anymore. Would that mean giving up audiobooks? Not on your life. When I was nearly dead, I listened to books and they distracted me from pain and fear, kept me company when I was alone and wondering if I’d live to see morning. Sometimes, they made me laugh in the midst of what can only be described as a time when humor was at a premium.
Today, I listen as I do everything except writing. I can listen to books as I play games, edit photographs, or pay bills. I admit I cannot listen and write at the same time. That seems to be the point where multi-tasking ends. Actually, I can’t do anything while I write except write. I get a lot of reading done while accomplishing the computerized tasks of life, not to mention turning hours of mindless messing around into valuable reading time. I am, in effect always reading.
Reading in bed is the guiltiest pleasure.
I read at night on my Kindle using a good little Bluetooth speaker. Reading in bed has always been my biggest guilty pleasure. I remember reading in my bedroom under the covers using a flashlight, or worse, trying to read from the sliver of light coming from the hallway nightlight, or, if everything else failed, by the light of a bright moon.
“You’ll ruin your eyes” cried my mother who probably had snuck books into her bed and read by candlelight.
To this day, I don’t know why she didn’t just let me turn a light on. She had to know I was going to read anyhow. She was always reading too. In fact, if books were my addiction, she was my dealer. Even in today’s politically correct world, giving your kid too many books to read is not yet considered child abuse. I think there was some kind of law in her generation that kids had to go to bed by a specific time, whether or not they were sleepy. It was the eleventh commandment.
My love affair with literature in all its forms continues. My tastes change, favorite authors move up or down the list. I go through phases: all history, nothing but fantasy, a run of thrillers, a series of biographies. Getting older has few advantages but there is one huge gift — time. I often get so involved in a book that I look up and realize that oops, the sun is coming up and I’ve lost another night’s sleep. But now, I can sleep in. Not all day, but enough to not be exhausted in the morning.
I don’t have to commute anymore. I don’t have to leap out of bed and in 15 minutes, shower, dress, put on makeup, and chop the ice off my car windows. I can stay up late whether it’s for reading, writing, or watching movies. No one can make me stop. There are no official bedtime hours for senior citizens.
I knew there has to be some benefit to the whole “getting old” thing.