Our paperback edition of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is 436 pages of tiny print. It’s on a regional school’s summer reading list and I am under no obligation to read it myself. Yet, I am “reading” it, or more accurately listening to it for pleasure. I had picked up the book before and put it back down. There was no way I would actually read this dense novel, even though it was a Pulitzer-prize winning classic and nominated as one of America’s Best-Loved Novels in PBS’s “Great American Read“. Then I had an idea. I have gotten used to listening to audiobooks in my car during my commute to and from work, so why not just give “The Grapes of Wrath” a chance in audio format?
I am now on the 13th of 17 cd’s in the audio edition narrated by actor Dylan Baker – and I am enjoying it immensely! Baker’s narration hits all the right notes: an authentic country vernacular spoken with dignity and lyrical cadence, using unique voices for different characters. Baker’s outstanding performance really gives meaning to Steinbeck’s words and thoughts. To be honest, I think that if I had picked up the book and read it, I probably would have skimmed or skipped the more pastoral or sermonizing parts of the narrative which alternate with the Joad family’s desperate trek to California. That would have been a shame, because I would have missed out on much of the haunting history of the uprooted farmers in their great migration West during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s. Baker deftly handles these potentially preachy passages in a manner that both augments and blends into the Joads’ plight.
In truth, I may not have the same attention-span that I used to have. Unfortunately, I often can’t sit down and read for long periods of time without getting restless… or chomping on the bit for more plot right away! Yet the audio book format prevents me from skipping ahead. I stay with it for the whole ride, figuratively and literally, when I listen to an audiobook in the car. Plus, I enjoy my commute more. What used to be a boring ride has become a wonderful school for the classics.