Time spent behind the wheel of my car is time not spent engaged in productive activity, such as learning to play the flute or weeding geraniums. Whether I would become a musician or gardener with the time I now spend driving every day is an open question. However, there is still an opportunity to become, if not well-read, then at least familiar with a broad range of literature. This is especially true when the drudgery of the automobile is paired with Libby, the free library audiobook app.
Libby is an access portal for OverDrive, which is probably the most popular e-book and e-audiobook lending platform currently in existence. OverDrive hit the market early and hit it hard, rolling with every technological upgrade and innovation and shift. Within five years, CD audiobooks gave way to MP3s downloaded through OverDrive’s media app and loaded onto iPods, which in turn gave way to downloaded and then streaming audiobooks that never left the efficient angular nest of the smartphone. And it was all free.
I lean heavily on Libby for my audiobook joy. One of the things I most appreciate about it is that my demands are usually not met. If I had my way, I’d read nothing but bizarro apocalypse science fiction, in the same way that if I had my way I’d eat nothing but sushi and chocolate covered potato chips. Research conducted by me indicates that a diet of extreme, gore-oriented science fiction is about as good for your mind and social skills as a diet of carbohydrates and raw fish is good for your physical longevity. Literary fiction uplifts and transforms. It fosters empathy, cognitive skills, conversational awareness. That’s why it’s good, for my sake, that OverDrive is a veritable desert of screamingly weird garbage. When a book is available – and that is an event worth jumping for – it is normally an example of either Literature or Education. Currently, I am listening to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, a collection of short stories that wrestles with identity and place and is definitely Literature. My last audiobook, A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard, was Education, albeit satisfyingly gory and strange. The combination has populated my dreams with pregnant ambulances agonizing about their relationships with their fathers, so I assume that whatever is supposed to be making me a better person is working.
I hear these books out as I plow microscopic furrows in the asphalt to and from my place of employment, usually listening at double or triple speed. That’s how I know I was born into the right era: I can listen to an audiobook at thrice the speed of speech. (Or half, if I’m working my way though a children’s book in Spanish.) Without the magic of audiobooks, my available reading opportunities would be consumed and expelled with my car’s exhaust every day.
In a world where I could ride the train to work, I could be more productive. I could pair my audio commute with my latest crochet project, for example, rapidly reducing my holiday gift and personal reading lists simultaneously. But I don’t live in a world where eco-friendly travel infrastructure is considered a priority, alas. I live in a world where I sit rigidly in a confined space, watching an hour-long movie about all the ways that other cars can barely miss my front fender. And in that world, audiobooks are more than entertainment. They’re a heartbeat in a sensory deprivation chamber. They’re the lone bulb in my mental safe room.