Hitchhiking and catching slow trains from beach to beach across southern Europe, reading was the last thing on our minds.
Soon enough, the long hours of travel and the lazier hours on the beach had us hunting for something to read.
In a Spanish port town, we finally managed to fish out a secondhand copy of The Lord of the Rings. We chose it more for the fact that it was the sole English language offering than for any particular interest in stories of elves, dwarves and errant rings.
Despite our initial lack of interest, the story worked its magic. The three of us battled for time over the one book.
There could be only one solution. The book had to be destroyed, one page at a time.
I’d read a page, tear it out and pass it to the next reader who would then pass it to the third. No sooner was a page read than it was ripped from the spine and passed down the line. Page by page, we demolished Tolkien’s masterwork.
Of course, there were a few ways we could have avoided scattering dismembered fantasy in our wake. One of us could have just read it aloud to the others. And even in those dark and distant pre-internet days we had the technology that might have saved Tolkien. We had the “book on tape”.
Ah, the book on tape. Familiar to anyone old enough to remember endless station wagon rides to the lake. Station wagons filled with kids, dogs, picnic baskets, battles over sibling seat territory.
Being kids, it didn’t matter how many times we heard the cowboy ride the range, the detective solve the murder, the boat get lost at sea, or Jacob Two Two meet the Hooded Fang. Each and every time play was pressed, the story freed us from the car. The shared story defused parental tempers, lulled kids and pets, swept the hours away until the beach or the cabin finally came into view.
Not everyone has memories of long haul car rides to the beach with a soundtrack of stories. But recorded stories still evoke echoes of parents reading us to sleep, of teachers explaining mind-boggling things about our culture and our planet, of friends telling us hilarious and heartbreaking tales. A whisper, a murmur, a laugh, the entire spectrum of sound and story for our ears.
Voice. This is the soul of “book on tape” technology. Timeless, and profound.
Of course, we don’t call them “books on tape” today. They live on as downloads and streaming files. Technology marches on. The clunky plastic cassette with its magnetic tape recording format is gone. You don’t need to leave your stories behind in the car when you get to the beach. And you can always find a new story anywhere, any time. Thank you, internet.
Today, we can lay back and have someone tell us a story on the beach. We can sit on a dock and listen to award-winning nonfiction. We can hear the newest Giller Prize winner’s book while we swim with waterproof headphones.
Young or old, at home or on the road, listening to someone tell us a story remains one of the most profound experiences we have. Whatever the medium, the magic of being told a story is timeless. Like my memories of slow trains, Hobbits, and Spanish beaches.
Edited by Gabrielle Parent-Doliner.
Click here for a list of audiobooks that keep you at the beach, by Audiobooks.com
This article series is funded by Audiobooks.com.
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