The Long Commute by Kirsten LeClerc
My first teaching job was a ten minute drive from my house. I didn’t appreciate the convenience of a short commute at the time. I didn’t realize that long commutes make people miserable until I took a job that required an hour (each way) in driving time. It was a job I loved, my first gig as a school librarian. I was working at a K-8 school in the rural town of Alburgh in northern Vermont. The kids were wonderful and the staff was amazing, but the commute was Hell. There was one bright spot in the journey I would take each day to that small town on the Canadian border — audiobooks.
I didn’t discover the joy of audiobooks on my own. I spent the first couple weeks of the school year flipping through radio stations as I drove, occasionally landing on a song I liked or an interesting NPR story. I also found myself doing something else on a regular basis: wiping away tears. I knew that something had to change or I wouldn’t make it through the school year.
You see, I loved my job. But there was somewhere I longed to be instead…home with my daughter. She was only a year old when the school year began, and being away from her for ten hours each day was painful. I had to work full-time, though, in order for my family to have health insurance.
I lamented to one of my colleagues about my tedious commute, and she said, “Why don’t you try listening to audiobooks in the car? It always makes my drive seem to go by faster.”
I was skeptical at first. I’d always felt like audiobooks were for struggling readers and people with visual impairments. Would I enjoy listening to a book that was meant to be read on paper? I was desperate and willing to give anything a try.
That afternoon I checked out the first book in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series from my own library to listen to on the way home. I was instantly hooked. The hour seemed to fly by as I connected to the sweet story of four teenage friends, and I arrived at my daughter’s daycare center in a remarkably better mood than usual.
It only took me a few days to listen to that first book, and I devoured the series within a few weeks. I began binging on series books, moving on to the Hunger Games trilogy next. Mockingjay was hot off the press, so I raced to catch up with the middle school students from my book club who endlessly debated the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle. I followed that with the Books of Ember series, then Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl, and Gregor the Overlander. I found them all to be surprisingly entertaining and got lost in the stories as a means of escape.
Fall turned to winter and my commute grew longer because of the weather. We had lots of snow, but cancellations for weather are rare in Vermont. So I put on my winter tires and gripped the steering wheel tightly as I listened to several books from the state’s award list for that year. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade, Pop by Gordon Korman, and Grace Lin’s Where The Mountain Meets The Moon were books I enjoyed as I slid along the icy roads bordering Lake Champlain. To this day, when I see one of those titles in a library or bookstore, I feel as though I am running into someone familiar, an old friend who was with me during a difficult time.
When spring came, it should have been smooth sailing…but it wasn’t. That year Lake Champlain flooded, causing problems throughout the northern half of Vermont. My commute got even longer for about a month when one bridge closed temporarily and another was down to one lane. I listened to Harry Potter then, letting the familiarity of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine soothe the road rage that threatened to erupt as I navigated a tricky commute.
When the school year ended, I said a bittersweet good-bye to Alburgh and the Green Mountain state. I moved south with my family and was able to work part-time during my daughter’s preschool years. I vow to never again commit to a commute that requires more than one stop at a gas station each week. However, I have continued my appreciation for audiobooks. In recent years I’ve grown to love Shannon Hale’s medieval princess tales through audiobooks. I discovered the fabulous Birthright trilogy, a dystopian series by Gabrielle Zevin set in a future where water is scarce and chocolate is illegal. (Did you love The Hunger Games? Check out All These Things I’ve Done, the first book in the series. The narration on the audiobook is especially good.)
This school year I returned to work full-time, and I am incredibly thankful to have a ten minute commute again. I have a commuting buddy who isn’t quite ready for YA literature, though. We usually just chat about our day and listen to Laurie Berkner or the Frozen soundtrack on the way to school and back. My daughter started kindergarten this year, and it’s been wonderful to be together at the same school. She doesn’t fully appreciate audiobooks yet, but I know she will someday. She does love to read (and tell) good tales; she understands the power of a great story.
Perhaps I am preaching to the choir, Nerdy Book Club members, but I truly believe that audiobooks are for everyone. If you dread time spent in the car, try an audiobook. I promise you won’t regret it. And who knows? You might even find yourself looking forward to your commute.
Kirsten LeClerc is a teacher-librarian in Asheville, NC. She is on Twitter @kirleclerc and blogs occasionally at http://bookswithcharacter.blogspot.com.