The forecast said 1-2 inches of snow overnight, ending at 10 a.m. My flight from Milwaukee to Portland, Oregon, to visit some of my best friends and meet their new daughter, was supposed to depart at 2:30. I wasn't worried.
I should have been worried.
I sat at the reference desk that morning, watching flakes continue to fall well past the projected end time. I kept refreshing the current conditions, checking on the status of my flight out of General Mitchell. It got pushed back, and pushed back, and eventually I got an email from the airline telling me to pick a new flight out, since I'd miss my connection.
I sighed, switched to a new, later flight, and then headed out anyway. I'm my father's child, after all, and I like getting to the airport early. Plus, even with delays, cancellations, and an honestly funny flight from Milwaukee to Chicago, I knew on one front, at least I had enough books to read.
I travel pretty light no matter what. For a five-day trip to the West Coast - a stop in Portland on the way to San Diego for a family wedding - I fit two formal outfits, pajamas, casual wear, toiletries, and more into my old college backpack, which fits perfectly into the overhead compartment. The bag that serves as my personal item fits four volumes of manga (Japanese comics) along with everything else I need for a trip. But even the manga were just for emergencies. I had four audiobooks downloaded to my phone, so as soon as I got settled in my seat - whether at the gate, on the plane, or on a bus or a train - I could pop in my earbuds, hit play, and watch the scenery go by while someone told me a story.
When I was a kid, I would haul a big tote bag of books on family road trips. A drive from Stevens Point to my grandparents' condo in Dubuque meant I needed to be prepared. Even with my sister hassling me in the car, I never got carsick, and usually read through my entire tote bag. As I got older, I found I had less and less time for leisure reading. I had to read for class, I felt obligated to stay informed by reading the news, and gradually I found I wanted to do other things in my free time. Besides, on road trips these days, I'm behind the wheel; not really a great place to read a book.
The first time someone mentioned audiobooks to me, I thought that was cheating. It's not really reading a book, right? But a book I wanted to read was available as an audiobook, performed by an actor whose voice I loved, and I gave it a shot. That first book was a horrible experience. Even Ron Perlman's dulcet tones couldn't keep me engaged; my mind kept wandering, and I'd have to skip back to try to find where my brain went off the rails. It took forever! But after some online investigation, I decided to keep trying. I just needed to train my brain to listen to audiobooks. And once I got there, I fell in love.
A 2016 study found that, especially for leisure reading, there isn't much difference in reading comprehension whether you "read" it using your eyeballs or your ears. Oral storytelling has been a major part of the human experience for thousands of years. Students listening to Shakespeare are more likely to connect to the material because of the actors' interpretation of the text. But not only are audiobooks perfectly acceptable substitutes to keep you finish your next book club title on time, they are also superior in plenty of situations.
For a while, my sister's and my ages and interests overlapped enough to make us want to read the same books at the same time. However, we definitely did NOT get along well enough to share a printed copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Someone could read the book aloud, but their voice would get tired, or they'd want to take a nap, or they'd start feeling carsick. Sharing a book with a group is a lot easier with audio, and a recording means no stumbling over unfamiliar words, or having to pull over due to motion sickness. And if you don't all want to listen to the same thing, no problem! Library apps like Libby and RB Digital let you download titles directly to your device, so you can just pop in your earbuds and tune out your sister's annoyingness, your mom's snores, AND your dad's sports talk radio.
If you're traveling alone, audiobooks are still nice. When I visit family and friends in Minneapolis, the trip takes about five hours. It's easy to find an audiobook that's 10 hours or so, and rather than flipping through radio stations desperate to find something to rock out to, I can finish an entire book AND spend quality time with my great-aunt Carol, all in the same weekend.
Thanks to delays at O'Hare, my flight home from San Diego was delayed, then rerouted to Charlotte, NC. Our plane from Charlotte to Milwaukee was delayed for maintenance. Thanks to the library's digital collections, I had plenty to read the whole trip, and I didn't even use any mobile data. Just download your books to your device while you're connected to wi-fi, and you're good to go - even at 31,000 feet.
All you need to check out digital audiobooks on Libby or RB Digital is a library card and your PIN. Once you have those, click here to get started! If you don't have a library card yet, they're free! Get yours today.