Books for the Road Trip, or for that Matter, the Long Daily Commute (Guest Post)

Posted on
Jun 7, 2010

Today’s guest post is written by the brilliant and lovely Mindy. I have trouble explaining the full scope of her awesomeness, so I will use the following example. Years ago, Mindy had a Bastille Day party. Why? Because of said awesomeness. And the invite read as follows:

“There will be Fronch dressing. Fronch fries. Fronch bread. And to drink….Peru!

She is also a local historian, a talented archivist, an avid reader, and has more degrees than most thermometers (she likes learnin’). All that, and she’s agreed to write a post for my blog about how to choose the best books for summer reading (because she’s assumed we’re all literate. Let’s not spoil her fun with the truth, okay?)

Without further ado, the very first of “Mondays with Mindy” …


Dear Everywhereist Readers,

Let me congratulate you on being readers. Reading is important! Americans don’t do it nearly enough. Traveling is the perfect time to catch up on your reading. That’s why Geraldine asked me, her token librarian friend, to help you with your book needs. Today, let’s talk about booking it on the road. If I’m lucky, Geraldine will invite me back. Fingers crossed!

When planning a road trip, your main literary concern may be nothing more than the beach read for when you get there. But remember folks, it’s about the journey, not the destination. (Seriously, I should write for Hallmark.)


Note to Rand: this was not the time to try to talk me into reading the DaVinci Code.

Consider an audio book.

Check whether your local public library offers downloadable audio books from Overdrive or NetLibrary. With a library card and few clicks of the mouse, you can download free audio books straight to your iPod. Live in a crap library district? Check out a commercial service like, which my adorable cousin-in-law in rural Indiana adores.


Some audio books pros and cons:

Pro: Listening to an audio book with another person means you’ll have plenty to talk about when you stop for dinner or anytime you’ve run out of other conversation topics. Think: book club on wheels!

Pro: If you’re the driver, the audio book can help keep both you and your passenger alert. Nothing is worse than a dozing, head-bobbing travel buddy when you’re behind the wheel. Except an ax-wielding maniac in the back seat!

Con: You may get so hooked that you invent asinine reasons to keep driving around. Our fascination with Lush Life may explain why my husband and I hit up the Jacksonville garage sale when we went to Ashland for Geraldine’s wedding. (Lush Life: kinda like The Wire, but in book form!)

Pro: If you’re a solo commuter like me, audio books offer an odd sense of accomplishment. When I listen to an audio book, I feel like I’m actually doing something besides commuting and polluting. I’m book learnin’!

Pro: I also feel a little less alone in the car, not unlike the time I picked up a hitchhiker in Everett.


Potential carpool buddies in Everett, Washington. Tempting though it was, I rode solo that day.

Con: Unlike hitchhikers, even the liveliest narrators do not count as passengers for the purposes of using the HOV lane in Washington State. Trust me.

Pro: Unlike hitchhikers, audio books have never killed anyone (to my knowledge). Even books about mass murder are perfectly safe. (Columbine: a gripping, thoughtful account of that grisly high school shooting.)

A couple of tips for choosing the right audio book:

Sample selections in advance. If you can’t stand the narrator’s voice in the first five minutes, put the brakes on this book lest you develop road rage. “Alternately breathy and screechy voicework” is not a valid defense in traffic court. Seriously, folks. You’ve got to start trusting me.

Audio books in the car must entertain you first and foremost. Inspiration and education are secondary concerns. An audio book should be able to hold your attention for miles, but it should never distract you from the road. Ideally, you should be able to listen, change lanes, and give someone the finger simultaneously.

Young Adult novels are perfect audio options. These books aren’t dumb. But they’re not stuffed full of convoluted detail and meandering subplots. And the story usually moves along at a fast enough clip to keep you engaged.

Traveling with kids? Consider children’s literature. Fun for the whole family! You might be surprised how much you enjoy revisiting your old favorites with or without babies on board. (From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: best book ever.)

Many other genres lend themselves well to audio: Humorous non-fiction (like old standby David Sedaris). Thrillers. Mysteries. Science fiction. Horror. Fantasy. Your listening tastes and reading tastes may differ, and that’s OK. As a personal rule of thumb, I tend to shy away from literary fiction and classics in audio format. It’s way too hard to appreciate lyrical writing or plotless prose on the road.

My artsy fartsy picture of the Vancouver Public Library. What? It was either the library or another trip to Tim Hortons.

My artsy fartsy picture of the Vancouver Public Library. What? It was either the library or another trip to Tim Hortons.

Since You Asked:

Here are six of my road-tested audio favorites to get you started.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Lost City of Z: a Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck (Bonus: it’s about traveling with a poodle!)

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Yours sincerely,


Mindy Van Wingen is a librarian, avid reader, and all around great gal.


Leave a Comment

More from The Blog

On Instagram @theeverywhereist