On the left, just through the Library's front door and up the steps, is a long high bookshelf of new books on tape. The Library's first book in this special category, Robert Benchley's The Best of Benchley, was acquired in 1989. My first experience with books on tape was a few years later on a two-day road trip, listening to Derek Jacobi's bardic rendition of Robert Fagles' translation of The Iliad. Rain fogged the windshield and obscured all but the immediate highway for most of the drive, so that the long ago events on the broad plain of Ilium became the more powerful reality.
I was hooked but lived in New York and commuted to work by bicycle. Then it occurred to me to listen on my daily run. I started with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, read by an English woman with a crisp, musical voice. Certain turns of phrase are fixed indelibly in my mind-when Elizabeth Bennet and the Gardiners return to Longbourn, for instance, and their children run "excitedly to meet them with a variety of frisks and capers expressing the pleasing earnest of their welcome."
From then on, I tended toward the classics and tolerated no abridgments. I haunted Stack 9, where the Library's audiobooks reside.
One March, I plunged into Joyce's Ulysses, listening through April and into May. The looping riffs of free association were contagious. Ever since, spring in Central Park, particularly an orange-red dogwood just before the turn at 103rd over to the West Side, brings Ulysses powerfully back.
When the Harry Potter craze swept the country, I was dubious but thought I'd give one of the titles a try. After sampling the first in the series, I was as fanatic as any 10-year-old, thanks to Jim Dale's virtuoso presentation. That book on tape came to life when he read at the Library in October 2002.
To take so enthusiastically to such a medium shouldn't have surprised me. Perhaps the greatest pleasure I had with my children was in reading aloud. I loved reading out loud because I couldn't skip, a temptation I often succumb to when reading. But in listening to books on tape, not only could I not skip but I had a second chance. If I lost the train of thought, I could always rewind-in fact, rewind any number of times.
Most recently, I took a break from Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, a saga of English upper-middle class life from World War I through the 1960s (twelve parts, 65 cassettes, and 97 hours). I listened to the 1957 bestseller, A Night to Remember, by Walter Lord, a trustee of the Library from 1963 to his death in 2002. I was riveted once again by the moment, April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m. when the Titanic collided with an iceberg.
This new kind of reading has given me enormous pleasure, and I recommend Stack 9, which at this writing houses 1,237 audiobook titles.