I love running. I love reading. I love doing both at the same time.

When my daughter, Nina, was a preschooler, I had the great fortune of on-site daycare at my job. Too bad it was an hour’s drive—each way!

Today a movie on an iPad would solve the problem, but this was 2008, and all I had was an in-dashboard CD player (remember those?).

Desperation is the mother of audiobooks. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

listening to audibooks

When Nina was 4.5, we listened to 7 books in the “Little House on the Prairie” series over and over. Why did she wear my glasses upside-down? Hint: the nose bridge. :)

We started listening to The Little House on the Prairie series when Nina was around 4. We listened to the whole series at least four times.

That I was able to survive the repetition with sanity (mostly) intact is thanks to the performer, Broadway star Cherry Jones, whose “light and fresh tone brings a childlike wonder and enthusiasm to the familiar story,” said AudioFile magazine, speaking truth.

[I say “whole series,” but we skipped Book 2, Farmer Boy, because it was about a BOY, blech. And we disliked the final book, The First Four Years, which the New Yorker calls “prissy and amateurish.” Fun fact: It was written by Laura Ingalls Wilder herself and not “edited” by her journalist daughter, Rose. Aha!]

running and reading

After we listened to the series four (or more?) times, daughter Nina read the books, too. You can see she never cracked open “Farmer Boy.”


Recently, my running pals Susan and Jodi and I realized that we do almost all our “reading” by listening to audiobooks. Mostly while running. Sometimes while putting away laundry and making (uncomplicated) meals.

It’s not really all that surprising. Most runners are Type A efficiency ninjas, especially when living with small children and/or working outside (or inside!) the home. The run is often the only precious “free” time we have. (And if that means you’d rather not listen to anything at all or would rather zone out to tunes, I totally respect that too.)

It’s possible that reading while running makes both more rewarding.

“Even short runs with the right passage from the right book can be deeply affecting,” Ben Cheever wrote way back when we had to run with a Walkman (remember those?).

running and reading

LOVE this top and this book, in print OR as audiobook, read by author Ann Patchett. Thank you, Dimity and Sarah!

It’s possible a good performer makes a good book even better, as the NYT’s Farhad Manjoo argues. Cherry Jones! And then there’s Ann Patchett’s Dutch House, for which Tom! Hanks! brings energetic enthusiasm even to chapter headings.

First-person narratives work best for me. I loved Elena Ferrante’s feisty and soap operatic My Brilliant Friend and Jeannette Walls’s memoir The Glass Castle, whose appalling parents comforted me by comparison. See, I wasn’t that bad.

reading and running

I love reading, I love running, I love both at the same time—but not while racing. :)

Sometimes, I’ll like an audiobook so much that I’ll read the “real” book too, to see how the words look on the page. I did that with Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed, a sort of enslavement-examining travelogue (audio by the author). Turns out Clint Smith is a poet (beautiful language), a Harvard PhD (smart), and a writer for the Atlantic magazine (meaning he knows how to keep your attention). The Holy Trinity of good writing, in my book.

In Savannah, there’s a group that meets for a monthly @run_read_rant, which I think is genius. I hope to join them someday.

Until then, next up for the road: In the Shadow of the Mountain, written and read by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, a former eBay executive with a troubled childhood and the first Peruvian woman to summit Everest, per the New York Times. Sounds like a good one, right?

Are you a listener? What audiobooks have moved you?