Book on Tape Fail

May 11, 2009 | 1 book mentioned 8 2 min read

On day ten of our recent cross-country drive, it became clear that we had twenty hours left of driving and no more music and nothing to say to each other again, possibly ever. At one point we realized that we were fools and that for ten days we could have been listening to audio books instead of children’s programming on the Focus on the Family radio station, which is evidently the only radio station broadcasting in some portions of the country, which explains a lot of things about a lot of other things.

We went to a Barnes and Noble in a strip mall in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and found that our audio options mostly consisted of self-help, Janet Evanovich, Sean Hannity, and six ponderous Classics. Moby Dick, at twenty-one hours, was the closest to our remaining driving time, so that was our pick. To my great shame, I have tried and failed to read that novel a number of times. It’s not the length, but the alarming density of it. The sentences, while exquisitely made, are exhausting, so many of them one after another like that. I had never listened to a book on tape, because the concept sounded too confusing, but I thought it might be an ideal format for this, my own white whale (if you will).

And it was great! We were having such a fun time with Ahab and Queequeg and the gang, and during the parts which made my eyes glaze over in reading (like the whale classifications and whatnot), I could just look out the window and listen to the dulcet tones of Audie Award™ Winner Frank Muller!

We had just finished disc six of eighteen, somewhere around chapter forty, and I went eagerly for the next one. Only to find that instead of discs 7-12, we had been given two sets of 13-18. There was a lot of suffering in the car at that moment. My traveling companion suggested, with choice words, that we call the company and have a representative read us those chapters over the phone. Unsurprisingly, however, their solution was to mail the missing discs. To our home, in which we will have no need for an audio book. It’s so obvious that I am never finishing Moby Dick.

is a contributing editor at The Millions and the author of The Golden State. You can read more of her writing at


  1. Lydia- If books on tape you'll never finish is your thing (and it sounds like it is!) may I suggest the 40-disc Ulysses? Or, more compactly, the three-disc MP3 version of the lovely voice of William H. Gass reading The Tunnel for 37 hours? (Which is really a pretty amazing aesthetic experience in itself.)

  2. Oh god. If there is a book I have tried and failed to read more times and with more misery than Moby Dick, it is Ulysses. I'll be sure to get a very used copy of the audio version, so that a game-ending scratch at a critical juncture is almost guaranteed.

  3. Yeah, just before Stephen Dedalus kills Leop– oops. I've said too much.

  4. Two words – Cracker Barrel. Their audiobook exchange is reason enough to stop. The catfish, okra, and creepy sameness of the restaurants seal the deal.

  5. Oh, I learned about the Cracker Barrel. It was my first time. I experienced the Chicken and Dumplings and gnawed on the fifteen cent stripey candy. Unforch we learned about the disc flaw after leaving the C & B in Wisconsin, and subsequent low self-esteem and heartburn due to aforementioned chicken and dumplings and cheeseburger with onion rings prevented our return.

  6. I listened to Moby Dick on tape for exactly the reasons you name! It was a wonderful book to experience aurally. I encourage you to press on and finish! If all else fails, the Gregory Peck movie version is pretty darn good.

  7. Hey,
    In college I picked up a vinyl of a distinguished Briton, his name escapes me, reading selections of the Faerie Queene. One of the cooler finds of the past 10 years. There is definitely something different in the experience of hearing rather than reading.


    Mike McCullough

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