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Yesterday was a red letter day in more ways than one. The weather, first of all. Melbourne goes through more weather in an afternoon than Florida gets in a year. Take a look at the forecast on any given day and you are likely to see a dozen different predictions that would, in an ordinary place, be mutually exclusive. Heavy rain, sunshine, high winds, gentle breezes.

Cloudy with meatballs. On April fool’s day, you would expect the weather gods to have conjured up something strange and spectacular–lightning, thunder, hail, hurricanes, a snow storm or two. Instead, we got a wonderful day– a long day of late summer sun at its finest.

It was a perfect day for a ride but I’m attempting to condition body and brain to a workout routine, so I made my way to the gym instead. The one device that makes a workout (or dentist appointment or a long plane ride) tolerable is an Ipod or MP3 player loaded with good books.

For the last couple of weeks I have been listening to “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. Its intensely human, argumentative, passionate, obnoxious, intelligent and idiotic characters made themselves at home in my brain. I worried about them, railed against them, cajoled them out of their self-destructive tendencies and helped them over their heartbreaks. All to no avail. The story was spun, after all, and it had to come to an end eventually. Yesterday, I bid them all farewell.

I do not, as a rule, learn very well from listening. Names go in one ear and out. I am absolutely hopeless with directions unless someone actually shows me a map. I have to see foreign words on a page or screen to have any chance of remembering them. But I did grow up on radio and I’m mesmerized by a well-told story on a speaker box. I’m a true Prairie Home Companion. I’ve been known to remain transfixed (in the driveway) at the end of a long automobile journey until the narrator of the audio tape has come to the end of the story and all is right with the world.

Listening to a book seems like the ideal way to take in narrative, no matter how long. We have been programmed, after all, to be in tune with the oral/aural transmission of stories. Audio books reach into us at a very deep level when we allow them time to settle in and entrance us with voice and words, setting, character and plot.

I download my books from Audible.com but there many classics available for free. I’m amazed to see that Zadie’s stunning debut novel is the fiftieth book in my audio library, which ranges from nail-biting mysteries like Karin Slaughter’s “Blindsighted,” to challenging non-fiction like Stephen Pinker’s “The Stuff of Thought” or encyclopedic works such as Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” The longest book in my library is Richard Russo’s “The Bridge of Sighs,” but I don’t mind long. Flying from Australia to anywhere takes a long time.

In addition to the author, of course, the narrator of an audio book gets to be a real magician. The actress, Barbara Rosenblat, is my all-time favourite. Whenever we had a road trip coming up in North America, I would head down to the library and stock up on Elizabeth Peters Egyptology mysteries. We loved Rosenblat’s marvelous evocation of Amelia Peabody and the rest of her eccentric family. This was back before the days of digital downloads.

In my quirky collection, the matching of voice and text on Sue Monk Kidd’s poignant “The Secret Life of Bees” seems absolutely perfect. Peter Carey’s “My Life as a Fake” and Ron McClarty’s “The Memory of Running” are runners-up. The two narrators of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” are brilliant enough to make you weep. I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I’m a big fan of books, audible and otherwise.

The weather, you’ll be happy to know, is back to normal. A shower or two, tending to rain periods, strong to gale force winds.  We got drenched on our afternoon walk.  All’s well in Melbourne.

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