Although audiobooks have long been associated with driving, many listeners today see them as the perfect accompaniment to a walk, roll or evening stroll. Easy physical movement helps to boost concentration, even as our mental journeys lend stamina to our physical ones, whether running errands or a long-distance trek. Far from being distractions, the following audiobooks may add extra depth and awareness to your next walk.
Spend just a few minutes observing cellphone users walking in the city and it becomes painfully clear: We see only what we attend to. In “On Looking,” Alexandra Horowitz turns a walk around the block into a varied experiment in perception, taking us along on a series of strolls with a sociologist, a theatrical sound designer, a physician, an entomologist, a geologist, a typologist, an artist, a biologist and other experts, including her dog. Each chapter opens our senses to new ways of taking in the world, from the synesthetic fascinations of a toddler, to those subtle sensory cues perceived by a sightless person that we who rely upon sight are all but blind to. An experienced reader of her own audiobooks, Horowitz recaptures her experiences and thoughts with the spontaneity and specificity that distinguishes the best author/narrators, welcoming us into an “unbelievable strata of trifling, tremendous things to observe.”
Kelly Brenner’s “Nature Obscura” is an especially good soundtrack for local walkers, tuning our eyes and ears to even the wildlife found in our city’s tamest settings. As a fellow South Seattle resident, I enjoyed listening to narrator Erica Sullivan’s enthusiastic descriptions of the flora and fauna of my beloved Seward Park stomping grounds, ranging from moss and ferns to sticklebacks and great blue herons, and her animated account of a headlong car chase in search of the improbable roost of those very same southbound crows that fly over my own house. A veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Sullivan skillfully manages our polyglot place names, sounding convincingly like an amiably wonky fleece-clad Seattleite, although she does drop the “r” from “Warshington.”
For stir-crazy listeners longing to wander far away from Seattle, Abby Craden’s sophisticated reading of Lauren Elkin’s peripatetic “Flâneuse” is just the ticket. True to the casual, aimless nature of flânerie — or casual idling — Elkin’s forays into street life in Paris, New York, London, Venice and Tokyo are interspersed with glimpses of the creative excursions of Virginia Woolf, Agnès Varda, Jean Rhys, George Sand, Martha Gellhorn and many other women who have dared to step boldly forth out of the shadow of comparatively freewheeling male flâneurs. Meandering across centuries and miles, Elkins’ ruminations are grounded by the warm, husky tones and deft cosmopolitan pronunciations of seasoned narrator Craden. This is the sort of audiobook that opens doors to many others.
Out of a spate of recent audiobooks devoted to exploring the act of walking itself, Antonia Malchik’s wide-ranging “A Walking Life” as conveyed through the easy polish of Eliza Foss’ personable narration is especially enjoyable. Malchik surveys the history and science of bipedal walking as the defining characteristic of our species, and bemoans how modern life lures us away from an activity so sustaining for ourselves and our planet. Seattle regularly ranks among our nation’s more walkable cities, and Malchik and Foss persuade us to take better advantage of that fact, before it is too late. Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge’s “Walking” takes this message in a meditative direction, well captured by the gentle, ambling cadences of fellow Scandinavian Atli Gunnarsson. Musing on the profound role of walking in the journey of our lives, Kagge’s spare poetic consideration pairs perfectly with Gunnarsson’s unhurried, understated delivery.
In Patrick Gray’s and Justin Skeesuck’s “I’ll Push You,” the 500-mile pilgrimage along Spain’s El Camino de Santiago serves as the backdrop for an inspiring story of friendship, faith and sacrifice, as the lifelong buddies join together to attempt the grueling trek together, one pushing the other’s wheelchair every mountainous step of the way. This deeply personal journey could only be narrated by the authors, who tell their candid story with a plain-spoken authenticity that is hard to resist.