(Opinion) I-81

Now that the holiday season has arrived, Hokies will soon be making their way along the highways and backroads in order to arrive at Thanksgiving dinner. In the spirit of ensuring that such a sojourn is not bereft of entertainment value or stimulation, here are a number of audiobook suggestions of a variety of lengths in order to make your Thanksgiving road trip an enjoyable one.

“The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison, read by Kyle McCarley (16 hours, 25 minutes)

For folks traveling out of state but who could still be expected to reach their destination within one day, here is Katherine Addison’s Nebula-nominated novel of courtly intrigue. This one was a rare treat. Fantasy as a genre tends to be dismissed by its detractors as being banal, overwrought and violently indulgent. This book, ably narrated with a high class drawl by Kyle McCarley, is a thoughtful, concise novel about an elf named Maia, the fourth son of an emperor who despises him for being half goblin. Maia wakes up one morning to discover that his father and brothers have perished in an airship crash, leaving him, at the tender age of 18, the sole ruler of the Elflands. Maia, who never once thought of ever being important, much less an emperor, must navigate the apparatuses of state in hopes of both keeping his empire steady and keeping his head on his shoulders.

“Fuzzy Nation” by John Scalzi, read by Wil Wheaton (7 hours, 19 minutes)

For a shorter trip, say, Blacksburg to Richmond, try John Scalzi’s modern updating of H. Beam Piper’s cult science fiction classic “Little Fuzzy.” Jack Holloway is a former attorney who now works as a resource prospector for the galaxy spanning megacorporation Zarathustra Corporation, which runs environmental exploitation ventures on planets without intelligent life. But when Jack discovers a family of curious little furry creatures whom he dubs the “Fuzzies,” the fate of the entire planet is thrown into jeopardy when their sentience is called into question. The novel is at once a humorous tale of a regular guy getting along with alien creatures as well as a gripping legal and ecological drama with very relevant themes of corporate greed and ruthlessness, environmental extraction, and what it means to do the right thing, all brought to life through the staggering vocal talent of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” alumnus Wil Wheaton, who lends a conversational edge to the dialogue and brings the characters across with a vivid variety of vocal effects.

“Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” by Erik Larson, read by Scott Brick (13 hours, 4 minutes)

This is a good one for students living in Northern Virginia or around the D.C. area, not just because a good chunk of it takes place in the White House. Erik Larson’s ground view history of the Lusitania’s final voyage before being sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915 follows such figures as book collectors, amateur psychics, submarine captains and President Woodrow Wilson as he courts his future wife Edith Bolling. This volume brings the world of turn-of-the-century cruise liners as well as that of U-boats in telling the converging tales of all of the very human individuals whose actions changed the world forever when their paths brought them, one way or another, to the Lusitania. Veteran narrator Scott Brick nimbly picks up the cadences of Larson’s prose, and his powers of enunciation ensure that even the technical details of maritime engineering are as engaging as the book’s gut-wrenching climax, one that puts “Titanic” to shame in terms of sheer shock and awe.

“Benjamin Franklin: An American Life” by Walter Isaacson, read by Nelson Runger (24 hours, 40 minutes)

For those of you making the long haul, here’s the preeminent biography of the man who wanted the turkey to be that national animal, which is about as fitting as a biography can get for Thanksgiving season. This is the one for those of you taking the long way home, which almost assuredly means out of state — perhaps even to Philadelphia, where Franklin made his home. From his early years as a printer’s apprentice, to penning “Poor Richard’s Almanac” and the essays of Silence Dogood, and from joining the Freemasons to his experiments with electricity, Franklin was a true American polymath who did as much to shape the course of American scientific inquiry as he did to shape the American character and sense of humor. He is, in the words of the author, “the Founding Father who winks at us.” One could hardly suggest a better biography given the season, and the tales of Franklin’s life are sure to entertain for miles upon miles of dark, paved road.

These suggestions are as varied as they are fascinating listens, and few times of the year lend themselves to audiobook binges more than the road trip home for that holiday of feasting and thankfulness. Hopefully, they will prove to be enriching and entertaining. And, one can only hope, they will pass the time on the road effectively. Most audiobooks are readily available from vendors like Audible (an Amazon company) or lesser known sources like Scribd, LibriVox and Google Play Books. Audiobooks are, unfortunately, not cheap, with prices ranging from around $20 to over $60. But free membership trials from these sources often grant you one or two free titles that you get to keep even after the trial has expired, so there is no harm in signing up.

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