Living at a distance from family and friends, I typically do a fair share of traveling every year. Taking the train has its advantages, leaving my hands free for a library book or Nook eReader.
But the train travels on a set path, leaving that option only available for a select percentage of my trips. For all the other trips, I drive, keeping my hands occupied and my mind wandering.
I used to pass the driving time by listening to the radio or my favorite CDs. But a person can only listen to favorite CDs so many times before they get old. And once a person has traveled far enough, favorite radio stations fade to static, leaving the driver in a radio no-man's land.
As a solution to my boredom while driving, I began borrowing audiobooks from the library. And what a difference! Gone are the trips of boredom and listlessness. Gone are the slow hours and crawling minutes.
My trips are now filled with excitement and adventure, far-off places and new worlds to be discovered. I travel with explorers and thrill seekers, magicians and conjurers —some in the fresh delight of youth and others wishing to turn back the clock.
Each trip now is a new literary delight, keeping me entertained as I travel to my destination and back home again. On one recent lengthier trip, I listened to an especially engrossing story by Erin Morgenstern titled "The Night Circus."
Listening to that book can be described in one word: spellbinding. Morgenstern's writing enchants the reader, almost convincing you that magic is indeed real and not a thing of legend.
The storyline reminds me of a wheel. All parts of the tale revolve around the central hub — Le Cirque des Rves — or the Circus of Dreams, for those like me who can't read French. In each cog of the wheel, the reader meets a variety of characters, some with a real sense of the magic behind Le Cirque and others who are only aware of the unexplainable draw they have to the circus.
Reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes," Le Cirque des Rves arrives at each destination by night, with no notice. It appears to have constructed itself magically, with large tents scattering the circus containing wonders and delights whose construction is beyond comprehension.
For the circus isn't just a circus, but a game board, a setting for an ongoing competition between Marco and Celia. Conjurer, magician, enchanter, illusionist — call them whatever you like. His abilities are rooted in lessons of symbols, bindings and other spells; hers are rooted in the soul.
Caught in a longstanding fight between Celia's father and Marco's instructor, to which Celia and Marco are magically bound, they are forced to compete regardless the cost. Celia and Marco, whose creations surpass the imagination, must constantly match and surpass the other's feat, not knowing when or if their competition will end.
Drawn to each other and falling tragically in love, the two struggle to find a way to end the competition once and for all so they can be together. But a key factor of the game has been withheld from the pair of lovers, one that could tear them apart: The game will only end when one player is left standing.
Read by actor Jim Dale, best known for reading the U.S. audiobook version of the Harry Potter series, the vocal characterizations seem effortless. Yet the impact is surreal. I visualized each character described with such clarity that they were as real in my imagination as Morgenstern wrote them to be.
Thanks to Dale's smooth reading style, my drive flew by faster than I could have hoped. So if you're planning a trip in the near future, consider borrowing "The Night Circus." You won't be disappointed.
Amber Castens is an adult and teen services librarian at the Urbana Free Library, where she also is the technology volunteer program coordinator.