A Prose Elegy to Reading in the Car

Michigan and NZ BooksI grew up in metro Detroit, land of vehicular transport, land of wide lanes and long, straight highways. For summer vacations, we often piled into our Dodge van and drove the three hours to the family cottage, or the nearest State Park. Because my reading habits began at a tender age, I quickly trained myself to take advantage of these trips, ploughing through a book as my mother and father drove, siblings on either side of me on the van’s long bench. Indeed, I remember one instance where Dad was forced to make an unscheduled stop when my book ran out of pages.

Reading in the car became a given. I would never begin a long trip without at least one paperback close to hand. Occasionally, if a parent and I were travelling alone, I would read aloud to them as the miles slipped beneath us. My habit of reading as a car passenger lasted well into adulthood. Any time I wasn’t expected to keep the driver or other passengers company, a book would come out.

Then I moved to New Zealand.

On my first uni-related field trip, a large group of us piled into a rented van. I was quick to pull out my book and made it through ten or so pages before a feeling hit me. Queasiness, nausea, headache. I couldn’t understand it. I had felt fine that morning. Surely I wasn’t coming down with the flu? Looking up through the windscreen, I watched the road winding back and forth before us and the feeling intensified. It dawned on me; I was carsick. I had never been carsick. The realization that a travel pastime I had come to cherish now made me physically ill felt a great blow.

Over the ensuing years I’ve determined that there are few roads in New Zealand that are reading friendly. But, I’ve also noticed something else. Where the urban highways at home were often surrounded by stores, restaurants, and warehouses, many of the ones here have hills, mountains, forests, lakes. I love home, but travelling by car there is generally about the destination. In NZ, I’ve found it to be as much about the sights along the way.

A large part of me, the part that hates to lose any time when I could be reading, mourns the loss of the smooth, straight roads of my youth. But, that same part also takes a somewhat literary joy in the physical beauty of this place. Many bits of the land have become linked with Tolkien, but other bits can remind me as easily of the Brontes, Conan Doyle, Austen, and a hundred others. When I read many New Zealand authors, I get an additional thrill from my new familiarity with the sense of place in their work. I feel a part of the story in a way that can only be experienced by physical presence.

Many will wonder why I haven’t made the move to audiobooks, and perhaps that is the ultimate answer. I’ve enjoyed the occasional one, to be sure, when the combination of author and reader’s voice is correct. But, for the moment, I’m content to let the winding roads keep winding, to let the hills keep absorbing me, folding me into the landscape with the gentle kneading of strong hands.

Liz Gillett


2 thoughts on “A Prose Elegy to Reading in the Car

  1. L. Palmer says:

    You may try checking these out:

    They’re wrist bands to prevent motion sickness. Several of my siblings get extremely car sick. We took a trip to Yellowstone this summer, much of it including winding roads, and they did not have any problems. I don’t know how much they are in New Zealand, but they would definitely be worth a try.


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