Imagine finishing "War and Peace" in a couple of hours. Or squeezing in "The Grapes of Wrath" during your commute to work.
Better yet, try to picture washing and waxing your car or taking a 10-mile jog while becoming well-versed in "Great Black Speeches from 1833-1893" at the same time.
Can't be done, you say?
Think again, because the Cover To Cover Bookstore/Cafe in the Owen Brown Village Center has made it possible by starting a program this month to rent audio recordings of a variety of books.
"The idea of books on tapes is not new," said store owner Marcia Berman. "What's new is that we've started a rental library that will make it more convenient for people to get familiar with books without having to buy them.
"I'm hoping that this program will enable people to experience and enjoy more books than they would regularly have the time to," she added.
On a recent book convention, Ms. Berman stumbled onto the idea while visiting bookstores in California. Upon returning, she devoted a month to starting a similar program for Columbia's avid readers based on the ideas she collected on her trip.
"In the 14 years since I've been open, I've had to deal with all the major chains opening stores in the area. So I'm always looking for something different to attract people to my bookstore," she said.
"Now I'm hoping the tapes will be an added attraction too," she said. "Especially for people who are too busy to get more books inside them and just want to rent it because it's easier."
Customers who walk into the shop, at 7284 Cradlerock Way, can smell the strong aroma of soups and sandwiches from the cafe while they browse through the growing collection of pseudo-books -- open the elaborate "book" cover and a tape can be found inside -- that sit on a small shelf near the counter.
There is a wide variety of tapes from which to choose, includingnon-fiction, fiction, business, best sellers, classics and even how-to tapes, Berman said. Most are less than two hours long.
Abby Eden, a Takoma Park resident who was one of the first people to join, plans to listen to the tapes during her 25-minute commute to work.
"This is pure entertainment," said Ms. Eden, 45, director of marketing for a training company in Columbia. "I'll use this instead of listening to the radio.
"For people like me, the enjoyment is listening to the power of the spoken word," Ms. Eden added. "It'll be nice since I'll most likely be familiar with the work anyway."
The program is only two weeks old and boasts just two members. Customers pay $5 to set up an account and cover their first rental. Future rentals cost $1.99 each.
"I talked to the librarian at the [Howard County] Central Library and she said the rental program they have there is the hottest thing in the library," Ms. Berman said. "She said they can't keep up with the demand, so we're hoping to get some of their business.
"Our lives have grown and time is of the essence for most people," she said. "The tapes are perfect for so many activities like gardening or driving when you have a lot of 'dead time' or time that you can spend doing something else instead of listening to radio music."
Although she believes the trend will be popular, it probably won't become like a Blockbuster video store any time soon. And it won't deter people from reading either, especially students who might use the tapes instead of reading the actual book, she said.
"It's a different outlet to expose people to books and I think it'll encourage people to read, not discourage them," Ms. Berman said. "Since many are abridged, people who like the author or book and are interested in more of the same, can buy the book and read the rest.
"I'm not putting down books because they're great, but this will enable people to get through books much faster," Ms. Berman said. "And getting the tape in them is better than nothing, it's an easier way to digest books."