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Check It Out

Courier Article by Becky Browning
Sunday, July 4, 2004

Audio Books Celebrate Sound of Well-Written Books

A vast treasure of audio books, both on cassette and compact disc, await you at the Evansville Vanderburgh public libraries. I always have an audio book in my car and listen when traveling, going back and forth to work and running errands about town. I prefer the unabridged versions; too much is left out of abridgements.

Here are some of my favorites. The first four are by United Kingdom authors.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (Audio Partners, 1987, unabridged on 14 cassettes, 19 hours).

Trollope (1815-1882) was a prolific British author whose rich characters and timeless social dilemmas have captured readers for more than 100 years. If you enjoy British humor served up with a British accent, you will love this lengthy, meandering novel that would pass today as a juicy Victorian soap opera.

Barchester Towers could just as well have been named "Clergy Behaving Badly," as the text is full of evangelical power struggles with a particularly awful bishop's wife thrown in for good measure.

Death In Holy Orders by P.D. James (Random House AudioBooks, 2001, unabridged on 10 cassettes, 15 hours).

P.D. James, 83, is unarguably the grand dame of the British mystery. Each and every book is exquisitely crafted, with Adam Dalgliesh, the introspective poet-detective, setting the tone for intriguing, character-driven plots.

This time a student of a theological college is found suffocated in a fall of sand. Although the death is first thought to be a suicide, Dalgliesh is called in to investigate.

Listening to this book, you will actually feel you are in England.

Strip Jack by Ian Rankin (Recorded Books, 2001, unabridged, 8 cassettes, 11 hours).

Rivaling P. D. James in popularity, Ian Rankin is the UK's number one best-selling mystery writer whose Inspector Rebus books have elevated him to cult status in his native Scotland.

The polar opposite of the refined Dalgliesh, Rankin's Inspector Rebus is prickly, outspoken and often "in his cups" as he lurches about Edinburgh solving perplexing and complicated crimes.

Strip Jack is actually Gregor Jack, a beloved politician who is found in a compromising position during a raid on a brothel.

Soon after, his socialite wife is found dead, floating in the river. Enter Rebus and his cadre of police cronies and the fun begins.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (Recorded Books, 2003, unabridged on 7 discs, 8 hours).

The first of a series, this charming and delightful book took the publishing world by storm, and there's talk of a movie in the works. Precious Mme. Ramotswe, the recurring character, decides to open a detective agency in her native Gaborone, Botswana, in order to "help people with problems in their lives."

These are "feel good" books without being sappy, filled with thoughtful and insightful observations about human nature and the world -- whether it be Botswana or elsewhere. Lisette Lecat's narrative voice is perfect.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Harper Audio, 2001,unabridged, 17 cassettes, 21 hours).

Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, this book has it all. With his tragicomic portrayal of small time life in rural Maine, and in the tradition of a great American novel, Russo is perfection in bringing to life every single oddball character in this delicious, sprawling novel.

Miles Roby, a Charlie Brown kind of guy, is unforgettable as he deals with his daughter's teenage angst, his aging, difficult father, a brother recovering from substance abuse and a wife who is about to leave him for the owner of a fitness center.

Drop City by T.C. Boyle (Recorded Books, 2002, unabridged, 13 cassettes, 19 hours).

Short-listed for the National Book Award, Drop City is about the hippie culture of the 60's with "cats" and "chicks" of various persuasions finding their way to a California commune.

Things get complicated when the group is forced to move. Deciding to head for Alaska, it crosses paths with Sid Harker and his mail-order bride, who are anti-hippies and who "really" know how to rough it.

The narrator, Richard Poe, captures perfectly Boyle's droll, "right on" wit. Boyle's next book will be a "biography" of sexologist Alfred Kinsey. Can't wait.

Becky Browning is a readers' advisor at Oaklyn Branch and an avid reader.