AUDIOBOOKS: Bucket-list titles

Here are a few older titles that are finally being crossed off the bucket list.

Here are a few older titles that are finally being crossed off the bucket list.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Special Edition
Margaret Atwood, with an essay by Valerie Martin; read by Clare Danes, Atwood and a full cast
Audible Studios, 12 hours and seven minutes/ download, $29.95

Slightly updated and narrated by a polished and talented cast, this tale of an oppressive dystopian future seems all the more meaningful in our current political climate. Danes, who reads most of the audiobook, has a firm grasp of the material and masterfully relays the emotions of a woman living virtually as a slave in a society run as a militaristic theocracy. She never goes over the top, but lets her protagonist’s anger and pain slip out just enough to grab us and never overpower. Sound effects are cleverly used to introduce each chapter and Allyson Johnson reads a pertinent concluding essay by Martin. Grade: A

Rules of Civility
Amor Towles; read by Rebecca Lowman
Audible Studios, 12 hours and three minutes/ download, $17.49

This debut novel by Towles may not be quite up to his “A Gentleman in Moscow,” but the difference is negligible. Legal secretary Katherine Kontent is drawn into the upper echelon of New York society at the end of 1930s. Friends are not always what they seem and their high jinks often lead her down twisting paths for which she seems ill-equipped. Beautifully written, Towles offers unexpected deviations from the beginning and calls to mind “The Great Gatsby.” One is amazed that a middle-aged male investment manager could create such a fetching and believable female character. Lowman enhances the production by disappearing into the words, giving us clearly defined characters. Grade: A

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the U.S.A.
Doug Mack; read by Jonathan Yen
HighBridge Audio, nine CDs, 10 hours and 30 minutes, $34.99/ download, $24.49

Informational and witty, this is partly a travelogue and partly a cultural history of a segment of the United States that most of us forget (or never knew) about. Starting in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mack talks to people who hope for statehood and others less inclined. He provides a brief history of each region, interviews those living in the territories and offers his own insights about each region. Mack has a dry sense of humor that enlivens material that is both compelling and informative. Sometimes narrator Yen interjects a bit too much bonhomie, but for the most part, his energy and timing well match the material. Grade: A-minus

The Librarian of Auschwitz
Antonio Iturbi; read by Marisa Calin
Macmillan Audio, 12 CDs, 14 hours; $39.99/ download, $27.99

This is a tough one, but so beautifully written and told that you wouldn’t want to miss it. Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, it tells the fictionalized story of a girl who risked her life to keep books flowing through a concentration camp. Often harrowing and incredibly sad, this gives us a personal insight into a difficult chapter in history that should resonate with younger listeners, though it does occasionally bog down. An elderly Kraus reads an opening essay and British actress Calin brings a youthful vigor to the telling. Not recommended for children under 14. Grade: B-plus