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By Wednesday, Sep 12, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

This week we sample four new memoirs, the current rage in publishing.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Originally published as “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”)
Kim Barker; read by Kirsten Potter
Random House Audio; eight CDs; 10 hours $19.99/www.audible.com download; $28

It is worth revisiting Barker’s funny and illuminating account of life in a war zone. Originally released in 2012,  this found new life with the movie version of her memoir starring Tina Fey. Absurdity reigns supreme as Barker becomes addicted to the adrenaline rush of living as an embedded correspondent. She writes of her romances and poor clothing choices, assassinations and bombings, and does so with humor and the empathy of an insider, describing Afghanistan as “stuck somewhere between the seventh century and Vegas.” Potter captures both the rollicking spirit and poignancy of Barker’s life, offering up well-executed accents and various voices. Grade: A 

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain
Bill Bryson; read by Nathan Osgood
Random House Audio; 11 CDs; 14 hours $45/www.audible.com download; $35

Twenty years after publishing “Notes from a Small Island,” Bryson once again is rambling around Britain. Though crabbier than we’ve heard him before (and therefore somewhat less charming), his dry, sharp humor is most agreeable. His observations regarding the test required for British citizenship is hilarious, though his comments about the halfwits he encounters along the way are sometimes so spiky they come across as more cringe-worthy than humorous. Though one misses Bryson’s narration, Osgood captures the author’s crankiness and his love of all that is idiosyncratic and uniquely British. He offers up outrage, delight, sarcasm and poignancy through his vocal repertoire. Grade: A-minus

Lust & Wonder
Augusten Burroughs; read by the author
Macmillan Audio; seven CDs; nine hours/www.audible.com download; $20.99

Though some of this memoir is rehashed from previous work, Burroughs has written a valentine to his husband and agent, Christopher Schelling, with this roundabout love story. Humor and wry self-deprecation are rife in a tale of love repeatedly lost and found. He begins with a somewhat tedious romance gone wrong and then slams us with the reality of the situation, revealing weird machinations justified by a damaged psyche. As Burroughs quits boozing and starts writing, his relationships grow healthier. Never one to hold back, his narration is heartfelt and natural, sounding both utterly engaging and entertaining. Grade: A-minus

In Other Words
Jhumpa Lahiri; read by the author
Random House Audio; six CDs; seven hours $35/www.audible.com download; $24.50

Lahiri is an astute and lyrical writer; she can be evocative and captivating. However, this paean to the Italian language would have best been a long magazine piece. Although well-written, it is drawn out and dull, therefore uninteresting to anyone not a writer or a student of language. Had Lahiri included more of the alienation and frustration of moving her family to a foreign country, she would have increasingly engaged the listener. Half of the audiobook is simply reread in Italian so you are actually only buying a three-and-a-half hour production. Lahiri, thankfully, is a delightful narrator, with clear diction and a lovely Italian accent. Grade: C

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