AUDIOBOOKS: Narrated by the author

Storms, surfing, living abroad and biographies are on the slate this week, with each title narrated by its author.

Brave Companions: Portraits in History
David McCullough; read by the author
Simon & Schuster Audio; nine CDs; 11 hours; $39.99/ download, $22.67

Historian McCullough has put together a collection of 17 profiles of individuals and groups of historical figures who changed the course of history and/or our perception of the world. First published in 1991, it is only now on audio and is well worth seeking out. Each section is fast-paced and fascinating, from explorers to pilots to photographers. A few of the pieces feel a little dated but for the most part, they are captivating and eloquently written. Though interesting to hear an author read his work, McCullough’s diction is not as clear as it once may have been. Still, this is highly recommended. Grade: A-minus

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
William Finnegan; read by the author
Audible Studios on Brilliance Audio; one mp3 disc; 18 hours and eight minutes; $14.99/, $29.95

You may think a surfing book is not your thing, but this is remarkably entertaining. Part travelogue, part anthropological study, Finnegan writes his memoir with vivid and intense descriptions. Surfing shaped his life, but he entwines it with stories of the people who were equally important to him and the challenges he met along the way with the same fervor he brought to the beach. Still, this is overly long and not enhanced by his narration, which is flat. Finnegan may be a polished writer, but he sounds uncomfortable as a reader and makes rookie mistakes. A professional narrator would have improved this production and helped us past the spots that dragged. Grade: B-plus

The Wind in the Reeds: The Storm, a Play, and the City that Would Not Be Broken
Wendell Pierce; read by the author
Penguin Audio; 11 hours and 30 minutes; nine CDs; $40/, $28

Pierce, a seasoned actor, has a commanding voice, but he sounds a bit too stagey and occasionally overly dramatic for us to really warm up to him. He was in New Orleans visiting his parents as Hurricane Katrina decimated the city. Pierce helped them rebuild and stayed to film the show “Treme” and later staged “Waiting for Godot” in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. His descriptions of the destruction of his parents’ home on Lake Pontchartrain are especially touching, but he spent more time discussing his career and religion than one would expect from the title. This plays out like two books forced into one space, and the sections devoted to New Orleans are the more interesting. Grade: B

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World
Anthony Doerr; read by the author
Simon & Schuster Audio; 5 CDs; 6 hours; $29.99/, $20.99

One can’t help but have mixed feelings about this audiobook, which has moments that grab your attention, but it is eventually brought down by its banality. It is well-produced with lovely classical music beginning each chapter and Doerr, while not a professional reader, brings sincerity to his narration. His overly sentimental waxing about his infant twins, however, soon grows grating. He muses about writing and fatherhood and Italy, but this feels like a jumble, a collection of ideas rather than a meaningful memoir—better to listen again to his Pulitzer Prize-winning “All the Light We Cannot See.” Grade: B