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AUDIOBOOKS: Nonfiction

On the agenda this week are four nonfiction selections that will educate and amuse.

On the agenda this week are four nonfiction selections that will educate and amuse.

The View From the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction
Neil Gaiman; read by the author
Harper Audio, 13 CDs, 15.5 hours, $24.99/www.audible.com download, $34.22

The results are often underwhelming when the flotsam and jetsam of an author’s work is collected into a single volume ‑ not so with this charming collection of essays, speeches and interviews that reads like a memoir, revealing delightful tidbits about Gaiman’s childhood, his influences and his literary heroes. He writes with grace and wonder and wit, which is much like his narration (if we overlook an unintentionally hilarious Steven King impersonation). If you aren’t a fan of Gaiman, comic books, movies, children’s literature, science fiction and fantasy, this is not for you. The rest of us can revel repeatedly in his wry humor and clever turns of phrase. Grade: A

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
S.C. Gwynne; read by David Drummond
Encore Audio, 12 CDs, 15 hours and nine minutes, $19.99/www.audible.com download, $29.95

Gwynne covers much of the gruesome history of our country’s westward expansion over the last 40 years of the 19th century. He details the famous abduction of Parker’s white mother, Cynthia, and her unfulfilled desire to remain with her Comanche husband. This background helped to form her son Quanah, a witty, pragmatic, extremely clever diplomat and businessman who was a natural leader. Gwynne writes freely of the violence committed by indigenous people and by those infringing upon their land. Extremely detailed, this unspools like a novel. Drummond speaks with a pleasing baritone, and his narration is solid and evenly paced, delivered without much flourish but with the proper amount of gravitas and emotion. Grade: A

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; read by January LaVoy
Random House Audio; one CD; one hour; $15/www.audible.com download, $10.50

Nigerian writer Adichie adapted her TED talk “We Should All be Feminists” into a book in 2015 and followed it up with this simple, straightforward treatise on empowering our daughters. Some of the material will be familiar to her readers, though this is more personal and feels more pressing than her previous work. In a letter written to a friend, she tells her to teach her daughter to be loving and unashamed and to “reject likeability,” a major pitfall to all teen and preteen girls. LaVoy reads thoughtfully and confidently, vocally highlighting important phrases while keeping the atmosphere energetic and light. The only negative is that it is much too short. Grade: B-plus

South and West: From a Notebook
Joan Didion; read by Kimberly Farr, with a foreword by Nathaniel Rich
Random House Audio, three CDs, three hours, $20/www.audible.com download, $14

One can only surmise that Didion, now in her eighties, published these two excerpts from her notebooks to shed some light on the current political climate. In one, she contemplates California, where she grew up. The longer piece recounts a month she spent traveling in the South with her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, for a Life magazine article that was never completed. She captures the isolation and insularity that has polarized our country while letting us peek into her creative process. Farr enhances this production with a narration imbued with gravitas or humor or authority as needed. This is intelligent and worth hearing, but one wishes there were more to it. Grade: B-minus

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