AUDIOBOOKS: Realism and inspiration

This week we are focusing on realism and inspiration, as we have essays, a biography, speeches and mediations.

This week we are focusing on realism and inspiration, as we have essays, a biography, speeches and mediations.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Toni Morrison; read by Bahni Turpin
Random House Audio, 13 CDs, 16 hours, $45/, $31.50

Turpin was an excellent choice for this audiobook as she sounds serious and precise, her tones even and well-matched to this thoughtful and thought-provoking material. Sometimes the flotsam and jetsam of a writer’s career is not worth the effort, but this collection is a contemplative and absorbing rumination on everything from racism to feminism, literature to religion. There are eulogies and speeches and essays and references you may have to look up. Morrison is smart and never uninteresting, but this is the kind of audiobook best listened to in bursts, as you need time to let her wisdom percolate before moving on to the next selection. Grade: A

Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter
Tom Clavin; read by Johnny Heller
Macmillan Audio, nine hours, seven CDs, $39.99/ download, $15.99

The first thing you will notice about this engaging and delightful biography is that Heller sounds like a character actor who moseyed off the set of an old-fashioned oater. His voice is a little scratchy, a little seasoned and perfectly suits this biography of larger-than-life Bill Hickok and his pals, from Calamity Jane to Buffalo Bill Cody and General Custer. Clavin teased facts from fiction and includes short and sensitive portrayals of those in Hickok’s circle as well as setting the scene historically. This plays out much like fiction and mostly entertains, though there are a few passages that fill in the blanks with less-than-exciting prose. Grade: A-minus

Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals that Changed the World
Jennifer Skiff; read by Donna Postel
HighBridge Audio, nine hours, eight CDs, $34.99/ download, $20.99

Skiff, a journalist, author and television producer, encountered sad, caged pandas in Laos in 1998 and it changed her life. She now rescues animals and writes about others ho do so. She infuses her descriptions of the sad creatures she encounters with descriptive settings and passages rife with compassion and integrity. Each story about a rescue or encounter with others is followed by the same questions and answers at the end of each chapter. Narrator Postel has a clear voice, a sweet manner and a sound command of the material. She also manages accents that aren’t half bad. Grade: A-minus

Impossible Owls: Essays
Brian Phillips; read by Steve Menasche
HighBridge Audio, 11 hours and 30 minutes, 10 CDs, $39.99/ download, $20.99

Phillips is an established writer who is also the master of the long-form essay. The eight in this collection bring us to Alaska, Tokyo, Moscow and suburban America, and for a drive down Route 66. They are evocative, engaging and sometimes surprising. His essay about Route 66 begins in Roswell, New Mexico, and then turns away from aliens to a treatise on the “emptiness” in American culture. This would be a fabulous collection had Menasche not sounded like the stor time reader at your local library; he is over the top and his accents are grating. Grade: B