AUDIOBOOKS: Short stories and poetry

On the agenda this week are short stories and poetry, both perfect for getting us through traffic jams and household chores.

On the agenda this week are short stories and poetry, both perfect for getting us through traffic jams and household chores.

Mexico: Stories
Josh Barkan; read by Robert Fass
HighBridge Audio, seven CDs, nine hours, $34.99/ download, $24.49

The winner of several literary awards, Barkan takes us on a journey through a country in which drugs and death are the unifying themes. Sometimes the drugs are on the edge of the story, sometimes they are the main point, but dark humor and an edgy reality are central to each. Fass delivers different voices for the 12 stories, though none are remarkably unique. He does, however, match his delivery to each story’s narrator, often an American ex-pat. This is not an easy listen, but it is intriguing and gratifying. Grade: A-minus 

Pablo Neruda Love Poems
Translated by Donald D. Walsh; read by Armando Duran
Blackstone Audio, one CD, 30 minutes, $19.95/ download, $13.96

Sometimes you just need to hear beautiful words, and these fit the bill. Collected from a variety of Neruda’s books, the poems are lovely and accessible. Most were written on the island of Capri for the Chilean poet’s third wife, fellow poet Matilde Urrutia. Duran, a trained Shakespearean actor, reads with a vivid understanding of the material without overplaying his hand. This slim volume is a vivid and intense introduction to Neruda’s work. Grade: A-minus

Mother Superior
Saleema Nawaz; read by Erin Moon
Audible Studios, download at, six hours and 48 minutes, $19.95

Audiobooks often give new life to older titles, such as this 2008 collection only now available as a download. Canadian author Nawaz sets these seven stories and two novellas in Montréal. Mothers, sisters, misfits, rebels and even a prostitute for Jesus populate stories that are all widely different in style and substance. The subjects range from an unplanned pregnancy to body issues to the way we each handle grief. One of the more intriguing stories, “Bloodlines,” about two orphaned Sikh sisters who own a bagel shop, was later expanded into her novel, “Bone and Bread.” Grade: B-plus

Offbeat: Uncollected Stories
Richard Matheson; various readers including Scott Brick and William DuFris
Valancourt Audiobooks, download only at, five hours and 31 minutes, $19.95

The late Matheson, author of countless eerie novels, stories, films and TV shows, left a vast legacy of often seminal fiction. These stories, however, are not among them. Not that all 13 tales lack merit, as some are creepy and well-executed, but others feel unfinished and/or pointless. They are, however, very well-produced. Top-notch voices from the audiobook industry were matched to each story; music and limited sound effects enliven the text. It is just too bad that the quality of the writing is so uneven. Grade: B-minus