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Audiobooks: The North, the South, and the ether in between

This week brings us an esteemed Southern author, an acid-tongued online card sharp, and Teddy Roosevelt in Gilded Age New York City.

This week, we are treated to an extensive collection of short stories by an esteemed Southern author, a novel whose protagonist is an acid-tongued virtual card sharp, and a nonfiction title that history buffs should enjoy about a politician, who later became president, trying to clean up New York City at the end of the 19th century. All titles are available at local libraries and bookstores.

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
Eudora Welty; various readers
Audible Studios; 32 hours and 18 minutes; www.audible.com, $39.95 

This is simply fabulous! The production values are high, the narrators are equally accomplished, and the stories, ranging from horror to humor, bring everyday people to life with verve and grace. Human relationships are at the core of these tales and Welty often depicts all points of view, painting a South that no longer exists with nuanced brush strokes that ring true. Expect a range of topics and genres, as the stories were written over a lifetime, from the 1940s-1980s. There are 41 stories with 20 narrators, making for a diverse and interesting experience. Grade: A  

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Pocket Kings
Ted Heller; read by William Roberts
HighBridge Audio; 12 hours and 36 minutes; www.audible.com, $25.87

This snarky, jaded, laugh-out-loud funny novel masks a painful look at the deceitful and unnerving world of addiction. Protagonist Frank W. Dixon is a has-been novelist who finds his true talent is winning at online poker. As his winnings grow, his life dissolves into a matted web of lies and insanity that is so blackly funny you just can’t stop listening, especially as he skewers every writer, living and dead, you’ve ever read. At first, narrator Roberts comes across as too loud and enthusiastic, but his growly demeanor and ability to deliver both bitterness and humor bring this novel’s flawed humanity to life. Grade: A– 

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Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-loving New York
Richard Zacks; read by Joe Ochman
Random House Audio; 15 hours and 24 minutes; www.audible.com, $33.95

You don’t have to be a history buff to appreciate this account of one man’s crusade to clean up New York, as it’s much more playful and wryly written than you might expect. Author Zacks dug deep — he resurrects slang from over 100 years ago, brings long dead notorieties back to life, and shows us the hideous layer of rot beneath the Gilded Age. However, he over-researched this to the point that one’s mind begins to wander under the burden of detail. A plus is clear-voiced narrator Ochman, whose fast-paced reading energizes the text and various accents bring the characters to life. Grade: B