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AUDIOBOOKS: Thriller, short stories and memoirs

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By Sunday, Nov 25, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

A noirish thriller, a short story collection and two memoirs round out this week’s selections. 

Thirteen Ways of Looking
Colum McCann; read by the author
Random House Audio; six hours and eight minutes, $24.50; www.audible.com only

The title of this collection and the novella sharing the same name comes from the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” The best and most seductive of the collection, it is a wry, poignant and somewhat mysterious account of the last day in the life of an elderly New York judge who is reminiscing about his dead wife, his life, his health and his loutish son. The other stories are more straightforward and more painful, especially “Treaty,” in which an aging nun meets the man who tortured her decades earlier. McCann has a soft, lilting Irish accent that is lovely on the ears. His approach may seem too subtle at first, but he draws you in and enhances the material. Grade: A

The Big Nowhere
James Ellroy; read by Jason Culp
Hachette Audio; 14 CDs; 16.5 hour; $30; www.audible.com, $29.65

The second crime thriller in Ellroy’s “L.A. Quartet,” this a wild ride through the hard-boiled streets of Los Angeles, beginning on New Year’s Eve, 1950. Creative dialogue is filled with period appropriate slang that is colorful, bigoted and very blue. Paranoia and brutality are the norm in this sprawling depiction of poswar L.A. as seen through three major characters whose sordid stories eventually come together. The final third is overwritten and a bit confusing, but ride it out—the ending is worth it. Culp rises to the occasion with an array of vocal characters that are rough around the edges, sleazy or simply worn down. Grade: A-minus

A House of My Own: Stories from My Life
Sandra Cisneros; read by the author
Books on Tape; available on 10 CDs as a library edition; 11 hours and 44 minutes; www.audible.com, $28

Essays, articles, speeches and other bits of nonfiction reveal an autobiographical map of Cisneros’ life before and after publication of her novel “The House on Mango Street.” These well-written vignettes describe her travels, her loves, heartaches, passions and disappointments, even the people and places that influenced her work. You could start anywhere in the audiobook and immediately find yourself engaged and transported. Unfortunately, Cisneros has a voice one could call quirky if one were being kind. It often borders on the shrill and takes some getting used to, even though her Latin inflections and pronunciations underscore her work. A professional narrator would have greatly improved the listener’s enjoyment. Grade: B

David Spade is Almost Interesting: The Memoir
David Spade; read by the author
Harper Audio; 6 CDs; six hours and 32 minutes; $23.95 www.audible.com only

Memoir is not autobiography, but Spade fans will be disappointed by the huge amount of his life and career not included in this comedic recollection. The best sections discuss his childhood, the years at “Saturday Night Live,” the vicious physical attack he endured by his crazed personal assistant Skippy, and his friendship with the late Chris Farley. His writing style and his delivery are both casual and sarcastic and both become rather grating after a few chapters. There are interesting sections, mostly about the entertainment business, but his view of women (chicks) and life in general will mostly appeal to teenage boys. Grade: C-plus

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