by Sukey HowardDecember, 2007
By the book
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, written and read by A.J. Jacobs, is a charmer for all seasons, and an offbeat delight. The sheer numbers would put most of us off, big-time 365 days, 24/7, following a list of 700 laws from both the New and Old Testaments that go way beyond loving thy neighbor. It leads to hilarity and real introspection, a road trip to communities that take the Bible literally and myriad unexpected encounters and challenges that make Jacobs and, perhaps, his audio audience rethink everyday life. Go forth and listen!
If you're giving an audio gift, you can't go wrong with the tried and true. Robert B. Parker's latest, Now and Then, is a classic Spenser and Hawk caper, with, of course, the brilliant and beautiful Susan and a cameo for Pearl the wonder dog. Joe Mantegna, who has become the voice of Spenser and his crew, is fabulous as always, pacing the action as Spenser goes after the suave leader of a group sponsoring terrorism and delivering Spenser's bedroom banter and sly, sarcastic quips with perfect pitch.
Nicholas Sparks is back, too, tugging on those heartstrings with a signature love/loss/love story. In The Choice, Travis Parker must ask himself: How far would you go for love? Why he has to ask it, and how he answers it, unfolds in the recounting of his marriage to his beloved Gabby. They and their two young daughters lived an idyllic life in Beaufort, North Carolina, until a stormy night and an accident with Travis at the wheel. I won't reveal more, but keep the Kleenex close and the ethical underpinnings at arm's length. Holter Graham reads in an appropriate, soft Southern accent.
Now for the serious and substantial. Denis Johnson's novel, Tree of Smoke, is masterful and irredeemably dark. I recommend it with only one caveat: This is a listening and emotional commitment, 23 hours of intense brilliance without any chance of a happy ending, set during and after the Vietnam War, that raises difficult and complex questions about war and fighting, the men who served and the men who manipulated what we knew, the toll it took on lives and morals and the legacy of lies we were left with. Will Patton's seamless narration transforms this novel into a superb audio.
On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea to start a war of unification they thought would last three weeks. Three years later, with 33,000 American troops dead and 105,000 wounded, the war ended with the North and South divided exactly as they were before it began. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, sadly David Halberstam's last book, is a powerful chronicle of the century's nastiest little war, a bitter conflict, fought on harsh terrain in ghastly weather. This is detailed, documented history, military and political, animated by Halberstam's unique energy, authority and narrative flair. The voices of the men in the trenches add affecting, often nightmarish, images of that sour, unwanted war.