Too busy, too overscheduled to read everything you think you should? No problem—just listen up and, with the holidays at hand, share the audio advantage with friends and family.

CANINE CELEBRITY
He was a war orphan found on a French battlefield in 1918 who became a movie star, a TV star and an American icon whose most devoted friend believed he was immortal. But, unlike most enduring celebrities, he was a dog: a German shepherd named Rin Tin Tin. With Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, consummate writer, reporter and now audio performer Susan Orlean brings this amazing dog (and the 11 generations of his descendents) a little closer to that immortality. More than a canine chronicle, this story of a man and his dog becomes the story of entertainment in 20th-century America, of our changing attitudes about dogs, of the bond we have with them. It’s as rewarding as a proffered paw and a gaze filled with unconditional love.

CURRENT AFFAIRS
The subtitle of Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s big-think book, That Used to Be Us, is “How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back,” which sums it up quite well. These renowned authors call themselves “frustrated optimists”; their perspective on the present is unstintingly realistic, but their hopes for the future are high. And they offer this empowering critique of where we are and how we got here as a wake-up call, a call for “collective nation-building at home” and a call to overcome our “hyper-partisanship” and earn America’s “exceptionalism” once again.

TOP PICK IN AUDIO
Just Kids, Patti Smith’s extraordinary memoir of the early years of her long, intimate, intense relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, won the National Book Award for nonfiction last year, but the audio version was just released this summer. It’s a perfect example of the magic that an author’s own voice can bring to memoir. As Smith reads, her soft, gravelly, South Jersey-accented timbre makes the poignancy and poetry of her prose all the more powerful and her unfaltering honesty all the more eloquent. A portrait of young artists who believed wholly in their art and in each other, who ultimately made it in very separate ways, but who never lost their muse-like bond, this remembrance of love and friendship becomes an elegy to both.

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