by Sukey HowardDecember, 2002
New audio releases sound like holiday winners
Sometimes there's a perfect match between reader and author; you'll find just that in a new audio collection, Ernest Hemingway: The Short Stories, Volumes 1 and 2 read by Stacy Keach. The stories, including "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," "The Killers" and "Fifty Grand," are all unabridged, all classic Hemingway. They're set in the places and landscapes he made his own Spain, Africa, the Midwest and written in his powerfully simple masculine prose, stripped of unessentials. Keach captures the Hemingway clarity so well that you can imagine Papa himself saying, "I listened and it was good."
Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriageoffers a collection of nine brilliant short stories by one of our most acclaimed contemporary authors. Munro, gently wry at times, is always compassionate and meticulously observant as she examines the foibles of human nature with characters so clearly drawn, situations and language so accurately etched that you can't help but see these people, hear them and know them. Kymberly Dakin reads with nuanced understanding and with all the right accents in all the right places.
A series to take seriously
Concise, accessible, authoritative, The American Presidents, with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. as general editor, is a new series of biographies written by a variety of distinguished authors that focuses on "telling the history of the United States in terms of the forty-three men who at one time or another led or misled the republic" and putting each president's life, character and career in vivid perspective. Just in time for holiday gift giving, the first four have recently been released as audio presentations by Audio Renaissance: James Madison by Garry Wills; John Quincy Adams by Robert V. Remini ($25.95, 6 hours, ISBN 1559277394); Grover Cleveland by Henry H. Graff ($25.95, 5 hours, ISBN 155927736X); and Theodore Roosevelt by Louis Auchincloss ($23.95, 4 hours, ISBN 1559277386). All are unabridged and all are read by Ira Claffey.
A new trilogy by Pulitzer prize winner Rick Atkinson will fascinate WWII battle buffs and intrigue anyone who wants to know more about the fighting men of the "greatest generation." An Army at Dawn, the first in the series, and read by the author, takes listeners into the intense drama of the war in North Africa in 1942 and 1943, the start of the trio of campaigns that would ultimately free Europe from the Nazi threat. It was the scene of grueling battles and became the pivot point, the proving ground where the United States began to act like a great power, militarily, diplomatically and tactically, where Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and Montgomery emerged and where thousands of American soldiers went to the brink and didn't come back. Great gift for the history lovers on your holiday list.
Voyages of discovery
If you liked Confederates in the Attic, you'll love Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Tony Horwitz's latest, read by Daniel Gerroll. If you haven't listened to or read Horwitz before, you're in for a treat. When Cook set sail for the Pacific in 1768, "roughly a third of the world's map remained blank." Cook filled it in and when he died 11 years later on a Hawaiian beach, he had explored more of the globe than anyone else. Horwitz, long fascinated with Cook, "boldly" follows in his footsteps, crewing on a replica of the Endeavor, Cook's first boat, then jetting to Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Alaska and more. Along for much of the ride is Horwitz's hilarious sidekick, Roger Williamson, a fun-loving Australian who has decidedly different priorities during their travels. A first-rate reporter, Horwitz also takes a serious look at how Cook's legacy Western civilization has affected the peoples he encountered, while weaving in a vivid account of Cook's exploits. Travelogue, history, commentary and a great deal of fun.
Inside the crooked E
Nothing I've read or heard about the Enron debacle comes close to Brian Cruver's Anatomy of Greed. As its subtitle states, this is "the unshredded truth from an Enron insider." Cruver, just a few years out of B school, was thrilled to be hired by the energy giant in 2001, and he entered the "Death Star" (the pet name for the Enron office complex) with blind ambition and blind enthusiasm only to be blind-sided by a corporate culture run amok. With narrative skill, fascinating detail and a generous douse of gallows humor, Cruver takes us through the intricacies of the dubious deals, fraudulent partnerships and daily group-think mentality that led to the collapse of the colossus and a colossal loss of faith in corporate America. Better than most thrillers and a lot more enlightening.
A newborn, wrapped in an old shirt, is left in the garage of the only grand estate in town. That's how Anna Quindlen opens her new novel, Blessings. What follows is a wonderfully crafted story by a consummate storyteller and observer of the human condition. Skip, the young caretaker at the Blessings estate with a loveless past and a nowhere future, is the one who discovers the discarded baby. For him, and for wealthy old Mrs. Blessing, whose life is as thin and dry as the skin on her mottled hands, the baby becomes an incandescence that shows both of them in a new light. What makes this and Quindlen's previous novels so good is her ability to get into her characters' essence, slowly revealing their pasts, building dramatic tension and, always, exploring the dimensions of love. This audio presentation, narrated by Joan Allen, is deeply affecting. I didn't want it to end, and I didn't want to leave Skip, the baby or Mrs. Blessing.