Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s vibrant, boldly honest, best-selling memoir, grabs you from the very first lines, and you’ll get to know her before, during and after her intense, difficult, soul-saving hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed started this wilderness trek to take herself out of her own wilderness, out of being as “low and mixed-up” as she had ever been, out of her overwhelming grief for her mother’s untimely death and the nagging sorrow of her failed marriage. It’s a breathtaking, mesmerizing adventure, so well told that you feel her blisters and bruises, her trials on the trail and her hard-won realization of who she is and who she’ll be. Narrator Bernadette Dunne does a great job, capturing every emotional nuance, every step of the way.
On February 14, 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Salman Rushdie to death for writing The Satanic Verses. It plunged Rushdie into 12 years of living a strange, strained, sequestered life under an assumed name, where the covert became the ordinary and the ordinary vanished. What it felt like, how he survived and how he maintained any semblance of his old self is superbly unfolded in Joseph Anton and superbly read by Sam Dastor. It’s a brilliant memoir, written in affecting, but unaffected, prose, detailing his daily anxieties, daily triumphs, friends (and wives) who helped, friends (and wives) who disappointed. It’s a long tale, but uniquely fascinating.
The Iraq war with its physical and psychological horrors becomes brutally immediate and intensely close in Kevin Powers’ powerful debut novel, The Yellow Birds. His language is extraordinary, his images and insights searing as he witnesses young soldiers losing limbs, life, humanity and their moral compass. The fog of war isn’t lifted, the confusion of homecoming is still painful, but, seeing it all through Powers’ prism, we can begin to understand these “boys” and the effect of the incomprehensible violence they experienced just a little bit better. Compellingly read by Holter Graham.
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When you read Junot Díaz, you fall straight into the desire-drenched machismo of Díazlandia—that fabulous fusion of New York, New Jersey and Santo Domingo—and are bowled over by his brilliant torrent of in-your-face prose, spiced with the sounds of the barrio. And when Díaz narrates, as he does here for his new short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her, the effect is even stronger. He gives his main character, the swaggering, stumbling, very Díaz-like Yunior, not just voice but life as he lusts, loves, cheats on his girlfriends, suffers the consequences over and over and brings all his baggage along as he moves from the ’hood to the ivory tower.