Audiobooks to make you laugh, think and shiver
Here, in these as-it-happened accounts and jottings, is a rich chunk of the mother lode from which David Sedaris has mined his personal essays and performances. The extracts in “Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002),” cover what may be called the disconsolate IHOP years, when he was a college dropout, rootless casual worker and aspiring artist, and those during which he became a celebrity. Sedaris reads the extracts in his familiar, friendly voice, one which, he tells us, is routinely mistaken for a woman’s over the phone. That circumstance is, naturally, a gift to his comedic sensibility and fodder for a recurring joke. The appeal of these diary entries lies in their spareness and in Sedaris’s boundless relish for the absurdity of life: “Last night, shortly after dinner,” he begins an entry in 1998, “my father’s head caught on fire.” The Sedaris of these diaries is, above all, a connoisseur of annoying things (“No matter where you go,” he reports in the late 1970s, “you cannot escape the Bee Gees”) and of bothersome and downright dreadful people. We have met many of these characters in more finished shape in his other works: His French teacher, for instance, from “Me Talk Pretty One Day” is here in daily terror reports. This is a companionable audiobook, suited for midday portions or long-night bouts.
In the audio-only reminiscence “On Power,” Robert A. Caro describes the development of his understanding of power in his gruff voice and unreconstructed New York accent. His delivery brings immediacy to the shock and anger he felt as a young man when he witnessed police arresting black poll watchers and saw, for the first time, utter political impotence. It was a turning point in his life. Still, the anatomy of political power did not become his dedicated study until, as he tells us, he saw the New York state legislature reversing itself in one day in obedience to the will of Robert Moses. It broke upon him then that no one really knew where this unelected official’s despotic power actually came from. His investigation of that mystery resulted in a biography of Moses that ran to over a million words, which, he explains ruefully, he was forced to cut by a third. Having dissected the intricate workings of urban power and the mechanism of dispossession, he then turned to the exercise of power in national politics with his four-volume-and-counting biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. This is an anecdote-rich production in which, at every juncture, Caro gives full credit to his wife, Ina, who has been his essential researcher — and a woman who sold her house to support him.
Set in Colombia from 1993 to 2013, Julianne Pachico’s debut collection of stories, “The Lucky Ones,” amounts to a novel — with some assembly required. Versatile actors Marisol Ramirez and Ramon de Ocampo trade off reading the stories, which move back and forth in time through the lives of recurring characters. Among them are a handful of well-heeled schoolgirls, the maids and chauffeurs who serve them, bands of guerrillas encamped in the jungle, teachers, vagrants, paramilitaries, a drug lord who is the target of hidden watchers, an American going mad as a hostage and even a couple of rabbits. The title story signals the irony with which the expression “lucky” is imbued: A teenage girl finds herself alone in her family’s luxurious fortress of a house and gradually realizes that her parents and brother have met with some terrible fate and that only she has survived — for the moment. That skewed notion of luck runs throughout the book to chilling effect, adding to the stories’ faintly surreal air. Taken together, the 11 stories create a fractured picture of a society beset by bombings, kidnappings, mutilations and assassinations. Both narrators do justice to the diverse cast of characters, bringing voices that range through liquid Spanish inflection to peremptory Anglo curtness. This wonderful production, like the book itself, deepens on a second go-round.
THEFT BY FINDING Diaries (19772002)
THE LUCKY ONES