Au­dio­books to make you laugh, think and shiver

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY KATHER­INE A. POW­ERS book­world@wash­post.com Kather­ine A. Pow­ers re­views au­dio­books ev­ery month for The Wash­ing­ton Post.

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.

By David Sedaris Ha­chette Au­dio. Unabridged, 14 hours

THEFT BY FIND­ING Diaries (19772002)

By Ju­lianne Pachico Ran­dom House Au­dio. Unabridged, 8 hours

THE LUCKY ONES

By Robert A. Caro Au­di­ble Stu­dios. Unabridged, 1¾ hours

ON POWER

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