Friday, May 15, 2009

On Audio Books: Part II (Light Literary)

I didn't mean for it to be five months since I last wrote about audio books, but that seems to be what's happened. Given that I need daily blogging topics for another couple of weeks (not that I'm counting) I thought it was past time for another installment. In my first installment, I wrote about mysteries, which make up the majority of books I listen to. Now, I'm going to write about the lighter end of literary (or literary-ish) novels I've enjoyed.

However, before I do that, I've realized that there's a glaring omission in my mystery post. I can't believe that I forgot to write about Laurie R. King and her two sets of mysteries, almost all of which I've listened to over the past few years.

Her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series begins with The Beekeeper's Apprentice and goes on for 8 more books, the most recent called The Language of Bees. I haven't listened to the last one (it's just out), and I couldn't make it through The Moor, but I quite enjoyed the rest of them. Her premise is that upon retiring to Sussex to keep bees, Sherlock Holmes meets Mary Russell, a young (extremely young) recently orphaned heiress, who is very sharp and also a feminist. That first meeting, eventually, leads to marriage and continued detection. Though the series is slightly uneven, these definitely should be read from the beginning. I'd say my favorites are the first one and then the sort of connected O Jerusalem and Justice Hall, one set in the Middle East and one mostly in a large manor house in Britain. All are narrated by Jenny Sterlin.

The Kate Martinelli series, on the other hand, is set in contemporary San Francisco and features a lesbian detective as its main character. The first book in the series, A Grave Talent, might be the best, but it's a series worth reading after that as well. King hasn't been as prolific with these as with the Russell/Holmes books; there are five in all, and the last one, The Art of Detection, has a Sherlock Holmes sub-plot that annoyed some readers. (I wasn't bothered by it.) These are read by Alyssa Bresnahan.

Okay, that's it for the mysteries, for the moment at least. On to the light literary types.

  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons:I write this with some trepidation--this was one of the first books I listened to, probably at least ten years ago, and I listened on tape. I can't promise that it's available on CD or as an mp3 download, though I certainly hope it is. While I quite enjoyed the 1996 movie version (and the not-yet-glamorous Kate Beckinsale), the book is even funnier. I adored listening to it even though it made me snort at the gym and incur strange looks from fellow exercisers. Anna Massey is the perfect narrator for the material. Just writing this is making me want to listen to it again.
  • Snobs by Julian Fellowes. Fellowes won an Oscar for his screenplay for Gosford Park, so he knows his upper class Brits very well. Snobs is his first novel and is the tale of a lovely middle class girl who marries into the aristocracy and then, maybe, regrets it. It's set in the 1990s but doesn't always seem like it. I probably would have enjoyed reading it, but I liked listening even more. Richard Morant narrates.
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. This is one that might have annoyed me had I read it, but somehow the four years of prep school that Sittenfeld's main character, Lee Fiora, goes through were pretty compelling to listen to. That said, I have no desire to read (or listen to) Sittenfeld's Laura Bush novel, American Wife.
  • Anything by Tom Perotta. Admittedly, I've only listened to two of his novels--Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher--but they both definitely worked as audio books--the right combination of humor and plot, plus good narrators in both cases (George Wilson for Little Children and the (dreamy) Campbell Scott for The Abstinence Teacher.)
  • Anything by Eleanor Lipman. I've been a fan of Eleanor Lipman's since I was in college and heard her read from her very first book of stories, Into Love and Out Again. (Now, she's local, and I'm always pleased to see her in the grocery store.) I've read all of her books except the very newest (which is waiting for me at the library as I write this), and I've listened to three or four of them as well. Lipman also has the humor/plot combination in her favor. I'd particularly recommend The Pursuit of Alice Thrift which was another that had me snorting at the gym to the slight alarm of those around me. Lipman reads this one herself and does an excellent job.
  • Finally, for this installment, anything by Carl Hiaasen. I'd never read Hiaasen but took a book on CD out on a whim and was entertained enough to go find more. I listened to Basket Case, Sick Puppy, Skinny Dip, Stormy Weather and at least one more. It's a mistake to listen to too many at once--the tone is too similar and it can get wearying--but when he's funny, he's very funny. My favorite was probably Sick Puppy, but I didn't dislike any of them. (I haven't read the newest one.)
Next up is the Literary, Less Light Division, but that will have to wait for another day.

1 comment:

alice said...

have you ever wrote some religion books ?