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THE CLOISTER WALK

By Kathleen Norris

Read by Debra Winger

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Audio Literature, $17.95

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., abridged

Without introduction, not even the announcement of the book's title, Debra Winger immerses listeners in this firsthand account of Kathleen Norris's monastic journey. Winger immediately reinforces a sense of intimacy, a powerful element to these reflections. Her presentation underscores the simplicity of Norris's years as an oblate in a Benedictine monastery.

"Listen" is the first word of the Benedictine Order's rule for monasteries. How fitting that audio becomes a vehicle to share Norris's insights on monastic ritual, from the reading of psalms to conversations about celibacy. Winger gives attention to pace and detail, establishing a smooth rhythm for the narration. Norris reflects on her instructions for lector reading of passages from the bible - no emoting. Winger senses this caution and relies on the poetic language and images within the text.

The mention of a scarlet dress worn by Norris stands out in vivid contrast to the neutral ground of her contemplation. The three-hour abridgment of "Cloister Walk" is over all too soon. The program encourages further exploration of the reflections Norris has to share. Norris's new "Amazing Grace" will be available this spring, read once again by Debra Winger.

LADY WINDEMERE'S FAN

By Oscar Wilde

Performed by Stephanie Beacham, Jenny Funnell, Christian Rodska, Nicky Henson, et al

Penguin Audiobooks, $16.95

Two cassettes, 105 min., unabr.

Oscar Wilde's play is part of a welcome revival of recorded drama. "Lady Windemere's Fan" was first produced in 1892 and launched Wilde's succession of social comedies. Less well-known than "The Importance of Being Earnest," this play should reach a wider audience with recorded performances. "An Ideal Husband," in revival on Broadway, along with "A Woman of No Importance" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," are all available from Penguin.

An outstanding British cast includes Stephanie Beacham as Mrs. Erlynne, the mysterious woman who enters the lives of Lord Windemere (Nicky Henson) and his Lady (Jenny Funnell), and Christian Rodska as Lord Darlington. All the actors have fine stage credits, and Rodska is also known to audiobook listeners for many exceptional narrations for Chivers Audio Books. The actors offer rich and memorable characterizations.

Listeners can delight in a format originally designed for multiple voices. The inclusion of stage directions provides insight to the dramatic timing. Other than Shakespeare, there are few full-length recordings of plays available. The audio presentation encourages a contextual understanding and appreciation of the literature useful for the classroom, as well as individuals. Wilde's irreverent wit and satirization of social conventions shine in this fine production.

MOTHER FATHER UNCLE AUNT

Garrison Keillor

Performed by the Author

HighBridge Audio, $17.95

Two cassettes, 3 hrs.

Audio program

Recent recorded collections of Garrison Keillor's monologues from broadcasts of "A Prairie Home Companion" have an engaging common thread. These pieces drop in on the lives of families, as seen from different points of view, including both grown child and parent.

In "Children Will Break Your Heart," Keillor follows several generations of parents and children. He depicts the reoccurrence of behavior in family histories. The essays salute families, encouraging listeners to be in touch with the ironies and challenges of kith and kin.

Many of these stories are poignant with a tangible melancholy as in "Bob Anderson's Last Dance." Some share a confidence. Occasionally, Keillor softens his voice almost to a whisper as he does with a young man's experiences in "The Flood." Several of the selections are lengthy and, while Keillor begins with humorous introductions, the stories are contemplative and perspicacious, delivered with ultimate command of the medium.

Keillor is such a master raconteur that each odyssey is a treasure. Keillor's novel "Wobegone Boy" (HighBridge) is also available. A music collection, "Shake It, Break It and Hang It on the Wall, Guy's All-Star Shoe Band," will be Keillor's next audio excursion in May.

LIVING FAITH

Jimmy Carter

Read by the Author

Random House AudioBooks, $14

One cassette, 90 min., abridged

SOURCES OF STRENGTH

Jimmy Carter

Read by the Author

Random House AudioBooks, $18

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., selections

In his spiritual autobiography, "Living Faith," and his companion to study of Scriptures, "Sources of Strength," former President Carter communicates his great compassion and religious faith. "Sources of Strength" has a natural affinity for the recorded format as the selections originate from Carter's sermons at his weekly Adult Sunday School classes at his Plains, Ga., Baptist Church. The former president, a lifelong student and teacher of the Bible, delights in these weekly sessions, which are always filled with both hometown folks and international visitors and luminaries.

The audio program selects complete excerpts from the 52 meditations Carter collected for the book. Audio provides an intimacy he obviously enjoys. Carter is relaxed and welcoming as he presents his reflections and favorite Scriptures.

"Living Faith" is a memoir of experiences that molded Carter's faith. He recounts personal joys and tragedies, some as close to home as his Georgia neighbors and some played on the world stage. He speaks of the evolution of his values and his faith with the informal approachability that makes his expressions more powerful.

* Robin Whitten is the editor of AudioFile, a monthly magazine of reviews and information on audiobooks. RAudioFile@aol.com

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