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Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt

Read by the author

Simon & Schuster Audio, $24

Four cassettes, 6 hrs., Abridged

Frank McCourt has a way with words. His memoir of his Irish childhood, "Angela's Ashes," has garnered numerous literary awards and is enjoying strong attention from the bestseller lists. It's pure heaven when McCourt reads his work as he does for the Simon & Schuster program.

McCourt sings, we weep. He speaks, we are transported. Through numerous interviews and appearances some readers may have already heard his lovely Irish brogue or heard a brief reading. The six-hour audiobook is riveting. The production shows exactly how recording can enliven and enhance a text. McCourt's narration makes listeners keenly aware of the hope, persistence, and indomitable spirit that got Frank McCourt through the devastating poverty of his family.

With his voice, he paints the scenes of his childhood in stark realities of blacks, whites, and browns. McCourt conveys these images with lyrical clarity. He sings the songs his mother sang; he shouts his father's patriots' tunes. These sublime additions elevate an already wonderful text. Although certainly not a story for young children, young adults may find McCourt's story dynamic listening.

Personal History

Katharine Graham

Read by the author

Random House AudioBooks, $18 Two cassettes, 3 hrs., Abridged

Audio recording is among several forms of media Katharine Graham is using to promote her memoir, "Personal History." Her own reading of this program reinforces the portrait she draws. Graham reveals her quiet strength and commitment through her voice.

The narration is reserved, controlled, but not to the extent that listeners don't catch her underlying determination or humility.

The former publisher of The Washington Post allows her words to describe the events and her feelings, not her voice. She subtly conveys the tension she felt over the decisions she made relating to the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and the pressmen's strike. And with steady reserve she expresses the stress caused by difficult family situations.

The memoir is reflective, yet she generously shares the many lessons she's learned and the resulting changes in her attitudes. An unabridged edition not read by Graham, will follow.

The Writer in The Garden

Edited by Jane Garmey

Selections by Gertrude Jekyll, Colette, E.B. White et al.

HighBridge Audio, $16.95

Two cassettes, 3 hrs., Anthology

In this season of seed catalogues and garden dreams, "The Writer in the Garden" is a pleasure. More than the 40 plus poems, excerpts, and short essays, the program defines the spirit of gardening.

There's not just one view, we have selections from several respected garden writers - Gertrude Jekyll, Ken Druse, Vita Sackville-West and Russell Paige - and authors known for their descriptions of, if not their interest in, gardens: Henry James, Homer, Colette and Edith Wharton.

The gardens, too, have great variety: gardens to be viewed, gardens to be dug in, gardens to inspire, English gardens, Southern gardens, Frances Hodgson Burnett's secret garden and Homer's garden of King Alcinous.

Each piece seems to have a personality of its own - reflective, imperious, funny, or impassioned. The six narrators who present these wonderful selections are each perfectly cast to the pieces they read. Simon Jones and Pamela Salem lend their articulate, cultured British voices; Boyd Gaines offers a rich American baritone and Deborah Hazlett contributes her soft, Southern regionalism.

Listening to this program should be an annual event, an inspiration to a new season of gardening. As a gift for a gardener there's nothing better.

The Sky Fisherman - Craig Lesley

Read by Ed Sala

Recorded Books Rental, $17.50

Nine cassettes, 13 hrs., Unabrid.

Take some time to immerse yourself in Craig Lesley's saga of a young man growing up in a small Oregon town. Culver thrives on his relationship with his Uncle Jake - fishing guide, sporting goods entrepreneur, and curmudgeon.

Jake and Culver explore the river and woods, and the dynamics between the townsfolk, family, and Native Americans on the adjacent reservation. Ed Sala adopts the perfect guise of raconteur.

He complements Jake's stories and Culver's narrative voice with an easy cadenced, rough-edged voice that seems to have a chuckle buried somewhere. Sala is a master at the banter around the back room of Jake's guide shop.

The mysterious death of Culver's father (Jake's brother) years before adds a presence that Sala is careful not to overplay. He lets it haunt the listener as it does Culver. The characters and scenery are rich and colorful, and the narration brings them to listeners with appealing realism.

The Sheep-Pig - Dick King-Smith

Read by Stephen Thorne

HighBridge Audio, $13.95

Chivers Audio Books, $13.95

Two Cassettes, 1.8 hrs., Unabrid.

Better known as Babe, this amazing pig, not only succeeded at the Grand Challenge Sheep-Dog Trials, but charmed movie audiences of children and adults alike. The original story of a pig who decides to train for the all-important job of herding sheep is a charmer.

Dick King-Smith is a master of stories about animals with personality. His characters mix courage and sweetness in delightful measure. Babe's story is not sugar-coated, but it succeeds because of the characters' inherent quality and charm.

Stephen Thorne narrates Babe's story with ease and wit and never neglects King-Smith's finely tuned sense of kindness. This audiobook can easily become a family favorite.

* Robin Whitten is the founder and editor of AudioFile, a monthly magazine of reviews and information on audiobooks. For additional information call 800-506-1212 or

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