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Audio books that entertain and illuminate

From Toni Morrison to Wild Bill Hickok, from animal rescuers to cultural travelers, March audio releases offer a stimulating listening experience. 

Whether you prefer focused listening from your easy chair or catching up with a title while you're in motion, audio books can provide provocative or soothing company. The urge to listen to, and tell, stories dates from humans' earliest days. The March batch of audio titles is an eclectic bunch. We hope you enjoy them. 

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations, by Toni Morrison

Read by Bahni Turpin; Random House Audio; 13 CDs; 16 hours   

Bahni Turpin was an excellent choice for this audiobook as she sounds serious and precise, her tones even and well-matched to this thoughtful and thought-provoking material. Sometimes the flotsam and jetsam of a writer’s career is not worth the effort, but this collection is a contemplative and absorbing rumination on everything from racism to feminism, literature to religion. There are eulogies and speeches and essays – and references you may have to look up. Toni Morrison is smart and never uninteresting, but this is the kind of audiobook best listened to in bursts, as you need time to let her wisdom percolate before moving on to the next selection. Grade: A 

Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter, by Tom Clavin

Read by Johnny Heller; Macmillan Audio; seven CDs; nine hours

The first thing you will notice about this engaging and delightful biography is that Johnny Heller sounds like a character actor who moseyed off the set of an old-fashioned oater. His voice is a little scratchy, a little seasoned, and perfectly suits this biography of larger-than-life Bill Hickok and his pals, from Calamity Jane to Buffalo Bill Cody and General Custer. Author Tom Clavin teased facts from fiction and includes short and sensitive portrayals of those in Hickok’s circle as well as setting the scene historically. This plays out much like fiction and mostly entertains, though there are a few passages that fill in the blanks with less-than-exciting prose. Grade: A-  

Rescuing Ladybugs: Inspirational Encounters with Animals that Changed the World by Jennifer Skiff

Read by Donna Postel; HighBridge Audio; eight CDs; nine hours

Jennifer Skiff, a journalist, author, and television producer, encountered caged pandas in Laos in 1998 and it changed her life. She now rescues animals and writes about others that do so. She infuses her descriptions of the creatures she encounters with descriptive settings and passages rife with compassion and integrity. Each story about a rescue or encounter with others is followed by questions and answers at the end of each chapter. Narrator Donna Postel has a clear voice, a sweet manner, and a sound command of the material. She also manages accents that aren’t half-bad. Grade: A-

Impossible Owls: Essays by Brian Phillips

Read by Steve Menasche; HighBridge Audio; 10 CDs; 11 hours and 30 minutes

Brian Phillips is an established writer who is also the master of the long-form essay. The eight in this collection bring us to Alaska, Tokyo, Moscow, suburban America, and for a drive down Route 66. They are evocative, engaging, and sometimes surprising. His essay about Route 66 begins in Roswell, New Mexico, and then turns away from aliens to a treatise on the “emptiness” in American culture. This would be a fabulous collection had Steve Menasche not sounded like the story time reader at your local library; he is over-the-top and his accents are grating. Grade: B

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