Gain a bird’s-eye view of America with these July audiobooks

Audiobook selections for July cover a swath of the American landscape, from a western river to Louisiana’s gumbo belt. Relax and take it all in.

Courtesy of HighBridge Audio
“Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West” by Heather Hansman, read by Allison Ryan, HighBridge Audio.

The month of July often provides an opportunity for a good road trip or two, and these audiobooks will keep you company. Take time to discover the South, savor good food, learn about odd histories, and absorb a meditation on clean, abundant water.

Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide, by Tony Horwitz
Read by Mark Deakins, with prologue read by the author; Penguin Audio; 17 hours; 14 CDs

When we think of Frederick Law Olmsted we generally think of New York’s Central Park or the numerous other landscapes he created. The late author Tony Horwitz retraces the footsteps of the young Olmsted, who in the 1850s wandered across the South, writing dispatches for The New York Times. Horwitz delves into not only Olmsted, but also the America he finds along the route, and both subjects are covered with humor, insight, and vivid descriptions. Mark Deakins reads with ease and includes hints of regional accents. He delivers the dialogue in a lively and fast-paced manner with perfect diction. Grade: A

Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West by Heather Hansman
Read by Allison Ryan; HighBridge Audio; seven hours and 30 minutes; seven CDs

Part travelogue, part journalistic exposé, part introspective musings, this trip down the Green River through Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado explores water rights and where, exactly, that water goes. Heather Hansman made much of this trip as a solo voyager, and she describes the people she meets and the industries affected by the water on which she travels. The result is an intriguing mix of facts, personal insights, and lively discussions. Allison Ryan, with her moderately deep voice and clear understanding of the material, reads with authority and brings to the story the same sense of humanity that Hansman reveals with her writing. Grade: B+

Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou by Ken Wells
Read by P.J. Ochlan; HighBridge Audio; eight hours; seven CDs

One would think a book about a spicy stew would have its limited attractions, but this is a surprisingly compelling audiobook. Journalist Ken Wells talks about gumbo from a social, historical, cultural, and personal perspective and he is never dull. You will hear of intriguing characters and interesting recipes, such as a foie gras-infused gumbo. There is a glossary of regional foods and a helpful guide to South Louisiana’s Gumbo Belt. P.J. Ochlan reads at a quick clip and easily manages regional pronunciations. The result is a mouth watering, quirky, and concise study of an important local specialty. Grade: B+

A Florida State of Mind: An Unnatural History of our Weirdest State by James D. Wright
Read by Patrick Lawlor; Tantor Media; nine hours and 15 minutes; eight CDs

Florida is known for weird stories and oddball characters, and this apparently has always been true. Author James D. Wright writes with humor and personal knowledge of a place rife with sunshine, alligators, real estate grifters, and millionaires. He sets out to prove that Florida is never quite what is seems, and does so using facts and factoids, anecdotes, and stories within stories. It’s all fascinating, and it’s read with plenty of brio by Patrick Lawlor, a well-established narrator who knows how to punch up the audiobook’s inherent humor without overdoing it. The one misstep is a long introduction that outlines everything we are going to hear anyway. Grade: B 

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