Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: A Shout-out to Sonnets

Listening to Poetry Just Makes Life Better

The Great Poets: Walt Whitman“Focus on something. It’ll steady your nerves,” my mother advised. That’s why I stared fixedly at Mr. Potter the Latin teacher throughout my 6th grade recitation of “Oh Captain, My Captain” by Walt Whitman. Mr. Potter smiled benignly. And when my nerves settled, the words rose, heated, as they had not when I’d practiced, surprising me into passion. In the years since, I’ve found that whether in the midst of joy or sorrow, wistfulness or contentment, poetry speaks intimately to the heart and mind. It also demands to be spoken.

White men who died long ago wrote most of the poetry I learned in school. I still turn to it because the guys, including Whitman, really could write. Naxos AudioBooks’ Great Poets series has a fine collection, including Garrick Hagon’s Earphones Award performance of Whitman’s best known poems in THE GREAT POETS: WALT WHITMAN. Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Do You Even Like Pumpkin Pie?

Audiobooks to See You Through Thanksgiving

Appetite For LifeAs our national celebration of family and pie approaches, I’m reminded of the Thanksgiving when our gorgeously brown turkey slid off the serving platter and across the none-too-clean kitchen floor. After a stunned silence, my mother called out, “Julia Child!” We took up the cheer, “Yes, yes, Julia Child!” And with that paean to the woman who showed America how to cook and cope cheerfully with culinary setbacks, we plopped the bird back on the platter and headed into the dining room to brave my uncle’s divergent political opinions. (For more on the indomitable American cook, I recommend Wanda McCaddon’s reading of APPETITE FOR LIFE: THE BIOGRAPHY OF JULIA CHILD.)

The Lay of the Land

Weighted with food calamities, family contretemps, and expectations of perfection, November Togetherness Day can be tense. As Joe Barrett’s fine performance of Richard Ford’s THE LAY OF THE LAND reveals, it can also be joyous. Selected as an AudioFile Best Audiobook of 2007, the novel drops us into the amusing and angst-ridden tribulations of Frank Bascombe, Ford’s everyman hero, as he faces Thanksgiving with friends and family. Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: The Stars are Out Tonight

Great actors who can also deliver great audiobook performances

Asked to read a telephone book, Meryl Streep could find subtext even in the X’s. Hand her a novel and she’s la crème de la crème. That cannot be said about most celebrities who’ve narrated audiobooks. Unfortunately, mega stardom doesn’t guarantee a mega audiobook performance. So let’s celebrate three stage and screen superstars who also are able to deliver splendid listening.

The Testament of Mary

Streep can do serious, as evidenced by her performance of Colm Tóibín’s THE TESTAMENT OF MARY — a blazing commentary by the mother of Jesus on her son’s fate. She channels Mary, making the audiobook one for every faith or none. It’s a performance of a lifetime that I’ve pressed on many who weren’t sure and who came away convinced. Streep can also do funny, and her comedic timing is beautifully displayed in Nora Ephron’s fictionalized memoir, HEARTBURN. Both performances won Earphones Awards. Then there are her characterizations, vividly apparent in several narrations for children. For the kids in your life, or just for yourself, listen and savor THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, or three stories in an audio collection called RABBIT EARS STORIES BY BEATRIX POTTER. Rarely has Peter Rabbit sounded so inveterately tempted by Mr. MacGregor’s garden. Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: Sherlock Holmes Anniversary

My Man Sherlock

Sherlock HolmesIt began with “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which is arguably Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous short story. I was 11 years old and at odds with the world when my mother thrust a heavy volume into my hands. Still complaining, I retired to my room. Within a page, I’d been offered a wonderful new nineteenth-century identity as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson’s invisible sidekick. One who knew that only a dog cart throws up mud on a person’s sleeve in that way. “And then,” as Holmes explained, “only when you sit on the left-hand side of the driver.” Soon thereafter, we discovered the snake in the wall, that is, the speckled band, and I was hooked for life.

The Sherlock Holmes canon—four novels and 56 short stories—has remained in print since publication of the first novel, A STUDY IN SCARLET, in 1887. It’s inspired hundreds of screen adaptations (beginning with a silent film in 1900), radio and stage plays, and new Holmes novels and short stories by other writers. Luckily for us, that wealth has produced an equal richness of audiobooks. Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: Growing Up with the Vietnam War

Audiobooks that offer perspective on a long war and turbulent time

The Vietnam WarSoldiers lunged muddy, exhausted, and wide-eyed across our kitchen table most evenings when I was a teenager. It was the Vietnam War, in all its fear and confusion, playing in black-and-white on the nightly news. I wish we’d had Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward’s audiobook, THE VIETNAM WAR: AN INTIMATE HISTORY, to support our viewing, as it’s every bit as informative and wide-ranging as their recent PBS documentary. Though the audiobook is abridged, Burns won an Earphones Award for his clear and serious narration, which helped me concentrate on the hard story without turning away.

You see, in 1969, while waiting for my ride outside the San Francisco airport, I did look away when a soldier dropped a bulging duffle at his feet, and said, “I’m just back from Vietnam.” Such were my muddled emotions that to my eternal regret, I couldn’t even manage a “Welcome home.” Between them, Steve Sheinkin’s MOST DANGEROUS: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR, read by Ray Porter, and Howard Means’s 67 SHOTS: KENT STATE AND THE END OF AMERICAN INNOCENCE, read by Alan Sklar, help explain the mess we were in during those tumultuous times. They don’t absolve my rudeness to that soldier, but they put my reaction in context. Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: My Grandfather’s War

Revisiting WWI through Fiction and Nonfiction Audiobooks

The World RemadeAt age twenty-two, my grandfather looked a hero in his WWI pilot’s uniform. Peaked cap at a rakish angle, hand on his father’s shoulder, arm around his mother, he smiled broadly for the Brownie camera. Only the bulge of a service revolver beneath his jacket hinted at upcoming danger.

In this 100th anniversary year of America’s entry into the war, I wish I’d been able to hear about his experiences. He died when I was young, though, so I was never able to ask how the French battlefields looked from his biplane’s cockpit, how the rat-a-tat-tat of aerial combat really sounded, and frivolously, why didn’t he wear a silk scarf in the photo? Or did that sartorial flourish belong only to Snoopy’s Red Baron?

The Guns of August

Instead, I’ve found a vicarious experience of my grandfather’s war in books and film, beginning with Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the war’s start, THE GUNS OF AUGUST. I read it as a teenager, and recently listened to the Earphones Award-winning performance by one of my favorite narrators, Nadia May (also known as Wanda McCaddon). That’s two prizes for one compulsively readable account of the dares and double-dares that caused so much bravery and death. Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: Hide the Television

My Father’s Reading Aloud Renewed Our Family Time

Orphan IslandI was fourteen and my brother seven when my parents hid the television in the attic linen closet and told us that it was broken. It remained at the “repair shop” for two years, which speaks to our gullibility and to our parents’ belief in the power of storytelling. For it was then that my father adopted the tradition established by his father, and began reading aloud to the family in the evening.

He started with his own childhood favorite, Arthur Ransome’s SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS, which is about four English kids (one of them my brother’s age) who spend their summers sailing and camping without adult supervision. Sophisticated, yet immediate, the 12-book series is ideal family listening. Such is my affection for them that I’ve twice listened to the entire canon in audiobook form. Gareth Armstrong’s narration can be found at www.audible.co.uk and Alison Larkin’s at www.audible.com. Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: Ask the Detective Inspector

Traveling in England with mysteries as my reference guides

Sleeping In The GroundWhen I first visited rural England in late August about twenty years ago, I was prepared for hedgerows, pubs, village greens, and vicars and their requisite belfries. Also dead bodies, likely in the belfries, and detective superintendents.

Yes, it’s true. Much of my knowledge about the country across the pond came from my copious consumption of mysteries (and reverential watching of BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs). What’s remarkable is how useful my “research” proved.

Accents, for example. “We really have everything in common … except, of course, the language,” wrote Oscar Wilde about America and England in his 1887 comic story THE CANTERVILLE GHOST, about an American family in an English haunted house. Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: My Personal Time Machine

Why stay in the 21st Century when you can experience another?

Enter Pale DeathAs a kid, I spent hours perusing an illustrated coffee-table book about ancient Egypt, imagining myself as Queen Nefertiti. Then I went through a period of wearing wooden clogs, not because they were trendy, but because they were favored footwear in 16th century Holland. Clearly, if a functioning time machine were invented, I would hop aboard. Until then, I voyage into the past on S.S. Audiobooks.

Barbara Cleverly’s mystery series about Scotland Yard Detective Joe Sandilands is set in India, England, and France in the 1920s and 30s. It’s replete with high adventure, murder, a tiger or two, edgy social commentary and comedy, and dressing for dinner – which everyone did, don’t you know. I wear my best after-dinner outfit (aka bathrobe) to listen. Two of my favorites are ENTER PALE DEATH read by Matthew Brehner and THE DAMASCENED BLADE read by Terry Wale, but if you, too, love this time period, go for it and read all thirteen (and counting!). Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

Aurelia’s Audio Adventures: Humor Is the Best Medicine

When the going gets tough, get laughing with some well-chosen audiobooks

A Spot Of Bother

The summer before my mother died, I repainted our front porch. Neither she nor I wanted me in constant attendance. So, in between visits to her bedside, I scraped, painted, and laughed hysterically to Mark Haddon’s A SPOT OF BOTHER, given an Earphones Award-winning performance by Simon Vance. This startled passersby, but given the chance to blend my weeping with tears of laughter, I didn’t care about the spectacle I was making. The audiobook is nominally about an estranged English family arranging for a wedding. For Haddon, whose THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME found humor and profundity in a character’s coping with Asperger’s Syndrome, a family wedding (like a family death) gives rise to just about every behavior, some of it bizarre, much of it transcendent. And in my hour of need, it was transformative.

Read more…

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.