Independent choice: audio books

Audiobooks are, much more than the written word, "the words of a dead man modified in the guts of the living", as Auden puts it in "In Memory of WB Yeats". Badly done, they are infuriatingly intrusive on the intimate tete a tete between book and reader. But converts to audiobooks know how much added value they can provide: readers who enrich thrillers with suspenseful menace or illuminate difficult texts with lucid emphases, a painless dripfeed through dauntingly long classics, the opportunity to hear a great actor or, most fascinating of all, the voice of the author himself. On journeys they are especially attractive, shortening the longueurs of motorways, soothing one to sleep in strange hotel rooms.

There is no more companionable book on earth for the solitary traveller than John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley (Penguin, unabridged, c.8 hrs, pounds 12.99), and since it is the tale of a journey at the wheel it is ideal driving fodder. When "the virus of restlessness" assailed him, Steinbeck took off from Long Island to tour America with his giant poodle Charley in a van converted to his own specifications. He discovered an America more eccentric, benign and human than anything that hit the headlines, and the wry wisdom with which he views human nature remains ineradicably in the mind. Gary Sinise's voice occasionally has a soporific quality, but he is an excellent Steinbeck soundalike.

The most classic of all journeys is of course that of the "man of many wiles" Ulysses to Troy and back by way of Circe, Cyclops and innumerable trials. For non-classicists it has always been a daunting prospect, but Homer's Odyssey (Hodder, c.9hrs, pounds 25), gives us the complete text in unusually accessible form. This version is read with unflagging excitement and sensitivity by Derek Jacobi in a translation by Allen Mandelbaum which avoids archaisms but retains all the thrilling rhythms of the original.

Dante's journey into the underworld is a different kind of classic journey, an allegory of past and future ages. Heathcote Williams reads The Inferno (Naxos, 4 hrs, pounds 8.99) with a husky intensity that had me spellbound. Benedict Flynn's translation does full justice to the original and, as is usual with Naxos's always rounded and thoughtful productions, contemporary music adds drama to the reading.

The calm, clear-eyed heroine of Neville Shute's A Town Like Alice (Chivers, 10 hrs, pounds 15.95) also makes a journey to hell and back in wartorn Burma. Shute, a master storyteller, is rightly enjoying a return to popularity, but avoid the two cassette dramatised abridgement of the book just been released by the BBC. lt really is worth buying this excellent complete version. Then wait for a long haul so that you can enjoy every word of Robin Bailey's gentle, intense reading of this famous novel.

Poetry is a delight to have by one while travelling, but it can be much more easily murdered on tape than prose. Classic Poems (HarperCollins, 2.5hrs, pounds 8.99) is a curate's egg, but brilliance easily outweighs the occasional dud and its astonishing cast of readers and many historic recordings make it an absolute must have. What greater added value could there be than T S Eliot, Auden, Hughes and Dylan Thomas reading their own verse, Boris Karloff intoning Kipling's "If" and Sybil Thorndike ecstatically emoting "The Lady of Shalott"? Ralph Richardson makes Blake's Tyger lazily terrible, James Mason puts incalculable menace into Browning's "My Last Duchess" and Diana Quick show us just why "Aurora Leigh" was a sensation in its day. lt is an especial treat to have Burns and Yeats read with the Celtic lilt they deserve.

Finally and most unmissable, Patricia Hodge reads To War With Whitaker (Chivers, c.13 hrs, pounds 16.99) with all the pluck and panache that its extraordinary author, Hermione, Countess of Ranfurly showed in her six years of wanderings through wartime Africa and Europe with a revolver tucked into her girdle, wheedling her way through the labyrinth of wartime bureacuracy in order to achieve her ambition: to stay as close as possible to her husband, and, when he was taken prisoner, not to return to England until he did. Besides being a trusty blade-straight mate, Ranfurly is a born diarist and a natural yarn spinner, whose humour and ebullience delight the ear, but who can also be treasonably frank about the major personalities in the confused theatre of war that we glimpse behind Bogart's Casablanca. Arguably the star of the show, is the short and portly Whitaker, the Ranfurlys' English cook-butler who also refuses to be left behind and carries on intrepidly, whether crossing the desert perched on the luggage of the Baby Austin or dancing boompsadaisy with his ladyship.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen