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The Independent Culture
ONE small explosion in British publishing during 1994 was in books on tape. Gone are the days when recorded literature meant jerkily abridged novels by the very dead intoned with full RSC elocution, or perkily put across by some soap star. Publis hers are matching the huge appeal of authors reading their own work - both poetry and prose - with the hi-tech realities of life, which mean that many people have more time to listen than to read. Good books have become a performance art.

And good business. The Talking Book Shop, the country's only specialist shop, opened just a year ago at 11 Wigmore St, London W1. It solves the problem of where you can actually get books on tape (bookshops have a few; record shops have a few; nobody ever seems to have the one you want) and it stocks American releases too (for instance, they have a recording of Nelson Man- dela's A Long Walk to Freedom). Their mail order catalogue (from 071 491 4117) contains 600 titles, but since they estimate that new releases are now appearing at the rate of 50 a month, these are only the highlights.

A few to look out for: l Canongate, a brave Scottish company, has launched an audio section that includes Alastair Gray reading his own tall tales (Some Unlikely Stories, £7.99). Gray's performance is quite an experience in itself.

l Salman Rushdie reads his latest stories, East, West, for Random House Audiobooks (£6.99): it makes enjoyable and enlightening listening.

l Faber & Faber revive their recording tradition with three new releases: Ted Hughes's magnificent voice adds weight to his Thought-Fox and Other Poems; Wendy Cope evokes her own sweet-sad style in Two Cures for Love; Readings features 7 big names that include Larkin, Gunn and Heaney. All at £7.99.

l More lively performance poetry in Grandchildren of Albion: Live on Cassette (to order from New Departures, Piedmont, Stroud, Glos GL6 7BU, £7 plus 75p p&p). Lots of interesting names (Michele Roberts, Jean Binta Breeze, Carol Ann Duffy, Linton Kwesi Johnson) and a companion volume also available.