Spoken Word

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The Independent Culture
Full Circle

Read by Michael Palin

Chivers, 11 hrs 53mins, pounds 16.99

MICHAEL PALIN's epic journey began on Little Diamede Island on the tip of the Baring Straits where Asia and America are as close to each other as London and Oxford - and where, when the sea freezes in winter, it is possible to walk from one continent to the other. He then travelled anti-clockwise round the Pacific Rim, visiting an extraordinarily contrasting series of cultures - one day delivering baby crocodiles in Australia, another stuck in a traffic jam on the Golden Gate Bridge. Palin's ruffled charm makes him excellent value on television; what hearing him read his own story reveals is that he is an accomplished writer and a powerful reader. His unabridged version of the story is the one to go for, excellent value too from ABC mail order (Freephone 0800 136919), although for those who are foolish enough to want to skip any of the extraordinary details of the journey, Palin also reads a four-cassette version for BBC Radio Collection (pounds 12.99).

Incidentally, webwise spoken word addicts will find rich pickings of special offers on unabridged books on the ABC website (www.audiobookcollection.com) and audiobooks in general the Talking Bookshop's site at www.talkingbookshop.co.uk.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Read by Tim Smit

BBC, 3hrs 17mins, pounds 8.99

YOU MIGHT think that the extraordinary story of Tim Smit's dedicated reclamation of the turbulent jungle of Heligan was best seen on television or read in the lavish coffee-table book on the subject, but there is also a place for Smit's own telling of the story, which includes far more details and background than the television series could. Be patient with the opening few minutes in which Smit describes his first reaction to the gardens with overwrought description and over-emphatic articulation. Once he gets into his stride, he relaxes and talks in a more straightforward way, coming across as a perceptive, humorous and thoroughly likeable man - as well as an eccentric in the great tradition of English mavericks. Nor is this a tale just for horticultural enthusiasts: the succession of discovery and challenges, setbacks and hard-won triumphs are unusually revealing of human nature both past and present. Don't miss the useful map of the gardens which has been thoughtfully provided on the inside of the cover.

Extra space this week gives me a chance to mention the excellent news that the BBC, Penguin and Chivers are all now beginning to publish spoken word on CD as well as on tape, an attractive option long offered by Naxos audiobooks.