Audiobook Reviews – Hartford Courant

From the March 6 Hartford Courant

Short stories, sweet or scary, are delectable bits of fiction easily digested as audiobooks during a lazy stroll or an afternoon of housecleaning.

Some of the more intelligent short stories in audiobook land are on the yearly release of Selected Shorts by Symphony Space, which are culled from acclaimed authors and paired with skilled actors, recorded live at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in New York City and aired on NPR. The best are released on CD, with the focus this year on humor…

…The best of the seven stories is “Chivalry” by Neil Gaiman. The idea is very simple: A late-middle-aged widow finds the Holy Grail in an Oxfam shop and decides it will look perfect on her mantle. All is well until Sir Galahad turns up on her doorstep, hoping to complete his quest in her modest living room. Unfortunately, this smart and sweet little gem is paired to the weakest reader in the bunch, as actress Christina Pickles fumbles too often and does not sound prepared…

…Symphony Space provides complete liner notes, a rarity and a treat, but they track each story only once, so you need equipment that bookmarks your place, or you must finish each story in one sitting.

But the stories are so imaginative and clever that all are worthy of repeated listening.

“Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story, Volume XVIII” by John Updike, Neil Gaiman, Nicholson Baker and others (Symphony Space; unabridged fiction; three CDs; three hours; $28; read by John Guare, Christina Pickles, Isaiah Sheffer and others. Available in stores or call (212) 864-1414, ext. 502, or at www.symphonyspace.org.

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Random House has selected audio stories from their publication Legends II: New Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy. The latest is “Legends II, Volume Three,” with three stories of close to novella length by Robert Silverberg, Neil Gaiman and Orson Scott Card. Each author has won at least one Nebula and Hugo Award for his work in the genre.

Though not all the stories from the anthology made it to audio, those that did are unabridged. In each, the author has taken established characters and spun stand-alone stories. They serve as either introductions to listeners or as adjuncts to series already heard and admired.

In Gaiman’s “The Monarch of the Glen,” his character Shadow from “American Gods” is traveling through a craggy and remote Scottish village. This is the best of the three, if only because it sounds the most complete as a stand-alone story. Narrator Michael Emerson conjured up a strong Scottish accent and several other British and Scottish voices. Of the three tales, this is the one that lingers, leaving the listener wanting more…

…”Legends II: Volume Three” by Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Robert Silverberg, edited by Silverberg (Random House Audio, unabridged fiction; four cassettes; seven hours; $25; read by Jason Culp, Peter Bradbury, Michael Emerson. Also available as a download from www.audible.com; $17.97.)
–Rochelle O’Gorman