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March 2, 2006 Edition

Driving Over Lemons

A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, written and read by Chris Stewart

When Chris and his wife Ana leave England for Spain, they choose a picturesque area in Andalucia in which to buy a house and settle down. But they run into trouble right away: the old owner is happy to sell his house, but not interested in moving elsewhere. There isn’t any running water or electricity, or even much of a road in their village; the economy is based on sheepherding, the nearby river is capricious and the villagers are xenophobic. But Chris is an eternal optimist and a former sheepshearer, so, slowly but surely, he makes a place for himself and his growing family.

She got up off the Couch, written and read by Haven Kimmel

Fans of Kimmel’s first memoir, “A Girl Named Zippy,” know they’ve got to find out what happens next, but – be warned – all is not fun and games, even with Zippy’s irrepressible spirit. What happens when Zippy’s mother Delonda gets up off the couch, teaches herself to drive, and enrolls in college, is that Zippy becomes a victim of benign neglect. Food and baths come from friends’ houses, laundry just doesn’t happen, and, at one point, Zippy wears the same pair of pants for a year. As her mother grows in strength and self-confidence, her father, sister, and brother leave. But, true to form, Zippy remains buoyant and cheerful. Fans can hope for a third volume: she’s only 13 when this one ends.

The Last Voyage of Columbus, by Martin Dugard, read by Simon Jones

Columbus’s first expedition resulted in the discovery of the Americas; his second and third gave him a chance to explore the area further. But he called his fourth and final expedition his greatest: dogged by political intrigue and false accusations, he sets out one last time across the sea. Along with his son and his brother, he survives deadly storms, mutiny, attacks by natives, and nearly a year of shipwreck on Jamaica, only to return to Spain, a humbled man.

The First Human, by Ann Gibbons, read by Renee Raudman

Gibbons brings both early human remains and their discoverers to life in this energetic account of anthropology and ambition. From household name anthropologists like the Leakey family to relative unknowns like Michel Brunet (whose expedition in Chad discovered what may be the very oldest of human remains), Gibbons focuses on personalities and rivalries as much as the discoveries, making an intriguing read.

Dancing in the Streets, by Barbara Ehrenreich, read by Pam Ward

In tackling the delightful topic of collectively expressed joy, Ehrenreich first traces the history of group celebration from Paleolithic (as shown in cave paintings), through modern incarnations as rock concerts, sports events, and annual carnivals. She looks at the ways in which collectivity threatens hierarchies and have therefore been suppressed sporadically throughout history, and wraps up by lamenting the seeming dwindling of group celebrations today. Though some of Ehrenreich’s conclusions seem a little incomplete, her research is fascinating and her writing is wonderful.

De Kooning’s Bicycle, by Robert Long, read by Grover Gardner

Modernism flourished in the Hamptons in the 1950s and 60s, where the likes of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Jean Stafford settled and formed a creative haven. This series of vivid vignettes shows the influence the community had on the art of those living within it. Though Long, a poet, is more concerned with evoking his subjects than with confining himself to facts, the broad history of each artist is accurate.

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