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October 13, 2006 Edition

The Planets, by Dava Sobel, read by Lorna Raver

Published in book format before the most recent Pluto controversy, Sobel’s essays cover all 9 planets at the time, plus the Earth’s moon and the sun. Often taking an unusual perspective (for instance, a rock from Mars) she writes fluidly and whimsically about the discovery of each body, legends surrounding it, how each was named, and other interesting facts, in addition to giving each her own personal touch. Not only informative, but lovely to listen to.

At Blackwater Pond, written and read by Mary Oliver

Pulitzer Prize winner Oliver, a naturalist at heart, reads her own work with a strong and steady voice. Using elements of the natural world around her as starting points, she explores humanities’ questions about love and life and death. Though the majority of the poems are from “New and Collected Poems, volume one,” the pieces here span her entire career.

An Ordinary Man, by Paul Rusesabagina and Tom Zoellner, read by Dominic Hoffman

Rusesabagina, the inspiration for the film “Hotel Rwanda,” tells the story of the Rwandan massacres that he survived through his belief that everyone, even someone in the midst of doing evil deeds, has a softer side. From the broad overview of the culture and country of Rwanda, to the shooting down of a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi that was the catalyst for the genocide, Rusesabagina helps listeners understand what there was and what was lost, and also, what it took to save what remains. Hoffman, the reader, is from Africa and words and names that may have caused Westerners to stumble when reading this book roll easily off his tongue.

Dean and Me,” by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan, read by Stephen Hoye.

Back in the 40’s two nightclub performers got together and hit it big: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were mediocre on their own, but dynamite as a duo. Over the next 10 years, their popularity grew, the money rolled in, and problems accumulated as Martin and Lewis outgrew each other but were forced by circumstance to stick together. Finally, after a very public and very acrimonious breakup, they were able to go their separate ways and, of course, become successful on their own. This is not an exercise in fingerpointing by Lewis, but a genuine portrait of a great friendship gone bad. Hoye, as reader, doesn’t make the mistake of trying to imitate either man’s distinct voice and mannerisms, but gently suggests their presence.

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, by Marian Meade, read by Lorna Raver

Think of this as either a group biography of four famous and flamboyant women writers, or as an evocation of the Roaring Twenties in America. Year by year, from 1920 through 1930, Meade brings the personal lives and career ambitions of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, and Zelda Fitzgerald back to life with a gossipy and familiar tone. Weaving the four disparate personalities together, she creates a portrait of the wild decade between World War I and the Great Depression peopled with fun-loving risk-takers. Scandals and love affairs, literary success and failure… look for them here.

Eat Pray Love, written and read by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Recovering from a bitter divorce, Gilbert takes a year off and samples three locations with three distinct goals in mind. Italy is, for her, food and indulgences, and indeed, she finds much to enjoy (edible and otherwise). In India, at an ashram, she discovers how to still her mind and communicate with the divine. And, in Indonesia, she seeks balance and finds love. Both a memoir and a travelogue, this is humorous and thoughtful by turns.

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