Not all audio books are created equal. I've been listening to Wharton's House of Mirth, and am not loving it solely because I cannot abide the narrator's voice. When simply reading without embellishment her voice is pleasant enough - a little Kathy Turner-ish maybe. But unless adept at it (let's say a Robin Williams or a Meryl Streep) I wish narrators would not attempt a collection of voices to represent the characters. In the version I have, the deep-throated and hackneyed interpretation of Lawrence Seldon's voice was at first amusing, and then became downright annoying, as it makes him sound like "wolfie" dressed in Granny's clothing emoting, "Oh so better to see you with..." or a thinly moustached, slick-haired debaucher of young women urging, "Have some Madeira, m'dear," while twirling his waxed handlebars. It is escrutiating to the point I dreaded any conversation involving poor Mr. Seldon, and so I will have to brace myself for more to come. A shame really, since I am enjoying the story itself. The narration is such a...I guess the word is "distraction." And, of course, Wharton's language is so richly beautiful, I regret not being able to linger over a passage that strikes me. Audio books travel at their own pace. I suppose I could fiddle with the buttons and replay the portions I particularly like, but that's not so easy when eyes are on the road. However, since it is the only way I will be able to get it read within the next few months, I am resigned to hang in there. This is the first audio book where I have run across this particular problem. Naturally, I wouldn't want the text read as though being done by an automaton, but I think it's possible to find a happy medium. Mine is, of course, purely subjective criticism and I imagine others have found this particular audio edition delightful.
On the opposite end of the enjoyment spectrum, The Lost City of Z: A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon, written by David Grann and narrated by Mark Deakins was spellbinding. The background story surrounds British explorer and member of the Royal Geographic Society, Percy Fawcett's unrelenting quest to find an Eldorado-like lost city deep in the uncharted Amazon that he named simply: "Z". In 1925, Fawcett (after already trying and failing multiple times), his 22 year-old son Jack, and Jack's friend Raleigh Rimell disappeared during an expedition into the Amazon jungle. What happened to them remains mere conjecture. All that is known for certain is that they were never heard from again. There were many subsequent attempts to "rescue" the lost men, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of others bent on solving the Fawcett mystery, and thereby garnering a sort of immortality. Numerous theories have been offered to explain Fawcett's fate. But none of those theories have been supported by any tangible proof. The truth is impossibly illusive. Grann, a writer for The New Yorker magazine and an admitted "couch potato," set out on a mission of his own to retrace the steps of the Fawcett group. Luckily, he survived to tell this wonderful tale. The Lost City of Z is part personal memoir, part biography and a totally mesmerizing adventure tale filled with Indians who could sling poison arrows with the precision of surgeons, maggots that crawl into human flesh and fester there, maddening insects, and fish and animals (not to mention cannibals) that would love nothing more than to make a meal of a hapless adventurer. It was so gripping it was almost dangerous to listen to while driving; one should be concentrating on the road. "How did I get on my driveway? I was just on the Upper Xingu badly in need of bug spray and a bath." Interspersed with listening to the book, I would Google Earth the Amazon coordinates where the Fawcett group was last seen, and then "fly" overhead, northward. That was close enough for me, and scary enough for me since my idea of roughing it is a hotel room without room service.
I understand a movie based on the book and starring Brad Pitt is due out in 2012. Although I think Pitt is too pretty for the role, not gritty enough, I will be in the audience with the largest tub of popcorn they sell.