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SUNDAY BRUNCH | Book Shelf

Audio

April 26, 1998|ROCHELLE O'GORMAN FLYNN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To be a food critic, one must have a refined palate and a well-seasoned sense of humor. New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl has both. Happily, she also has a wonderful knack for narration, which she uses to full advantage in "Tender at the Bone" (Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio, abridged nonfiction, four cassettes, six hours, $23, read by the author, recipe booklet included).

Subtitled "Growing Up at the Table," this vital and charming memoir is enticing for Reichl's loving descriptions of friends and family, as well as highly detailed accounts of memorable meals. She recognizes the humor in her mother's eccentricities and relates them with appropriate aplomb. Later, we sense sadness and poignancy as her mother's mental illness is broached.

An unexpectedly entertaining narrator, Reichl always sounds natural and relaxed. Her voice is deep, resonant and interesting. She can underscore a passage without overdoing it. She maneuvers through emotional memories with jocularity and grace.

*

David Halberstam is one of the most respected and eminent chroniclers of the 20th century. His massive tome, "The Children," is a riveting account of the eight college students who helped usher in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The book is well researched and as addictive as any novel. Unfortunately, the basic facts survived the transfer to audio, but not so the fascinating details (Random House Audiobooks, abridged nonfiction, four cassettes, four hours, $24, read by Joe Morton).

There is nothing wrong with this version. It is well read by Morton, whose approach is straightforward. He is not an exceptional narrator, but his letter-perfect pronunciation and agreeable voice serve the material well.

Unfortunately, it is Halberstam lite. The author was a reporter on the front lines of the racial battlefield in the 1960s, where he first met the young people of this history. It took him years to write this account. When you listen to the audio, it sounds as though major chunks are missing. They are.

*

Once spring rains and pollen have arrived, baseball books cannot be far behind. Just released is a whimsical collection of essays by Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator George F. Will. Entitled "Bunts" because the essays are short (and quite pithy), the book is a collection of episodes from Will's longtime career as a baseball hound (Simon & Schuster Audio, abridged nonfiction, two cassettes, three hours, $18, read by Edward Herrmann with an introduction by the author). The essays are uncut, though not all are included.

These stories are most surprising for their universal appeal, even to those of us who are not huge fans of Will, or even of baseball. There are snippets of poetry, wit and heartfelt passion. The essays are as much about America as her third favorite sport, and shaded with revealing biographies and clever, sometimes astringent assessments. Herrmann reads with a just the right, light touch of wry amusement.

*

Not to be missed is another baseball audio, "The Glory of Their Times," by Lawrence S. Ritter (HighBridge Audio, original audio material, four cassettes, five hours, $29.95, interviews conducted by Ritter. Also available on four CDs for $39.95).

Ritter, who was chairman of the finance department at New York University in the 1960s, spent several summers knocking around the country with his teenage son, Steve. The two interviewed the aged but still grand old men of baseball--Smoky Joe Wood, Goose Goslin, 'Wahoo" Sam Crawford, Chief Meyers, Lefty O'Doul. A booklet containing historic photographs and quotations from the ballplayers is included with the audio package.

Released as a book and LP in 1966, Ritter's original recordings were stored in the Baseball Hall of Fame archives and mostly ignored until now. Not all of his interviews were used in this collection.

Ritter recorded the retired athletes in their living rooms--and it sounds like it. Advanced technology did allow HighBridge to remove most background buzz. However, you may find, as I did, that the low-tech tonal quality is rather appealing. It very much reminds us that this was a personal and poignant journey.

*

Rochelle O'Gorman Flynn reviews audio books every other week. Next week: Dick Lochte on mysteries.

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