With John Breashers' recent release of his Imax film "Everest" and an unabridged recording of the audio book due out later this spring, there has been renewed interest in Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air." One of the best-selling audios released in the last year, it is a spellbinding story of hubris and human frailty (Bantam Doubleday Dell, abridged nonfiction, four cassettes; six hours, $24, read by the author).
The book details the 1996 deaths of five of Krakauer's fellow climbers on Mt. Everest. This is painful to hear, partially because it becomes ever more personal as told by one of the participants. Krakauer, a reporter for Outside magazine and an accomplished climber, was in the Himalayas to report on the increasing commercialization of the world's highest mountain. Instead, his article, and later this book, became the desperate account of people forcing themselves into an increasingly dangerous situation.
Krakauer is a decent narrator. His cadence is occasionally a little singsong, but not so much that it is a deterrent to the listener. For someone not professionally trained as a speaker, he is surprisingly comfortable behind a microphone.
What you do miss because of the abridgment are some of the background details on the climbers. Though this remains a private and harrowing account, some of the story's intensity was weakened when these details were cut. Also missing from the audio are the photos of the people involved, as well as maps and drawings that were included in the printed version.
Another audio by Krakauer currently on the market is "Eiger Dreams," a macho collection of "ventures among men and mountains" (Bantam Doubleday Dell, abridged nonfiction, four cassettes, five hours and 30 minutes, $21.95, read by the author). Krakauer's delivery is more than adequate, and this abridgment includes most of the original material. However, unless you are a mountaineer or armchair adventurer, this is mighty dull.
On a sassier note is another audio read by its author, "Singing in the Comeback Choir" by Bebe Moore Campbell (Audio Renaissance, abridged fiction, four cassettes, six hours, $24.95). When a successful African American television producer must drop out of her life to care for her ailing grandmother in a declining Philadelphia neighborhood, values are reassessed and choices made.
Written and read with an energetic style, this projects Campbell's earthy humor and spicy bluntness. Music at the beginning and end of each cassette underscores the mood set by Campbell, who proves to be quite a capable narrator. She may not adopt accents for various characters, but she certainly transfers emotion from the printed page. The woman has attitude and personality. The only problem with Campbell's rendition is that she does not always pause long enough between passages.
More serious is Anna Quindlen's latest and third novel, "Black and Blue" (Random House Audiobooks, abridged fiction, four cassettes, four hours, $24, read by Lili Taylor). A former New York Times columnist, Quindlen writes of a battered woman who, after far too long, takes her son and flees her abusive policeman husband, New York City and everything she ever loved.
The abridgment dulls the psychological edge of the novel as it removes the details that reveal the thoughts of the protagonist. The audio is less satisfying, less substantial, than the original material because we need all of Quindlen's words to make us understand and sympathize.
On the plus side is Taylor, who has a marvelous voice. We hear a hint of New York in an accent that manages to sound both working class and vulnerable. She differentiates clearly between characters, employing a solid Southern drawl for one, a lively German accent for another. Taylor is so convincing a reader she manages to invest the story with the emotional intensity snipped out by the abridger.