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Lively Tales of Wilderness Adventure Both True and Fictional

September 17, 2000|ROCHELLE O'GORMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most anthologies consist of one or two interesting yarns combined with a long list of tired tales culled from public domain. A small audio book publisher, Listen & Live Audio, has infused that genre with new life.

As the installments to a series called "Adrenaline" began to arrive, I actively avoided them, thinking adventure tales set in the wilderness would cause my thoughts to wander far beyond the cassette player. Never judge an audio book by its cover--the series is fabulous.

The stories are vivid and lively, and well matched by editor Clint Willis. Most are a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, the exceptions being "Epic: Stories of Survival From the World's Highest Peaks" and "High: Stories of Survival From Everest and K2." Both of these collections consist of true accounts from people well known in that most dangerous of sports, mountain climbing.

Though I listened avidly, even greedily, to all four titles on the market, my favorite is the most recent, "Wild: Stories of Survival from the World's Most Dangerous Places." The most literary of the bunch, it consists of stories by Evelyn Waugh, Norman Maclean, Jack London and the extremely witty Redmond O'Hanlon. This collection did exactly what an anthology is meant to do: It introduced me to new writers and presented new stories from authors with whom I am already acquainted. It made me laugh, scared me and held me in thrall. That is a lot of bang for 25 bucks.

Almost as enjoyable is "Rough Water: Stories of Survival From the Sea," featuring such authors as Sebastian Junger, Patrick O'Brian and Herman Wouk.

(Each collection consists of eight to 10 stories read by three to four narrators. The stories are released intact, though not every story from the printed version is included. Each is $24.95; four cassettes; six hours; available in stores or by calling [800] 653-9400.)

The readers are polished audio veterans such as George Guidall, Simon Prebble, Alan Sklar, Eric Conger and Rick Adamson. Each is well suited to the story he reads. There is not a misstep with pacing, accents or pronunciation. These men are masterful storytellers, bringing delicately wrought drama or gusto to each narrative.

The one flaw in the first three installments is that story titles are not listed on each cassette, and the narrators are not identified with the stories they read. By the fourth collection, this problem was corrected.

Expect two more titles in October: "Explore: Stories of Survival From off the Edge" and "Dark: Stories of Madness, Mayhem and the Supernatural."

Four more also slated for publication include "Rescue: Stories of Survival From Land and Sea," "Wild Blue: Stories of Survival From Air and Space," "Storm: Stories of Survival From Land, Sea and Sky," and "Deep Blue: Stories of Shipwreck, Sunken Treasure and Survival."

*

One audio book that was published at the beginning of the summer and has become a bestseller is the riveting history "Flags of Our Fathers," by James Bradley with Ron Powers. (Bantam Doubleday Audio; abridged nonfiction; four cassettes; six hours; $25.95; read by Barry Bostwick.)

The son of one of the six men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II, James Bradley knew very little of his father's involvement in that historic event until the elder Bradley died. He simply never spoke of it.

Upon his father's death, Bradley and his family discovered boxes crammed with letters and photographs describing the event, which sent Bradley on a historical hunt. He and co-writer Powers bring to life the bloody battle on that rocky island in the Pacific but also tell the (often) sad tale of the men in the photograph. They became heroes for doing something that was mere instinct--they raised their country's flag.

Not all the men in the photo survived the war. And those who did were not always well served by the fame their deed brought. One, a Native American, died an alcohol-besotted death. Bradley's father felt hounded by the attention the photo caused him.

The narrative details the lives of the men before, during and after the war. It also breaks down the photograph, from its very occurrence to its composition. The listener does miss the photographs included in the printed version, which give the story the added depth of a human connection. However, the material was smoothly abridged. About a third of the book is missing, but you'd never know it.

Bostwick, best known for his role as the mayor on ABC's "Spin City," is a graceful narrator with a pleasing voice and impeccable diction. Japanese names flow smoothly. Though he has a commanding presence, Bostwick never gets in the way of the narrative. He allows the story to speak for itself.

*

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

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