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Listen Up for New Titles

June 17, 2002|ROCHELLE O'GORMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For a little diversion one day this summer try laughing at the rich. Because in "The Nanny Diaries," by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, the rich come off as self-involved and silly. (Random House Audio; abridged fiction; three cassettes; 5 hours, 15 minutes; $25; read by Julia Roberts.)

This debut novel by two former nannies holds no surprises, but is still funny and breezy escapism. Roberts delivers the novel's humor with much elan, especially the sarcastic thoughts of the protagonist, an overworked New York nanny. However, she is much better at assuming attitude than donning a dialect; just as in her movies, Roberts' accents fall flat and are often unrecognizable.

Click, Download, Read

More humor can be found in the latest from Calvin Trillin in an audio available only by downloading it from the Internet, which is actually easier to do than it sounds. It's worth the effort because "Tepper Isn't Going Out" is another clever and witty diversion by Trillin at about half the price of most audio books. (Random House Audible; unabridged fiction; 5 hours, 30 minutes; $14.95; read by Trillin. For information, go to www.audible.com.)

This is a tale of a man who upsets the balance of nature by sitting in his New York parking spot for hours at a time. Tepper is a sweet, older guy who just likes to read his paper in the car, but soon becomes the scourge of a vindictive mayor and is turned into a sage by the press. Trillin, who has an impossibly deep voice and precise timing, enhances the humor with his deadpan delivery.

Stephen King's World

It wouldn't be summer without Stephen King, but this year's horrifying offerings are a mixed bag. "Everything's Eventual: 5 Dark Tales," blends horror, whimsy and fantasy, but with middling results. The production is superb, as the readers are all top-notch narrators, and interesting music is used to break up the stories. Unfortunately, only a couple of those stories rise above the average. (Simon & Schuster Audio; unabridged short stories; six cassettes; 7 hours, 30 minutes; $35; read by Boyd Gaines, Judith Ivey, Justin Long, Oliver Platt and Jay O. Sanders.) These were culled from the book's print version, which contains 14 stories.

Much more interesting is a novella taken from the same print collection and released separately. King's "Riding the Bullet" was first published as a highly successful e-book and is a creepy, old-fashioned ghost story. Though his Down East accent is a bit zealous, Josh Hamilton is a lively narrator well matched to the material for his age and manner. (Simon & Schuster Audio; unabridged short story; two cassettes; 2 hours; $20.)

Pulitzer Winner Delivers

Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Shields will slake your hunger for literary fiction this summer with her thoughtful exploration of a few dark months in the life of a Toronto-based writer. In "Unless: A Novel," she explores the effects a teenage daughter has on her mother when the girl drops out of society and takes a place on a street corner, begging bowl in hand. (Harper Audio; unabridged fiction; six cassettes; 7 hours, 30 minutes; $32.95; read by Joan Allen.)

With the ability to let us hear the steel under her velvety voice, Allen turns in a sublime performance. Her French accent is right on target and she expresses, without melodrama, the angst of a middle-aged woman who begins to question her life. Tinkling piano music introduces each tape in this fine production.

Hitchhiker's Leftovers

Admirers of the late, much missed Douglas Adams will be overjoyed at the release of "The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time." If you are not a fan, you may be scratching your head as to why others are so excited about a collection of the flotsam and jetsam found in Adams' many Macintosh hard drives after his death at age 49. (New Millennium Audio; unabridged fiction and nonfiction; six cassettes; eight hours; $34.95; read by Simon Jones with Christopher Cerf, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry.)

The audio consists of essays, excerpts from interviews, letters and a portion of his unfinished final novel, the third book in the Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency series. A lot of this is funny stuff and is delivered with much good humor by Simon Jones, who has a way with irony. However, if you have never heard one of Adams' imaginative, humorous science fictions, better to start with "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and work your way up to "Salmon." (New Millennium has recently re-released all five volumes of the Hitchhiker "trilogy.")

Parallel Universe

Reminiscent of Adams' work is "The Eyre Affair" by Jasper Fforde, a novel that has been described as "Umberto Eco meets Harry Potter." It is set in a parallel universe that looks like England, circa 1985, only Wales is self-governing, dodos have been resurrected through a popular cloning program and Surrealists and Impressionists are known to riot.

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