“The Radical King,” by Martin Luther King, Cornel West, ed. (Audible Studios. Unabridged, 11¼ hours.)
Last month marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the towering figure in the struggle for civil rights, champion of the poor and outspoken opponent of war. Collected and introduced by Cornel West, these 23 sermons, speeches and essays are delivered by 11 well-known actors, including Leslie Odom Jr., LeVar Burton and Danny Glover. King, as West says, believed “justice was what love looked like in public.”
But the selections, which deeply question the country’s racial, economic and international arrangements, also show why the FBI called King “the most dangerous man in America.”
Here is King’s blistering denunciation of the war in Vietnam, read by Robin Miles, and “The Other America” read by Wanda Sykes. Bahni Turpin delivers King’s final and tragically prescient speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” given the day before he was killed. It is a little strange to hear different voices rendering the words that we associate so closely with King’s stirring, charismatic voice, but they are part of the literature of resistance, and their relevance today is brought to the fore by being delivered by contemporary voices, including those of women.
“The Poems of T.S. Eliot.” (Faber & Faber. Unabridged, 3¾ hours.)
April, T.S. Eliot’s “cruelest month,” brings a recording of the poet’s work read by Jeremy Irons, with contributions from Eileen Atkins in “The Waste Land.” Irons’ resonant woodwind tones are spellbinding, his expression of emotion and mood superbly mobile. He is forlorn, desperate, crabby, weary and befuddled, connecting “nothing with nothing.” Atkins brings a range of styles from austere, blue-stockinged severity to brassy Cockney garrulousness, the latter in the verses devoted to women in a pub discussing Lil’s bad teeth: “You have them all out, Lil, and get a nice set,/He said, I swear, I can’t bear to look at you.”
The production, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in four parts, also includes “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Four Quartets” and “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” This recording could serve well as the starting point for a book group’s inquiry into Eliot’s poetry and his understanding of a desiccated, exhausted culture.
“The Eustace Diamonds,” by Anthony Trollope. (Naxos AudioBooks. Unabridged. 29½ hours.)
In a field overrun with virtuous, sappy females, Lizzie Eustace stands out in Victorian literature for her bad qualities: avarice, mendacity and seductive witchery. Lizzie is the dark star of “The Eustace Diamonds,” glittering rival to the meek, faithful Lucy Morris.
Although the novel is part of the Palliser series, it stands alone, and the familiar characters play only bit parts. The stage belongs to Lizzie and her doomed efforts to hang on to the £10,000 diamond necklace that was not exactly given to her by her late husband. She is also intent on marrying dreary Lord Fawn or, maybe, as the mood suits her, the fly-by-night Lord George de Bruce Carruthers or Frank Greystock, who is engaged to Lucy.
There are three other decent unabridged recordings of this novel, but David Shaw-Parker’s unhurried delivery, impeccable pacing and rendition of the decorous rhythm of Victorian speech result in a recording that is more than three hours longer than the others. He unobtrusively conveys the personality of the various characters, including the manipulative Lizzie, irresolute Frank, ponderous Fawn, patient Lucy and, most gloriously, a fractious Scot, speaker of high-Caledonian argot.
Katherine A. Powers, a Minnesota native, reviews for the Star Tribune, B&N and Newsday, among others. She writes this column for the Washington Post.