It is said that there's nothing like travel to make one contemplate the joys of staying home — only this summer we will probably be forced to enjoy this truth vicariously. Freed from the constraints of distance, expense and even the space-time continuum we can head off to the Hindu Kush, the Gulf of Mexico and its 3,000-mile-long coast, a remote South Sea island and the battlefields of France.
In "Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle" (Naxos, 9½ hours), Dervla Murphy describes the journey that brought her 3,000 miles from Dublin through France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and finally to India six months later. Setting off in January 1963, she traveled on her bicycle with some relief from other conveyances — even if one resulted in three broken ribs. Despite a few unpleasant events, Murphy was met with hospitality and kindness. She writes of the landscape, the people and her experiences in lovely, direct prose spiced with gentle humor. Emma Lowe, an Irish woman herself, narrates in a calm, lissome voice, completely in tune with the author's generous, unflappable disposition.
Despite its awful title, J. Maarten Troost's "The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific" (Blackstone, 8½ hours) is truly funny and engaging. In 1997, Troost accompanied his fiancée on a two-year NGO mission to Tarawa, an atoll in the South Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Troost endured appalling heat, water shortages, erratic electricity, a monotonous diet of fish, and countless feral dogs. Troost's darkly comic sensibility is nicely served by Simon Vance's wry, understated delivery which captures the author's flair for self-deprecation.
Jack E. Davis' "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea" (Tantor, 20¾ hours), winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for history, is an astonishing, wide-ranging account of the Gulf of Mexico. Starting with its formation 150 million years ago, Davis examines the part this body of water has played in both natural and human history from its pre-Columbian inhabitants, the Calusa people, through the mishaps of the predatory conquistadors, to the competition among the Spanish, French and English to reign over it, on to the mostly dire present day. He describes the deeds and influence of a great multiplicity of characters: Winslow Homer and Ernest Hemingway among them, as well as a variety of villains: real estate developers, oil producers, industrial fishing operators and the Army Corps of Engineers. This is a story of five centuries of exploitation and environmental devastation, but it is also a glorious account of nature. Tom Perkins reads this enormous work at an easy pace, his voice clear, engaged and authoritative.
Michael Morpurgo's "War Horse" (Scholastic Audio, 4 hours) is the sort of book that adults can listen to as happily as the children for whom it was written. It is the story of Joey, a half-thoroughbred from Devon whose mother was an Irish draft horse. Joey tells his own story, narrated superbly here by John Keating in a medley of accents. Bought at six months by a drunk farmer, he is trained to plow by the farmer's son, Albert, but is sold off to the army with war's outbreak in 1914. He pulls ambulances and carts for the English, and later for the Germans — before ending up injured and alone in no man's land between trenches. Albert, of recruitment age at last, joins the army, intent on finding his beloved horse. This is a fine, moving story beautifully rendered and will bring light into these difficult times.
Minnesota native Katherine A. Powers reviews audiobooks every month for the Washington Post.