"A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries (2003-2020)," by David Sedaris. (Little, Brown & Company, unabridged, 17 ¼ hours.)
David Sedaris has been told that his voice sounds like that of an old woman — also, Piglet, he explains in the opening of his latest recorded book. Undaunted, Sedaris delves into narrating a selection of 18 years' worth of his diary entries. He doesn't sound like an old woman or like a Pooh character but like a more mature version of the essayist who found fame fast-talking "The Santaland Diaries" on the radio in 1996. Here you will find reports on his litter-collecting habit; the people he meets, with special attention devoted to the annoying, rude and unhinged; his thraldom to his Fitbit; the state of his gums; the bounty of shredded skin produced by exfoliating socks; Odessa's dangerously crumbling, dimly lit streets ("This is what happens when people don't constantly sue each other"). Sedaris has handed over the U.K., Irish and Australian entries to Tracey Ullman, chosen for her sense of humor and talent for regional accents. She delivers her sections with brio, clearly enjoying Sedaris' encounters and observations as much as he does. Though things darken toward the end with his father's decline and the pandemic, Sedaris' engaging wit prevails.
"The Five Wounds," by Kirstin Valdez Quade. (Highbridge, unabridged, 15 ¾ hours.)
Kirstin Valdez Quade's exceptionally fine first novel unfolds over the course of a year, taking in the perspectives of three main players: 33-year-old Amadeo Padilla; his mother, Yolanda; and Amadeo's 16-year-old daughter, Angel. Amadeo is unemployed and living with Yolanda, drifting from beer to beer through life in a little New Mexican town. Chosen to play Jesus for the Holy Week re-creation of the crucifixion, Amadeo believes that the ordeal of being nailed to the cross — along with his recently purchased auto-glass-repair kit — will mark a new beginning. But, alas, he is still himself: a good man at heart who is dependent on Yolanda (who has her own secret problem) and inadequate when Angel shows up pregnant. Narrator Gary Tiedemann, a gifted bilingual voice actor, delivers the Spanish phrases with melodic grace and approaches the entire, psychologically astute tale with empathy. His voice is careful and compassionate as it describes Angel's determination to be a good mother, Yolanda's coming to terms with her fate, and Amadeo stumbling toward a form of resurrection and redemption. This is a gently funny, affecting novel, beautifully narrated.
"Psycho by the Sea," by Lynne Truss. (W.F. Howes Ltd., unabridged, 8 hours.)
Lynne Truss' chronicle of the adventures of young Constable Twitten continues with this fourth installment; for those who want to begin here, the author has added an introductory note recapping all you need to know from the previous books. Set in September 1957, this charming crime novel centers on a lunatic named Geoffrey Chaucer who has murdered three policemen, boiled their heads and is now said to be heading for Brighton, where Twitten has served since June. Far-fetched? Decidedly, but that is the way of this series, with its wonderfully convoluted plots, British whimsy and endearing main character (who, for instance, continually annoys his colleagues with constant references to his reading — this time it's Vance Packard's "The Hidden Persuaders"). Exciting, clever and very funny, the book's greatness and charm lie in part with narrator Matt Green, an actor and comedian. He is a genius at dialogue among characters, the personality of each becoming incarnate in his extraordinarily versatile voice and manner.
Katherine A. Powers, a Minnesota native, also reviews for the Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. She writes this column for the Washington Post.