Literary Pets (Cats Who Write Murder Mysteries)

There is a real cat credited as a writer of murder mysteries–Sneaky Pie Brown, who pens the Mrs. Murphy mysteries with her human, Rita Mae Brown. Mrs. Murphy is a crime-solving cat who works with a Corgi partner, in case you thought she was a human Miss Marple type.

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Sneaky Pie Brown with Rita Mae Brown.

I think cats would make natural murder mystery writers. There always seems to be an implied “I could kill you but I won’t” message underlying the looks many cats give us humans, and sometimes dogs, and sometimes other cats.

You know this cat is not thinking good thoughts about you.

There is a book about this, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You.

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Maybe that’s what started me on playing the game, what author would that animal be? Or maybe it was that time I went to a reading and book signing by the author T. C. Boyle and thought he looked like a Borzoi. It turns out that Boyle, author of one of my favorite books, The Tortilla Curtain, is actually partial to the dreadlocked Puli, which is pretty cool.

 

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Puli dogs

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I’ve only done this with dogs and cats so far, but I am sure you can play it with any type of animal if you can match up their personality, looks, and likely literary style with a human author.

My own companion animals were pretty easy to match up.

Sara, my 19-year old brown tabby cat, would clearly be one of the classic older ladies of the English murder mystery genre. Perhaps Agatha Christie, but I think really of a writer who had a bit more edge, like Ruth Rendell. Much darker things happen in Rendell’s books than Christie’s, and even thought Sara is an affectionate cat, she is a cat, and was also quite a hunter in her day.

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Dame Agatha Christie, creator of the aforementioned Miss Marple.
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Dame Ruth Rendell, author of dark mysteries under her own name, and psychological thrillers under the name Barbara Vine.

Misty, our 6-year old Turkish Angora who was rescued from kitty death row, where she was placed for having a personality disorder that made her “unadoptable”, would be a perfect Gillian Flynn,  author of the disturbing books Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects. Misty is beautiful, but beware what lurks in that brain. I call her the Ferocious Beauty for good reason!

Scary, each and every one of them.

Marble, the new kid on the block, is hip and eccentric and a little wild, so I am picking Dave Eggers for him. Maybe Eggers, perhaps best known for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is a dog guy. I don’t know, but Marble would be a good hipster author who can be funny and profound and will always do things a little differently. And sometimes follows you around like a dog.

And then there is Einstein. Einstein is not named for his staggering genius, but for his unruly fur. I think he should be a humorist, and I know Dave Barry likes dogs because he has written about them frequently. And his bangs hang in his face, like Einstein’s.

Of course, I have to delve into memories of pets past as well. Our dearly beloved Ben, the classic orange tabby with a heart of gold, would be Calvin Trillin, winner of the 2013 Thurber Prize for American Humor. He’s a classic himself.

Then there is the dynamic dog duo, Bingo and Sadie. Bingo was a ham, always taking credit for Sadie’s work. She was a lovable free-spirit.  If we took them to the beach and threw sticks in the water, Sadie would swim out to retrieve them, but as soon as she got to shore, Bingo would grab them from her and run over all proud for having supposedly retrieved them himself. Obviously, to me, they are F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Bingo, left, with Sadie.
F. Scott with Zelda.

I can go on like this for hours. Now I’ve started matching up animals at the shelter with their literary doppelgängers.

When I first saw Mordecai the mastiff, his stateliness made me think of Charles Dickens, the venerable author of so many icons of English literature. But I have revised my opinion lately to thinking he is really John Steinbeck, the venerable author of so many icons of American literature. Steinbeck, by the way, wrote a lovely book about his Standard Poodle Charley.

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Mordecai

When I saw scrappy little dachshund mix Facebook, I immediately thought of Alexander McCall Smith, prolific author of the series The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, The Sunday Philosophy Club, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, and Scotland Street. He has an infectious personality and his books are light and fun.

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I picked David Foster Wallace for Joey, mostly because for some reason he just looks like he’d write some of my favorite essays like Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Joey will not follow in DFW’s footsteps in terms of early, self-inflicted death. Joey will live to be a grumpy old man cat with a sense of humor.

Joey

 

 

 

I’ll just do one more. Like I said, I could do this for hours. I read a lot, and I see a lot of animals in the course of my day.

Another of my favorite writers is Anne Tyler. I don’t know why it took me a little while to realize she would be my recent foster cat Merida. There is a sweetness to Tyler’s books, along with a faint melancholy, and always a theme of family and relationships. Merida is a sweetheart, had a rough start in life, is looking for her forever family, and could easily be the central character in a Tyler book if Tyler wrote books about cats.

Maybe some day I’ll actually write and publish a book. I hope so. I have a great author photo ready to go–I look serious and moody.

And then maybe someone will pair me up with my animal doppelgänger. I’m hoping for a sleek, dignified beauty, like an Irish Setter.

But I won’t be surprised if it is a roly poly kitten, either.

Meow!

I’m not obsessive, I’m passionate (or, I’m stalking Thomas Wolfe)

Can you stalk someone who is no longer alive? I’ve become entranced/fascinated/obsessed with Thomas Wolfe since I brought him up in Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said. I go through crushes with writers. I’ll become intrigued, learn everything I can about said writer, read everything they wrote, watch every movie made about them or based on their books, until I’ve exhausted the possibilities. Then I move on to the next crush.

I now follow the Thomas Wolfe Society on Facebook. My queue on Audible.com contains whatever they have (and as much as I like the writer Tom Wolfe, it’s Thomas that’s the subject of my interest).

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Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)
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Tom Wolfe (born 1931)

I saw a post on the Thomas Wolfe Society Facebook page about the movie Genius (Don’t Believe the Haters: In Defense of ‘Genius’), starring Colin Firth as editor Max Perkins and Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe. The post is a defense of the movie, which apparently had detractors. I had never heard of the movie (have I mentioned that rock I seem to live under?). I had to see it. Why? It’s about Thomas Wolfe, and it stars the amazing Colin Firth, handsome Jude Law, always good Laura Linney, and Ice Queen Nicole Kidman. I am not so crazy about Kidman, but in this movie her demeanor and style seem to fit the character, Aline Bernstein, a woman who succeeded in the then male-dominated world of theater set and costume design and could be said to have had a “tumultuous” relationship with Wolfe.

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I found an interesting post on History vs. Hollywood that compares the actors to the characters they played in the film. What is really interesting to me is that this is a predominantly English cast, in a movie filmed in England, about an iconic American writer from the South and the story is mostly set in New York. Dominic West, who I thought was American the whole time I watched The Wire, portrays Ernest Hemingway. Guy Pearce is a convincingly pained and troubled F. Scott Fitzgerald. Why do the Brits appreciate this literary heritage more than most Americans?

 

Fitzgerald was one of my crushes. I went through a fascination with Hemingway the man, but never got so much into his writing. Yes, I appreciate his style and way with words, but I’m not so much into his subject choices. Fitzgerald totally appeals to me: handsome and troubled with a beautiful, crazy Southern Belle wife.

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This was in my freshman year of college, and in my American Literature class with Professor Robert L. Casebeer (real name) in 1980 I wrote many a paper about Fitzgerald.

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My first attempt at college was in Ashland, Oregon, 1979-1981.

Before that, in high school, I went through a serious John Steinbeck phase. I still love his books. I admit to being a total wallflower nerd in high school. I spent a lot of time in my room, drawing and painting and reading and sewing my own weird clothes. No surprise I was never asked to the prom, much less on a date.

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John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

I’ve been through similar obsessive phases with the English writers Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisted) and John Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga).

Lest you think it’s only male writers that I stalk, I’ve been through my Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) phase and an Agatha Christie (1890-1976) phase as well.

 

 

I first became fascinated with Thomas Wolfe back in the 1990s. I got to Wolfe through a desire to live in Asheville, North Carolina. Musically, I was in a David Wilcox phase, and he is (was?) based in Asheville. I was also in my museums career phase, and figured there would be a job for me at the Biltmore Estate. I applied for several jobs, but it’s hard to get an interview when you live 3,000 miles away!

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American folksinger and songwriter David Wilcox
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I’d be so much closer to family than I am in California.

 

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Is it so much to ask for to live in the library at the Biltmore Estate?

And it was my obsession with Asheville that got me to Thomas Wolfe, native son.

There are so many connections I could go into–Paris in the 1920s, where so many artists and writers (the so-called Lost Generation), including Wolfe, spent time. A good account of this is Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast. And one day I will make a  pilgrimage to legendary Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, central to that time and that generation.

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But meanwhile, I’ll be listening to the audiobook version of Look Homeward, Angel and dreaming of different times and places.

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Look Homeward, Angel, or Things Thomas Wolfe Said

Thomas Wolfe had a thing about home. So did E.T., but his wish was much simpler: call the folks and get a ride back.

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Thomas Wolfe was a little more complicated. He was born October 3, 1900 and died September 15, 1938. His father ran a gravestone business in Asheville, NC. He died of miliary tuberculosis of the brain at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore just shy of his 38th birthday. Wlliam Faulkner called Wolfe the best talent of their generation. High praise.

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Look Homeward, Angel was Wolfe’s first novel. Published in 1929, it is a fictionalized account of his early life in Asheville. It caused an uproar in Asheville at the time, and Wolfe stayed away from the town for 8 years. Maybe that has something to do with his notions of home as well.

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You Can’t Go Home Again was published posthumously in 1940.

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I remember there being a made-for-television movie of the book in 1979, starring Chris Sarandon as the young writer in the story. I don’t remember if it was any good.

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I am more of a Steinbeck fan myself. He also said you can’t go home again.

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I recently went home again.

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I thought I was going home again when I took a job at the University of California, Davis last last year. The town of Davis itself felt like home and I was quite comfortable th. Campus also felt like home. Some things had changed, as I expected they would, but the general feeling of being there was much the same. For reasons I won’t go into, it didn’t work out, but it had nothing to do with the place.

In my own literary efforts, I hope to one day finish a memoir about moving away from home (see The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™). Home in this story is to me the house we lived in in Atlanta until the summer of 1972. I still dream about that house frequently, and remember the details of it better than most of the other countless apartments and houses I’ve lived in over the years since.

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So many memories. Dyson Drive, late 1960s.
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Dyson Drive house, early 1960s, before a back addition of a breakfast room, a large bedroom for my sisters, a second bathroom, a little teeny tiny bedroom for me (the littlest one).

I was in Atlanta for a short visit to celebrate October birthdays (we are the 3 Libra sisters). We had a wonderful time, with mani/pedis, bargain shopping, great food, a day at the Atlanta History Center (an upcoming blogpost) and a visit to the old neighborhood in Druid Hills.

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For the most part, the changes were no more than I expected. I don’t have any illusions that things remain the same. My Atlanta childhood memories are uniquely my own. My mother’s memories of the same places were different as were her mother’s. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and happily disagree with Messieurs Wolfe and Steinbeck. You CAN go home again!

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First we explored Emory Village, which we used to walk to to go to Horton’s. Horton’s is hard to describe; basically think old-fashioned five-and-dime with a soda fountain. A little change in your pocket as a kid went a long way at Horton’s!

 

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There are now 3 stores where Horton’s used to be.
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The old Kroger, where I used to love to go grocery shopping with my mother on a Saturday, is now a CVS. I saw something on the Internet that it used to be the nation’s smallest Kroger store, which is probably why I liked it.
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For many years (41 to be exact) this was the home of Everybody’s Pizza. I don’t remember what it was before that! It opened in 1971.
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This was a KFC. Falafel King is a big improvement if you ask me!
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One of these shops used to be the wondrous Alexander Stinson store. It was a, to us, groundbreaking shop, my first exposure to anything remotely counterculture in Georgia. It was opened in the 1960s by Bill Stinson, an English professor and a deft hand at creative merchandising and display. There were eventually 3 stores. I LOVED Alexander Stinson.
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The old cinema. The last time I was there was on a visit in 1978; my sister Ellen took me to see the Jill Clayburgh/Alan Bates film An Unmarried Woman. I also fondly remember the sandwich shop, as well as when I learned what PDQ stood for in Pizza PDQ.

And you can’t go to Emory Village without wandering into the gorgeous entrance to Emory University. When I was a high school senior in Sacramento, California, I desperately wanted to go to either Emory or to Mount Holyoke (that’s also a different blogpost; I went to neither).

Next stop: Fernbank Elementary School and the Fernbank Science Center.

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The old sign out front is gone.
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It’s been replaced with this sign.

The old building is gone, a new, large, spiffy one in its place. And that’s okay. The kids of the neighborhhood deserve a nice, new school with updated facilities. Yes, the Cat Stevens song (Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard plays in my head (see Is there a cure for earworms?Or, Help! I Need Somebody…) but it’s just a song and new kids in the neighborhood are making their own special memories.

Frankly, not all of my schoolyard memories are that great (I remember when the torment of my school years, the President’s Physical Fitness Test, was instituted at Fernbank. Nightmares!)

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New school.
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Plastic playground equipment and softscaping. I survived metal equipment on blacktop, but I did have a lot of skinned knees.
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Please don’t make me do the President’s Physical Fitness Test ever again!

At some point in my childhood, the Fernbank Science Center was built across the street from the school, and basically over the fence from our backyard. On hot summer nights we would walk over to the planetarium, which was blissfully air conditioned.

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The backyard of our old house is over that fence.

My favorite memory of school is GOING HOME at the end of the day! We lived so close, and walked rain or shine. When we moved to California and I had to ride the school bus, I was in total culture shock. This was my walk home:

I loved this house, it looks pretty much the same, and I hope I keep dreaming about living there!

Just remember, there’s no place like home.

 

And every woman should have a pair of red shoes. It was my mother who said that one.

 

 

Awesome Audio

I spend way too much time in my car.

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I love my car, as far as cars go, but I don’t really like to drive. For the past 6 months (my, how time flies!), I have been commuting 69.8 miles from door to door (but who’s counting?) EACH WAY to work. Luckily I don’t hit too much traffic, but it takes a while nonetheless. I’ve listened to audiobooks on and off over the years, but now is most definitely an “on” time. If I get sucked into a really good book with a great match of narrator to material, I can get so absorbed that I miss my exit or sit in my parked car just to listen a few more minutes.

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My daily commute, 5 days a week.

Here are a few of my favorite narrator/book choices from recent memory. In no particular order, but starting with the most recent, which I finished after 36 hours and 11 minutes of enthralled listening (got me few a few trips back and forth!) just tonight:

  • Lonesome Dove, book by Larry McMurtry, read by Lee Horsley

This is an addition to my top 10 favorite books. The list changes, of course, but as of now, this is on it. I’ve read Larry McMurtry before–The Last Picture Show, Some Can Whistle, The Evening Star, The Desert Rose, The Late Child–but never one of his Westerns. It won the Pulitzer Prize, so I’m not sure why I assumed I wouldn’t like it. I was also intimidated by its length of 842 pages.

Loved it! And the actor Lee Horsley, who I know from the early 1980s as television’s Matt Houston, was perfect. From Texas himself, he captures the characters speeech patterns and is able to convey each one’s idiosynchrasies. He shines as Captain Augustus McCrae.

Now I have to listen to the other books in the series if they are available as audiobooks as well. I had no idea it was the first of 4 books in a series. And I must watch the beloved television series with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

Lonesome Dove series

 

  • Any book ever read by Simon Prebble; seriously, ANY book

 

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Simon Prebble

 

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English actor Simon Prebble has one of the most distinctive voices I’ve ever heard. I first heard him read the odd and mysterious Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a wonderful book by Susanna Clarke made more wonderful by Prebble’s narration. In case you didn’t figure it out, I am a Prebble fan. (Note: I also just saw him act for the first time that I am aware of, as Jamie’s mean father on the STARZ adaptation of Outlander, the Diana Gabaldon book series also available as audiobooks read by the popular narrator Davina Porter.)

 

This is a rare case in which I can say that the TV series, shown recently on BBC America, does justice to the book and was one of the best adaptations I’ve seen on television.

Jonathan Strange tv series

Some of my other favorite Prebble readings include Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, by William Kuhn;

 

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro;

 

and the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Prebble does the best Scrooge ever.

 

  • Again, pretty much anything ever read by Jim Dale

Jim Dale is a versatile English actor, singer, and songwriter (going back to the song “Georgy Girl” from 1966, nominated for an academy award). Americans of my generation know him from the 1977 children’s movie “Pete’s Dragon”. Now many know him as the narrator of the J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter books. I haven’t read the books, only listened to them. By book 7, I was pretty sick of the whole thing, but I kept listening mostly due to Jim Dale.

 

  • Yet again, pretty much anything read by Lorelei King
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Lorelei King

King is an American actress living in the United Kingdom, and I first saw her in the British comedy series “Chef!” (1993-1996) with comedian Lenny Henry. She played American chef Savannah, a sous chef and possible love interest to the temperamental executive chef Gareth Blackstock. I highly reccomend the series.

She is probably most popular with the Stephanie Plum mystery novels by Janet Evanovich. She is adept at creating and maintaining voices for each recurring character, and her Grandma Mazur and Lula voices are hilarious.

 

  • Following Atticus, written and read by Tom Ryan

I loved this book. My heart  warms just at the thought. And I loved Tom Ryan’s reading. It’s not often that an author makes a good narrator. And it’s a book about a dog, hello! I am sad to report that Atticus recently passed away, but you can read about Tom’s just-starting adventures with  new rescue pup Samwise on the “Following Atticus” Facebook page. You’ll love Tom Ryan. And Samwise.

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Rest in Peace, Atticus

 

  • In the same spirit, Travels with Charley in Search of America, written by John Steinbeck and read by Gary Sinise

I’ve read this Steinbeck travel memoir a few times, and still love it as much now as I did in high school. Yes, I was the nerd in high school who liked American Literature and was happy to read Steinbeck for class. Steinbeck was a great writer. And I am still a nerd.

 

  • Gone Girl, written by Gillian Flynn, read by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne

I first heard about this book on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast before it was the big hit it became or a movie adaptation. Creepy! The inside of Gillian Flynn’s mind is a scary place. And the whole unreliable narrator motif was a unique concept to me. Who to believe?! These two readers, actress Julia Whelan and actor/comedian/singer/songwriter Kirby Keyborne, are perfect in the she said/he said/who do you believe back and forth format.

 

It was a pretty good movie to, I have to admit.

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  • Speaking of weird and creepy, Room, written by Emma Donaghue, read by multiple narrators

Donaghue is an Irish writer who lives in Canada. Room is the story of a young woman who is abducted and kept in a shed (the room) for several years, where she gives birth to and raises a son. Spoiler alert; they escape the room and adjusting to life in the outside world proves challenging. What really stands out about the audiobook is the performance of the late actress Michal Friedman in the chapters told from the voice of 5-year old Jack.

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Michal Friedman (1967-2011)

Tragically, Friedman died unexpectedly and we will never know what successes her carrer might have held for her.

Oh, and another movie adaptation to mention, but I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t give you an opinion.

room movie

 

  • The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak and read by Allan Corduner

Zusak is a young writer (born 1975), and I hope he keeps writing! Of German and Austrian heritage, he lives in Sydney, Australia. This story of a young firl and her foster family in a small town outside of Munich during World War II is heartbreaking yet still has moments of humor.

 

Actor Allan Corduner, born in Sweden to German and Russo-Finnish father but raised in London, has a sonorous voice you can imagine on the Shakespearean stage. As the novel is told by the overworked Grim Reaper, it’s a good fit. My Googling tells me that he was in 5 episodes of the television series Homeland last year.

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Allan Corduner

No, I haven’t seen the movie adaptation. It’s on my list.

Book Thief movie

 

  • Summerland, written and read by Michael Chabon

I’ve had friends tell me they don’t particularly care for Chabon’s readings of his books, but this is the one book where he is absolutely perfect, in my opinion. It made me feel like I was a kid being read to by my dad. The story is a modern fairy tale about baseball and a flying station wagon. Trust me, it’s delightful.

 

  • I could keep going, but I will end on a humorous selection with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), written and read by Jenny Lawson.

Laugh out loud funny. Also check out her blog, aptly titled The Bloggess, “Like Mother Teresa, Only Better”.

The Bloggess

Go forth and listen!