The weather is wonky, the White House is in chaos and taxes are due. It is definitely time for a laugh.
If you are looking for a full-out belly laugh, download Lewis Black’s “The Rant Is Due,” from Audible.com (read by Black; Audible Comedy; 2.5 hours). The comedian, who is known for his angry, vulgar, funny diatribes, began receiving rants from his fans. This is a collection of those rants, and some of them are so hysterically funny and foul that one best be careful while driving, as this reviewer nearly drove herself off the road while screeching with laughter. Subjects include politics, pickles, religion, relationships, fancy coffee and noisy neighbors. His delivery has been well honed over the years, but keep in mind that Black is often yelling and quite loud. While you may buy individual chapters, each about five minutes long, it is much more economical to download the entire season, which contains 30 segments. In the second season, Black calls some of his contributors and gives small, behind-the-scenes reports from his tour.
Alexander McCall Smith writes sweet, humorous novels that are usually happy, comforting and full of eccentric characters. The prolific author, perhaps best known for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, recently released onto audio the 10th installment in the 44 Scotland Street series. “A Time of Love and Tartan” brings back characters we have heard before but is written so that one can drop into the series without feeling as if they are missing something (read by Robert Ian Mackenzie; Recorded Books; 8.15 hours). The series was inspired by Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” and involves various residents of Edinburgh, along with their trials and triumphs. British-born Mackenzie does a lovely Scottish burr, softens his voice for women and offers slight differences for each character. Smith is one of those writers who can draw one in with quirky characters and romantic fancies and keep us entertained even with a subject as silly as construction equipment, such as last year’s genial romance, “My Italian Bulldozer.” However, this chapter in the 44 Scotland Street series lacks the conviviality of past installments and often comes across as preachy. McCall Smith clearly has issues with political correctness, and he beats that horse to death while revealing a meanness of spirit, directed at feminists, which may surprise his listeners.
If you are looking for something a little more serious but written with comic undertones, give a listen to “A Long Way From Home” by Peter Carey (read by Colin McPhillamy, Craig Baldwin, Saskia Maarleveld; Recorded Books; 11.1 hours). There is a breezy exuberance to the telling of this novel about a race, but as it unwinds, one finds it is very much mired in race relations. The Redex Trial was an actual contest in which people drove around the entire continent of Australia, stopping at checkpoints and hoping to reach the finish with a vehicle not destroyed by rough terrain. Carey, a two-time Booker Prize winner, gives us two narrators with strong voices — Irene Bobs, wife of a car salesman, and their neighbor and navigator, Willie Bachhuber. Maarleveld, who was partially raised in New Zealand, offers up a natural-sounding Australian accent as Mrs. Bobs; most of the novel’s humor, wry and sometimes sarcastic, comes through her observant eye. McPhillamy has a bit of a British tinge to his Down Under accent, but this is a small complaint, as he is one of those narrators able to express their emotions without chewing up the studio. (Baldwin narrates only one chapter, ably.) There is great sadness at the heart of this story, set in the mid-1950s, but Carey’s humor, combined with narrators’ ability to provide an even pace and natural tone, help us over the novel’s slow-moving middle section.
Fans of Tim Dorsey will be happy to hear the latest Serge Storm novel, the 21st in the series, “The Pope of Palm Beach,” has recently been released (read by Oliver Wyman; Harper Audio; 9.75 hours). Dorsey, much like Carl Hiassen, writes madcap, Florida-set novels that often make a point about politics or the environment. The humor is starting to wear a little thin, but Dorsey manages to keep us entertained with his outrageous characters. In this outing, Serge, a serial killer who takes down only criminals and all-out jerks, embarks on a literary tour of Florida with his stoner friend Coleman, all the while meting out a creative and clever form of justice. Wyman, long the voice of Dorsey’s novels, delivers an array of accents. Some are a little broad, but high-as-a-kite Coleman sounds a delightful idiot, and Serge, with his reedy voice and brisk tone, comes across as both brilliant and impatient.
O’Gorman is a writer and editor.