Barbara’s Staff Picks

by Barbara


The Ghost Map The Ghost Map is perfect for the general reader with an interest, but not a great deal of background, in science, medicine, and history. It tells the story of London’s cholera epidemic of 1864 – the conditions that created it, how it started and expanded, how it affected ordinary people, and how a few very smart people figured out what was causing it. It’s a fascinating and very moving story. For more information, including an animated introduction to the book, and interviews with the author, visit
The Worst Hard Time Like The Ghost Map, this book sheds light on the lives of ordinary people facing an environmental disaster. Thousands of families fled the Dust Bowl, but this book describes the day to day lives of those who stayed. It is a gripping and heart-wrenching story.

Audio Books:

For me, audio books provide an opportunity to “read” books I probably wouldn’t read in book form for one reason or another. Here are some of the audio books I’ve enjoyed most in the last couple of years:

Empire Falls by Richard Russo. I’ve read and enjoyed many of Russo’s books. His writing is intelligent, funny, and perceptive, and he creates vivid characters. Empire Falls is a wonderful epic story about a town and the interwoven relationships among its residents. It’s pretty long (it was made into a TV miniseries), and I probably wouldn’t have found time to read it in print. The reader of an audiobook can make all the difference, and in this case Ron McLarty gives a superb reading.

Ulysses by James Joyce. Ulysses is considered one of the great works of the 20th century, and I had always felt I should read it. But it seemed so long, and so difficult! When I finally listened to the audiobook I found it funny, moving, stimulating, and ultimately thrilling. (To be entirely honest, I read the Spark Notes study guide as well as listening to the audiobook, and this helped me understand the numerous literary, historical, and political references.) The audiobook reader, Donal Donnelly, is absolutely brilliant.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I love Dickens for his vivid characters and complicated plots, but find it hard to make time to read his longer books. Bleak House is one I would have missed if the audiobook hadn’t been available. It’s a wonderful story!

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith. This is the first of the Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries, and I’ve listened to several others in the series. These books are just plain fun. Isabel Dalhousie is a charming and interesting character, and I enjoy her philosophical musings. The mysteries aren’t terribly suspenseful, but they are intriguing. Davina Porter, who has read many of the M.C. Beaton and Anne Perry mysteries as well as many classics, is an intelligent, expressive reader.

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