If anyone had told me I’d thrill to the oral recitation of a recipe for Bolognese sauce, I’d have had my doubts. But there’s something about the way Stanley Tucci delivers a list of ingredients that is shockingly compelling. In Taste (Simon & Schuster Audio, 6 hours and 50 minutes), the actor’s elegant, precise, yet personable elocution makes the procedures for preparing his favorite dishes—the foods of his childhood, of his years as a family man, and of his peregrinations in Italy—quite inspiring. The anecdotes that introduce them are even more so. (If only a PDF with the recipes were included with the audio!) Tucci was inspired to write this tribute to the tastes he loves when he almost lost them forever due to tongue cancer, an interlude he details toward the end of the book. First he had to eat through a tube, then could eat almost nothing but a delicious-sounding version of pasta fagioli, and finally was able to resume the enviable life of eating and drinking documented here. Tucci’s dry account of a dinner he shared with Meryl Streep in France, during which a dish they believed would be miniature sausages turned out to be a giant horse penis, is a high point.
Master Slave Husband Wife (Simon & Schuster Audio, 12 hours and 54 minutes) is the rare work of historical scholarship that could make great listening on a family road trip. With miraculously detailed research and not a bit of fictionalizing, author Ilyon Woo fashions a breathtaking adventure from the true facts of an 1848 escape from bondage. William and Ellen Craft disguised themselves as master and slave, with light-skinned Ellen playing the young planter and William her devoted bondsman. The first half of the book reconstructs their getaway in vivid detail, with chapters alternating between narrators Janinia Edwards and Leon Nixon. Their four-day journey from Macon, Georgia, to freedom took them by stagecoach, rail, and steamship, included stops at fine hotels, and was filled with narrow escapes and nail-biter moments. Ellen could not read or write, requiring some fancy footwork every time “Master Johnson’s” signature was required. Not long after the couple arrived in Boston, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act could have snatched it all away—but those hired slave hunters didn’t know who they were dealing with.
The title of Will Schwalbe’s memoir has it right—We Should Not Be Friends (Penguin Random House Audio, 9 hours and 43 minutes). It’s surprising that the friendship whose history he recounts ever took root, much less that it survived and thrived. Will Schwalbe and Chris Maxey’s initial meeting at college in the 1980s was an archetypal nonstarter: dweeb meets jock. It could have ended right there. Then Maxey offered Schwalbe a ride back from an event on his motorcycle. Schwalbe, one of the few out gay kids on campus, tied himself into mental pretzels worrying about whether hanging on to Maxey’s waist would give the impression he was making a pass at him or if not hanging on would be even more of a dead giveaway. Nothing could convey his many anxieties and concerns more acutely than the slightly nasal, anxious voice of the author himself. For decades, through sickness and health, through slights and misunderstandings, the pair went on to navigate the complications of a close friendship between a gay man and a straight man, a scaredy-cat and a daredevil, a book nerd and a Navy SEAL. At the end of the audiobook, Schwalbe phones Maxey from the studio, and the two talk about the book for several heartwarming minutes.
Marion Winik is the host of the NPR podcast The Weekly Reader.