Audio-books are a curious, often legitimately disrespected phenomenon: Listening to a recording of a celebrity, usually a B-list actor, reading a usually butchered abbreviation of a book is hardly the same as reading one yourself. And while You'll Never Make Love In This Town Again may be better for a long car trip than studied concentration, does the world really need, say, Treat Williams' interpretation of Jude The Obscure? It's simply not the same thing. Still, there's something to be said for the pleasure of hearing a friend or skilled reader perform a work, and The New Yorker's two-disc collection of five recent short stories, Out Loud, mostly succeeds in that regard. The first disc consists of three stories—by Ian McEwan, John Updike and Martin Amis—each of which is read by the author, and each of which is consistently compelling and excellently conveyed. In particular, Amis' nuanced deadpan makes it clear that some material improves when read aloud. The same may be said for the second disc's readings by Gabriel Byrne and Frances McDormand. In a weird coincidence, these two stories, by Seamus Deane and Lorrie Moore, respectively, are also the only two not set in the usual New Yorker short-story stomping ground of New York—or that acceptable surrogate New York, London. In particular, Byrne's reading evokes classic radio drama, perhaps because his gift for mimicry is put to good use, taking on all the voices of a tense, revealing Irish classroom session. While there's arguably greater, more extended, and cheaper pleasure to be derived from a short-story collection by any of these authors—or, even more arguably and even more cheaply, from any issue of the magazine itself—Out Loud is an entertaining collection that transcends the restrictions of the audio-book form.

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