A fine thinking time.
Despite childhood beliefs that linger on, we are not dumber in the summer, and we don't have to bury our brains in insipid beach reads. Instead, we can spend the long summer days tackling a difficult subject. So if you want to make your synapses snap to attention, settle down on a warm, cloudless day and pay close attention to The Order of Time (Penguin Audio, 4.5 hours), Carlo Rovelli's latest explication of a confounding and complex concept, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch in his elegant, honeyed voice. Rovelli, a founder of loop quantum gravitational theory and a bestselling author, has a gift for making the abstruse intelligible to those of us who are not theoretical physicists, filling his lyrical prose with references to philosophy, art, literature and his very personal reflections on the "brief circle of our existence." Time, as Rovelli explains it, is an illusion, and our perception that it flows is counter to physical reality--and that's only for starters. Stay with it and listen more than once--but don't worry, there won't be a quiz.
Adrian Mandrick's mother found solace and joy--and a way to avoid her difficult, brutal husband--in bird watching. Adrian picked up the birding passion big-time when he was very young, and these airborne creatures still keep him grounded. Now, even though he's a successful anesthesiologist in Boulder with a loving wife, two smart, happy children and all the trappings of the good life, he will gladly leave work and family for the possible sighting of a new bird to add to his life list (his record of all the birds he's seen and identified), which is the third longest in North America. Though Adrian doesn't mention it up front, he also has more than a bit of a problem with prescription drugs, and he seems to be teetering on the edge of disaster.
The Life List of Adrian Mandrick (Recorded Books, 8.5 hours), Chris White's affecting debut novel, read here with intensity by David Aaron Baker, follows Adrian into a midlife crisis and a confrontation with a past that stunted his capacity for love and tainted his memories. This is a raw, honest coming-of-middle-age tale.
TOP PICK IN AUDIO
Every Sunday, the New York Times Book Review asks an author whom she or he would invite to a literary dinner. After listening to Michelle Dean's Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion (Blackstone, 11.5 hours), impeccably performed by Berna-dette Dunne, I know, if asked, that the 10 women Dean considers in this brilliant group bio would be at my table: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, loan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm, with Zora Neale Hurston and Lillian Hellman stopping by as well. And I would invite Dean, so very sharp herself, to keep the peace. Combining anecdotes with rigorous research, Dean takes a deep dive into the lives and works of these "oppositional spirits," women who were central to the literary and intellectual history of the 20th century, who engaged in the great arguments of the time. They were influential social critics, and now, when it's become evermore crucial to include women's voices, we need to hear them again.
BY SUKEY HOWARD