Hardyment, Cristina, New Statesman (1996)
Christina Hardyment offers sound advice for those who want to listen
There can be few easier ways of Christmas shopping than going to the spoken word department of your local book or record shop. Their novelty is still high: who'd have thought you'd find Helena Bonham Carter reading the unexpurgated edition of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl (Penguin, unabridged, [pounds]20.99), or Sir John Gielgud reciting with high seriousness the courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo (Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense (HH495, [pounds]5.99)?
Titles can be found to suit everyone from querulous great aunts to brawling toddlers. Prices range from [pounds]5 to [pounds]50, and they're featherlight to post. Seriously lazy givers can phone the Talking Book-shop (0171-491 4117), which will advise, giftwrap and post for you.
Deft compliments can be paid, subtle insults dealt. Give Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (NA612214, [pounds]16.99) to your Europhobe and Europhile friends; each will draw their own conclusions from Philip Madoc's authoritative delivery.
Romantics can swoon to the haunting rhythms of Sir Thomas Malory's The Death of Arthur (NA300114, [pounds]8.99), or get caught up in Maureen O'Brien's intensely moving reading of Jane Eyre (CTC449, unabridged, [pounds]44.99). Smart reading in the younger follow-your-heart set is Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist (THC008, [pounds]11.99), a fable of an Andalusian shepherd boy's journey to Tangier and the desert in search of destiny and true love.
Poetry is given huge added value when poets read their verse. UA Fanthorpe's Double Act (Penguin, [pounds]8.99), is just that: she shares the reading of her wry, perceptive and benevolent poetry with her friend Rose Bailey. Ted Hughes reads his own and others' verse magnificently, dealing equally well with Hopkins' sprung rhythm, Emily Dickinson's wry delicacies and the rolling torrents of Tennyson in his anthology By Heart: 101 Poems to Remember (Faber/Penguin, 3 hours, [pounds]8.99).
Christmas has to be the time to give some lucky someone Penguin Classics' magnificent 12-cassette set of Penguin English Verse (Penguin, [pounds]50), which ranges from Thomas Wyatt ("They flee me now that sometime did me seek") to Wilfred Owen ("a maid, laughing the love-laugh with me, proud of looks"), read by as rich a variety of actors and actresses.
The abridged version of Louis Berniere's Captain Corelli's Mandolin (BBC, [pounds]8.99) has been acclaimed, but I think writing of such magical resonance should be heard complete. …