In concert with the release of Evelyn Waugh’s works as e-books, Hachette presents audio versions of most of them read by an array of accomplished narrators. Among them are Simon Prebble and Christian Rodska reading Waugh’s great World War II trilogy, “The Sword of Honour”:“Men at Arms,” “Officers and Gentlemen” and “Unconditional Surrender.” Prebble gives a capable, stiff-upper-lipped performance and is excellent, as usual, in conveying British class tension. Rodska, however, is master of a preternaturally large range of mid-20th-century British accents and voices. He offers a brilliant vocal manifestation of Waugh’s acidly comic world.
Authors do not usually make the best readers of their own works. George Saunders is an exception. He delivers his celebrated stories with the empathy of a creator and the command of an actor. The 10 stories in “Tenth of December” are set in a world that is modestly surreal, extrapolated from our own state of consumerism, neuroscience and managed existence. Most of his characters are below the median in everything but still accept a chilly and oppressive corporate standard to which they can never measure up. Saunders imbues his earnest, all-American voice with his characters’ pride, hopefulness, disappointment and resignation, and he shows without melodramatic excess their flashes of noncompliance. The author’s matter-of-fact manner serves as a guide to understanding the stories, convincing us that they are not merely fantastical high jinks, but poignant storiesabout human beings in a land not far removed from our own.