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Irreverent or inspiring, holiday gifts by the earful

Since Hanukkah has begun the holiday season, let's dip into our gift-giving suggestion bag and start with something that would make your elderly aunt Sadie absolutely plotz.

It may also appeal to your 13-year-old nephew, but "Jewtopia: The Chosen Audiobook for the Chosen People," by Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson, is strictly for the over-21 crowd (Hachette Audio, abridged fiction, three CDs, three hours and 30 minutes, $24.98, read by the authors, with Jackie Tohn; also available as a download from www.audible.com for $17.49).

Though this bears the same name as the wildly popular off-Broadway play, it veers away from the story of a gentile who wants to be a Jew and is instead a wildly absurd history of the Jewish people. From historic figures to holidays, this covers both sacred and sanctimonious ground. And while much of it is thoroughly offensive, it is also funny. Very funny.

While you can't exactly say that Yiddish is a language steeped in unhappiness, author Michael Wex makes a good argument for its being steeped in complaints. "Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods" is a funny, informative, odd audiobook that should appeal to lovers of linguistics in general and those Jews in particular who remember a language that is beginning to slip away (Harper Audio, unabridged nonfiction, eight CDs, nine hours and 30 minutes, $34.95, read by the author; also available as a download from www.audible.com, $24.47).

Wex reads the entire book in a kind of elongated whine. Once you get used to it, his idiosyncratic reading becomes part of the fun. When it does turn serious, Wex lets you know that unless you're a scholar, you can skip ahead and not miss anything , which means that "Born to Kvetch" will surely be appreciated by the less studious on your Hanukkah list hoping merely to pick up a good curse or two.

If you're looking for a traditional stocking stuffer this year, you can do no better than Simon & Schuster's reissue of "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens (adapted fiction; two CDs, two hours, $14.95, or on as a download from www.audible.com for $10.47). A personal favorite, it's read with immeasurable talent by the classically trained Patrick Stewart, who inhabits the tale and delivers a vivid and fresh experience each time it is played.

A perfect gift for the person who celebrates more than just the secular side of Christmas is an intriguing new title from Elizabeth Berg. "The Handmaid and the Carpenter" paints a fictional, complex account of the Nativity story that is reflective and inoffensive, though it assumes modern attitudes with a little too much ease (Random House Audio, unabridged fiction, three CDs, three hours and 44 minutes, $24.95, read by the author; also available as a download from www.audible.com, $17.47). Still, Berg's imaginative prose shows its usual finesse and grace.

The Capitol Steps are back with "O Christmas Bush," an extremely clever collection of 18 parodies set to traditional holiday tunes , including "Have Yourself a Condoleezza Christmas" and "I'm Beginning to Look a Lot Like Santa." Available only through the Capitol Steps, it is quite a bargain at $10 for the first CD and $5 for each additional one (Capitol Steps, original unabridged material, one CD, 29 minutes, performed by various cast members, www.capitolsteps.com or 800-733-7837).

If you want to charm someone, give them Bill Bryson's "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" (Random House Audio, unabridged nonfiction, six CDs, seven hours and 30 minutes, $29.95, read by the author; also available as a download from www.audible.com, $20.47). This sweet saunter down memory lane (also mentioned on the previous page) chronicles his early days in Des Moines, Iowa. Mimeograph paper, the mysteries of sex, bland food, and growing pains are looked back on through a lens of humor, hyperbole, and bittersweet nostalgia. Not Bryson's funniest, but surely his most heartfelt audiobook to date, it is read by the author with the aplomb and comedic timing heard in his other works.

Another gift possibility is the Playaway, a disposable audiobook aimed not so much at the technoheads on your list as at those who have never listened to a recorded book. One might shiver in ecological horror at the thought of a disposable audiobook, but it really is easy to use and, like any audiobook, as long as it is passed on or kept for repeated playing, it should please even the most politically correct .

Most of the Plyaway titles begin at $29.99, though the audiobook sampled for this column, "Lisey's Story," by Stephen King, is $49.99, which is comparable to the CD version. Unlike the latter, however, this is the size of a deck of cards and comes with everything you need, including batteries and earbuds.

As for the story, it is a sorrowful romance with supernatural overtones read by Mare Winningham and runs for 20 hours. Though haunting, it is not King's strongest novel, though far more literary than his usual fare. (If you wish to go the more traditional route, this Simon & Schuster title is available on 18 CDs or as a download from www.audible.com for $34.97.)

"There Is No Me Without You: One Women's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children," by Melissa Fay Greene, is the inspirational and beautifully written true story of Haregewoin Teferra, a middle-class Ethiopian widow who found her life changed when she took in two orphans (HighBridge Audio, unabridged nonfiction, 12 CDs, 14 hours and 45 minutes, $39.95, or as a download from www.audible.com, $27.97). Read with a straightforward sincerity by Julie Fain Lawrence, this tragic story becomes one of redemption and hope. And who couldn't use a little of both?

Rochelle O'Gorman is publisher and editor in chief of audiobookcafe.com .

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