Audiobooks

Audiobook Reviews February 2016 by Jonathan Lowe

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THE VAN CLIBURN STORY: When a lanky, unpretentious, incredibly gifted, twenty-three-year-old Texan took Moscow by musical storm in 1958, it launched a sensational career that began at the age of thirteen and was to span over four decades. At the height of the Cold War, this friendly, open-hearted pianist enchanted the hearts of Americans and Russians alike with playing that was more about “personal communications than exhibitionistic virtuosity.” Winning the Soviet-sponsored Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition immediately thrust Van Cliburn into political as well as artistic pressures, attention, adulation, and scrutiny that might have sabotaged any young artist who lacked the confidence and conviction of Van Cliburn. After an eleven-year retreat into privacy, the myth that surrounded the name Van Cliburn in the 1950s and ’60s became legend with his triumphant reentry in 1987―an event that was to epitomize the poetic nature of Van’s entire life. Responding to an invitation to perform for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev at a state dinner, Van once again proved that music is indeed the universal language of understanding and is capable of uniting our diverse cultures. Bounding off the platform after his performance to kiss Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev, Van responded to Raisa’s request for more music by playing the beloved Soviet song “Moscow Nights”―the same nostalgic song he had learned and performed during his first incredible journey to Moscow in 1958. As millions of Americans watched on their television screens, the usual staid state dinner dissolved into a moving memory of Van singing along with the Gorbachevs as the whole room was overcome by tears. Russia and America joined hands and hearts in this one historical moment. Narrator Tom Taylorson is a stage actor and voice-over teacher with a clear, resonant voice and gift for timing and tone.

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For something completely different head off to Lubbock, Texas for a ZOMBIE BAKE OFF. Soccer moms and grandmothers gather to show off their family recipes, learn new secrets for the perfect shortcake, and perhaps earn a chance to be on the famous cooking show, How Would You Cook It, Then? When the bake-off is crashed by a federation of pro wrestlers—including American Badass, Jersey Devil Jill, Tiny Giant, the Village Person, Jonah the Whale, the Hellbillies, and the fan favorite Zombie—all hell is set to break loose. Your heart beats faster as you anticipate who will come out on top in the ultimate showdown of the century: soccer moms or pro wrestlers. Anything can happen. An infected batch of donuts has transformed most of the wrestlers into mindless brain-eaters and the doors of the convention center have been chained shut, leaving the survivors locked inside, forced to fend for themselves against the hungry dead. Possessing the intensity of a shotgun to the face, Zombie Bake-Off is a stripped-down masterpiece of blood and doughnuts from celebrated author Stephen Graham Jones. Stephen Graham Jones is the author of several novels and two short story collections. He has won many awards, and lives in Boulder, Colorado. Narrator Scott Sowers is the perfect reader for this, with his gruff and animated demeanor, which served him well reading several of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing” titles. Recommend those too, plus “Fear and Loathing in America,” read by one of the most listenable and mellifluous voices in the business, Malcolm Hillgartner.

DARK MONEY by Jane Mayer traces the history of the Koch brothers in the implementation of extreme libertarian views in both Washington and (to a lesser extent) the general votership. Privileged members of the inheritance meritocracy intended to become “the ruling class” via the setup of private foundations and the manipulation of public officials. Rather than pay higher taxes, this scheme was turned to their advantage in supporting those institutions which served their interests, and promoted the philosophy of Ayn Rand and trickle-down economics while demonizing anything sniffing of socialism as “communism.” Oddly, some of the ultra conservative Kochs were John Birch supporters and conspiracy theorists dedicated to doing away with taxes of all kinds, with only a tiny government controlled by them (and other polluters like Mellons, Olins, and Bradleys.) They balked at paying for parks, services or even wars, yet profited from them. Although anti-government, the Kochs quietly supported banking bailouts in 2008 when they saw their investments sliding. Today they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. No doubt Bernie Sanders loves this book, while they hate him. In Mayer’s analysis, the plutocracy controls Congress and the Pentagon behind the scenes, and uses the media as a tool to “brandwash” the public into compliance and acceptance. “Dark Money” refers to the campaign cash used to bribe officials or to fund campaigns deemed “on the same page” with the ideals of free market capitalism (with the tax burden borne by the now-vanishing middle class.) Read by Kirsten Potter, this is an epic and controversial audiobook told without hyperbole of expression or treatment.

Finally, into mystery? Ross MacDonald was (and is) a writer’s writer, and one of my favs. Paul Newman’s too. I once read a book about these books that explained the symbolism behind his deftly original prose, which is MORE than merely eloquent or descriptive. It is poetic and profound. His audiobooks are narrated by one of the best and most prolific of readers (and one I’ve known for years), Grover Gardner, who turns them into audio movies. Trust me, Grover could make a laundry list sound like Shakespeare, and he defines “mellifluous.” Download to iPhone or other device, and hear for yourself. Ross Macdonald (1915–1983) was the pen name of Kenneth Millar. Born near San Francisco but raised in British Columbia, he returned to the United States as a young man and published his first novel in 1944. For over twenty years he lived in Santa Barbara and wrote mystery novels about the fascinating and changing society in SoCal. He is widely credited with elevating the detective novel to the level of literature with his compactly written tales of murder and despair. His works have received awards from the Mystery Writers of America and of Great Britain, and his book “The Moving Target” was made into the movie “Harper” in 1966. As was “The Drowning Pool” (which included Joanne Woodward.) In 1982 he was awarded the Eye Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Private Eye Writers of America. Great reading, but even better listening!

(Former postal CFS clerk and window clerk Jonathan Lowe is the award winning author of “Postmarked for Death,” which was endorsed by Clive Cussler as “a class performance, mystery at its best.” It is now a suspense ebook, as is “TrumpWorld” and “The World’s First Trillionaire,” a satire that incorporates three of his other novels. He is a judge in the annual Audie Awards, which are the Oscars for the medium.)

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