Audiobooks

Audiobook Reviews January 2016 by Jonathan Lowe

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JUPITER’S TRAVELS by Ted Simon is the mid-1970s travelogue of a man on a motorcycle who took four years of his life to ride around the world, some 64,000 miles on a Triumph. The effectiveness of such diaries depends on the ability of the writer to convey not just the details of what he sees, but his own unique interpretation of events, the feelings induced, and how he is changed by it all. Simon creates an epic account of his journey running almost 17 hours on audio, and it pulls no punches, making it an unvarnished document full of musings, philosophy, and commentary on the politics and briberies, the highs and lows…of being accused of spying, being lied to, and being a scapegoat for locals intent of having fun with the gringo (because they can.) Suffice it to say, this is not a trip anyone hearing is likely to attempt, although actor Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman tried in Long Way Round. There were numerous problems with the bike (perhaps a BMW would have been a better choice?) Plus running out of gas or water or food. At one point he is sent up a mountain in search of a meat “warehouse” by a man who had meat all along, and knew nothing was up there but barren wilderness. Mosquitoes and flies feasted on Simon. He met extreme poverty and wild beauty. He discusses the Latin American machismo, which (for him, at the time) tended to see every male interloper as a challenge to virility. He reflects on how poor countries, once enslaved by Spain, are now being conquered by McDonalds and Coke, whose signs are everywhere, “like a new revenge.” Yet despite every possible threat and wrong done him, he is wiser for the trip, and glad he made it. The simple, beautiful smiles of peasants and shy people restore him. The vast acquaintance with nature lends valuable perspective. And for this audio trip, narrator Rupert Degas, an award winning voiceover artist from Australia, interprets Simon’s spirit in such a way as to be completely believable, and his accents are always spot-on, particularly the Aussie one.

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The authors of $2 A DAY: LIVING ON ALMOST NOTHING IN AMERICA report that welfare is no longer available to those who can’t find work in America. (Those on most assistance programs are “the working poor.”) Rather, they are talking about the 1.5 million who fall far below the poverty line; some are hopeful, some have given up. Half are white. The majority of those profiled in this audiobook get food stamps, but are forced to sell them to get money for shelter or utilities. (Against the law, but such barter is common.) So when their refrigerators (if they have one) are opened, there is little there, and they rely on soup kitchens, dumpster diving, or school lunch programs. (When schools are closed on weekends, many of these kids don’t eat at all.) Surprisingly, the majority of those profiled do not want to be given anything, they want work. So some are willing to nearly starve rather than to beg. This eye-opening audiobook brings to mind the new documentary by Michael Moore titled “Where to Invade Next,” in which Moore travels to other countries to steal their ideas on how to avoid the social problems we have. (Granted, he doesn’t go to Africa, Syria, or Greece, but socialist countries like Norway or Sweden, whose residents have little crime, debt, or poverty.) Authors: Kathryn Edin is Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. H. Luke Shaefer is an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. He is also a research affiliate at the National Poverty Center. The audiobook is narrated by Allyson Johnson, whose empathic tone reflects the authors premise that more should be done.

RECLAIM THE BRAIN is a new audiobook by Dr. Joseph A. Annibali, narrated with professional and skillful engagement by him and Dr. Daniel Amen. It examines all aspects of psychology related to brain science, particularly depression, anxiety, ADD, OCD, PTSD, autism, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse. Particular attention is paid to the limbic system, that lower part of the brain which controls emotions. Brain activity in this region has been shown to be high on scans when someone is under duress (either physical or mental / imaginary.) This busy brain can interfere with concentration and cause much unneeded stress, and the audiobook presents methods and practices and exercises to calm the limbic system, thereby bringing back a sense of calm and normalcy (focus) to decision making. Drawing on the findings of many diverse sources, the author aids the listener in how to distance oneself from one’s thoughts, which may sound odd but thoughts are produced automatically by the brain, outside the conscious will sometimes, and these repetitive thoughts can trap people in a cycle of negativity. Recognizing that one’s thoughts do not define “who they are” is, therefore, important, (as was noted by Eckhart Tolle.) Living in the past or for the future solely is therefore like a living death in which one cannot see one’s life in the present (which is all we ever truly own.) Until such time as scientists discover what directs and constitutes consciousness and ego, this may be the best we can do in quelling violence and hate. So the tools that the author relates are important and well organized in this comprehensive and important self help audiobook.

For fiction, in WAR AND PEACE, voted 2nd greatest novel of all time (behind Cervantes Don Quixote), Leo Tolstoy reserved scorn “for those, like Napoleon, who think they can control fate, while they are actually in the grip of forces beyond themselves that they are too egotistically blind to see or understand.” Said critic Donald Adams, “In this great novel the view of the sky high above the Austerlitz battlefield makes insignificant the individual’s will and reduces the words of the great Napoleon to the buzzing of a fly.” Daniel S. Burt: “The supreme test for the greatest novels is whether a conception of life is deepened in the drama provided. Life has rarely been captured in language better than what Tolstoy manages in War and Peace. If Cervantes establishes the novel’s potential as a medium to reflect a massive criticism of culture, Tolstoy delineates the novel’s epic border, elastic enough to contain more of life than it seemed possible to circumscribe. Like Shakespeare’s plays, Tolstoy’s novel defines a conception of greatness that future novelists may imitate, modify, or challenge, but cannot avoid.” There are a number of audiobook renditions of the novel, with various narrators, my favorite being Edward Petherbridge due to his impeccable accents and aristocratic air, although Neville Jason is good too. Regarding Don Quixote, there are two great readers on that audiobook’s versions: Simon Vance and George Guidall. Take your pick, you can’t lose. Both are award-winning veterans of voice acting. So if you haven’t heard or read these, and before you click on some piece of trash currently trending, consider what Dostoevsky said: “A more profound and powerful work than Don Quixote is not to be found…the final and greatest utterance of the human mind.” Or as the Atlantic Monthly more recently put it, “Luminous…it will overwhelm you in imaginative splendor.” Don’t we need that most, now? (BTW, ladies looking for romance, the greatest ever romance novel is EUGENIE GRANDET by Balzac, read by Jonathan Fried. If you doubt this, I can supply quotes by several dozen major authors confirming it! Sorry, no x-rated scenes, though. LOL.)

Finally, the movie (based on the book) THE BIG SHORT is a slick, entertaining docudrama about the corruption and blindness on Wall Street, leading up to the collapse in late 2008, when millions lost their savings and jobs due to bets made on top of bets (the repackaging of inferior subprime loans as AA or AAA, the complicity of the ratings agencies, the CDOs and credit default swaps, etc.) It was like a big party with everyone wearing blinders and drinking booze at an open bar. But parties or orgies always end, when the partiers are pushed out into the sunlight to deal with their hangovers. A telling moment is when the character played by Steve Carell visits an S&P auditor to find out why bad loans are not being rated bad, and she’s wearing dark medical glasses to protect her eyes from light. “If we didn’t give them the rating, they would go to our competitors,” she explains. Carell cringes, knowing that ratings are supposed to reflect reality, not hopeful fantasy. He goes to several neighborhoods to discover homes in which the owners have fled or are renting to others because they can’t pay their mortgages. Red flags are going up and no one seems to care. So he decides to short (bet against) his own bank, and others (like Christian Bale as a hedge fund manager) do also. Bale is an over-the-top eccentric who plays the drums to avoid hearing about his fund losing millions by the day, as the relentless lie of rising real estate prices (and his bosses’ invectives) increase. He knows he’s right, but can he make it to the end before investors sue him and throw him out? The movie adds humor to what might otherwise go over the heads of viewers, and uses a narration device to inject commentary, much as Pirates of Silicon Valley did in that Steve Jobs/Bill Gates biopic. (Hence, “docudrama.”) One example is when an explanation is required, and a supermodel in a bubble bath is called upon to deliver it; another when Selena Gomez explains from a Vegas gambling table. (Hence, “slick.”) The biggest joke is saved for the end, which is both funny and sad, since the joke is on middle class Americans: no one went to jail, they got bonuses instead. And Wall Street went back to business as usual, after being bailed out. Is there another collapse coming? Absolutely, it’s just a matter of when. And you can bet the super rich won’t be the ones picking up the tab then, either. Wall Street, like Coca-Cola in the theater’s previews, doubles down on the same tactics which have worked in the past to deceive and distract while it picks our pockets both coming and going. The 2010 audiobook on which the movie is based is narrated by Jesse Boggs, with an intro by Michael Lewis. Little is known about Boggs, but he has an unassuming and pleasant voice, and delivers the proper tone while disappearing behind the text.

Ten Best Audiobooks of 2015

The Cartel by Don Winslow, read by Ray Porter

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz, read by Simon Vance

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, read by Jeff Cummings

Dead Wake by Erik Larson, read by Scott Brick

Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas, read by Hillary Huber

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King, read by a full cast

To Live Forever by Jack Vance, read by Kevin Kenerly

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed, read by Simon Slater

GhettoSide by Jill Leovy, read by Rebecca Lowman

(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 “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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