Audiobooks

March 2015 Audiobooks Review by Jonathan Lowe

on

houndedGrover Gardner is one of the pioneers of spoken word audio, and also one of the most prolific. He’s a finalist this year in the Audie Awards (the audiobook industry’s Oscar equivalent) with HOUNDED, an amusing mystery by David Rosenfelt, who has penned an entire series of dog related detective novels featuring Andy Carpenter. If it wins in Best Mystery category, it wouldn’t be the first time for the Rosenfelt/Gardner duo. This time we have a courtroom drama featuring drugs, the setup of a friend for murder, and a twist ending, all delivered with wit and charm. It’s a cosy mystery narrated with the unerring authority and believability of experience that will appeal to both men and women, while A TOUCH OF STARDUST by Kate Alcott will enthrall historical fiction lovers, as the protagonist is employed as publicist for Carole Lombard during her romance with Clark Gable on the filming of Gone with the Wind. Actress Cassandra Campbell narrates this intriguing tale of old Hollywood, and brings her considerable talents at creating believable characters to the task.

One of the myopic concepts discussed in the new book THIS IDEA MUST DIE (edited by John Brockman and read by David Colacci and Susan Ericksen) is the notion of simplistic answers to complex problems. We (as humans) tend to want the external world outside our own conscious ego to conform to this need to categorize everything as right or wrong, good or evil, black or white. Star Wars type movies and video games and ball games all require myopic simplicity to work on the level of mindless sensory engagement (US vs THEM.) The real world is not so simple. We do not even know our place in it, and so gravitate toward our baser instincts to dominate or defeat those outside our more understandable clan or family or team. In order for progress to work efficiently we need to retire many such fallacies, and this audiobook discussion of why we are stuck in a violent, incomprehensible world explores and debates the issues posed by dozens of scientists at the frontiers of knowledge.

Read by an always neutral yet engaging and sympathically curious Sean Runnette, AT THE EDGE OF UNCERTAINTY by Micheal Brooks is an examination of the latest discoveries in science that may go against what was previously believed. Life is complex, not just on the social level, but also on the molecular level. This is a broad view of the sciences, but with surprising in-depth focus. So it walks the balance beam between the limited knowledge of pop audiences and the fact based erudition of geeks, with entertaining flips along the way likely to be appreciated by both. Subjects include the quantum link in understanding smell (and scents perception, as in perfumes); the finding that women experience pain differently than men; why we unconsciously judge what people say by what they are wearing (something politicians exploit); the fallacy of positive thinking in affecting outcomes or overcoming disease (with the caveat of stress and depression); the nature of reality: (holographic, string theory?); why studying vision in how birds navigate may usher in artificially intelligent computers (coverIng one eye in birds takes away their ability, but not the other!); cosmology and inflation theory; time as illusion; human consciousness (cognition, deception); genes and DNA: are we special? The Nazis experimented on creating chimeras, or human/ape hybrids. It didn’t work, but could it? The answer is a shocking “maybe.” Stem cell research is but one of the “11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise,” the subtitle of this fascinating book, written by a journalist with a PH.D in physics. (Note on the narrator: while some readers tend to add drama to non-fiction, as they are used to doing with fiction, Runnette is one of the best because he disappears behind the narrative in the same way that a good dramatic reader does in creating character in novels. This is not an easy task, since one wants naturally to emphasize or dramatize certain revelations. Runnette sticks to goal, which is to create awe in the listener, allowing them to experience that awe by stepping aside, in essence pointing with skillful pacing and pauses.)

Finally, it should be obvious why audiobooks cost more than ebooks, and are equivalent or more in price than hardcovers: because they cost more to produce. A professional voice actor must interpret the characters in studio, spending on average three to five days to record a book. Editing and engineering hours are added to this cost, and that’s just for downloaded titles. Production of CDs for packaging employ others and add materials costs. Ebooks can be produced at lower cost, and while you pay extra for “name brands,” the generics can be just as effective, and might surprise you. The ebook bundle THE THRILLER ZONE, for example, is 20 novels for $2.99, and would cost $70 if you bought each of the books individually. But if they were purchased on audio it would be double to triple that price. Which is not to say there are no bargains on audio. The thing you may not have considered about cost is that audiobooks free YOU to do something OTHER than to sit in a chair and read. Audiobooks don’t involve eye strain, and you can drive, walk, cook, clean, or exercise while listening. How much is that worth to you? How many more books could you enjoy if someone did the reading for you?

Audiobooks Reviews Archives

Recommended for you