Culture & Criticism Since 2003
Books on tape are the only literature some folks know. Urban commuters, busy mothers whose days are filled with kids and housework, those with optical handicaps, and the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes have come to depend on these audio tapes as a means to stay current with the newest fiction and feed their need to read.
Once looked upon as the poor step-sister of the publishing industry by many traditionalists, audio books have come along way during the past decade – with many houses devoting specific editorial resources to maintaining an audio division. Accordingly, presentation has come along way as well — the first-rate narration and digital recording techniques have omitted that funky old tape hiss and created a crystal-clear, high-definition sound.
This was an especially good year for audio books, with some outstanding selections released that should provide hours of enjoyment to readers, who now can investigate these stories while driving, riding the bus, doing the laundry or recuperating in the hospital. Like the advent of the home computer and portable CD player, audio books open the door to a whole new world in the mind of the reader. As these books will attest, the possibilities are indeed limitless.
JOHN PAUL II. Rise, Let Us Be Our Own Way. John Paul II. Time Warner Audio. This release from Time Warner captures the impact of John Paul II — one of the most popular Popes in history. John Paul’s death last month was an epic event, and it drew the attention of millions from around the world (random individuals whom the Pontiff had touched with his devout wisdom). In this selection (brilliantly read by theater veteran Kristoffer Tabori), Pope John Paul tells his own story in a beautifully lilting style that so captures this modest and gracious leader. In the beginning chapters, we are greeted with autobiographical information detailing the origins of John Paul, and then proceed with him through his rise through the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Along the way, we come to receive a truly intimate glimpse into the religious beliefs and gentle soul of a man who time will never forget. Will be important to persons of all denominations for its honesty and deep conviction. Five hours unabridged on 4 CDS.
LET ME TELL YOU A STORY. A Lifetime in The Game. Red Auerbach and John Feinstein. Time Warner Audio. As we head deeper into the 2005 NBA playoffs, fans of the game will enjoy this tour through the life and times of Arnold “Red” Auerbach — legendary leader of the Boston Celtics’ glory years. Auerbach coached the famed Celts to nine NBA championships (8 in succession); along with Phil Jackson, Red is regarded as the best NBA coach there ever was. This book presents Red Auerbach in Auerbach’s own colorful style — telling us the story that began on the playgrounds of old-town Brooklyn and proceeded to the top of the American sport’s scene. Now 87, Auerbach has so much to look back on: the championships with Russell and Cousy, the years of frustration his teams laid on the great Chamberlain, the modern years of Bird and Parish (now watching from the sidelines as a spectator). Basketball fans will adore this book — as vibrant and passionate as Coach Auerbach in his prime. Read by Arnie Mazer (Law and Order). 3 hours on 3 CDS.
THE ABC’S OF REAL ESTATE INVESTING. Ken McElroy. Time Warner Audio. About the only thing that hasn’t unraveled in the current economy is the Real Estate market, as houses and commercial properties are selling at a staggering rate, in turn, driving commerce. Given these radical changes, the world of real property investment is no longer the territory of professional investors. Instead, it’s anybody’s game now, and there’s a profit to be made by everybody — no matter your level of experience, no matter the level of capital available. This book by investor and property management expert Ken McElroy details how the first-time investor should go about exploring the market. Here, McElroy shares valuable information on how to find and evaluate property with investment potential, negotiate the best deal for your situation, and then manage the property for income potential once you’ve made the purchase. A highly informative book which does not require an MBA in order to be digested. 3 hours total running time.
TODAY MATTERS. John C. Maxwell. Time Warner. Motivational teacher John Maxwell synthesizes his lectures here, offering a list of steps people can take to better organize/manage their lives. Maxwell’s book is about discipline and using self-awareness and mental prowess to eradicate chaos from daily life. Once this is done, folks naturally have more time for family and self. The key is to reclaim today and forget the future and the past. As trite as it may sound in this jaded era, it’s valuable and meaningful advice. Read by the author in an engaging voice. 3 hours on 3 CDS.
RICH DAD’S WHO TOOK MY MONEY. Robert T. Kiyosaki, with Sharon Lechter. Time Warner Audio. This book, part of the “Rich Dad’s” series by Kiyosaki, is a terribly important selection in this uncertain economic climate. The volatility of the stock market during the last 40 months has showed that the way people saved money for retirement in the past is not feasible today. Security is all about properly planning for the future, and that’s the crux of this book – it provides a blueprint on how to compentently invest your money for the highest possible return. Read by Jim Ward. 3 hours on 3 CDS.
One of the most practical and well-realized business books we’ve seen this year. The fact that it’s an audio title as well makes it all the more worthwhile, since readers can gain from its advice “on the run.“
THE NARROWS. Michael Connelly. Narrated by Len Cariou. Time Warner. Former journalist Michael Connelly is a captivating writer who has mastered the feat of keeping us at the edge of our seats. This novel is no exception — thrilling and hard-edged, Narrows tells the story of a deep and intellectual serial killer, the authorities in hot pursuit. More than your garden-variety mystery, The Narrows keeps its audience’s attention through its deep examination of the concepts of good and evil, the ideals of love and hatred pitted against each other. Cariou’s reading is natural and evocative, fitting tight around the words like a tight and shapely glove. 11 hours unabridged on 9 CDS.
Recommended for true crime lovers. Perfect for that long commute home.
ORACLE NIGHT. Paul Auster. Read by the author. Harper Audio. This is a writer’s novel — and the story line swirls among cobwebs in the holy minds of ghosts. Oracle follows the novelist Sidney Orr after he buys a writing book in a Brooklyn stationary shop and then slowly dissolves into its perfect and sultry blank pages. The events that follow challenge Orr’s whole reality — consuming both mind and body. Lovers of fiction will no doubt enjoy this book, but writers will especially be drawn to it, for it speaks about the muse which drives pen toward word and word toward paper. And it speaks to the muse which drives us through tawdry realms of madness, driving us toward these deep rivers of hunger and music and beauty. 8 hours on 6 cassettes.
FOUNDING MOTHERS. (The Women Who Raised Our Nation). Cokie Roberts. Harper Audio. Cokie Roberts is a nationally known political analyst/journalist who is respected for her in depth coverage of the politics and the events which give shape to our nation. In Founding Mothers, Roberts continues the theme of her two previous books (We Are Our Mothers Daughters and From This Day Forward), examining the lives of the women who persevered through dark times, propping up the country. People know the story of Jefferson and Lincoln well. Kids are taught in school what Kennedy meant to America. But often, personalities like Martha Washington and Mary Bartlett are passed over as we become consumed in the strong male perspective that has honed our history. And that’s the beauty of this book – it sews together all the scenes and faces and stories of the women who were here when the country was young and faceless and struggling, telling a story that we all need to hear right now. Read by the author herself in an engaging and vibrant voice. 6 hours on 4 cassettes.
Highly recommended for the general reader and for women’s studies groups. Further recommended for all public sector libraries.
THE KNOWN WORLD. Edward P. Jones. Harper Audio. This masterful novel examines the concept of slavery from many perspectives, and in turn, causes us to examine our own fetid prejudices. Known World brings us the story of Henry Townsend, a former slave who dispels the myths of the illiterate servant with his passion for Paradise Lost. Townsend, however, is part and parcel the shape of the Paradise Lost, as he loses sight of himself and becomes a plantation owner — and an enslaver. The story that ensues is a deep and engaging one, for it is about exploitation and greed and our insatiable need to control and rule each other. During these times of prisoner abuse and oil-driven wars, it couldn’t be more relevant. Will appeal to the general reader and to the serious student of world history. Read by Kevin Free. 15 hours on 10 cassettes.
THE EYE OF THE WORLD. Robert Jordan. Audio Renaissance. Eye Of the World is an adventurous ride. This is a cartoon and fable and mysterious drama all rolled into one epic and sprawling fantasy story – the terrain ripe with monsters and young souls unaware of what lurks behind the next wall of shadows. On these roads of cast offs and beautiful demons, the past melds with the present to create a timeless and seamless pure world. Faces are un-named. Hearts go unclaimed. Like we did via the “Road Warrior” series, we are moving into a place we don’t know or understand. Masterfully read by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer. 31 hours on 25 CDS. A wild and thrilling story.
GRANT COMES EAST. Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. Narrated by Boyd Gaines. Audio Renaissance. In these dark times of war, Grant Comes East is an interesting read: The second installment of the Gingrich/Forstchen collaboration reinvents the roads General Robert E. Lee took, bringing him to Washington where he is engaged in a time-altering battle. Some will ask why we are reinventing reality and the past and shedding the mirrors of history in search of a new face. And the answer to that question swims in the fact that the Civil War is the event that defined our nation; had those battles turned a different way, the country as we know it would not have been born. Grant examines these events from a different perspective, as seen through the eye of a career politician who was once the Speaker of The House of Representatives. Like the Gods and Generals film from last year, Grant re-exposes us to the great benchmarks of American history. With a spoken introduction by Gingrich. 6 hours on 5 CDS.
Will especially appeal to students of history and Americana.
TEN BIG ONES. Janet Evanovich. Audio Renaissance. Ten Big Ones is a fun one to listen to – this is the kind of fast-paced story that draws readers to crime-fiction, providing the kind of high we got as kids when the new Hardy Boys hit the library shelf. In Ten, we’re presented with Stephanie Plum, a lovable on-the-edge woman caught in the dirty crime-sick streets of the American Nightmare. Plum is a loner who drives fast and dashes about (mostly in painful circles), looking to make sense of a story that has gone mad. And then, in the midst of hunting down a killer calledJunkman, she comes to find herself. A fun book that ends up teaching us about ourselves. Read by Lorelei King; crime writer Evanovich is also interviewed. 8.5 hours on 7 CDS.
THE FAMILY. THE REAL STORY OF THE BUSH DYNASTY. Kitty Kelly. Read by the author. Random House Audio. The Bush family is arguably one of the most powerful groups in all of history. The Bush resume boasts a father and son who have both served as President of the United States (with another son governor of one of the most influential states in the union). A family tied to politics and big business. A family that controls the oil business and other avenues of world commerce. Here, Kelly (who has written for the Washington Post and Newsweek among other publications) goes back to the origins of the Bush clan and examines exactly where the money came from. A story that begins in the world of Ohio steel and moves into the vortex of oil and government. But what makes this selection more than a run-of-the-mill political commentary is in the fact that Kelly was gutsy enough to dig beyond the surface, delving into the hidden lives of the Bush family, showing that the shiny public and polished image of these people only provides for half the story. Contrary to Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” The Family looks at the Bushes through the cold and objective eye of a journalist. It’s definitely a story worth reading. 10 hours on 8 CDS.
GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES. The Secret Life of A Critic In Disguise. Ruth Reichl. Read by the author. Random House Audio. The world of the restaurant critic is a world wrapped in power and influence: a mention in a named critic’s column can literally make or break an eatery. And as much as restaurateurs want reviews, they also fear them: for the wrong comment can throw you out of business in a matter of months. In terms of influence, Reichl is as powerful as they come: a critic who writes for the New York Times in a town with more big-dollar restaurants than anywhere in the country. Accordingly, to avoid being duped or treated better than the average customer, food critics attempt to conceal their identity — it is their only way to keep the playing field level, their only way to make sure that they are experiencing the true atmosphere of the establishment. To this end, Reichl has had to go to a variety of extremes — literally recreating her persona over and again — just to make sure restaurateurs can’t pick her out of the crowd. Garlic and Sapphires is an honest, humorous and enthralling look into the foodie world of America, detailing the many different faces Reichl has donned just to be able to remain objective in her ultimate role as journalist. 5 hours on 4 CDS.
WILT, 1962. THE NIGHT OF 100 POINTS AND THE DAWN OF THE NEW ERA. Gary Pomerantz. Read by Roscoe Orman. Random House Audio. In the annals of sports achievements, that night in March of 1962 when Wilt Chamberlain scored a cool 100 points is probably the greatest single feat ever to occur in sports. To think that a player of Chamberlain’s magnitude existed and ruled the league for so long is almost unfathomable. I mean, “Wilt the Stilt” stood head and shoulders above the game and literally caused the rule-makers to modify the standards of play to slow the big man down. This Random House selection chronicles Chamberlain’s legendary, mythical night, and does so with the pure passion of yesteryear – when men played for the love of the game instead of the love of the dollar. This recording actually features the final half-hour of the original radio broadcast — a chilling and haunting segment that all basketball fans will want to hear and cherish. Read masterfully by actor Roscoe Orman. Six hours abridged on five CDS.
MY LIFE. Bill Clinton. Random House. Like it or not, even President Clinton’s harshest critics must admit that he was a leader who did a lot of good for the country and the world economy, preserving our civil liberties along the way. And it’s truly a shame that these things have become but a footnote to the sensationalized Monica Lewinsky story (it’s deplorable that what should have remained a private event was turned into a public scandal and political football that cost the country millions of dollars for nothing). More than anything else, that’s what is so striking about this book by Mr. Clinton: it forces us to look at what he did as a President instead of focusing on his private moments. Personally, I am much more concerned about where we are going to end up as Americans (in the wake of 9-11 and the Iraq war) than I am about any man’s marital life. In the end, My Life is about a former President looking at himself and examining the things that led him into office — examining both the good and the bad, delving past the right and the wrong, allowing us this rare chance to glimpse a former President as a person (rather than as public figure or icon). This title is a major release, and the audio edition is made all the more compelling by Mr. Clinton’s magnetic voice and his ability to bring passion to each sentence of the recording. 6.5 hours on 6 CDS.
THE VOICE OF THE POET. Allen Ginsberg. Random House. Ginsberg, along with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, was a leader of the literary movement that became known as the “Beat Generation.” And since his death in 1997, poetry lovers around the globe have been left starved for the passion that Ginsberg’s life embodied — for he lived each of his poems with the meat of his spirit and the strength of his blood, spitting his love of song and sound across the whole holy face of the world. Truly, Ginsberg’s life was about the beauty of expression and the living hope of the word, breathing life into the memory of each moment in which he lived. The Voice Of The Poet perfectly captures Allen Ginsberg in his own voice – capturing him moment by moment, syllable by naked syllable, breath by broken breath. Sink into this recording. Not surprisingly, his rendition of “Howl” stands out: since it was written over 50 years ago, “Howl” has been a vital and meaningful expression of the American condition. 71 minutes on 1 CD.
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS. THE VOICE OF THE POET. William Carlos Williams. Random House Audio. William Carlos Williams was a huge influence on Allen Ginsberg (they were both from New Jersey), and also a guide for the other leading voices of the Beat Generation. In addition to being a physician, Williams was an innovative and resilient poet who revolutionized the “impressionist poem” and also restructured its appearance on the page, using a succession of short lines to hammer and chisel at the senses until the images burned into the vivid and naked light of life. This recording is a real find in that it brings the best of Williams’ work back to us. The fact that it comes imbedded in the soundful echoes of his own voice makes it all the more rich and endearing — now we can hear just what Ginsberg heard in the work of the great and under-studied Williams: the invocations of spirit, the homage to the beauty of the ordinary eye now come spinning through the universe from beyond the purview of the grave. Highlights are many, but none are more stunning than the version of “To Elsie” which serves as a deep and haunting commentary on the emptiness of our times. Also fine renditions of “Red Wheelbarrow” and “Queen Anne’s Lace.” Note additional analysis by esteemed Yale Review Editor, J.D. McClatchy (who is also the series editor). One hour on a single CD.
T.S. ELIOT. THE VOICE OF THE POET. Random House Audio. Along with Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot is regarded as the father of the American poetry scene during the last half century: Eliot’s sweet rhythms are partly responsible for the course the Beat Generation’s road took, but also, the way he came to structure his poems and build his rhyme-scheme further provided a grand motivation for the rock-and-rollers of the 1960s. Writers like Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Lou Reed almost certainly studied and absorbed Eliot’s poetry and then used the things they learned to change the way music was presented to the culture. This recording captures the best of T.S. Eliot’s catalog, including stunning performances of Eliot’s most influential pieces. Listen to the essence of the poet’s voice bleed through “The Waste Land” and “The Hollow Men” — these are the strains of the bells straining against the clear invisible skirts of the wind. These are the echoes of Christ’s breath straining against the claws of the window glass. This great legacy of our American poetry. This inspiration of the muse now come to tend and stroke and soothe come to guide us home. One hour on a single CD.
SLEEPING WITH SCHUBERT. Bonnie Marson. Read by Michelle Santopietro (and featuring the music of Franz Schubert). Random House. Wonderfully original novel that is centered around a New York lawyer who is housing the spirit and soul of the genius Austrian composer Franz Schubert within herself. The story builds around the reincarnation of the great musician in the seemingly ordinary body of Liza Durbin. As the book moves forward, we come to connect with the power of music and its ability to drive us from our hidden selves (the story intensifying moment-to-moment as we become absorbed in the melodies of the master composer). At times the melding of plot and voice and concerto is simply stunning, with an impassioned reading by Santopietro (Sopranos and Law & Order). 5 hours on 5 CDs.
RAMMER JAMMER YELLOW HAMMER. A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania. Warren St. John. Random House. This brand new release by Random House coincides with the start of the new football season, examining the motivations that drive the sports fan. To those of us who are not “die-hard” fans, the things some folks do on Sunday seem silly (following their team, covering themselves in war paint, fighting in the stands in the name of victory). St. John has created a modern-day anthropological study here, following the Alabama Crimson Tide college football squad from game to game in his RV (The Hawg). St. John’s journey takes us into the very heart of the “extreme fan” – digging beyond the surface into the phenomenon of American sport. Rammer Jammer is at all times engaging and thought provoking – a book bold in scope that sets out to tell the country about itself. Read by the author. 5 hours on 4 CDS.
Recommended to college sociology instructors as a class text that explores first-hand the reasons why some people graduate from spectator to fanatic. Further recommended to all libraries as a general reference text.
OH THE GLORY OF IT ALL. Sean Wilsey. Read by actor writer Scott Brick. Penguin Audio. This Wilsey novel has it all — intrigue, sex, cultural exploration, the hunt for spirituality, the depths of desolation. A sprawling plot-line, yes, and quite an undertaking for any novelist. And believe it or not, Wilsey is actually able to pull it off with an ease and power that reminds the reader of the Thomas Pynchon years in American literature. This story is about a family separated by the sight of its own wealth — a story about losing one’s soul, finding it momentarily, and then losing it all over again. It’s a story about the pomp and pretension of money and how it rots away the real core of “family” and “honor” and “faith.” It’s a story about salvation and the loss of redemption in an out-of-control world. Captivating in the way that we found the characters on “Dallas” captivating. All the elements are here to hold the reader spellbound for hours. 22 hours on 18 CDS.
THE LAST SEASON. A TEAM IN SEARCH OF ITS SOUL. Phil Jackson. Read by Stephen Hoye. Penguin Audio. Phil Jackson is more than a coach. This guy’s an acutely intelligent man who knows people and understands how to motivate the psyche. His methods are without question: after winning 9 championships in 10 tries, who can question him? Moreover, the fact that the Lakers failed to make the playoffs this year was as much a result of the fact that Jackson wasn’t at the helm as it was due to the fact that Shaq wasn’t in the middle of the key. You see, Jackson is a leader with smarts and cunning and he can read a basketball court like no other. This book tells the story of his last season with the Lakers — the contentions he endured with superstar Kobe Bryant. His struggle to bring the disparate elements of a star-studded team together for a last shot at a ring. Interestingly, as this review is being written, the Lakers are contemplating rehiring Jackson: a fact that serves as indisputable evidence of the man’s power on the court. In the end, The Last Season opens the door a crack, and allows us to see what his players see: a coach driven to excel, a man who will settle for nothing less than perfection from his team. Brilliantly read by Hoye, who gives the recording a passion and intensity that is often only seen on the stage. 8 hours on 7 CDS.
THE INNOCENT. Harlan Coben. Read by Scott Brick. Penguin. This book by Coben is truly a fun read – -although a novel, it moves with the dark and sticky intensity of true crime. Unabashed with passion, the story is propelled by a Mickey Spillane-type-turmoil that drives the characters toward their doom and redemption. The Innocent presents the story of Matt Hunter, an “innocent” guy who ends up in jail for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. After doing his 10 year stint in jail, he finds himself on the outside again. But he is not free. A stranger appears and begins to stalk the tranquillity of Matt’s suburban life. This story has a lot of twists and surprises and will keep the reader guessing. It’s ultimate lesson shows that there are no guarantees that our lives will remain quiet and perfect and peaceful. 14 hours on 11 CDS. Veteran narrator Brick brings deep and subtle power to the recording.
THE RUNES OF THE EARTH. Stephen R. Donaldson. Read by actor/writer Scott Brick. Penguin Audio. Probably more than any other novelist in the last 30 years, Stephen Donaldson’s vision as a writer has changed the way the fantasy novel takes shape and tells itself. Similar to Thomas Pynchon, Donaldson’s work (especially the international best-seller “The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant”) is known for its intricacies of character and the multi-layered dimensions of plot. These are not the “Lost In Space” tales of post World War Two America; instead, they’re original stories of immense depth and detail that captivate and capture the audience, recreating the world, giving the lost ones a place to go. The Runes of the Earthbegins in the time after the death of Thomas Covenant (the holy writer who lived his last hours in a dream state, safe between the soft edges that bridge heaven and earth). But Runes makes it clear: even though Covenant is gone, his connection to the spirits of the infinite are not. And this is where the story begins: with Covenant’s son trying to connect with his invisible father through a toy on the floor – moving through time and space towards a land that is predicated on the deep vision of the eyes. Runes is simply a fantasy masterpiece, a book populated by rich characterizations and stunningly evocative detail, steeped in history, over-boiling with imagination, drunk on the breathlessness of ghosts. Be forewarned, the questions unleashed are deeply profound: Where do we go when we sleep? Do dreams carry us to the hollow edge of death? Do softer worlds await those who flounder amid the tired bones of earth? Runes poses these questions and many more, taking its readers on a marvelous journey. 28 hours on 22 CDS.