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Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

March 2007

reviewed by Jonathan Lowe

Suppose you're an ex con artist trying to go straight when you're approached by two people in succession. First, the wife of a billionaire looking to swindle her abusive hubby, and then your own son, who tells you he needs big money to make good on a bad bet with the Russian mafia, or they're going to kill him. That's the setup to CON ED by Matthew Klein, an enjoyable romp through the life of one Kip Largo, a luckless yet intelligent sap whose fear of a lonely old age motivates him to attempt the dangerous repair of failed relationships. The story is told in the first person by narrator Norman Dietz, who couldn't be more believable as this wistful and wise observer of human foibles. Sympathy is earned here, in this well acted must-hear tale about a con man's swan song to the ironies of greed, betrayal, and fatherhood.    (Brilliance Audio/9 hours unabridged) Amazon

Tyler Perry is described as a playwright, author, producer, director, composer, actor, star, reader, writer, and "entrepreneurial force," all within one paragraph on the back of his new audiobook DON'T MAKE A BLACK WOMAN TAKE OFF HER EARRINGS: MADEA'S UNINHIBITED COMMENTARIES ON LOVE AND LIFE. On the cover Perry (a big young man) is dressed as an overweight black woman with silver hair, and so, as you might suspect, this is an offbeat humorous advice book, and is based on the two movies that Perry created around the character of this pistol-packing grandmother with an attitude. With subjects ranging from sex to beauty to religion, Perry (as Madea) dishes out a comprehensive yet unorganized monologue consisting of snippets of memory and wisdom. Doesn't seem scripted, but that's the charm. Not everything here is side splittingly funny, but happily most is at least amusing, while Perry succeeds best as an impersonator. Now if only Madea would tour the airport hotel conference circuit like those self help seminar nuts do, then maybe that trend would finally end.    (Penguin Audio/4 1/2 hours) Amazon

If you're in the delivery business, be it mail or oil or cattle or loaves of 12 grain bread, you probably feel under-appreciated at times. Perhaps you wonder what it might be like to switch from truck to tanker, or from barge to coal train. John McPhee's idea was just that in UNCOMMON CARRIERS, a non-fictional account of his job-hopping observations across the country and back again. Along the way, McPhee rides on an 18 wheeler hauling toxic chemicals to Washington state, then sits next to a towboat pilot negotiating the Illinois River, and finally climbs aboard the massive trains carrying coal out of Wyoming. With eyes and ears open, he portrays the transportation industry as a machine run by colorful people who are very aware of being invisible to the average folks on the street. Is it safe to crisscross your wave runner in front of a churning tugboat with massive propellers? Or your VW Beetle in front of a gasoline tank truck or a hauler carrying half a dozen SUVs? As one truck driver put it, "that guy strays any closer, and it's Beulah Land!" The audiobook is narrated by McPhee himself, which is its only flaw, since McPhee has trouble maintaining a structural flow, along with a voice level. So a professional reader might have better enlivened the text, much like those commercials where an actor stands in for some ordinary Joe sitting in his own living room.       (Recorded Books / 9 1/2 hours unabridged) Amazon

What did Jackson Pollock, Saul Steinberg, Fairfield Porter and Jean Stafford have in common? Well, these artists and writers all lived and worked on the east end of Long Island, along with Frank O'Hara and Willem de Kooning. In DE KOONING'S BICYCLE critic Robert Long recreates an era prior to the nouveau riche takeover of the Hamptons by trust fund babies, when art (and not ostentation) was modus operandi. Read by perhaps the most listenable of narrators, Grover Gardner, the book "captures the spirit of modernism as filtered though New York's rural past," according to Publisher's Weekly. It is available in Mp3 disk format, for download to iPod, which is definitely modern, or perhaps post-modern. A new canvas, you might say, for the appropriate inner landscape of the audio documentary.      (Blackstone Audio/5 1/2 hours unabridged) Amazon

Garrison Keillor has yet another collection of Lake Wobegon stories from his Prairie Home Companion radio show titled NEVER BETTER. I'm not sure if Garrison makes this stuff up off the top of his head, in ad lib, but whether he does or not, he certainly has a gift for offbeat characterization, and needs to be heard on audio rather than merely read. He told me once in interview that Lake Wobegon is a real place, so one might naturally wonder if he reads the town newspaper and embellishes more boring stories, or if everything is made up of whole cloth. Suffice it to say that the eccentric people of Lake Wobegon are far from average, what with Flying Elvises on the 4th of July. (Although the piece about Father Wilmer getting a new pair of underwear, or Roger Hedlund trying to escape his deer hunting pals does contain more than a kernel of truth.) As they say in Lake Wobegon, "it could be worse." But what I think is that Keillor has never been better.     (Highbridge Audio/2 hours unabridged) Amazon

Finally, you may remember Tracy Chevalier from the endearing historical mystery "Girl With the Pearl Earring," which was made into a somewhat less exciting film. She has been trying to repeat her success with that book (as have other authors) ever since, and comes close in BURNING BRIGHT, set in London in 1792. It's all about a sense of place here, with your stand-ins being the Kellaways, recently arrived from the countryside, and Maggie Butterfield, daughter of a local rogue. The circus, the mustard factory, Westminster Abbey, Cut-Throat Lane, and most of all poet and artist William Blake, are all influences here on a young girl growing up.

Read by Jill Tanner, whose affecting rendition is informed by her time at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, this new historical novel is an escape from our current, dangerous era via the simpler--albeit baudy--route.     (Penguin Audio/11 1/2 hours unabridged) Amazon

2007 Past Columns


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