Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

September 2007

reviewed by Jonathan Lowe

The mechanics of science rarely invade the media of mass culture, and the reason is obvious. Ignorant of little more than sound bites and so called "reality" shows, the typical American consumer is not only near-sighted, but insular. While he may own a cell phone, a WiFi accessible computer, a plasma TV and an iPod, he doesn't really understand how they work--or care. To interest such a person, one must be both entertaining and provocative, which is just what astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson does in DEATH BY BLACK HOLE, a collection of carefully arranged essays written for Natural History magazine. Read by actor Dion Graham, the book is a patient, simplified cosmic guide that puts in perspective what is knowable about the biggest questions of all--where we come from, are we alone in the universe, and does religion fit in. While it can't answer these questions, it does reveal their depth, dispelling widely held myths. The title refers to what may be the most bizarre way to die, (and one which CSI will never be able to investigate.) Seen on the PBS program NOVA, and possessing innate communications skills himself, Tyson could have narrated this audiobook version, had he time. But what exactly is time, or gravity? And why can't he--or anyone--move faster than the speed of light? Tyson patiently explains, wielding the voice of an equally entertaining professional reader, who seems to have grasped the essence of Tyson's persona. In the process, the listener begins to imagine the Earth as a grain of sand on the cosmic beach. So much for thinking celebrity awards shows are all that important! True to ironic form, the production is also available in Mp3 format for direct download to the now astronomical number of iPods out there. (Blackstone Audio; 12 hours unabridged) AMAZON.COM

Moving from science to science fiction, there's the intriguing EIFELHEIM, from the award winning Michael Flynn. It's about a historian and his theoretical physicist girlfriend, who investigate the history of a German town that mysteriously disappeared in 1349. At first they think it had something to do with the Black Death, which was infecting Europe at the time. But due to the multiple viewpoints the listener knows that it was the site of first contact with aliens, where a spaceship "crashed" in the nearby forest. Although "crash" is not the right word, as the ship travelled through from another dimension or alternate universe. Moving between the past and present, the story is narrated by Anthony Heald, best known for playing Hannibal Lecter's jail nemesis in "The Silence of the Lambs." It's also the best thing about the audiobook, since Heald is an incredible actor, with a quirky delivery that's particularly chilling in his subdued voice portrayal of several of the aliens. (Blackstone Audio; 17 hours unabrided) AMAZON.COM


Next, can you force someone to love you? Yes, according to author Nicholas Boothman in HOW TO MAKE SOMEONE LOVE YOU FOREVER. Ostensibly, such a task takes time, since you can't hurry love. Hence, the subtitle here is In 90 Minutes or Less, which is longer than Boothman took last time out, when he penned How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less. Actually, the book takes a while to listen to, and the author suits the narration, being a former fashion photographer and ad man, now a non-verbal communications guru. In an age when looks matter most, he schools listeners on how to dress, how to act, and what to say. . . whether you want to be a Stepford wife or not. While much of what's discussed seems obvious, the most intriguing aspects are those we may overlook, as the author points out our subconscious defensive postures, which take conscious effort to overcome. Because just being yourself may not get you love, unfortunately, if don't know how to hide your insecurities or a suspicious nature. (Listen & Live Audio; 4 hours abridged) AMAZON.COM


Two more new books are also out, both of which reveal our changing culture, and both of their authors went to Yale. First is SUPER CRUNCHERS, by "econometrician" and lawyer Ian Ayres, about statistical analysis in the new America. While you may have long suspected you were only a "number in the system," here's proof that you really are. Because not only are your demographics being analyzed by advertisers, but your individual history of purchases is being melded with reams of other data regarding how likely you are to respond to sales pitches, charity drives, or direct mail and magazine ads. All that information is crunched inside silicon chips before you're ever targeted. If they know your age, your income, and where you live, all they need is to trace your buying habits, and they'll also know how you'll vote, what you'll likely to want next, and what percentage rate you're apt to accept on a credit card--information that's fully displayed on the computer screen of that company rep you have on the phone. Sound scary? Welcome to the new information age, where having an original thought is about as rare as an angel in the infield. . .or minefield. Actor James Lurie narrates, lending his controlled vocal skills to any defects in Ayres' own voice, making this a engrossing account of the strange-but-true, like an episode of the TV show "Numbers." Ayres even claims he arrived at the title by analyzing the number of hits on a proposed website. Now if only someone would crunch the numbers on Iraq, we'd finally demand term limits before our economy collapses. (Random House Audio; 6 hours abridged) AMAZON.COM

  Finally, there is FLAWLESS, a medical thriller by Stanford med student and Yale grad Joshua Spanogle, about a former CDC detective who can't leave the profession because an old friend has been murdered, and he's needed to investigate the dead man's medical research papers involving a dangerous cosmetic drug. What makes the story interesting is not so much the writing or plotting, which can be simplistic or clichéd, but rather the learning process of the protagonist, and the subject matter. Given that we're all numbers, now, it follows that the more perfect your numbers, the more desirable and "worthy" of love. One's "figure" should be flawless, while the number of tiny lines and wrinkles should be few. Be willing to pay any price for this, Spanogle seems to be saying, and that price may be larger than the number pi. Scott Brick narrates, and is always a pleasure to listen to, forever breathing life into a host of characters, flawed or otherwise. (Random House Audio; 6.5 hours abridged) AMAZON.COM


2007 Past Columns


© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.