Forget the Ark. Indy is looking for
something even more mysterious and
dangerous in INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM
OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. The novelization
of the screenplay by David Koepp (based
on the story by George Lucas and Jeff
Nathanson) is by bestselling author
James Rollins. Rollins is a good pick
here, as is L.J. Ganser as narrator
for the story, since both writer and
actor have a knack for wisecracking
humor. In real life, Rollins is an
avid spelunker and scuba diver, too,
besides being author of Excavation,
Deep Fathom, Amazonia,
Map of Bones, and Black
Order. For his Lucas Films adaptation,
the time is 1957, and Indy is fired
from teaching by his McCarthy-era
superiors, suspected of being a spy.
Russian soldiers have plundered a
top secret government warehouse, looking
for a powerful relic, and after foiling
the attempt with a narrow escape,
Indy is on the run to rescue a colleague
in the Amazon jungle, and to solve
the mystery of the Crystal Skull.
Faithful to the film version, the
audiobook has the same science fiction
turn at the end, which is unlike previous
Indy adventures. I recommend the audiobook
only if you haven't seen the film.
It has a similar feel that - by necessity
- is quite different than other (scarier)
Rollins titles. It may also be the
final Indiana Jones adventure committed
to film and audio, and so if you haven't
yet heard a book on CD, that may also
be reason enough to give it a try.
(Random House Audio; 8 1/2 hours
The rising middle class of India and
China want their turn at the good
life. With economics veering in their
favor, they will have it, too. What
this means for Americans is sharply
rising prices for fuel and food, as
demand increases for commodities.
What it means for the environment
isn't pretty. In writing about the
success of "the rest of the world,"
Fareed Zakaria in THE POST AMERICAN
WORLD, points to American culture
and past affluence for setting an
example for the world. Decades of
American influence has made many nations
eager to obtain the same pride and
power. ("We will be the next Superpower,"
a young man on the streets of Delhi
recently boasted.) What Zakaria argues
is that Washington needs to radically
shift its foreign policy focus, before
it's too late. Because change is already
happening, and we can either fight
it and lose, or create coalitions
and join the world community as an
equal partner instead of a superior
force (ie. policeman of the world.)
"Globalization is unstoppable at this
point," reiterates Zakaria, as editor
of Newsweek International.
What threatens everyone now, he says,
is Nationalism, which is unfortunately
another path toward which America
has also pointed (ie. US VS. THEM,
"we're #1.") Indeed, where Nationalism
is strongest, more weapons systems
are required, and as Einstein once
put it at the advent of the atomic
bomb, "Nationalism is the measles
of humanity." In the end, though,
Zakaria, as narrator here, presents
a thoughtful and comprehensive assessment
of the future that is not without
hope. He cites America's educational
system and diversity as its greatest
assets, and rejects the idea that
we will ever become a so-called "third
world" nation. "The Post American
World" is therefore not an anti-American
book, as the title may suggest, but
a wake-up call in the form of an examination
of what is actually happening in the
rest of the world. (Simon & Schuster
Audio; 8 1/2 hours unabridged)
Next, have you ever wondered how strippers
become jaded and disillusioned? Wonder
no more in listening to NO MAN'S LAND,
a memoir with a cynical bent, narrated
by its author, Ruth Fowler. Fowler
was subject of a New York Times
piece on stripping, and decided to
pen a book on her experiences. Unusually
well positioned to do so, (she's a
Cambridge grad and UK freelancer),
Fowler first arrived in the Big Apple
with high hopes for becoming a writer.
. . ambitions that were subsequently
dashed. Then, after a stint working
on cruise ships, and using the pseudonym
"Mimi," she began stripping to make
ends meet. Chronicling her life from
that point, along with those she meets,
Fowler seems to lose her own identity
in the underworld nightlife of anonymous
sex. The memoir is oddly disconcerting
and defiant, both raw and literary,
like a wilting flower in a waste dump.
It's also poignant and revelatory,
if self indulgent. (Penguin Audio;
9 hours unabridged)
Is no one immune to invisible influences?
Not according to SWAY - THE IRRESISTIBLE
PULL OF IRRATIONAL BEHAVIOR by Ori
& Rom Brafman. Whether you're the
veteran pilot who made the disastrous
decision to take off down a foggy
runway without clearance, or the President
(Johnson or Bush) who made the decision
to continue fighting without an exit
strategy, there are hidden forces
at work. SWAY, as read by John Apicella,
outlines these forces with examples
of why we are influenced against our
better judgment. Fear of loss is one
strong motivation, which can lead
to exponentially greater losses if
we don't recognize it early. Another
is our inability to reevaluate our
initial impression of someone or something,
even given glaring new evidence. Or
to assume the value of something based
on its popularity or celebrity endorsements.
(Oprah said what?) Why are we more
likely to "fall in love" when there
is danger involved? Why is a virtuoso
violinist completely ignored when
playing in a subway, although given
a standing ovation in Carnegie Hall?
Hidden psychological forces are swaying
us all the time, and this audiobook,
in the tradition of "Blink" and "Freakonomics,"
provides many intriguing examples.
(Highbridge Audio; 4 3/4 hours
Finally, Brad Thor is not averse to
taking risks. He does so with his
latest thriller, THE LAST PATRIOT,
about a Homeland Security operative
named Scot Harvath, who goes on the
hunt for a secret final revelation
made by the Prophet Mohammed just
before his assassination. This revelation,
if disclosed, will end radical Islam's
violence against non-believers without
another bullet or bomb required. Naturally,
there are those intent on never leaking
this secret, and who are prepared
to kill in order to prevent that.
In this fictional thriller, and in
the tradition of Robert Ludlum, the
target includes Harvath, who is also
a former Navy SEAL. But in real life,
one might ask if the target might
include author Brad Thor himself,
as a former Homeland Security operative.
Narrated by actor Armand Schultz,
the novel is part spy thriller and
part DaVinci Code puzzler.
For more about Thor's previous novels,
see his website BradThor.com,
which is hands-down the most slick,
high-tech author website out there.
The audiobook also includes an enhanced
CD with bonus chapters and a video
trailer. (Simon & Schuster Audio;
6 hours abridged)
Frank Muller died on June 4th in Durham,
NC, in failing health since his tragic
motorcycle accident in 2001. Library
Journal called him "the first
true superstar of spoken word audio."
Friend and supporter Stephen King
said that "when Frank reads, the blind
will see, the lame will walk, and
the deaf will hear." An industry pioneer,
Frank will be missed by listeners
and colleagues alike for his generosity,
enthusiasm and talent. The following
interview was conducted prior to his
accident, in 2001. Please visit FrankMullerHome.com
for more about Frank.
JONATHAN LOWE: How did all this
start for you? Were you on stage, and afterward
people came up to you, using words like
"mellifluous" to describe your voice?
FRANK MULLER: As a matter of fact,
I was on stage, but the way it happened
was that Henry Trentman, the founder of
Recorded Books, posted a notice at the theater
- Arena Stage in Washington, DC - hoping
to find actors interested in his idea to
start the company. For me it was a way to
earn a few extra bucks, and for Henry it
was the first audio book produced by his
new company. This was in 1979, when very
few people were involved in audio books.
LOWE: How did all this start for
you? Were you on stage, and afterward people
came up to you, using words like "mellifluous"
to describe your voice?
MULLER: As a matter of fact, I
was on stage, but the way it happened was
that Henry Trentman, the founder of Recorded
Books, posted a notice at the theater -
Arena Stage in Washington, DC - hoping to
find actors interested in his idea to start
the company. For me it was a way to earn
a few extra bucks, and for Henry it was
the first audio book produced by his new
company. This was in 1979, when very few
people were involved in audio books.
LOWE: What was your first title
MULLER: The Sea Wolf by
Jack London. We also did London's Call
of the Wild, and some short stories,
then some Dickens and others. Since then
I've had great fun doing everything from
John Le Carre to Anne Rice to Stephen King
to John Grisham. I love moving back and
forth between classics and modern fiction.
There's a real benefit to that.
LOWE: How do you mean?
MULLER: There might seem to be
little to be gained by one genre from the
other, or by a classic from a contemporary,
but I feel that the batteries get recharged.
The energy and topicality of a modern book
can inform the approach to a classic, and
the depth and richness of a classic can
help me bring a more textured approach to
a new work.
LOWE: A couple of my personal favorites
of yours are The Green Mile and Apt
Pupil by Stephen King. What do you think
of Steven's turning more mainstream and
literary? Of course he can write anything.
He has such a wit underneath it all, too.
MULLER: He has tremendous wit
and humor. It's usually very sly, sometimes
overtly mischievous, but always there. That's
always part of his appeal, but he has written
many quite beautiful and more "serious"
LOWE: One of my favorites is "The
Last Rung on the Ladder," not horror at
MULLER: Check out a story called
"The Reach," and don't forget "The Shawshank
Redemption." And yes, The Green Mile
will always be one of my favorite recordings
as well. A special experience.
LOWE: I imagine you have to study
a book to get a feel on how to handle the
characters, regardless of genre.
MULLER: One of the advantages
inherent in working on a book rather than
a play or a screenplay is that you have
the entire book to draw from in preparation.
Much of the work involved in developing
a characterization in a shorter play or
on film is detective work. Why does he say
this, and why did he do that? That's part
of the work in preparing to record an audiobook,
of course, since you're responsible for
all the characters. But the book will have
much more detail included in exposition
or internal monologues, or outright reading
of a character's thoughts. Why he or she
feels this way and is thinking those thoughts.
By the time I'm finished with a careful
work-through of a book, having taken vocabulary
and character notes, and finished with whatever
research is necessary, I'm usually pretty
well ready to get to the mike.
LOWE: Do you prefer books with
a lot of dialogue? Is the challenge of that
more fun, while perhaps being more difficult?
Or is anything difficult for you?
MULLER: Oh my yes, it's all difficult!
Is it fun? It sure is. I get to play all
the characters, and I get to frame them
in the narrative text. As involved and demanding
as the narrative text can get, and even
though it may sometimes be operating on
several levels, when characters actually
speak, the complexity expands exponentially.
Playing one character is daunting enough,
and that is usually all that is asked of
an actor, but in a single voice recording
you play them all. All the motivations,
desires, hopes, and conflicts one character
may experience interact constantly with
those of the other characters. The development
and consistent realization of all those
characterizations is quite a challenge.
But that's also where the fun lies. Your
main bad guy in your book "Postal," for
example, was terrific fun to play because
he seemed so completely normal, but had
this tremendous maelstrom of diabolical
malignity just under the surface. Absolutely
terrifying, and a blast to find and play
the subtlety, and then the evil as it emerges.
Makes for powerful stuff.
LOWE: Are there ever days when
you're tongue-tied, and just want to sit
in the jacuzzi? Please lie and say yes.
MULLER: Yes. No, really. A recording
is forever, and the narrator needs to be
functioning at 100% in order to deliver
the goods I was just talking about. And
usually for many hours straight. It is exhausting
work both mentally and physically, and if
you don't pace yourself, you'll burn out.
LOWE: You have your own studio,
called Wavedancer. How did that come about,
and what does your schedule look like?
MULLER: It had more to do with
practicality. I wanted to be accessible
as a narrator to audio publishers on both
coasts, and the economics of this business
do not allow for flying people in or out
and putting up in hotels for days at a time
to do a book. Because of my background I
was capable of producing myself here in
L.A., but that meant booking studio time,
which got very expensive. I booked 500 hours
in 1994, and decided to build my own home
studio in 1995. It has worked well.
LOWE: What do you do by way of
hobbies and other interests?
MULLER: Kids. Hiking with my dogs.
Horses, since my wife is a major horsewoman.
LOWE: If you drive, do you listen
to audio books, or is it Brandenberg Concertos
vs. Van Halen?
MULLER: On road trips, we stock
up on audios. But I have wide musical tastes,
so yes to both things you mention might
be in the CD changer at any time.
LOWE: What do you foresee as the
future of audio books?
MULLER: Cassettes have a short
future, and are already going away. CDs
may survive longer. Sometime soon, possibly
by 2010, a digital player format capable
of not only downloading but receiving broadcast,
will take hold with enough flexibility to
make other mediums obsolete. But then, what
the hell do I know? We thought we'd be sending
HAL and Keir Dullea to Jupiter after that
monolith by now.
LOWE: Any final thoughts for those
waiting for us to leave so they can nab
MULLER: Just that the great thing
for audio book listeners is that the quality
of work in the industry will continue to
improve as the industry and its audience
grows. To those who are new to audio books,
I envy you. You are about to discover something
which can add a great deal to the quality
of your life. Be picky, get recommendations,
and read the good books first. You may not
have time for all of them.