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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

November 2009

by Jonathan Lowe

Jim Cramer is host of Mad Money, and a columnist for He was taken to task by Jon Stewart for not adequately predicting the crash of Oct. 2008, and here defends himself in GETTING BACK TO EVEN, which he wrote with Cliff Mason, another Mad Money writer. Actually, he says that he did tell his audience to sell stocks prior to the fall (just not far enough before—only days instead of months). In this audiobook, which Cramer also narrates, are his stock picks for recovery, as well as his strategy for reversing one's own losses into gains (which he himself claims to have done). The subtitle is Your Personal Economic Recovery Plan, and while he might sound like a male version of Susie Ormond, with a driving, urgent delivery, his focus is more on investing and understanding how the market operates than in personal expenditures and lifestyle. So while his every sentence carries an exclamation point, as does Ormond, he's not talking to you like you're a daughter or son in need of council, but rather an equal who needs to know all the shenanigans utilized by Wall Street insiders to keep you from playing the market like they do. Do you buy-and-hold? No, no, no, says Cramer, that's such a way to lose in a downturn. His motto is buy-and-homework. The more you know the better your chances. Knowledge is power, as any self employed person instinctively learns. The corporate CEOs who reap millions at your expense know that the less information you have the bigger their bonuses. If they can keep you a sheep, you can be fleeced again and again. Which, of course, is what we say about television. (Simon & Schuster Audio; 6 hours abridged)
Paolo Bacigalupi has, up to now, been primarily known as an SF short story writer, praised for his original and confrontational vision. With his new novel THE WINDUP GIRL he has vaulted himself onto the center stage, alongside science fiction's longstanding icons. Here is a novel postulating an unflinchingly corrupt and degradative near-future society in southeast Asia, where powerful corporations vie for control over rice yields, wielding bioengineered viruses as tools of profit. Environmental disasters, terrorism, and the unrestrained cruelty of prejudice backdrop the story of an engineered "new human" girl bred for resistance to the newly perpetrated plagues, and to serve her masters in all demeaning ways possible. The reader, and particularly the listener to Jonathan Davis as narrator, comes to feel every bitter debasement and shame that unfeeling men can inflict on a sensitive, innocent creature, albeit one designed to submit to it. Davis is particularly good at infusing the manufactured (yet very human) girl with a pathos that is heartbreaking, as when an admirer mistakes her for a regular human, then recoils in revulsion when he discovers from her jerky "tick tock" movements that she is "only a toy, a filthy animal worthy only of mulching." The windup girl soon curls into a ball, wishing to be thrown away with the trash, after her rape and humiliation by heartless murderers, and we are made to feel her exquisite pain, and to crave for her eventual resistance. In a way, the novel is reminiscent of the movie A.I. (the Pinocchio story) in which the little manufactured boy seeks to become a real boy. Brilliant and literate, it is also a fascinating tale, well told, and a cautionary extrapolation of how evolution can drag humanity backward if we are unwilling to seek higher ideals. Not to be missed. (Audible)
Next, Dennis Lehane burst onto the literary scene with Mystic River, and his 2003 novel SHUTTER ISLAND has just been re-released in new packaging with Recorded Book's narrator Tom Stechschulte reading, all due to the Paramount release of the movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Here is a psychological thriller with a twist reversal, set in 1954, and featuring a hospital for the criminally insane on an island facing a hurricane, and two men trying to make sense of the evidence at Ashecliffe before it's too late. Stechschulte is a great choice as narrator for two reasons. One, this plot would crumble into an incomprehensible and unbelievable pile of sea foam were it not for Tom's deft handing and direction of the narrative, knowing just how much surprise to show, and what he needs to do to hide what's coming. More importantly, though, his natural, understated delivery is complemented by an unerring sense of character, and he juggles these multiple personalities in his own mind, drawing each to the surface at will—with all their eccentricities and liabilities of knowledge or education or delusion intact. No easy task. So when the end comes, you really are astonished at the sleight of hand. Or rather mouth. (Harper Audio; 9 1/2 hours unabridged)
If you're starting (or have already started) a permanent audiobook collection, one classic that should be included is THE GREAT GATSBY as narrated by Anthony Heald. The 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald follows Nick Carraway into the love triangle of Daisy, Tom, and Jay for a story about how marrying for money can prove to be tragic, especially for those whose eyes are blinded by love. The book carries the endorsement of one Ernest Hemingway, whose impressions of it are recorded in his memoir A Moveable Feast. The narrator of the audiobook version carries the endorsement of this reviewer, who is struck by Heald's capacity to render fresh what will be forever lovely. A theater and film actor, Heald is supremely gifted in conveying a character's idiosyncrasies through the clues of their articulation, and in creating believable, living beings in the space between script and microphone, utilizing a seemingly boundless spontaneous imagination. (Blackstone Audio; 5 hours unabridged)
If there is a winery that can be said to dominate the U.S. market, it is Gallo. For sheer volume of product sold, and the number of other wineries it has gobbled, stretching from Modesto to the Napa Valley, the empire established by Ernest and Julio Gallo in the early 20th Century ranks number one. And so it is appropriate that the title of a biography on this family's story is GALLO BE THY NAME. This billionaire family synonymous with cheap wine sold by the gallon has indeed a storied past, involving Al Capone, prohibition, murder, and even rumored suicide. Written by Jerome Tuccille, it is narrated by actor Grainger Hines, whose carefully enunciated sentences unravel a twisted tale about an old man whose cheap, unremarkable rot gut flowed like a river into world markets, while he battled the competition and played games with labelling and suing anyone remotely encroaching on his trademark, including makers of ceramics. The bitter rivalries and family feuds are all chronicled here, from the early days until the present, as granddaughter Gina transforms the winery into something more prestigious, bringing award winning vintages to market, along with a new responsibility to the environment and the workplace, thanks to business savvy and a focus on the word "inexpensive" rather than "cheap." The story is fascinating, and the reader's voice not too oaky or tannic. A good complement to the movies Sideways and Bottle Shock, to be sure. (Phoenix Audio, 8 1/2 hours unabridged)
Finally, Winnie the Pooh, first published in 1926, became an instant children's classic. Several other Pooh books came out soon after, in 1927 and 1928. Given how so many other bestsellers have had sequels published soon after release, and often the very next year, it is surprising that it has taken 80 years for us to have an authorized sequel of new Pooh stories. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely, given that the narrator here is none other than Jim Dale, the Grammy and Audie award winning reader of the Harry Potter series. Dale is nothing less than astonishing in his versatility in character voicing, and his rendering of RETURN TO THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD includes all the Pooh characters, plus the new character of Lottie the Otter. Ten stories follow Christopher Robin's return, and, oh yes, Pooh goes in search of honey too. English writer David Benedictus has produced previous adaptations of Pooh, and the only thing missing here are the full illustrations from the print version, so you'll want to pick that up too for your kids. Just don't miss Dale, because he really brings the characters to life, as he did with Harry Potter. (Penguin Audio; 3 hours unabridged)
(Jonathan's new short novella about literacy and reading—"WHO MOVED MY TV?"—can be read for free at

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