Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

June 2011

by Jonathan Lowe

SEAL TEAM SIX is a rare behind-the-scenes account of how the SEALS operate. Howard Wasdin takes the listener on a roller coaster ride through selection, training, and deployment. Narrator Ray Porter relates this engrossing account with such a natural tone you'd believe he was a SEAL. Teams like this should have been better used in Iraq, and will certainly be used more in the future by a nearly bankrupted Pentagon.

Next, forget Charlie Sheen, try an older celeb who has learned from his mistakes instead of repeating them. The new biography of ROBERT REDFORD by Michael Feeney Callan is read by Mark Deakins on audio, and details the life of an iconoclast who became an icon. Remembering his mother's influence, Redford sought out activism as a means to protect the environment. But there is much more here about how Hollywood and Broadway actually works, with insights into how directors think, and the methods actors use to arrive at truth. Redford, even with his looks, struggled to find his way, and took risks in both his life choices and within roles on stage. The money and fame were secondary influences to finding what was right for him, although today, on the surface, actors seem to sell themselves to the highest bidder, and don't really know who they are (or why). As such, this is a fascinating and revelatory biography, one of the best I've heard in years, and told by a narrator who sounds like Redford (which would have been the case had this been an autobiography). It's a book about a man who thinks for himself, has the independent vision which created Sundance, and figured out a way to be meaningful and entertaining in the process.
In our gadget-obsessed electronic culture many people have lost a connection to nature, developing what Richard Louv and James Cameron call "nature deficit disorder." The cure is "Vitamin N" or time in the woods, on the ocean, and playing in the sand. Studies have shown that expanding our technological community to include the natural world enhances the function of our brains in creativity--not just as children, but as adults. THE NATURE PRINCIPLE is an insightful audiobook, narrated by Rick Adamson, which shows how a reconnection to nature can restore balance to the environment while strengthening our own health and happiness.
Finally, as host of NBC's Today and the CBS Evening News, Couric has met many famous and successful people. So it's natural that on another major fork in her career she'd write THE BEST ADVICE I EVER GOT, which incorporates her acquaintance with these celebrities. The range is broad, from Bill Cosby to Steven Spielberg to Malcolm Gladwell to the chairman of the Nielsen company. Some of the advice is simplistic, some profound, but it's always interesting to hear what affected a change or direction in people's lives, whether we admire a particular celebrity or not. Proceeds go to education charities. Multiple narrators are involved.

My article on robotics and speech was just published by Cosmos magazine. One question I asked the scientists, which didn't make the article, was: "Are American Idol contestants or audiobook narrators in danger of losing their jobs, once robots are able to match the human voice in emotional range as well as vocal expression?" Robots, after all, are now being built with human-like voice boxes, lungs, throats, mouths, and tongues. The answer: "That will not happen until a sentient robot is able to match the human brain's capacity to think beyond mimicry. The date for this is 2045 at earliest, but more likely 2145." So all you narrators out there can breath a sigh of relief. For now. (Once a robot is able to breath a "sigh of relief," you're in trouble!)

Post Footnote: Am moving to cover more non-fiction, but for my interviews with major fiction authors, download a PDF of them here:

2011 Past Columns