Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

November 2011

by Jonathan Lowe

If you're flummoxed about how the state of affairs in the Middle East came about, with religious wars threatening to erupt (again) over Israel's very existence, (and with America mired in unwinnable battles in the region costing $300 Million per day), you might step back in time with James Carroll as he explains the big picture, tracing the history of religion and violence, including how it has polarized everyone to take sides. Carroll's broad thesis is that religion and violence have always been closely tied together, with the implication that faith which rejects the material world encourages an unfortunate interpretation of scriptures. Columbus carried a Catholic worldview to America, and that worldview all began with the struggle of Israel for survival, and its identification with the most important city in the world: JERUSALEM, JERUSALEM is read by Mel Foster, but rather than focusing on the city itself the book approaches the subject of religion's focus on violence from all angles in a comprehensive, analytical, and intriguing look at why blood-based sacrifices offered to God create meaning for believers, and how resistance to Roman violence influenced Biblical texts and formulated Jewish attitudes toward the world, (which in turn influences us as well). A perfect storm continues to brew around the Temple mount in Jerusalem, which is perceived by both Jews and Arabs as ground zero (despite our fixation on the less important one in New York City.) It is from this point that the world has turned since ancient times, and which also turned it more recently to the brink of nuclear holocaust during the Nixon debacle. Will it happen again, since Islam also views Jews the way Hitler did, once Iran gets the bomb? The author expresses a hope that believers of all monotheistic religions view "one God" not as a numeral 1 in opposition to perceived infidels, but as "God is one," meaning "in harmony with" rather than "at war with." Otherwise, says Carroll, the human race is doomed.

As a genre, romance has tended to fluctuate between the sappy and steamy, taking stock characters on a predictable roller coaster ride that ends with either a wedding or some twist on revenge. In recent years, romance has strayed into mystery and suspense in a crossover attempt to win a wider audience. Working mothers or career women whose hopes for advancement included snagging the resident Adonis are no longer typical of this new wave of novels populated by serial killer investigators, ghost busters, and even vampires. The boring has turned into the ridiculous. So it was with pleasant surprise that, having ejected the first disk of a vapid Danielle Steel novel, I next inserted TRAIN TO TRIESTE by first time novelist Domnica Radulescu, a literate romance that breathes spontaneous life from its opening paragraphs. In the memoir-clarity of first person, the story of Mona Manoliu is told, circa 1977 in Ceausescu's Romania, as she falls in love with a young man who is later seen in the uniform of the secret police. Fleeing the country for Chicago, Mona goes on to live a quite different life with another man, but can never forget her one great love. Indeed, twenty years later, when she finally returns to Romania to learn the truth, the moment is rendered with exquisite detail, something that is simply absent in most of today's less believable manipulations. This audiobook kept me through all nine disks, thanks to the well drawn character of Mona, whose hauntingly original voice is honest, brave, witty, and most of all passionate and alive. Thanks also to narrator Yelena Shmulenson, whose ability to empathically inhabit the character is matched by her masterful delivery and authentic accent.

ABOUT TIME by Adam Frank re-asks the big questions about the origins of the universe from the perspective of time, and how our perceptions of time change along with technology. With the subtitle "Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang," the book shows how differently our lives are ordered when compared to the past, and what the future may hold. Is time real? Are there multiple universes out there? Why are we stuck in our understanding of time, just as Einstein was stuck melding forces with gravity? And if there is a breakthrough, what will it tell us about what happened before the Big Bang? Read by David Drummond, the book will get you thinking about time in a new way. Because, unlike a rock, time is not solid, and is all in the point of view.

There's a lot of anger out there regarding Wall Street greed, and the overall lack of morality, with corporations focused solely on profits at the expense of other people and the environment. With laid off workers picketing the dissolution of the middle class, the iconic play DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller has been given a new audio rendering, with Stacy Keach at the helm as Willy Loman, a disillusioned man who can only give his sons the American Dream by committing suicide so they'll collect the insurance. Keach has a long career on stage and screen, and is also the host of American Greed on CNBC. This powerful play is as befitting today as when it was written in 1949, and is available from L.A. Theatre Works.
Finally, have you been BRANDWASHED? Indubitably, says marketing expert Martin Lindstrom. Not only are you being influenced to remember product names, but you're being manipulated to purchase products based on carefully scripted commercials and visuals linked to psychological tests. Your own biases and perceptions are being used against you, regardless of whether those perceptions reflect reality. Multinational corporations spend millions to discover what influences your choices, and then they bring to bear tools of deception based on that data. What's most surprising here is the depth and extent of the con, even among those who think they've chosen freely. Narrated by Dan Woren, Brandwashed shows that we are all just like the child screaming for that box of Sugar Pops set at his eye level for a reason.

2011 Past Columns