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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

JULY 2012

by Jonathan Lowe

"The feeling of betrayal and alienation suffuses public life," says Christopher Hayes in TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES. Just as the debasing of metals used in coins pushed out gold and silver from our money, so too has steroid use pushed out non-"B12" usage in sports, and "getting the joke" (ie. accepting that Washington runs on bribes) has pushed out honesty from politics. "Meritocracy becomes oligarchy," argues Hayes, showing how even middle class America has accepted the goal of "escape" from the fate of poor social underlings. Yet those who succeed soon attempt to prevent those beneath them from succeeding, "pulling the ladder up that they just climbed." He compares the economic collapse to the Titanic. Those uber-rich in the upper suites didn't believe that the flooding of the servants quarters way down below could sink the whole ship, and when they did realize it they took to the lifeboats of bailouts and bonuses, paddling away from the cries of the doomed as fast as possible (engineering their escape before the regulators knew what was happening.) While the Tea Party wrangles with Democrats and Republicans, it becomes clear to Hayes that the real problem is income disparity maintained by elites who hold tight to the status quo. Read by the author, the audiobook is an ear-opener.

Next, actress Elizabeth McGovern reads THE CHAPERONE by Laura Moriarty, about a fifteen year old girl (destined to become a silent film star) who is accompanied by a prim and proper older woman of thirty-six to New York in 1922. While Louise Brooks is rather bratty, her effect on Cora Carlisle, her chaperone, is ultimately liberating. The historical novel unfolds during a time of Prohibition, the Great Depression, and sweeping changes in fashion and attitudes. McGovern doesn't attempt to over-dramatize the novel, preferring subtle deviations in tone and accent to delineate the characters. This makes the exposition more believable and interesting than the typical chick-lit offering, with its exaggerated emotions. As such, it will appeal to women of all ages as not just a coming-of-age novel (Louise) but coming-to-life (Cora.)

Alton Brown of Good Eats loves to talk about the science behind cooking. Alas, none of his books are available on audio. But even better, we have a real scientist in Robert L. Wolke, whose book "What Einstein Told His Cook" was a bestseller, and now his latest WHAT EINSTEIN KEPT UNDER HIS HAT is also narrated by Sean Runnette, and goes into depth on the science of foods using layman's language, and with humor that spices the discussion. Wolke holds a doctorate in chemistry, but it not just the chemical reactions involved in cooking on which he focuses, (with the subtitle of "Secrets of Science in the Kitchen.") Physics, microbiology, anatomy, engineering and technology also figure into it. His wife Marlene Parrish is a food writer, and includes recipes in an included PDF file. (One is for "Pillow Sheets," cocoa-covered caramels by American painter Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926, which she made for Edgar Degas.) Wolke offers up a full course of surprises here, revealing many things listeners may not know about fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, and how the cooking process changes the complex structure of foods. Also dispelled are myths which cooks have about the process, which he then explains. Can you prevent an eggshell from cracking while you hard boil? Why do you cry when you cut an onion, and what's the simplest way to prevent this? Are those vegetable cleaning products effective, or is the only real cleaning that of your wallet? Is rhubarb poisonous? (Yes, but it doesn't really matter.) What foods are best for your health, and why don't those foods taste better? What's so special about butter? The audiobook holds listener attention due to its editing and pacing, as the author knows the science behind attention span too. He mixes it up, and the souffle rarely falls flat.

Kirk Douglas at age 95 resurrects memories of 1959 when blacklists circulated in Hollywood. His experience on the movie Spartacus is chronicled in the memoir I AM SPARTACUS: Making a Film, Breaking a Blacklist. The man he helped by crediting on the movie was Dalton Trumbo, but there are many other writers and actors who benefited from Douglas' bravery. With a forward by George Clooney, the book is read by Kirk's famous son Michael, who rarely fails in maintaining listener interest in this remarkable the itself book offers a peek behind the cameras into a controversial and difficult time in Hollywood.

Finally, an unusual fantasy set in Lausanne, Switzerland, THE WATCHERS by Jon Steele features three people brought together to unravel an ancient mystery. A hooker, a P.I., and a bell tower boy with the task of waiting to save an angel figure into the plot of an engrossing and layered epic which builds its foundation slowly with atmospheric prose and an eye for detail. If you're used to serial killer slashers, you need to realize that this is not the same kind of book. Steele is more like an evocative and historically literate version of Dean Koontz, (who once wrote a horror book called Watchers.) Narrator here is one of my favorites, Jonathan Davis, who again brings to bear his considerable talents in animating these characters right off the page. You owe it to yourself, even if you've already read this book, to hear it on audio, because you won't be disappointed. JD's acting chops are formidable, as he's able to inhabit each character believably, switching between them seamlessly. Few--famous screen actors included--could do this better, because if all you have is your voice to act with, such skills are honed over time, as when a blind person's hearing becomes more acute than someone with 20/20. Accents, timing, and subtle variations in tone and timbre all combine to make for an audio movie that is never melodramatic or showy, and so becomes utterly convincing and effective.

2012 Past Columns