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Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

MAY 2014
by Jonathan Lowe

ESSENTIALISM by Greg McKeown is a motivational book that encourages listeners to step back and take a look at how they're living with unnecessary stress due to trying to do too much of the wrong thing. It's read by the author for Random House Audio. McKeown holds a MBA from Stanford, is author of Multipliers, and has spoken to companies from Apple to Google and Symantec. At 6 hours unabridged, this business book concerns empowering oneself and one's company to reclaim control over the myriad of choices we all face every day. Recommended for anyone who feels overwhelmed with time management issues, or has difficulty saying NO to endless demands made by frivolous agencies and social media advertisers. It's about saying YES to those things which can help one make the most progress in the specific area where one is most likely to succeed.

Author Thalma Lobel holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from Tel Aviv University, did post doc training at Harvard, and has done gender related studies of child development and adult behaviors. Her book SENSATION: THE NEW SCIENCE OF PHYSICAL INTELLIGENCE is similar to what Dan Ariely loves to write about: why we act as we do. A reason why formerly titled "blacks" insisted on the phrase "African-American" is explained. Because how much of what we perceive related to color is subconsciously decided. Black, she says, is associated with evil and aggression. White, with purity and goodness. This has nothing to do with human beings, but rather is the result of subconscious reactions to color in the environment, and word associations. Red, for example, is associated with dominance, so wearing a red tie subtly displays power and authority more than a blue tie. (A red car will also get you a speeding ticket more often.) Why was the title Fifty Shades of Grey a hit? Could that have to do with "thrilling" surrender to "the dark side" little by little? Why does a resume submitted on heavy paper impress employers more than a thin paper? Why does a light, airy and open room make one feel cheerful, while a cold, dark room is depressing? Why do kids feel "left out" in classrooms ten degrees cooler than warm ones? Advertisers do studies like these to determine how to fool you into buying more of their products. It comes down to typeface, color, spacing, and scents. Read by Joyce Bean for Brilliance Audio, this audiobook amplifies the findings done in Brandwashed with more in-depth research to discover what makes us tick, and how not to be fooled by the shady manipulations of our sensations and cultural influences.

WORST. PERSON. EVER. Yes, that's the title, with periods. It's British/American culture clash fiction by Douglas Coupland, with an offbeat and wild bent, and not without the rat-a-tat of four letter words (being, after all, about an unredeemable human slug…but an adorable one.) The protagonist is named Raymond Gunt, and he sees nothing wrong with himself at all (kinda like many banking CEOs involved in the bailout and bonus circus, or gangster rappers whose revenge against them includes becoming just like them.) Gunt gets involved in a survivor type reality show on a small island named Kiribati in the Pacific (which is reminiscent of my own novel Fame Island, about a survivor reality show staged in the Caribbean), but there the similarity ends. This book is more like Carl Hiaasen on steroids. It's also a little like the excellent first person novel Pocket Kings by Ted Heller. Kiribati actually exists, (as Palm Island in my story really exists), and was site for a Marine assault in Nov. 1943. Gunt has a problem with the U.S. Military machine. The comedy comes from the contrast between how people see him and how he sees himself. It's not always a pleasant read, but it is experimental and not micro-targeted genre fiction, and for that I salute the effort.

I recently asked a couple of narrators to tell me about one fav recent title they've done, and why they like it.

Narrator Susan Denaker: "I recently had the great privilege to record two books on spiritual healing written by a former physicist from NASA, Barbara Ann Brennan. The first was HANDS OF LIGHT and the second, LIGHT EMERGING, both written with a perfect balance of scientific analytical sensibilities…including a beautifully concise history of theoretical physics…and yet a clear sense of Spirit guiding the authors voice to explain why love is the glue that holds it all together. Informative, uplifting and life changing. Getting paid to record it was an honor."

Narrator Johnny Heller: "I recorded YOU MIGHT BE A ZOMBIE AND OTHER BAD NEWS for Tantor Audio. It's from It's pretty funny. First, it has pretty much nothing to do with zombies. I'm reasonably certain that they titled it that because Zombie stuff is pretty hot right now and it will sell the book better! They pretty much admit as much. While there is a short bit on zombies in the book, they might just as easily have called it: Lesbian Vampire Werewolf Zombie Babes. It's mostly a long collection of lists. Very much like the Cracked website. It revels in taking cherished memories and tales and trashing them with gusto. I found myself frequently running out of the booth to share the most disgusting bits with Jo Anna Perrin who began to view my gleeful visits with great dismay. things like "the 5 most terrifying bugs in the world" or "the 4 most badass Presidents" or "6 Terrifying things they don't tell you about childbirth."

Kevin Roose had a tough go at writing YOUNG MONEY, a compendium of various insider accounts of recruits to Wall Street in the aftermath of 2008. This is because his previous book exposed the inner workings of Jerry Falwell's college (The Unlikely Disciple), and so stock and bond traders could see him coming a mile away. The focus here, then, is on unrecognizable mere recruits who agreed to be interviewed anonymously---young guns who hadn't yet made many "kills." The only thing Roose infiltrates is a Kappa Beta Phi dinner, where billionaire Warren Stephens donned a Confederate flag cap to sing "Dixie" in a sick skit about that giddy time when grandma was broken so the rich could get richer. Mostly it's a story of wannabes working long hours, wistfully sniffing out the big bucks with a longing for that day when they themselves can cash in with the same bonuses that the fat cat big boys do. It all makes for a insightful peek into how the American Dream has devolved into greed, even among many college students, fewer and fewer of whom seem to maintain the requisite ideals needed to change the system (which Washington refuses to, in its insular vote-and-kickback-obsessed deadlock.)

Meanwhile, on 60 Minutes, there was a story about computer trading, chronicled in FLASH BOYS (read by Dylan Baker), wherein trades are made in microseconds on fiber optic lines before the individual investor (or even Wall Street brokers) can snatch gains from volatile markets. With everyone in the financial sector seeking faster and faster bucks, and Hollywood lionizing those who succeed, where does that leave the middle class? "Moving to trailer parks," according to Bloomberg News. Which is why some of the same MBAs profiled in YOUNG MONEY are leaving Wall Street for fewer hours (and less work:) to buy up and manage low income housing, "which will be in high demand as more people lose their jobs and/or their homes in the coming years." Read by Nicholas Tecosky, primarily for libraries as a stand alone audio player, YOUNG MONEY should not be confused with gold-toothed Lil' Wayne, whose record label bears the same name.

Finally, Nick Vujicic in STAND STRONG says bullying is a worldwide epidemic, and that he was the perfect target for bullies because he was born without limbs. I'm not sure if that's true for high school, but certainly for younger bullies, who take pride in amplifying their parents and peer's prejudices. (It would take one sick high school sociopath to pick on a guy with no arms and legs, as being seen doing so in public wouldn't make you very "cool.") With the subtitle "You Can Overcome Bullying," this audiobook is narrated by Vujicic himself, who does an outstanding job conveying the confidence he's learned since growing up. It's an inspiration for the victims of bullying everywhere. His major point is that you, as a victim, are not to blame. Bullying is about the bully's own problems, hate, and fear. They pick on perceived inferiors because of neglect or abuse from their own father or sibling or rival, and/or because it makes them seem superior by contrast. The comparisons which all grade school kids insist on making a sport is because their very self worth is determined by pecking order. Any deviation from the "norm" is considered a flaw in immature eyes, and that flaw must be pointed out and ridiculed. (Sadly, this attitude is often carried over into adult culture.) Aimed at a younger audience, the book encourages listeners to establish strong values, and reveals how to create a safety zone around oneself while controlling one's responses. It shows how knowing and being yourself is the best defense, instead of reacting in ways that increase the bully's power. Cyber bullies are covered as well, all in a simple, down to Earth shared understanding sense. Vujicic is an evangelist and motivational speaker, leading a nonprofit organization (and book) called Life Without Limbs. He reads the book for Random House Audio.


2014 Past Columns