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Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

OCT 2014
by Jonathan Lowe

Steve Kramer reads HOW WE LEARN by Benedict Carey, which bears the subtitle “The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens.” One of the surprises is that the traditional method of cramming for tests is not effective in many cases. Science has shown that the brain has many complex ways to arrange perception, memory and retrieval, and sleep patterns figure into this. Oddly, we learn different things in different ways, and what you’re learning determines whether you should stay up late or go to bed early prior to being tested. Also, the usual method of finding a quiet place to study isn’t as effective as learning in the same setting as you’ll be tested. Instead of being a distraction, music or sounds can aid learning, especially if those same sounds are repeated during the exam. The science behind how learning is best achieved is examined here, Carey being a medical and science reporter for the New York Times. The audiobook will help students, musicians, and anyone else struggling with memorizing or just trying to get through college with less stress.

Few novels are “different,” meaning that they follow little traveled paths. One such novel is THE DOG by Joseph O’Neill. Of course it’s a literary novel. By that I mean the sentences are long and introspective, even analytical, as opposed to short and focused like a darts player trying to score points. This is a book asking you to think and observe, not merely to be driven around in a race car looking for a checkered flag. It’s an anti-Patterson novel, having no tight, ominous structure or 120 chapters containing one-word sentences. Riveting and page-turning? Hardly. But you are moved in odd ways and learn things you don’t already know, (or have already read 120 times.) Is this not a plus? It would be, if our culture made sense. What better way to tell a story set in Dubai, about a man who is “in the doghouse” with his girlfriend (and who goes to take a job in that ultimate wet dream of American culture) than to make it part angst over guilt, part revelatory confessional, and part observational travelogue? His internal examination, sometimes lost and plaintive, is also funny, ironic, didactic, and always aware of being on the outside of the hedonistic, simplistic decadence surrounding him (the Emeratis turning the American dream of a life of leisure and bling into a nightmare of the ultimate nirvana: ironic in its own way since more radical Islam believes that nirvana—life itself—begins only at death.) The outward story, in which a nameless protagonist cannot find the peace he seeks, (while examining his choices along the way), succeeds in ways a suspense or mystery novel with a neat Hollywood wrap-up cannot. So, while it’s not as exciting as pop formula novels, it’s also not as shallow, either. It's more like real life, in which we are all seeking things we hope will satisfy, even if we know they may only make us victims of our delusions in the end. I enjoyed The Dog for another reason, too. The setting is Dubai, (which I also chose as setting for my novel The Miraculous Plot of Leiter & Lott,) that walks the line between suspense and literary. As read by actor Erik Davies, The Dog becomes an enlightened journey down a road less traveled, with a tour guide whose tone matches the material, while the material itself renders rewards to those patient and brave enough to listen to the truth told by a tortured everyman.

The cost of eating meat is more than substantial. If Americans gave up meat today, one sixth of the country would be returned to other agriculture or native use, an output of greenhouse gases greater than that produced by internal combustion engines would be curtailed, and untold billions would be saved in payouts that are given as subsidies by the government to keep meat cheap in visible price at (invisible) taxpayer expense. That Big Mac is more expensive than you think: it’s more like $11. So says David Robinson Simon in MEATONOMICS, detailing the $414 Billion which meat eating costs society each year. And then there’s the pollution which cow, pig, and chicken manure produces, and the depressing cruelty that the meat industry’s robber barons impose on animals to process them quicker (with hormones) in the Nazi war camp conditions of feed lots, tight stinking pens, and darkened grain barns that look like barracks for prisoners. (I recall seeing a report on a pig processor in North Carolina that wouldn’t let the press in to take photos, or even show them the kill floor without cameras. Aren’t pigs highly intelligent and sensitive creatures whose organs can often replace our own?) Simon relates the costs to the economy and the world due to meat consumption, as more land and water are used to produce grain for animal production than for human Americans…while grains are not meant to be eaten by cattle, and can make them sick. Used to be, he says, that thousands of small farmers raised cattle and other animals on open grass ranges, but in recent decades the trend has gone toward giant corporate farms who hustle cattle into fed lots ever earlier, while chickens never see the light of day. Narrated by the always engaging Christopher Lane, this audiobook is a must hear for anyone wanting to lift the curtain hiding butchers from investigative audit. The book ends with a solution sure to be fought by the massive meat lobby and Cargill: a tax on meat consumption to make the prices reflect what Americans are actually paying anyway. Fish farms are also a target. Not only are inferior fish escaping from farms (such as in Alaska) and breeding with wild species, but if something isn’t done soon, fish populations will collapse because fishermen are being paid to fish ever dwindling stocks…which they wouldn’t be doing if they weren’t being paid by subsidy checks taken directly from our wallets in taxes.

Facing one’s inner demons sometimes requires a journey that is both mental and physical. For J. Maarten Troost, travel memoirist, the demon was drink and the journey one parallel with Robert Louis Stevenson, whose travels took him away from western civilization into the vast Pacific of the soul. With a title like HEADHUNTERS AT MY DOORSTEP, one conjures, at first, the image of savages coming for a visit, but here the true savages are the illusions spun by Mad Men in their cagey offices, lit by artificial light, where from numerous bottles pour the elixir of intoxicating deceit. Stevenson was a tale spinner too, but of a quite different kind, and Troost’s quest was to discover why he chose Samoa to end his days instead of London or Australia or even New Zealand. Discovering that answer puts one in perspective of life itself, as the old romantic world of adventure slowly slips under the waves, just as the island atolls do which are now being inundated due to global warming and overpopulation. What’s left of imagination now, after all, in our world of 3D fantasies engineered by supercomputer, and supported by cartoon superheroes wearing junk food logos? Is there a Treasure Island left, or has it too succumbed to gaudy hotels, taxis, and all-you-can-eat buffets? Troost, who has lived in Kiribati, Fiji, and Vanuatu (among other places), attempts to answer Stevenson’s riddle of “here he lies where he longed to be” in the most personal way one can: by stepping in the writer’s shoes and exploring what is left of the lost horizon on the vast backwater of a Hollywood lot. Tour guide is the inimitable Simon Vance, reading a memoir that is both insightful and delightful in its mastery of language and fearless, unblinking honesty.

Finally, a new audiobook titled ZERO TO ONE by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters explores the seven questions which start-ups should be asking prior to launch, and how the future may be revolutionized by innovation. No one knows what the future may hold, and many people fear the future while believing that most of the secrets once sought by explorers have already been discovered. With this fallacy firmly assumed by most peers and MBA professors, the goal has become to add small increments of efficiency to already established models or products. But competition in this way is for long-term losers, says Thiel. Even talent shows like AGT or The Voice reward those who sing well-known songs just a bit better or with more feeling or with a personal twist. Yet try an original song that is unfamiliar, and your job may become harder, (with a second barrier to success added), but the rewards are exponentially greater. Going from zero to one means to create something new out of nothing, not merely to improve on what already exists in competing for market share. It requires courage and vision to think outside the box or bun, but Thiel argues that this is the kind of thinking the world needs most in order to survive the future, and so it is progressive thinking which business start-ups should be doing in making their first critical decisions, (including staffing.) He gives examples of companies which chose right or wrong at the beginning, and how Hewlett Packard dropped the ball by losing focus. Intriguing and insightful, this audiobook should be required listening for those going into the Shark Tank and wondering if their product or service will fail or blossom. Narrated by Blake Masters, it is a motivating conversation with innovation itself that can shape your destiny by changing the very world where customers live.


2014 Past Columns