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Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

JUNE 2015
by Jonathan Lowe

A report on the Audie Awards: I was a judge in the multi-voice category, which was won by Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, which was not actually my own first pick, although an excellent production. A special honor was paid to actor Edward Herrmann, who died this past year, (leaving many in tears,) and won for Best Biography with THE BULLY PULPIT. Best Humor audiobook went to Amy Poehler’s YES PLEASE. Fiction winner (and also Pulitzer Prize winner) was ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. Best Mystery was THE SILKWORM. And Audiobook of the Year went to MANDELA: AN AUDIO HISTORY. The awards ceremony was in conjunction with Book Expo America in NY.

BROKENOMICS by Dina Gachman is subtitled “50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime.” While it might seem like just another how-to on surviving the economy, it’s also a humorous memoir told in the advice of “lessons learned” style, and covers fashion, dating, shopping, budgeting, cooking, and about three dozen other items on the list of anyone who doesn’t own a basketball team and sits in the Shark Tank viewed by drooling masses of wannabes. The “dream” in question is yours (or should be), although Dina plays along with the games we all do in imagining a life (or love) fitting the pop model. She reads the text herself, and so listeners get the bonus of feeling that edge of authenticity to the reading (which is always good for memoirs; the science book below is also an offbeat memoir, and so the same effect is realized.) What’s great about books like these is that you get honest revelations, together with good advice. It’s not some lucky billionaire or diva who has 7 million followers on Instagram (all Selfies), writing an advice book about how to be just like him or her. (Right.) Not all of us win the lottery, genetic or Powerball. But we can be smart and funny, if we put in the effort. This audiobook is for us.

A BONE TO PICK by Mark Bittman is a collection of essays on food and the diet by the iconic NY Times writer and author of “How to Cook Everything.” What is amazing, even today, is the ignorance people have on the subject of food processing and ingredients, given all the money poured into advertising that uses images and enticements, targeting consumers by their demographics. Food is big business, and with so much money at stake producers will say and do just about anything, and when they are caught (like a recent deli chain was) they talk about “transparency” as they take away many of the artificial, shadowy inGREEDients, additives and fillers they used for years and years (unknown to consumers), expecting your good will and respect now (even as they claim the additives were not really bad at all.) Synthetic wood resin is not something you would choose to eat when you buy a deli sandwich. But if it helps their bottom line, they are willing to use it to extend shelf life, to protect taste (which is all consumers seemed to care about in the past)…so long as customers are kept in the dark and come in like lemmings after being entranced and Brandwashed on TV. The processed food aisles in grocery stores also benefit by data and studies tweaked by “scientists” on retainer by these companies. The major media don’t want to rattle the cage of these company Kongs, either, since much of their NY advertising dollars are derived by questionable food sales. Pittman bites back, as did the author of Salt Sugar Fat, read by Scott Brick (who won an award for that audiobook.) Robert Fass is an always engaging narrator who reads Bittman’s coverage of food safety, GMOs, farming, and relates that there is hope as improved education changes the system…as is already starting to happen.

Welcome to Spacebook. In the future, according to Neal Stephenson in SEVENEVES, that will be where everyone goes for sharing. Why? Because the moon has blown up, and mankind is facing extinction unless we can get into orbit and figure a way to clean up the falling bolides (rocks)…an impossibility, and so various descendants of evolved humans must try to reestablish a sustainable civilization out of the rubble while the diminished population lives in space. This is a massive book to read, which would be no problem were it really, really good. It is not. At least not as a novel that inspires readers with poetic imagery and tightly controlled action. There are impressive ideas floated here, and much argument on how technology can solve the problems humanity faces. So science geeks will appreciate the depth of the story. But this should have been, somehow, a non-fiction book. There are simply too many characters and too slow a pace
for it to work as an epic-sized novel. Other books by Stephenson have obviously succeeded brilliantly. Snow Crash was one of my favorites. This book is no Snow Crash. Since Neal is adept at research and ideas related to history, not to mention skill at creating characters which many lesser writers are not, let me recommend instead MONGOLIAD, a relatively recent collection with various authors like Greg Bear assisting. Reader Mary Robinette Kowal can’t be faulted for bringing a believable interpretation to both male and female voices, it’s just that much of the book is exposition rather than dialogue or action. Many authors deliver overwrought books to their editors, it just seems that Neal’s editor was out of the country on extended holiday. Emphasis on the word “seems."

One can hear why Stephen King loved THE DEAD LANDS. Benjamin Percy has a command of language, avoids cliches, and brings to bear a unique apocalyptic vision, turning the book into a kind of Lewis & Clark expedition to restore sanity to a blasted landscape of alternate reality. In some ways it reminded me of Station Eleven by Emily Mandel, for its new twist and commentary of what we are doing to ourselves (and can’t seem to stop.) There are no zombies involved, which is nice too. And different. Giant spiders, though, and magic (and/or technology that seems like magic.) Like King, Percy first establishes and then involves the characters in ways that are true to them, riddled as they are with flaws and quirks.
Holter Graham as narrator disappears behind the words, told with an attention to pacing and tone. If you just have to have zombies and a predictable ending that follows the formula of most Hollywood scripts, you’ll be disappointed. But if “different” is a plus in your column of desires, and you have the patience for an evolving story, this may be your cup of scary, guilty, but delicious turtle soup.

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