AUDIO BOOK REVIEWS
by Jonathan Lowe
this month are many new and riveting audiobook
titles, including A COLUMN OF FIRE
by Ken Follett, THE GOLDEN HOUSE
by Salman Rushdie, and LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE
by Celeste Ng, but my personal favorite
listen was MOVING THE PALACE
by Charif Majdalani. Set at the dawn of the twentieth
century, it’s about a young Lebanese adventurer
who leaves the Levant to explore the wilds of
Africa. He meets an eccentric English colonel
in Sudan, and crosses paths with a compatriot
who has dismantled a sumptuous palace in Tripoli
to transport it across the continent via camel.
The protagonist takes charge of a hoard of architectural
fragments, ferrying the dismantled landmark through
Sudan, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, attempting
to return to his native Beirut. Along the way,
he encounters skeptic sheikhs, suspicious tribal
leaders, feasts, and pilgrims bound for Mecca...including
Lawrence of Arabia. You'll learn much Middle East
history along the way, and best of all it is narrated
by Jonathan Davis, whom I’ve interviewed.
Davis has done just about every imaginable genre
for audio, from Star Wars titles to that small
jewel of literary fiction LAST NIGHT AT
THE LOBSTER (which was also one of Stephen
King’s favorite, and which few have discovered.)
You are in for a treat because Davis is one of
the few narrators able to submerge himself into
any character with an ease you won’t even
notice (you’ll be too busy listening.) The
voice is key, and his is eminently listenable.
you want to hear a great biography about beer,
try Frances Stroh’s BEER MONEY,
read on audio by always engaging actress Erin
Bennett. It concerns her memories as a privileged
heir, going on shopping trips to London and New
York. But that’s just the beginning of the
story. Established in Detroit in 1850, the Stroh
Brewing Company later became the largest private
beer fortune in America, a brand emblematic of
the American dream itself while Stroh was coming
of age. Net family worth, $700 million. But Detroit
was crumbling, and their wealth and legacy was
soon disappearing. Divorce, a drug bust, disputes,
and scandals followed. Stroh’s memoir reads
like the show Empire, with beer instead of music.
Next, spinoffs, sequels and prequels exist because
people become enamored of things they already
like. “We are conditioned to ignore things
that are different or new,” says the author
of RIVETED: The Science of Why
Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion
Makes Us Feel One With the Universe. People do
not like change, and this leads to a host of side
effects in our culture, including pseudo-scifi
blaster battles with one-liners, or first person
shooters, including the killing of cops and innocents
in games like the Grand Theft Auto series. Billions
of dollars are generated, but the net effect on
society (and imagination) is negative. (As the
work of Ray Bradbury demonstrates.) People end
up reading less, and killing more time. Jim Davies
explains why pattern recognition is so important,
why attention spans are dropping, and how marketing
influences us to fear things we shouldn’t
in order to manipulate our choices. A great analogy
here is junk food: the taste rewards for sugar,
fat, and salt are like crack cocaine, and just
as difficult to quit. The result is disease, physical
or mental, while drug costs to treat these diseases
are “going viral.” Meaning sky high.
Forces work on us subconsciously, and we are not
even aware of it. Narrated by Matthew Josdal,
the audiobook draws on psychology, computer science,
and biology to explain why we choose what we do,
and why most of those choices are conditioned
responses made by our emotional brains rather
than via reason.
Ronald Kessler knows Palm Beach, the home of Trump’s
Maralago. Here’s a throwback excerpt from
my interview with him about his earlier book THE
SEASON. He’s a former Washington
Post and WSJ reporter with many journalism awards.
Other books (also on audio) include Inside
the White House, The Bureau: The Secret History
of the FBI, The Terrorist Watch, and Spy vs Spy.
Lowe: Palm Beach, as exposed by your
book, sounds like one big social club from which
we mere mortals are excluded. Is it really true
that the police stop gawkers at the bridge? Why
are the super rich so enamored with the place?
Kessler: They are their own social club.
Why should they mix with gawkers and tourists?
They prefer to be with their own kind. People
who think, talk, and act the way they do. Palm
Beach has the greatest concentration of rich people
in the world. With vigilant police who can sense
outsiders, Palm Beach offers the perfect setting
for the rich to enjoy themselves. To give themselves
a sense of achievement, they exclude outsiders
and impose a caste system on the 3.75 square mile
island paradise. Almost like laboratory rats fed
growth hormones, the 9800 residents of Palm Beach
exhibit the most outlandish and exaggerated forms
of human behavior.
Did you find their odd behavior and rituals were
competitive in nature, meaning they don’t
use balance sheets as a yardstick as much as we
think they do?
The super rich compete with balloon decorations
and yacht lengths. Their net worths are always
mysteries, either much higher or lower than what
one is led to believe.
Can you give an example of someone lying
One man, a former chairman of the International
Red Cross Ball, told me he graduated from Harvard
and won the Silver Cross, the Bronze Star, and
the Purple Heart while serving in the Marines.
He wears the medals when he attends the black-tie
event, the pinnacle of the social season. It turned
out he obtained his college degree through a correspondence
school, and while he served in the Marines won
no medals of any kind.
What most surprised you about Palm Beach
I wasn’t prepared for the blatant anti-Semitism
in the Old Guard. Then there was Gianna Lahainer,
who told me her husband died during the middle
of the season. Since she didn’t want to
take the time to hold a funeral for him, she had
him embalmed and stored for forty days so she
could hold a funeral for him after the season
ended. “I wanted to go to the parties,”
Gianna said. “My new life was going on,
why should I wait? I would miss the season.”
Any anecdotes about someone excluded
from a posh party who thought he or she might
Many people essentially lobby to get invited
to key parties by pressuring friends to speak
on their behalf. But the greatest pressure is
brought to bear on bank trust officers, who control
much of the wealth. Trust fund babies, who live
on inherited wealth, wake up late, go to their
clubs, have a few drinks, and try to outsmart
trust fund officers so they’ll give them
more money. Their walk in closets may be half
the size of most people’s homes, and their
diamond rings may be worth millions, but they
want more. One heir to an industrial fortune has
homes in Palm Beach, New York, France, and Italy.
He had a yellow Rolls Royce Corniche convertible
but wanted a Ferrari as well. The trust department
of his bank kept turning him down, so he bought
the Ferrari with his American Express platinum
Any Trump stories to relate?
A Palm Beach caterer told me what happened
when she mentioned to an heir that Ivana Trump,
who lived in a $4.4 million home, needed a butler.
“Ivana needs a butler? How about me?”
the man said. The caterer said, “My God,
you don’t know how to be a butler.”
To which the man said, “What do you mean,
I’ve had one all my life.” The trust
fund baby applied for the job and was hired. He
donned a white jacket and white gloves for a party.
Amongst the guests was his mother. He didn’t
Any churches in Palm Beach? If so, wouldn’t
it be nice to have a microphone in the confessional?
There are churches, but no funeral parlors
or cemeteries. No one wants to be reminded of
his own mortality. Everyone is living a fantasy.
As for confessions, I have to say that what amazes
many readers of “The Season” is that
it is based on recorded interviews. What one finds
out is that the very rich are indeed very different
from you and me.
What did you think of George Plimpton’s
recording of your book?
After hearing his rendition of “The
Season,” I feel I’m missing a lot
of good audiobooks. His WASPish delivery was hysterical,
and gave it another dimension.
(Jonathan Lowe is an award winning writer who
has published articles and stories in over 40
magazines, with both drama and fiction produced.
A longtime reviewer and Audie award judge, he
is author of Postmarked for Death (narrated
by Frank Muller as Postal), Awakening Storm
(narrated by Barrett Whitener), Fame
Island (narrated by Kristoffer Tabori), The
Methuselah Gene (read by Tim Lundeen), and
The Miraculous Plot of Leiter & Lott
(read by Paul Heitsch.) He lives in Tucson and
Jonathan Lowe is a longtime judge in the Audie Awards,
and is author of Postmarked for Death, Awakening
Storm, Fame Island, The Methuselah Gene, and
The Miraculous Plot of Leiter & Lott. His own
books can be sampled at TowerReview.com/Lowe.html