Last Updated: 08/15/2011

Audio Books

That I have Read, er, Heard...


Micro Thrills: True Stories from a Life of Small Highs ***

by Wendy Spero (2006); Read by Wendy Spero
Penguin Audio; 1st heard: Fall, 2007
I love the concept in the title / sub-title and the longer I listened to Wendy Spero and understood her Manhattan orientation the more enjoyable I found this work, but it didn't grab me as hilarious at first hearing, the way David Sedaris did. Still it is along that vein and if you are so mooded, enjoy.

The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish ****

by Neil Gaiman (words) and Dave McKean (pictures) (2003); Read by Neil Gaiman;
Harper Collins; 1st heard: Summer, 2007
I finally figured out why I'd had trouble finding "The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish" at our local library and it wasn't because the children's picture book section tends to be a mess, even though it does. It was because "TDISMDFTG" was shelved, or rather hanged (too much gallows imagery, make that:), or rather hung, in a bag with the audio CD of the writer, Neil Gaimain, reading the book. I just now listened and read along. It's a good, new children's book (2003), with enough repetition and things happening that you don't quite know about at first (like Nathan's little sister saying "Mumf" a few times before we know that she has been tied and gagged (by Nathan)). And engaging pictures drawn by Dave McKean. Be sure to read the "Afterword" if you're at all curious about how authorship happens (maybe you're an aspiring writer yourself), or if you've ever been to Galveston, Texas (I have). I think you'll find it interesting.

I'll Take Manhattan *

by Judith Krantz (1995, text 1986); Read by Adrienne Barbeau;
Durkin Hayes Audio; 1st heard: Spring, 2007
I bought this at the store at "Fort Book", that's the main branch of the Huntsville-Madison County Library system. (If you've seen this edifice you know why it's called "Fort Book", if not, well, I don't see a picture on the web with a quick Google, maybe I'll snap one sometime...). I paid 50 cents. If it wasn't read by one of my childhood sex symbols then I would have over paid -- way over paid. There's barely enough plot here for a Lifetime Network movie, much less a decent novel. Barbeau's voice does give good life to Maxi Amberville's brashy, trashy boldness; but 5 minutes' listen is long enough.

Anansi Boys ****

by Patricia Storace (2005); Read by Lenny Henry;
Harper Audio, CD, Unabridged; 1st heard: Summer, 2006
This is a fun story, with excellent archetypal stories within the story from the trickster spider god of Africa. Not like much else you've ever heard; except its very familiar and at times chuckle out loud humorous.

Dinner with Persephone ***

by Patricia Storace (1997); Read by Jill Eikenberry;
Random House; 1st heard: February, 2005
This is image prose, a verbal painting of Greece, it's like image poetry but without the burden of a
William Carlos Williams. The oration is a film in words that flows by like fans entering a soccer stadium. The book tells of the author's year spent in modern Greece, and of the people she spends time with and their connections to the past. At one point a Greek friend, a woman, tells her how they end fairy tales in Greece, "They lived happily; but we live better."
I didn't know, until the interview at the end of the book, that the author is primarily known as a poet. This tailing interview is worth listening to as well. It adds context and insights, including the author's actual voice. The main book is read by Jill Eikenberry, of L.A. Law fame. She has the perfect voice for this rendering and is very easy to listen to. Hers is similar enough to the authors to make it genuine, but Eikenberry is more pleasant to listen to, more professional.

The Greatest Course That Never Was ***

by J. Michael Veron (2001); Read by Buck Schirner; ISBN 1-58788-394-5
Brilliance Audio; 1st heard: Fall 2005
This is a reasonably engaging story that is very well read. The plot has enough real life golf details to be plausible but not too much trivia. My favorite section was the description of the course as the protagonist plays it. This and the early suspense make the book worthwhile, even without a strong finish up the 18th fairway.

The Voyage of the Narwhal ***

by Andrea Barrett (1998); Read by Peter Riegert;
Random House; 1st heard: Fall 2004
This book was more interesting than I'd expected and much better written than I thought it would be, particularly given its Bargain Basement price. The characters are well rounded and developed at a pleasant pace. The Artic exploration is realistic and informative, even if I couldn't always get a good mental picture of the ice and how it was trapping the ship. There's also good detail here reminding us of what people did with their time before the Internet, or TV or radio or even cameras. The work on publishing books with illustrations is so time, labor and artistry intensive that it makes me weary just listening.

I did happen to catch an excerpt from the book elsewhere and apparently this audio version is significantly abridged; for example, in the full version Zeke adopts an Artic Fox that gets quite a bit of ink, here he just has a difficult-to-fathom fondness for some of the sled dogs. Not perfect, but well worth the time.

Gravity ***

by Tess gerritsen (1999); Read by Campbell Scott;
Simon & Schuster Audio; 1st heard: Summer 2004
For the most part this is a well written and well told story, yet there is nothing really novel in this, uh, novel. The plot is basically an "Aliens" story without the comic book exaggerations: Isolated explorers encounter a parasititic lifeform that grows inside humans; oh, and some of the humans have romantic inclinations. There are even some hackneyed devices such as abnormally wriggling abdomens and a "bug" that crawls across someone's face on its way to entering their body through the ear, while the victim is helpless due to the helmet on their head. It was fresh in "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" but re-hashed here it is just sad, especially since there is no instinctual justification for the behavior of this creature.
A more interesting sub-plot is the story of the Apogee II rocket which is eventually used in a rescue attempt to the astronauts now stranded on the International Space Station. This story line is good fiction involving one brother who works at NASA and another spear-heading the on-the-cheap commercial approach to space. This echoes well the current
X-Prize race or earlier fiction such as the old "Salvage One".
Anyway, the book was written "a la" Michael Crichton, with ease of adaptation for the big screen clearly in mind and it works within that genre.

Return to Mars ***

by Ben Bova (1999); Read by Harlan Ellison; 1st heard: Spring 2004
This "book" is a sequel to 1992's best selling Mars which I have not read, but while this audio was fine it was less in depth than Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars which I read in actual book form about four years ago. That is an ambitious, imaginative and well-crafted piece of science fiction (I have not read the sequels, Green Mars and Blue Mars partially for fear of spoiling the quality of the original.) "Return" fell short in both technical details of the possibilities of first phase terra-forming (and the moral implications thereof) as well as in overall plot. There is foreshadowing that the protagonist longs to go native, a la the dog "Buck" in Jack London's The Call of the Wild but it never transpires. There is some decent dialog and character development, even in the abridged audio version. Overall a pleasant listen.

Through the Looking Glass & What Alice found There ***

by Lewis Carroll (1995); Read by Lynn Redgrave; 1st heard: 2003
This material did not translate to the audio format as well as I had hoped, it lost some of the magic and strangeness.

Myst: The Book of Atrus **

by Rand and Robyn Miller with David Wingrove (1995, Random House); 1st heard 2002
I never played the associated computer game enough to appreciate any references from this book. There are a couple interesting concepts here, like that magical authors of books can make the worlds in the books real, and people can go inside those worlds -- just make sure you have a "linking book" to get back ! But this is pretty run of the mill sci-fi/fantasy.

The Aardvark is Ready for War ****

by James W. Blinn (1997); Read by: Dorian Harewood; 1st Heard: 6/2002
Vibrant to a surprising degree, this vernacular first person narrative is set against the unlikely backdrop of Desert Storm. Dorian Harewood reads this with an interpretation worthy of your second grade teacher reading a first "chapter book" to your class -- with empathetic characterization. It's a reading, not a truly acted performance, but this is almost better. The story is of a reluctant anti-submarine anti-hero and his tribulations and philosophic detours as he ships off to what could have been a real full-fledged war for all he knew. I'm also unfamiliar with the author, James W. Blinn but I expect that he is taking Mark Twain's advice and writing what he knows; ah, in fact the jacket says he served in the Navy for 9 years. Well done.

The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat **

by Susan FromBerg Schaeffer (1997); Read by: David Hyde Pierce; 1st Heard: 5/2001
This is a reasonably well done whimsical account of the life of a house cat, but requires more suspension of reality than most Science Fiction. It seems to get more and more bizarre as it goes, with apparitions of dead cats that belonged to famous people appearing to Foudini, the most annoying being Freud's cat. David Hyde Pierce's voice is certainly a highlight; and the dog is wise. But for a similar quality cat story much closer to our family see my grandfather's
Adventures of Wishbone.

One Better *

by Rosalyn McMillan (1997); Read by: Lynne Thigpen; 1st Heard: 6/2001
Basically a trashy novel with little to recommend it.



Open Source Has Crossed the Chasm...Now What? ***

by Geoffrey Moore (April 05, 2005); Speaker: Geoffrey Moore; 1st Heard: March 13 2006

This is audio available
here and runs for about an hour. Moore applies his technology lifecycle adoption model to the Open Source Movement. It is not a perfect fit, but there are some excellent points. For example his main thesis is that in companies what is important is the differentiated core, and that for most companies this ends up being a small fraction of their costs. All the rest is context. Not only that but what is today's core inevitably becomes context and is commoditized -- i.e. the profit margin shrinks toward zero. He gives some good examples. In pizza, Domino's core is speed; another chain is pizza quality, and Chuck E. Cheese's core is animatronics.
Moore suggests traditional businesses out source the commoditized software to the Open Source folks. This makes sense, but the Open Source people still see themselves as innovators and this is a bit of a mismatch as one audience questioner pointed out. I don't think Moore fully answers this point. Yet there is plenty here to think about, like Maslow's hiearchy of needs reworked into a 2 x 2 matrix and applied to company cultures (and then somewhat weakly juxtaposed to Open Source).

The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference***

by Malcolm Gladwell (2000); Read by: Malcolm Gladwell
1st Heard: March, 2006

This book was recommended as being relevant by a manager at work, so I borrowed the audio from the public library. That's a big a personal story for me as the book, i.e. rediscovering the library, or rather the library becoming convenient again. This is mostly a result of being on-line: I can check the availability of a book of interest and also renew without physically going to the brick and mortar location. Also being able to drop off at my local branch things picked up downtown at the main location makes things handy.
Back to The Tipping Point. The concept is simple, that small differences can catalyze big changes, but Gladwell lays out three criteria and backs these up with examples and in some cases sub-categories; but it's all still simple enough to absorb on the audio book.
The three things? 1) The Law of the Few (Connectors (e.g. Paul Rever), Mavens and Salesmen); 2) Stickyness (Sesame Street); 3) Context Matters (No Broken Windows). I still think that recognizing a tipping point is very difficult and that if you look for them you are likely to get a lot of false positives, or that you see the storm brewing but can't identify the dimension, the axis, where things will tip, or possibly the direction along that axis. But if you can....

Developer Testing****

by Kent Beck (Nov. 17, 2004); Speaker: Kent Beck; 1st Heard: Feb. 2005

This is audio available (free) at
ITConversations , recorded at the Developer Testing Forum in Palo Alto, California. Beck is the father of eXtreme Programming and furthers one aspect of that methodology here. He talks about accountability as a "good thing" and how he is more interested in software health than in software quality, defining quality as an instantaneous measure and health as a measure taken over time. Well worth the hour.


by Susan Annunzio (2001, Simon & Schuster); Read by Susan Annunzio; 1st Heard: Dec. 2003

A book aimed at Baby Boomer managers that want to lead effectively in the e-Era with Generation X'ers flooding the workplace and Gen Y's right behind them. These new workers have different expectations and it is a different corporate landscape than what their parents lived in. The author identifies these differences and how managers can shift to deal with them.

One unfortunate sea change for the relevancy of the book is that the employment picture has changed; right now companies are not quite so talent starved as they were 3 years ago. Even so, top performers are hard to keep and very valuable. The author asserts that a typical workforce can be viewed in a 20-60-20 fashion, that the bottom 20% will be there and not be worth their paycheck, remove them as you can. Of course identifying what group a worker belongs in is not-trivial but the author provides some methods. The 60% is the "Movable Middle", it is worthwhile to try to change the culture of these; and the top 20% allow a company to survive and prosper; they should be cultivated but expected to move on. That is something I first heard one of my management school professors, Dr. Donovan, espouse in about 1992. It was sage then and now. This author though never tags a percentage value to this top 20 percent. Are they 50% of your productivity? More?

In other areas the book remains dead on. If you want cultural change, say so in a loud voice -- then follow it up with action or you will get a "Boy who cried wolf" reaction to your next loud message. There several other good insights and examples drawn from traditional businesses trying to become more "agile" to the pros and cons of the dotcom cultures. Well worth the 2 1/2 hours of car time.

Gonzo Marketing (Winning through Worst Practices)***

by Christopher Locke (2001, Simon & Schuster); Read by Christopher Locke; 1st Heard: Sept. 2003
This is pretty much "The Cluetrain Manifesto Continued" (I haven't gotten all the way through "Cluetrain...", but a big chunk of it). It's fine, but has only one point to make and hardly needs all 2.5 hours: mass media marketing by big corporations doesn't work anymore, especially since the Internet; micromarkets are tappable through the Internet and willing companies can and should do so. I didn't find the inevitability of this nearly as obvious as the author did, but there were good tidbits about how vapid corporate marketing is, and how paranoid their executives are (upon advice of attorneys, to be sure). Also the indictment of Dualism and the elevation of artists as reflectors of the world's essence were high points.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future ***

by Michael J. Fox (2010); Read by the author;
Hyperion Books
1st Heard: Summer 2010
This would have been much too long as a college commencement speech, but as an (audio) book it's almost too short. Fox speaks with a rapid cadence, I assume an artifact of his Parkinson's Disease, so sometimes I had trouble catching his nuance -- there's very solid writing here, and wisdom, so I enjoyed this thoroughly. Good back story of his charmed life, as in his
Lucky Man, and his humbling by circumstances. This is full of simple and sage advice, like "Wherever you are, there It is.", and "Sometimes the sh*t has to hit the fan before you can really tell which way the wind is blowing." As much optimism and insight for dealing with life's gut-punches as any sermon I've ever heard.

Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right) ****
by Al Franken
Read by Al Franken
HighBridge Audio (2004)
1st Heard: Winter (2008-2009)

I recently saw a comment online at the end of a news article about the court contention of the 2008 Minnesota Senate race where the poster asked if we really want someone like Al Fanken in the US Senate. The implication, I took it, was that the US Senate might be above having a comedian in its membership. I ardently disagree. First, you can be a serious person and still be a professional comedian. Check out Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert for current examples. And we already have had plenty of miscreants of other stripes in the august Senate -- crooks, liars and others with sub-societal-par morals. Mr. Franken does his homework; he's insightful and is humanly ethical. He might even be honest; wouldn't that be nice. Anyway, this is a review of his audio book, and even though I spread out listening to the 10 hours over several months, the senate race is still in the court system. His opponent had asked Al to concede before even the automatically triggered recount had completed, but he won't show the courtesy that he asked for now even after initial courts have concluded against him. Hmmphhff. This book is full of well documented incidents like this from a few years back, and much worse. Sure, Franken uses humor to make his points, but he's largely "kidding on the square". Listen to find out exactly what he means by that, and how badly and how often the likes of Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter lie, the lying liars.

The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring ****
by Richard Preston
Read by Richard Preston
Simon and Schuster Audioworks; (2007)
1st Heard: Summer, 2008
If I ever had the daring to risk death by relying on my physical prowess in an environment where a simple muscular mistake could easily be fatal, I don't anymore. The people in this book do. They climb trees. Huge sequoias mostly, y'know, those trees big enough at the base to drive a car through and that go up, up and up toward 300 feet tall. That's about 30 stories. Sometimes they climb free, without ropes. But the trees are clearly magnificent. I want to see them again (I haven't been among giant redwoods since I was 6 or 7 years old.) They describe branches as big as trees -- forests of branches, and bushes and small trees growing in the crowns. Small ecosystems that were hitherto unknown by people. Cool stuff.

A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures [Audio Tape]***
by Ben Bradlee
Read by Ben Bradlee
Simon and Schuster Audioworks; (1995)
1st Heard: Summer, 2008
I listened to this one in my truck, which I wasn't driving much, so it took months to get through. It sounds like a good life, if not of the highest moral character, at least when it comes to marriage. As a fan of the film "All the President's Men", I enjoyed the segment on Watergate, and a couple others.

How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions-and You Can Too (Audio CD)**
by Annie Duke and David Diamond
Read by Annie Duke
Penguin Audio; (2005)
1st Heard: Summer, 2008
I finished this awhile ago, but just had higher priorities. It's mildly interesting and she has a pleasant voice, but you certainly will wish to skip over the descriptions of which poker hands beat which. I thought the second CD was really disorganized and odd, until I realized that I was listening to this in the car that my son usually drives and he had his CD player set to randomize tracks. Duh! So there are a few good tips and insights here but a lot of persoal dribble, too.

Chronicles: Volume One (Chronicles) [ABRIDGED] [AUDIOBOOK]***

by Bob Dylan
Read by Sean Penn
Simon & Schuster Audio; (May 3, 2005)
1st Heard: August, 2008
I borrowed this from the library and listened to it on my trip with a car load of stuff headed for my son's dorm room to start the Fall semester. Dylan is a good choice for a college oriented road trip, his hipster-speak is not self-conscious and the prose is packed with metaphor even if the flow is a bit disjointed and uneven (he gives sparse coverage to the height of his fame, a middle amount to his arrival on the scene in New York City and way too much time on the recording of one late career album in New Orleans). It's also a bit disconcerting when he talks about trying to deceive his most rabid fans so that they'll take the burden of being the voice of the conscience of America off his shoulders -- he even implies he put out bad music to decrease his stature. He justifies this by saying that his family, his wife and children, became much more important than his music and any movement that he never wanted to be a leader of anyway. "Life is more important than art;" he tells us and he means just daily suburban type life, not life and death. Maybe the fame was that bad for him, but its part and parcel of what he sought so its a little hard to sympathize too deeply. He's still Bob Dylan here with a lot of poetry and insight and a multitude of references to musicians, painters and authors who influenced him, not just the obvious ones like Woody Guthrie, but others like Delta Blues great Robert Johnson and Lord Byron's Don Juan (Sean Penn at least reads it "Joo-ann", not "Whan", which is supposedly "correct", but I wonder which Dylan thought when he first read it?). It's a nice perspective, I only wish I had also checked out one of his music CD's for the road trip!

God's Politics CD: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It [ABRIDGED] (Audio CD)****

by Jim Wallis
Read by Jim Wallis and Sam Freed
1st Heard: January-February 2008
I bought this one on discount at Books a Million after the new year, while shopping for half price 2008 calendars. I saw his wife live at Chautauqua Institution. She was quite good. I've also seen Jim Wallis on TV, he is careful to be fairly even-handed with Democrats and Republicans, "conservatives" and "liberals". His orientation is Christian spirituality and ethics -- and he makes no apologies for it. But he has spoken up for politicians, for example he rebuked some on the "Right" for smearing Barack Obama's Christian faith. I see a lot of parallels between Wallis's crusade in favor of what is right and just and Christian -- like working to alleviate poverty, and Obama's push for fundamental change in the orientation of our government. These two give me hope. Read on for more from Reverend Wallis on hope; it's a catch-word that he and Barack Obama both make good use of.

Wallis has some great references in this work. I'll run through some examples quickly. He works to "change the wind" not just stick a wet finger up in the air. He appreciates Abraham Lincoln's preference against claiming that God is on our side in favor of us being on God's side. He quotes Thomas Jefferson: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." And at least 3 times he invokes the image of Martin Luther King with "a bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other". This is also a quibble I have with the book, it tends to be repetitive, which gets annoying if you are paying attention -- if you're not then I suppose it is useful, but the book could have made it's points in half the time (and this was already an abridged audio version).

Somewhat surprisingly, considering other author's views on the subject, Wallis sees potential for good in the "Pax Americana" or a virtual U.S. empire. He lays out four tenets in a framework for positive worldwide change: Debt, Aid, Trade and Aids. If properly addressed, these issues could let us improve the world for the bulk of humanity. It's a powerful treatise.

I guess I let his relationship with God color my hearing a bit, at one point I thought I heard, "we must faith the truth" -- a bit of a Freudian lisp. I also saw Jim Wallis on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recently promoting his new book, "The Great Awakening", which is apparently still spiritual but less religious. He commented that he'd visited Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream in Vermont and that Ben (Cohen) describes himself as spiritual but not religious. Wallis says Ben could be the Archbishop of this religionless spirituality. Interesting.

There's more but this is getting long -- like his equating "vision", almost like in corporate helming, and "prophecy". Yeah, the two are definitely relations. And he comments that often the difference between cynics and saints is merely the presence of hope. "Hope", it's a powerful word.

Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black ***

by John Feinstein (2003, Time Warner Audio, Abridged); Read by John Feinstein; 1st Heard: February 2008

This book almost makes you want to watch golf. I enjoy John Feinstein's take on sports and his style of speaking -- I'm pleased when I catch his bits on National Public Radio. I'm not a huge golf fan, but this story of putting on a big tournament on a special course as golf grew to a huge spectator sport was relevant and entertaining. It was relevant because I've been a part of an event that had even more volunteers than the 4300 needed for this USGA Open in 2001, namely the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. I also run and compete in table tennis tournaments, so I can appreciate the strategies from both the organizer's and the participant's points of view. Feinstein does give us a lot of names, and I mostly couldn't strictly keep track of the characters. In that regard this isn't as good a golf tale about a magnificent course as
The Greatest Course that Never Was, but it's better because it is real. So if you are a golf nut, or a sporting event stakeholder, this is good fun; and with some planning you can be at Bethpage for the 2009 Open.

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream*****

by Barack Obama (2006, RH Audio, Abridged); Read by Barack Obama; 1st Heard: January 2008

I borrowed this from the library when I decided to go see Obama speak in Birmingham on a recent Sunday (1/27/2008). I got about half way through between the drive down and back. In a book an author has time for reflection to organize and gather his thoughts and to write them out without interruption. Obama has taken advantage of that here. He provides sound reasoning and good ideas for leading our country forward, not alone but with the help of as many people as are willing. He has insights into the intentions of the writers of our Constitution, including his thought that they built in only a framework from which to deal with some things that could not be resolved at the time (such as slavery) or things that they knew would develop over time (such as science and religion). At his speech in Birmingham he certainly had prepared remarks, but he also had to adjust when the crowd reacted more strongly to some points than to others. I was surprised that the crowd's biggest agreement came when he said that parents need to shoulder the lion's share of child rearing responsibility. He can swim in unpredicted currents. In the book he also reveals his, hmmm, not humanity, that's never in question, but rather his normalcy -- his upwardly mobile middle class Americanism. He is a real person, with daughters and a marriage, and ambition. He also has a good voice -- both literally and figuratively. And, I believe it's obvious, he's got my vote.

Chasing Down the Dawn***

by Jewel (2000, Harper Audio, Unabridged Selections); Read by Jewel; 1st Heard: December 2006

These are pretty much excerpts from Jewel's personal diaries. They give a nice insight into her upbringing and her connection with Nature and Alaska and Perfomance. She helps us remember the solitude and our ability to be a part of the natural world (without having to "go native" or to "rough it". She comes across as a very real person and her spoken voice is as pleasant to listen to as her song-voice -- it is the same elfen-girl-child sound. She does tend to use a poet / narrator voice, something that I didn't really notice, and probably wouldn't have at all until Ze Frank mocked the generic poet-reading-his-own-work voice somewhere in the middle of my listening to Chasing... on his
The Show. But also I recently saw Jewel as a guest judge on "American Idol", during their Minneapolis auditions and she seemed a bit pompous and, well, judgemental, which was a bit disappointing.

Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest***

by Sandra Day O'Connor and H. Alan Day(2002, Random House Audio, Abridged); Read by Sandra Day O'Connor; 1st Heard: Fall 2006

This is an account of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice's upbringing; and it is just that, an account. The facts are interesting; the plain hard work, the plain life, the simple pleasures. It's the stuff that builds character and it's as dull as dirt. Everytime she gets a story started it just ends as matter-of-factly as it began. No twists, no subtle morals -- simple cowboy ways. It's a fascinating listen, but don't look for entertainment -- this is how you grow someone who can handle being the first woman on the supreme bench, with aplomb. I hope we don't miss her too much now that she has retired.

Report from Ground Zero**

by Dennis Smith(2002, HighBridge Company); Read by Eric Conger, et al; 1st Heard: Spring 2005

This book is professionally interesting in my current line of work with the Public Safety business unit at Intergraph; it's also interesting because I've spent some time in New York City and my brother-in-law is a NYC firefighter who was there on September 11, 2001. (My wife's brother, John Drumm, was in the North Tower when the South Tower came down and got out just before that tower came down, too;
other firefighters went back in looking for him. I also lost a second cousin, a stewardess on one of the planes.) Particularly the first tape of this audio book is interesting because it relates the different experiences of various "first responders" to this immense incident. It shows how professionals handle a lack of established command and control and try to work at an incident before the cause or extent of the problems is known. It also points up that even the best members of the best fire department in the world don't understand the dynamics of skyscraper incidents, they set up their command stations much too close to the damaged buildings and lost a lot of people; of course being farther away reduces the effectiveness of the response. Anyway, after these first accounts of the initial reactions to the attacks the remaining 3 tapes are a bit melodramatic with the details of the recovery and the huge personal and departmental losses. It is a big deal, more firefighters died that day than in the prior history of the NYFD. But there is not a lot of value in hearing about the sadness, the loss of fathers, sons, brothers, husbands. The final five minutes is worth hearing, it's a recap of phrases the author heard at Ground Zero among the firefighters on a day several weeks after the attack, their directions to each other to remove several uncovered bodies of firefighters.

Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and other Battles (Unabridged)*****

by Anthony Swofford (2003, AudioWorx (Simon & Schuster)); Read by Anthony Swofford; 1st Heard: Spring 2005

This audio book is immersive, it benefits from the softspoken first person of the author reading his own work. You can almost hear the hint of Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome in his voice, or at least the heavy impact of indoctrination and war, however "minor" the first Gulf War may have been.
We hear how the Marine Corps shapes our young men and lets them achieve at levels they never could elsewhere, but of course at some cost. The author abandoned Catholicism in the Marines, but not spirituality. Quoting now: '...the Corps, the Suck, as they called it, "because it sucks to be in it and it sucks the life out of you." ... I realized the grunt holds Spiritual High Ground because he creates it; through constant bitching and inebriation he creates his own Grunt Island, and the poor sad, angry grunt on the outside is actually a happy and contented grunt on the inside, because he has been heard, someone understands his misery: through profanity and disgrace he has communicated the truth of his being--an awful life punctuated by short bursts of mostly meaningless action, involving situations where he might die horribly or watch his friends die horribly. The very real possibility of dying at any moment-- that is the grunt's magic, his Spiritual High Ground.'
The subtle repetition in the author's prose really works well as a spoken word tale, as exampled above by "it sucks", "die horribly" and "grunt", "grunt", "grunt". It's rhythmic and tough to turn off.
Of course this is the new Marine Corps -- they swear a lot and discuss all manner of unpleasant things, not casually but frequently and intently. The "F" word is used rampantly; my father, a career Marine, says they didn't used to use the king seven dirty words, that they could tear you apart without them. There is some of that here, some old school, creative cussing, but much of it is raw and unimaginative, yet it is intense and it feels very real; like Swofford has captured the atmosphere of being a jarhead. Being a jarhead is complex, both hateful and embracing; demanding and boring. This audio book is a vividly understated masterpiece. Enjoy.

Report from Engine Co. 82***

by Dennis Smith(1972, HighBridge Company); Read by Lloyd James; 1st Heard: Fall 2004

I took an interest in this book because of my new job at Intergraph Public Safety, and because my brother-in-law, John, is a firefighter in New York City. I was in the firehouse one day with John and my family, getting the tour, when the alarm went off. We essentially froze, hoping to not get trampled and not get in anyone's way. The truck, with my brother-in-law on it now in full gear, was gone in under a minute. I remain impressed.

John was at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He was inside one of the towers as it began to collapse; he escaped with dust in his lungs and some very vivid memories. This author also wrote "Report from Ground Zero", which I own but have yet to listen to; I'm looking forward to it, but I'm not.

In this much earlier book we get a first hand account from the busiest firehouse in the country at a time when the Bronx was at its worst. It's a tough, grimy job but obviously with some satisfaction even on these ungrateful streets. We hear about the importance of speed: "The biggest factor in fighting fire is time." And we learn that the quickest way to put out a fire is to attack it; this is why firemen go inside burning buildings, into the rooms where the most heat is -- it's the best way to stop the fire from claiming more property and more people, but it's of course more dangerous than hosing the walls down from the sidewalk.

A Season on the Reservation***

by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2000, Simon and Schuster Audioworks); Read by Carl Lumbly; 1st Heard: May 2004

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has always been the biggest basketball star to me. It's not that I think he is the best all time player but when I first became aware of basketball leagues, he was at the top of his game. He was the biggest person who could really play, with a great sky hook and no one was really sure how tall he was, at least 7'2" and some said as high as 7'5", even without measuring the afro. I got to see him play once as a Millaukee Buc against the 76'ers in the Spectrum in the early 70's. And then I enjoyed him on screen in Airplane!. Now here he is, using his fame, fortune and basketball knowledge to enrich his own life and that of a bunch of Native American kids trying to find their place in a modern world that they haven't caught up to, and they aren't sure they want to. My respect for the tall now-bald man grew some more. This is what having fame and enough money should be used for, I envy him. That said he is not the most talented writer, the basketball drama was a long ways from what we've become accustomed to in The Mighty Ducks or even Hoosiers. It was sometimes chronologically confusing and a bit repetetive as well. Nonetheless there is an insight into the lives of these culturally misfit people and a connection to their new coach that is worth immersing in.

No Island of Sanity***

by Vincent Bugliosi (1998, NewStar Publishing); Read by Joseph Campanella; 1st Heard: Jan. 2004

A disturbingly rational didaction on the lack of rationality by the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision to allow the case of Paula Jones v. Bill Clinton to proceed while Clinton was in office. The reasons and precedents against are monumental. On the other hand Clinton's strategists pursued along flawed paths and the irrational exuberance of public opinion seems to have impinged on what should be an "Island of Sanity" in these turbulent days. Joseph Campanella's voice, as ever, is very pleasant to sit through.

Joined at the Heart***

by Al and Tipper Gore (2002, Audio Renaissance); Read by Al and Tipper Gore; 1st Heard: Fall 2003

There are good insights, good statistics and good definitions presented in this book that both reinforce traditional notions of the American family and that redefine a family's potential constitution -- a single mother with 2 kids, that's a family; divorced parents and their kids and step kids and new spouses, that's a family or two; two gay men and two adopted kids, that's a family.

The authors swap reading duty back and forth, which is a good thing since Tipper is a bit whiny and trite sounding and Al's utter lack of charisma saddled us with George W. and his cronies for 4 years. Neither one would be good to have to listen to for 6 hours. Even so the material is quite repetitious and there's a serious temptation to hit the fast forward button at times. But if you do you might miss some of the hidden nuggets like the jab at the conservative "Family Values" crowd who are rightly criticized for bad mouthing both single mothers who stay home with their kids and collect welfare and middle class mothers who put their kids in day care in order to continue to pursue a career.

I'm Only One Man!***

by Regis Philbin with Bill Zehme (1995, Simon & Schuster); Read by Regis Philbin; 1st Heard: Sept. 2003
This book is a few years old now so there's a lot of stuff about Kathy Lee that may not be relevant to current Regis fans. Also it starts out a bit flat, like he's not real comfortable with a print medium (even though this is actually an audio version). Some stories that are meant to be funny are told in a very matter-of-fact manner that delivers them with an awkward thud rather than a chuckle. But Mr. Philbin seems to loosen up as the book goes along and his sub-superstar celebrity shines through and his down-to-earth personality and good sense are exposed. He gets a lot out of life and gives back in what seems to be very genuine ways.

The Majors****

by John Feinstein (1999, Time Warner); Read by John Feinstein; 1st Heard: May 2003
I'd heard John Feinstein's telephone conversations with Bob Edwards about sports on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" for years and always enjoyed his voice even if I didn't always agree with his commentary. There is less opinion in this tape and more facts and insights about the 1998 major golf tournaments. I'm not a golfer, but I bought my first set of clubs somewhere in the middle of side 3. The author provides numerous insights into the traditions and nuances of golf, like how they measure a green's speed: by "stimping" it. Well worth the listen for any sports fan or golf widow. The NPR telephone conversation always ends the same way: "Good-bye, Bob."

The Spoken Word Bible: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job**

by God (1997, Dove Audio); Read by Stephanie Beacham, Roger Rees and John Rubinstein; 1st Heard: Fall 2002
First I'm not presuming to review The Bible, just the listenability of this version. It was low. The readers spend way too much time with the foreign sounding many-syllabled names. This reading is from the King James version -- it needs to be abridged for the modern listener. The only one of these stories that I found accessible was Esther, which is a pretty cool story. I don't get Job and I'm not sure why anyone much cares about Ezra and Nehemiah other than in a historical context. (I did so want to put "read by the author", but these guys don't even sound like Charlton Heston.)

The Ice Opinion****

by Ice-T (1994, The Publishing Mills); Read by the author; 1st Heard: December 2002
Hard, raw and unapologetic musings by a man obviously much smarter than his birthrights. Ice-T was a criminal in some of the worst environments ever survived in the US of A, "The Hood" of Los Angeles. He's also mellow, thoughtful and insightful; and worth listening to. He went from street thug to rapper to movie and TV star without selling out and without giving in. Good for him, good for us.

Angela's Ashes****

by Frank McCourt (1997, Simon & Schuster); Read by the author; 1st Heard: October 2002
This is a wonderfully stark first person account of an impoverished but enlightened childhood. For those of us with some Irish ancestry it rattles in our bones. I haven't read the paper book, but with the author's intonations and his feigning of his father's singing the old Irish songs this is a powerful listen, well worth the time, even if you have read it.

Vanna Speaks*

by Vanna White (1987); Read by the author; 1st Heard: Summer 2002
This is just as vapid and awful as you might anticipate. Vanna seems to have as little personality and as few interesting insights as I had imagined. Her genuine-ness would be an asset if it weren't so painful. She's a nice, reliable person but on an audio tape that is B_R_NG.

Lucky Man ****

by Michael J. Fox (2002); Read by the author; 1st Heard: June 2002
Michael J. Fox gives a very genuine accounting of his life and times and the impact that Parkinson's disease has had on him. It probably saved him from self-destructing through addiction to celebrity and the privileges that it brought. Unfortunately P.D. brings about its own kind of slow destruction. Fox is a natural writer and I enjoy his voice, although I do think you can hear the effects of his illness seeping through. This is a very easy listen, and an inspiration without being all melodramatic.

Rants **** and Ranting Again ***** and The Rant Zone***

by Dennis Miller (1996, 1998, 2001, Harper Audio); Read by the author; 1st Heard: Fall 2000, Feb. 2002
Dennis Miller's use of the language is eloquent, astounding and insightful despite a predominant use of the "F" word. It's also cool that he is from Pittsburgh. Quotes such as "Remember: in it's time and place, what Hitler said was politically correct," leave you thinking even after you've stopped laughing. I actually liked "Ranting Again" a bit better than "Rants" but that may just be because I heard it first.
I also enjoyed "The Rant Zone", this one includes stuff after his stint on Monday Night Football. It's worth a listen but less rapier sharp than the first two reviewed.


by David Sedaris (1997); Read by the author and his sister, Amy; 1st Heard: Fall 2000
A collection of memoirs from this insightful humorist. His stuff is great so long as you've got a stomach for reality.

I Had a Hammer: The Hank Aaron Story****

by Hank Aaron, Lonnie Wheeler (1990); Read by the author and Courtney Vance; 1st Heard: 5/2001
I was a kid when Hank Aaron broke the Home Run record -- and I grew up thinking that's what he was about, like an early George Foster. The audio book, with a Foreword and Afterword read by Henry Aaron himself, really brings the player and the man to you. He was an all-around player, at least once he found a defensive position where he had major-league talent.
His offense was outstanding, setting many more records than just Most Home Runs and reaching many milestones. He also is a man of conscience and character that pushed through a number of color barriers without the flamboyance of some of today's leaders.
The narrative, read by Courtney Vance, shifts without warning between 1st and 3rd persons. I found this interesting and it helped hold my attention. If you enjoy baseball entertainment like the movie "Bull Durham", this is for you.

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