Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings

THE SEA WOLVES by Lars Brownworth is a chilling history of the Vikings, and their conquests across England and Europe around 800 AD. It was a dark age of blood and violence, and this book shows how one’s twisted religious beliefs can influence how a man acts against those who are not in the club: with a club. The Vikings believed in Norse gods who were jealous rivals, hoarders, plunderers, and murderers. In their mythology the world would end bathed in blood, as hellish creatures fed on everyone (except for two gods who would survive to start the whole process over again.) Naturally, taking this positive message to heart, they also plundered, raped, and killed, showing no mercy to innocents (kinda like ISIS.) One Norseman called another a “child lover” for not wanting to participate in the blood sport of tossing live babies into the air and catching them on the point of a spear. They invented a game similar to hockey, and were heavily into fitness as well as other sports. Did anything good come of all the pillage and cruelty? Well, they settled Iceland, founded Dublin, and created the trial by jury method of law. Of course back then if you were found guilty, you could be thrown into a pit of vipers, naked. Where, no doubt, you would sing original Norse songs in praise of Odin (Supreme creator, God of Victory and the Dead), even as snakes bit into your flesh. Or you’d have your eyes put out by a hot brand. (More screaming than singing, in that case.) Life was brutal and short, and the Vikings accepted it would be, never doubting their society or its beliefs. Narrator Joe Barrett keeps the pacing of the history steady in an engaging, entertaining way, and is good at creating accented dialogue in places used as illustration of the historical characters in the book, evoking whatever humorous or dramatic edge is needed. 

That's humanity's past (violence), but what of the Future?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

THE SPIRAL NOTEBOOK by Stephen Singular

 The Spiral Notebook by Stephen Singular refers to the diary and notes taken by James Holmes before committing mass murder in an Aurora Colorado movie theater. While following Holmes from the shooting and through the court system, he also brings into focus other shootings, such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and the Washington Navy Yard, using interviews and commentary from science in an effort to understand the reasons and prevent future crimes. Tom Taylorson reads the audiobook, moving from the dramatic recounting of events to the steady examinations of culture and stress. In a society that demands and rewards aggression to establish one’s identity, one that equates popularity, money, and power with self worth, the stresses that hit young kids early and often are out of control. The violent video game market has benefited from these stresses, becoming multi-billion dollar companies. But sometimes games such as Grand Theft Auto (in which you can kill police and innocents with automatic weapons, and even commit rape) don’t provide sufficient relief from these stresses, and kids move on to real weapons. Since that part of the brain (frontal cortex) associated with decision making doesn’t fully develop until age 25, it explains why most mass shooters are between 18-25, and male (because peer pressure to physically dominate is greatest for males.) It is also interesting to note that you are 25 times more likely to be attacked by a male age 18-25 than by any other demographic. Add rejection, stress, loneliness, a feeling of estrangement or unfairness, of being “disrespected” (as one shooter put it), and you have the perfect storm of revenge. As contrast, the author (who lived in Spain for a time) contrasts the culture here with there. In Barcelona, he says, one does not sit alone in coffee shops, face down in a computer screen, not talking to anyone. They find American habits and obsessions with weapons odd, and sad, and they do not have even 10% of the per capita gun crime we do. He recounts one shooter saying that “if only one person had talked to me, or cared, I wouldn’t have done it.” The author suggests yoga (or even walking with a friend) as a better way of relieving stress than violent video games, which numb the mind to accept violence as inevitable just by repetition. A must hear. AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH.  
   Young adult novels on audio.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

PIRATE HUNTERS by Robert Kurson

PIRATE HUNTERS by Robert Kurson is the true story of the search for a legendary pirate ship, the Golden Fleece, which was captained by the infamous Joseph Bannister but was sunk in a sea battle off what is now the Dominican Republic in the late 1600s. Kurson spices up his story, not just with rum, but shadowy characters out of the “golden age” of piracy, and narrator Ray Porter is up to the task of dispelling the myths of pirates (who didn’t make people walk the plank, but more often shot them and threw them overboard.) Porter spoons out the tricks and treats with the tone of frustration and suspense that the principals (John Chatterton and John Mattera) must have felt in risking their fortunes on finding an extremely rare wreck hidden for centuries, despite charts and sketchy accounts that had rivals searching the wrong plots of undersea landscape for years. Most of the book is about that search on land, at sea, in history books, and the tensions between the men as they argued and planned an expedition to finally find what was under everyone’s noses all along. Since it’s a case that isn’t finished in the courts, or even in years of excavation, recovery, nor cataloging, (not to mention who gets what and when and how much!), it does make sense to focus on what led to the discovery, incorporating the history and legend and myths of pirates. Intrigue, real stories, and a great narrator. Can’t ask for much more. Another pirate book I never forgot was PIRATE HUNTER by Richard Zacks, from 2003, the unbelievable yet true story of Captain Kidd. That’s a book which puts you right on board with a immediacy that’s breathtaking, and twists galore. It’s read with always steady control and engagement by Michael Prichard.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Photography Related Audiobooks

Including A TRIUMPH OF GENIUS, the story of Edwin Land and the Polaroid legal battle with Kodak. Land was a favorite of Steve Jobs, and this audiobook, narrated by Pete Larkin, recounts his discoveries, his life, and in so doing the history of photography in America.

Eating the Dinosaur

Chuck Klosterman has chronicled rock music, film, and sports for almost 15 years. He’s covered extreme metal, extreme nostalgia, disposable art, disposable heroes, life on the road, life through the television, urban uncertainty, and small-town weirdness. Through a variety of media and with a multitude of motives, he’s written about everything he can think of (and a lot that he’s forgotten). The world keeps accelerating, but the pop ideas keep coming.
In Eating the Dinosaur, Klosterman is more entertaining and incisive than ever. Whether he’s dissecting the boredom of voyeurism, the reason why music fans inevitably hate their favorite band’s latest album, or why we love watching can’t-miss superstars fail spectacularly, Klosterman remains obsessed with the relationship between expectation, reality, and living history. It’s amateur anthropology for the present tense, and sometimes it’s incredibly funny. 

Before Jurassic Park, there was The Lost World. This classic terror-adventure novel has set the standard for today’s popular entertainment as followed by Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg. Featuring the bold Professor Challenger, a character many critics consider one of the most finely drawn in science fiction, The Lost World is the account of a scientific expedition by four high-spirited Englishmen—two scientists, a big-game hunter, and a journalist—deep into the Amazon jungle. In this region, cut off from the outside world by unscalable vertical cliffs and fetid swamps, they encounter a world where dinosaurs roam free and natives fight a murderous war with their fierce neighbors, the ape-men. Trapped on the isolated plateau with only hunting rifles as protection, the four must use savvy and intellect to escape from this primeval terror. Also, don't miss the short story (made into a movie) by Ray Bradbury titled A SOUND OF THUNDER. A radio drama with a full cast. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

ZOO by James Patterson

His name is Jackson Oz, but there’s no yellow brick road back to sanity in ZOO by James Patterson. As a biologist, Oz seeks help from a ecologist named Chloe in what has been adapted by CBS for a television mini-series. Animals in Los Angeles and elsewhere are going feral and attacking humans for inexplicable reasons, and most of the book is an attempt at discovery and containment, while the military and government officials try to shoot the animals, or, at one point, discuss using napalm. Despite the scientific jargon applied to the situation, most are stymied by the reason, and postulate everything from solar radiation to cell phone towers changing chemicals in the atmosphere. The main point here is that mistreated animals (not just lions, bears, apes, and tigers, but cats and dogs) are now dealing revenge on the naked apes (us.) So it’s a kind of cautionary tale (like THE BIRDS) in which we are forced to reconsider our own supremacy and possible extinction (ego being mankind’s fatal flaw.) The best thing about this 8 hour audiobook is the narrator, Jay Snyder, a talented Broadway and film and voiceover actor who manages to maintain listener engagement by being totally believable (as opposed to corny), with the appropriate mood setting evolution of tone required to keep things rolling.