Awesome Audio

I spend way too much time in my car.

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I love my car, as far as cars go, but I don’t really like to drive. For the past 6 months (my, how time flies!), I have been commuting 69.8 miles from door to door (but who’s counting?) EACH WAY to work. Luckily I don’t hit too much traffic, but it takes a while nonetheless. I’ve listened to audiobooks on and off over the years, but now is most definitely an “on” time. If I get sucked into a really good book with a great match of narrator to material, I can get so absorbed that I miss my exit or sit in my parked car just to listen a few more minutes.

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My daily commute, 5 days a week.

Here are a few of my favorite narrator/book choices from recent memory. In no particular order, but starting with the most recent, which I finished after 36 hours and 11 minutes of enthralled listening (got me few a few trips back and forth!) just tonight:

  • Lonesome Dove, book by Larry McMurtry, read by Lee Horsley

This is an addition to my top 10 favorite books. The list changes, of course, but as of now, this is on it. I’ve read Larry McMurtry before–The Last Picture Show, Some Can Whistle, The Evening Star, The Desert Rose, The Late Child–but never one of his Westerns. It won the Pulitzer Prize, so I’m not sure why I assumed I wouldn’t like it. I was also intimidated by its length of 842 pages.

Loved it! And the actor Lee Horsley, who I know from the early 1980s as television’s Matt Houston, was perfect. From Texas himself, he captures the characters speeech patterns and is able to convey each one’s idiosynchrasies. He shines as Captain Augustus McCrae.

Now I have to listen to the other books in the series if they are available as audiobooks as well. I had no idea it was the first of 4 books in a series. And I must watch the beloved television series with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

Lonesome Dove series

 

  • Any book ever read by Simon Prebble; seriously, ANY book

 

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Simon Prebble

 

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English actor Simon Prebble has one of the most distinctive voices I’ve ever heard. I first heard him read the odd and mysterious Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a wonderful book by Susanna Clarke made more wonderful by Prebble’s narration. In case you didn’t figure it out, I am a Prebble fan. (Note: I also just saw him act for the first time that I am aware of, as Jamie’s mean father on the STARZ adaptation of Outlander, the Diana Gabaldon book series also available as audiobooks read by the popular narrator Davina Porter.)

 

This is a rare case in which I can say that the TV series, shown recently on BBC America, does justice to the book and was one of the best adaptations I’ve seen on television.

Jonathan Strange tv series

Some of my other favorite Prebble readings include Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, by William Kuhn;

 

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro;

 

and the classic A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Prebble does the best Scrooge ever.

 

  • Again, pretty much anything ever read by Jim Dale

Jim Dale is a versatile English actor, singer, and songwriter (going back to the song “Georgy Girl” from 1966, nominated for an academy award). Americans of my generation know him from the 1977 children’s movie “Pete’s Dragon”. Now many know him as the narrator of the J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter books. I haven’t read the books, only listened to them. By book 7, I was pretty sick of the whole thing, but I kept listening mostly due to Jim Dale.

 

  • Yet again, pretty much anything read by Lorelei King
Lorelei reading
Lorelei King

King is an American actress living in the United Kingdom, and I first saw her in the British comedy series “Chef!” (1993-1996) with comedian Lenny Henry. She played American chef Savannah, a sous chef and possible love interest to the temperamental executive chef Gareth Blackstock. I highly reccomend the series.

She is probably most popular with the Stephanie Plum mystery novels by Janet Evanovich. She is adept at creating and maintaining voices for each recurring character, and her Grandma Mazur and Lula voices are hilarious.

 

  • Following Atticus, written and read by Tom Ryan

I loved this book. My heart  warms just at the thought. And I loved Tom Ryan’s reading. It’s not often that an author makes a good narrator. And it’s a book about a dog, hello! I am sad to report that Atticus recently passed away, but you can read about Tom’s just-starting adventures with  new rescue pup Samwise on the “Following Atticus” Facebook page. You’ll love Tom Ryan. And Samwise.

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Rest in Peace, Atticus

 

  • In the same spirit, Travels with Charley in Search of America, written by John Steinbeck and read by Gary Sinise

I’ve read this Steinbeck travel memoir a few times, and still love it as much now as I did in high school. Yes, I was the nerd in high school who liked American Literature and was happy to read Steinbeck for class. Steinbeck was a great writer. And I am still a nerd.

 

  • Gone Girl, written by Gillian Flynn, read by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne

I first heard about this book on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast before it was the big hit it became or a movie adaptation. Creepy! The inside of Gillian Flynn’s mind is a scary place. And the whole unreliable narrator motif was a unique concept to me. Who to believe?! These two readers, actress Julia Whelan and actor/comedian/singer/songwriter Kirby Keyborne, are perfect in the she said/he said/who do you believe back and forth format.

 

It was a pretty good movie to, I have to admit.

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  • Speaking of weird and creepy, Room, written by Emma Donaghue, read by multiple narrators

Donaghue is an Irish writer who lives in Canada. Room is the story of a young woman who is abducted and kept in a shed (the room) for several years, where she gives birth to and raises a son. Spoiler alert; they escape the room and adjusting to life in the outside world proves challenging. What really stands out about the audiobook is the performance of the late actress Michal Friedman in the chapters told from the voice of 5-year old Jack.

Michal Friedman
Michal Friedman (1967-2011)

Tragically, Friedman died unexpectedly and we will never know what successes her carrer might have held for her.

Oh, and another movie adaptation to mention, but I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t give you an opinion.

room movie

 

  • The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak and read by Allan Corduner

Zusak is a young writer (born 1975), and I hope he keeps writing! Of German and Austrian heritage, he lives in Sydney, Australia. This story of a young firl and her foster family in a small town outside of Munich during World War II is heartbreaking yet still has moments of humor.

 

Actor Allan Corduner, born in Sweden to German and Russo-Finnish father but raised in London, has a sonorous voice you can imagine on the Shakespearean stage. As the novel is told by the overworked Grim Reaper, it’s a good fit. My Googling tells me that he was in 5 episodes of the television series Homeland last year.

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Allan Corduner

No, I haven’t seen the movie adaptation. It’s on my list.

Book Thief movie

 

  • Summerland, written and read by Michael Chabon

I’ve had friends tell me they don’t particularly care for Chabon’s readings of his books, but this is the one book where he is absolutely perfect, in my opinion. It made me feel like I was a kid being read to by my dad. The story is a modern fairy tale about baseball and a flying station wagon. Trust me, it’s delightful.

 

  • I could keep going, but I will end on a humorous selection with Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), written and read by Jenny Lawson.

Laugh out loud funny. Also check out her blog, aptly titled The Bloggess, “Like Mother Teresa, Only Better”.

The Bloggess

Go forth and listen!

The Art and Science of Awe

I returned to my old neighborhood at UC Berkeley today. I don’t get to campus very often since I left my job at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) last December. But I was lured back by the Greater Good Science Center, of which I have been a member for a couple of years now. Taking their Science of Happiness MOOC (massive open online course) in September, 2014,  was a life-changing experience. I highly recommend it. The next offering begins September 6 this year.

The Science of Happiness

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According to the program notes for my adventure today, a “day of cutting-edge research and awe-inspiring performances”, the event “marks the culmination of an unprecedented three-year project to advance the scientific study of awe, conducted by Dacher Keltner’s Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory and funded by the John Templeton Foundation”. Sounded like a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday to me!

The Art and Science of Awe

Off I headed to the Zellerbach Playhouse, a smaller (yet to me, nicer) annex to the big Zellerbach Hall that is the home of Cal Performances.

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* signage
Not really necessary, since the only people on campus on an overcast, summer Saturday were those of us heading to Zellerbach Playhouse anyway.

* banner

* your reporter
Your intrepid reporter, ready to be awed.
* your brain
If you are thinking,” that would make a great t-shirt”, yes, you can buy the shirt from the Greater Good Science Center.
* venue
Zellerbach Playhouse
1. Clerestory
Vocal ensemble Clerestory opens the proceedings, with images from Cal Project Awe.

Ever since I took “The Science of Happiness”, I’m kind of a Dacher Keltner groupie. UC Berkeley psychology professor Dr. Keltner is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center. He gave the morning keynote, “What Is Awe and Why Does It Matter”, getting us off to a great start. (I am trying not to use the word awesome. And I apologize for the “save” box on the portraits; that happened when I screen shot the images somehow and I am not going to redo them!)

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Dacher Keltner, Ph. D.

What is awe, you ask? Keltner defines it as “being in the presence of something vast, beyond current understanding”.

Lest you think this will get too serious, the discussion even included designing better emoticons with an artist from Pixar.

8. Emoticons

And why study awe? Because awe might provide the counterpoint to what many of us see as a current cultural malaise.

9. toward a culture of awe

Next up was arguably the crowd favorite, a participatory music session led by the amazing Melanie DeMore. Okay, I normally balk at sing-alongs and participatory anything, but I let myself be open to this and it was so much fun, and moving as well. I had a tear (or two) in my eye at the end. Melanie DeMore is a vocal artist and activist and is a natural teacher and mentor, if this session was anything to judge by. She had me singing and clapping and swaying at 9:30 on a Saturday morning before I’d even had coffee. Unanimous standing ovation from the audience.

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Vocal activist Melanie DeMare.

11. Melanie

Then followed the first panel of the day (the members of which acknowledged humorously that Melanie was a hard act to follow): “Nurturing Awe: How Awe Can Be Fostered Through Education”. Moderator Vicki Zakrewski, Ph.D, moderated the discussion, with presentations from high school teacher Julie Mann and Tom Rockwell, Director of Exhibits and Social Media at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

the-exploratorium

Julie Mann teaches at Newcomers High School in Queens, where 100% of the students are ESL students. As hard as awe as a concept is to describe, she asked us to imagine describing awe in a language you are learning as an immigrant. “You have to experience awe to understand it” so she works with her students to provide them the experience as well as the tools to describe it.

12. Julie Mann

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Students finding awe in fresh air, relaxation, and looking at the sky, an experience many of us take for granted but that is unique for these underserved kids.

Tom Rockwell talked about how they approach exhibits at the Exploratorium in an effort to provoke wonder and curiosity and questions, not to provide the answers. He also talked about the concept of wonder and how it relates to awe.

Break time, and the search for coffee, one of the magical things that instills awe in me.

The next panel, “Natural Elevation: The Therapeutic Benefits of Experiencing Awe in Nature”, was led by moderator Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D, and included presentations from Craig Anderson, Ph.D. (UC Berkeley), Stacy Bare (Director, Sierra Club Outdoors), and Jaclyn Lim, who as a teenager participated in a collaborative study between UC Berkeley and the Sierra Club that looked at the mental and physical health benefits of experiences in nature for underserved adolescents and military veterans.

Even Golden State Warriors basketball superhero Steph Curry made it into the discussion, as he apparently has a very expressive face for comparisons of facial expressions and emotions.

25. Stacy Bare
Veteran Stacy Bare, who says his bone fides as a presenter make him an outlier–“most of my life has been about kicking in doors and blowing stuff up”.

The morning wrapped up with poetry readings by former US Poet Laureate, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, and UC Berkeley professor Robert Hass. I would have loved to take a class from this warm, engaging gentleman. I felt awe in his presence.

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Robert Hass.

27. Robert Hass

Lunch! Time to seek culinary awe. And thank you Greater Good Science Center for providing a vegan choice (catering by Ann’s Catering).

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Melanie DeMare graciously mingles with crowd.
30. Aftermath
The lunch aftermath. Where are the composting bins, cutting-edge university, hmmm?

The afternoon started with the super high-energy and voluble Jason Silva, host of National Geographic’s “Brain Games” and maker of the short film series “Shots of Awe”, in conversation with Dacher Keltner on “Our Responsibility to Awe”.

To be honest, he was talking so fast about so many things with such animation that I lost track! As someone who feels inarticulate much of the time, this did produce a sense of awe in me.

The afternoon keynote, “What’s Awe Got To Do With It?: How Awe Changes Our Minds and Bodies” was delivered by Michelle “Lani” Shiota, PH.D, of Arizona State University.

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Lani Shiota, Ph.D.

Post afternoon break, we again were introduced to awe through music, with beautiful sounds of the Chinese stringed instrument the pipa, played by Wu Man. Haunting, mesmerizing, and meditative all at the same time.

Wu Man then joined the panel on “Evoking Awe Through Art”, moderated by Director of Cal Performances Matias Tarnopolsky and with presentations by husband and wife team Ben Davis and Vanessa Inn (Illuminate the Arts) and David Delgado (NASA Visual Strategist and co-founder of the Museum of Awe).

Illuminate the Arts is a light-based arts project that teamed with artist Leo Villareal to create the The Bay Lights, making the Bay Bridge into San Francisco a “canvas of light”.

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The Bay Lights

David Delgado “develops experiences that provoke curiosity through a mix of science and imagination”, such as Metamorphosis, a sculptural depiction of a meteor that allows people the experience of walking through the tail of a comet.

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Metamorphosis, photo by Ann Elliott Cutting Photography.

Emiliana Simon-Thomas led another panel on the topic of “Awe and the Greater Good: How Awe Can Inspire–and Be Inspired by–Acts of Altruism and Moral Courage”.

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Presenter Paul Piff, Ph.D., of UC Irvine, spoke about whether the experience of awe attenuates narcissism, entitlement, and self-interest (no surprise to me, he found that the people who are the most well-off also feel the highest sense of entitlement and are  less generous).

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Paul Piff, Ph.D.

Covering the concept of moral courage was Jakada Imani from the Center for Popular Democracy (and former Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights) with a profile of the Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, and how he ended up the path to altriusm and moral courage.

Imani
Jakada Imani

45. Jakada Imani

The final panel of the day, “Global Awe: Finding Awe Around the World and Across the Universe”, brought back Dacher Keltner with Jennifer Stellar, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, and astronomer Alex Filippenko, Ph.D, professor at UC Berkeley (and nine-time Professor of the Year).

Jennifer Stellar talked about how awe varies across cultures and what about it is universal.

Alex Filippenko, as the astronomer, went the universal route, invoking Albert Einstein and mostly talking over this humanities/arts/humane education person’s head. The crowd was generally more physics friendly, as far as I could tell, since they laughed and seemed enthralled and entertained. This kind of intelligene does invoke awe for me even if I don’t understand what’s being discussed!

Dacher Keltner closed with remarks about how the life’s work for each presenter beagn with awe and wonder, and after the standing ovation, everyone went out to the annoying but ear-worm inducing sounds of the song “Everything is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”.

I had to get that out of my head, so I drove home to the sound of Lee Horsley reading Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer prize-winning book “Lonesome Dove”. That, my friends, is truly awesome.

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