Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recent Projects

It's been a busy spring, I'm happy to say, and I haven't had the luxury of blogging, but I'm way overdue and feel the urge again, so I'll indulge in a spate of posts while the inspiration lasts.

Drinking with Miss Dutchie by Ed Breslin, for Blackstone Audio--A short, sweet paean to man's best friend from a guy who learned the hard way. Breslin was a two-fisted drinker and smoker whose marriage and over-driven career were teetering on the edge of disaster when he came up with a scheme to distract his wife from bugging him about his self-destructive behavior. Buy her a dog! Yeah, that'll do it! The result was a gradual but dramatic turn-around in his own life, due in large part to Miss Dutchie and her endearing ways.

Labrador owners will particularly relish this one. We joined the club two years ago when we adopted Maggie the Blonde Bombshell, the happiest dog in the world. Now she has an adopted sister, Ruby the Black Madonna of the Bedroom, a huge Lab-Newfie mix who situates herself on the bed all day and barks for room service.

The ending is about as wrenching as you'd expect, so be prepared. But it's a wonderful reminder of the effect that animals can have on our lives.

Secretariat by William Nack, for terrific story, as you might expect. It's not quite the rags-to-riches tale that made Seabiscuit such a heart-warming favorite, but it's a fascinating glimpse into the world of horse racing and breeding. There are plenty of engaging characters and some excellent descriptive writing. Nack lays solid groundwork for a rousing finish that doesn't disappoint.
And that was one amazing animal. It wasn't until i watched a video of the 1973 Belmont Stakes that I realized what all the fuss was about. Simply incredible.

As part of my preparation I watched the movie, a rather lackluster Disney production with some amateurish acting and editing. I'm generally a fan of John Malkovich, when he's cast well, but he looks so uncomfortable here playing a "good guy" that it sets your teeth on edge. And his "French"! Was a language coach not part of the budget, or what? Anyway, the racing scenes are well done and worth a download or rental if you're interested in complimenting the book.

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, for Gildan Media--Every teacher and parent should read this. It's a "how-to" for some of the most effective teaching techniques in circulation today. Lemov is the founder of Uncommon Schools, a training and evaluation center that has turned out terrific teachers and helped establish a string of wildly successful charter schools in the Northeast. Watching the accompanying videos (available online for purchasers of the book) makes you realize what an exhausting, but ultimately rewarding, job it is to teach at this level. Even if you aren't a teacher, the book helps you understand the challenges of running an effective classroom. As a parent I found it helpful in homework sessions, in terms of staying focused on the work and engaging more fully with my daughter in her lessons.

Yeah, I know, lucky daughter!

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, for Tantor Media--The grandaddy of futuristic dystopian novels and a precursor to the more famous 1984. Written in the form of a fictional diary, the novel tracks the spiritual awakening of D-503, a drone-like member of a future society in which everything is made of glass, such that no thought or activity can be concealed from the leaders of One State. There are strikingly imaginative touches and some unforgettable images. As far as I know this is the first time the book will be available in audio, and fans of dystopian sci-fi should not miss it.

Babbit by Sinclair Lewis, for Blackstone Audio--Perhaps not Lewis' greatest achievement, but it's one of my favorites, after Dodsworth, and it's a wonderful chance to ham it up a bit, if I may say so. It was particularly interesting to me coming on the heels of We, in the sense that Babbitt undergoes a brief but explosive "awakening," only to be brought back into line by the forces of conformity. And it's disturbingly relevant to recent trends in politics and society, if ya know what I mean.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, for Blackstone Audio--Okay, if you want to feel like you work for bastards and your life isn't worth two cents, read this. I mean, this book can lead to some serious paranoia. No, I'd never read it in school, so the impact has been fresh and potent. I thoroughly enjoyed Oil, which I narrated for Blackstone two years ago. That book, though less famous than The Jungle, is a satirical juggernaut bursting with rich characters and dialogue. (If you've only seen the movie, There Will Be Blood, do yourself a favor and read the book. You can't really understand what a hideous botch the film was until you do.) The Jungle, of course, is another matter. What makes it so damnably compelling is the same power of hope and salvation that drives Jurgis Rudkus in his quest to find some humanity in the world. Will someone, somewhere, give this guy a break?

Plus, you'll never eat deviled ham again.

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