AudioBook Reviews

di Mark Irwin


Audiobook Reviews
by Mark Irwin


I spend almost seven hours a week commuting to work and back, and for the first thirteen years of that daily commute I listened mostly to music of my own choosing. Then I discovered the bliss of audiobooks, of how they can transform the drudgery of being stuck in traffic into a recovered, magic time of listening to books—novels, poetry, nonfiction, theology, whatever, it’s all good. So when Rick Newcombe announced he was going to release the second installment of his Pipe Dreams trilogy on audio, adding bonus material to a book I already love, I knew I had a win-win scenario. 


Still Searching for Pipe Dreams, by Rick Newcombe. Narrated by Rick Newcombe with new bonus material. 

7 hrs, 16 min. Available from and


If you don’t know the book, you’re in for a treat—Rick’s conversational style in the book is perfect for audio treatment. If you do know the book, you’re still in for a treat, because you haven’t really experienced any text until you’ve heard it read. Trust me on this. I recently listened to Elijah Woods’ incredible reading of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and not only did it send me scurrying for my cob pipe, but the act of listeningrather than reading gave me a new and deeper understanding and appreciation of Mark Twain’s narrative architecture and why so many people say this book is the true beginning of American literature. Newcombe’s reading is not of course on a par with a professional actor’s, but insofar as it yields a whole new appreciation of the book, the result is the same.


The real genius of the audiobook—and the reason I like to call Rick “the Apostle of pipes”—is his decision to preface each chapter with a conversation about that chapter with his son Jack, who is not a pipe smoker (I know, amazing, right?). Jack’s insightful probings allow us to look at ourselves and our hobby from outside the fishbowl, giving us the rare opportunity to see the hobby from the perspective of someone who isn’t part of it. This gives Rick new scope to extol the joys and benefits of pipe-smoking as an apologist (or defender) of the faith, something we all need to be doing in face of the negativities of the Nanny State’s hopelessly uninformed epidemiologists and knee-jerk naysayers. The spontaneity of these conversations is as informed and erudite as anything you’re likely to hear on NPR, and surprisingly, fleshed out the chapters, adding not only context but additional material that often clarifies the main text. I’d estimate the conversations between Jack and Rick account for about 25% of the audio, which means this version is really Still Searching for Pipe Dreams 2.0. Highly recommended.



The Pipe: An Uncanny Mystery Story, by Cathy Dobson. Narrated by the author. Red Door Audiobooks.

48 min. Available from and 


Cathy Dobson has narrated a number of classic children's tales and is the author of Planet Germany. This story appeared in June of 2012, and as its electronic cover suggests, it’s something of an Edwardian nightmare. The premise? A small coterie of decidedly unpleasant pipe collectors are trying to figure out what’s going on with a very strange, even deadly meerschaum pipe carved in a reptilian shape resembling something you’d see in an H. R. Giger print (or in any of the Aliens movies, if you don’t know Giger). Its nearest literary precursors are found in a handful of tales from the Sherlock Holmes canon which involve one or another possibly supernatural elements.


But what makes this story so indelibly creepy and unsettling is Dobson’s spoken voice, in combination with what the narrator of the tale isn’ttelling us. These are not guys I’d want to spend the evening with smoking pipes or swapping tobaccos. She doesn’t always get the pipe-smoking details correct (I mean who smokes perique by itself?), but everything’s so off-kilter that I can excuse the fact that she’s probably not a veteran pipe smoker herself. That being said, if you’ve got a taste for “the bad smoke,” or just like stories about the underside of the hobby, this might be for you. But I promise you’ll never look at figural meerschaums the same way again.