Flabbergasted: An Audiobook Enshrined

flabberIt’s no secret that all of us here love books. But we happen to be big fans of audiobooks as well, and one in particular. At some point in the past couple of years, we’ve each come across this special piece of work, and though it’s affected each of us differently, those effects have all been powerful. And that awesome power isn’t an attribute of the book itself necessarily, but rather the extraordinary work of the audiobook’s narrator. But don’t just take it from me. Listen to what the rest of our contributors have had to say.

Let the praises be sung:

“If you are looking for a quirky, breezy audiobook selection for your commute to and from the office, look no further than Flabbergasted by Ray Blackston.  The reader’s charming delivery will catapult you into the scenes (keep both hands on the wheel) and leave the listener “flabbergasted” by oratorical excellence. ” —Randall Goodgame

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“2009 was a year of discovery for this weary traveler. Of all the surprises to come along and blow my mind, three stand out.

1. The fact that you can get mother-of-pearl secrets inlaid in the fret board of your guitar in elvish runes. (Not only is this one of the most awesome displays of awesomeness you can imagine, it also doubles as a form of theft prevention.)

2. Tupelo, Mississippi.

3. The amazing tenor of the artist who read the Audio Book version of the recent novel Flabbergasted.

I have been a fool to underestimate and overlook the Cracker Barrel’s Audio Library for Traveling Families. Never again, folks. Never again.” —Russ Ramsey

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“I almost never listen to music in the car anymore because a few years back I started listening to audiobooks instead. Well, now I only listen to one, over and over again: Flabbergasted. Why? Because I’ve never heard such a stunning and marvelous narration in my life. It’s so good, if you ride with me in my car, you’re not even allowed to talk. We’ll just sit and listen.” —Travis Prinzi

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“Spending as much time as we do on the road, the Grays are always looking for things to help pass the time and redeem the miles.  Our in-van entertainment consists of iPod games, conversations, books that Taya will read to us, podcasts, and more recently: audiobooks.  Nothing helps pass the time like a good audiobook. And a good story is made all the better by a great narration! In fact, great narration can elevate a story to something of Transcendence. Such is the case for Flabbergasted – a story about an agnostic who decides to go to church to meet girls. The rich baritone of the narrator lends a vulnerability and believability to this tale of love and other adventures. It’s almost as if the reader is the lonely protagonist himself – like the first Adam longing for Eve.  The casual confidence and urbane eloquence of “The Voice” make it all too easy to believe that such a character would have no problem picking up girls at church.  Indeed he sounds like a professional, well versed in the arts of attraction and conquest.  It’s maybe too obvious to say this, but Flabbergasted truly left me… well… you know…” —Jason Gray

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“My wife and I take an annual outing to replace the last year’s Coca-Cola tins and snowflake sweaters around our house. Thus, on the last Saturday morning of every winter, we usually find ourselves at the local Cracker Barrel for a day we affectionately call “Biscuits and Books.” This year, Ray Blackstone’s Flabbergasted became the audiobook of choice as we drove on our search, and this year above others, we found ourselves captivated not only by the material, but how the nasal Nashville delivery of the words brought the events to life. Our only hope is to find more work by this farmer-tinged Patrick Stewart.” —Matt Connor

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“I love audiobooks. The last one I listened to in my car was The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. But yesterday I was in Cracker Barrel and got an audio book called Flabbergasted. The guy reading the book is perfect; his diction, timing, and accent combine for an aurally ecstatic experience. If you’re out one night cruising for chicks, just pop this baby in and watch ‘em flock around the car.” —Ron Block

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“I tried to enjoy it.  I really did.  But sitting there in the dark, listening to the world-renowned Shakespearean actor Michael York rehearse William Walton’s “Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario” with the Nashville Symphony, I couldn’t shake a nagging sense of disappointment.  Honestly, it was a bit flabbergasting at first.  But I think I figured it out.  You see, I’d been listening to this wonderful audiobook I’d picked up at Cracker Barrel every evening for the last couple weeks (chapter eighteen was on repeat for three days), and now all other narration is spoiled for me.  It all falls flat.  But when I put on Flabbergasted, it’s like all of the passion and sadness and joy of those who listened wound into one common strand of feeling that was like homesickness.  There’s just something about the way he reads. It makes me think of when it snows outside, and the fire is warm, and there’s no place I’d rather be – but for some reason I still feel…homesick.” —Stephen Lamb

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“The Lord of the Rings is such a monumental work that it has spoiled the entire genre of fantasy literature. It is both the foundation of all that has come after and the unattainable pinnacle to which all who contend aspire. It is simultaneously the fount of inspiration and the iron-founded conceptual seed of every ascender to that fantastic sub-creational mount. Those who contend upon its slopes rise, sharp and bold in their intent, yet fall short of the whispering peak. Wracked, they tumble into the yawning valley below and there they mewl and whimper and for eons lay, broken-backed, staring heavenward toward that glimmering peak they sought and, falling, lost.

The audiobook of Flabbergasted is a lot like that.” —Pete Peterson

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“Last Saturday, on my drive back up Charlotte Pike away from the bright beacon that is Lowe’s, I thought I’d stop in at my local Cracker Barrel for a take-out container full of fried okra and perhaps a crunchy-topped blueberry muffin. I put in my order and then ended up sitting a spell in one of their fine rocking chairs and challenging a nice older fellow (who had just finished parking his “Cougar” RV in the back lot) to a game of checkers on those big rugs they have. Well, I beat him to a pulp and boredom with the perfect spring air quickly set in, so I went inside to peruse the marvels that lie within any of these fine establishments which dot the interstate system of our fair land. Now I’m not usually an audiobook kind of gal, but as I twirled the carousel stationed smartly next to the display of rock candy and sassafras batons, one of them really caught my eye. Flabbergasted. What was this? I mean, anything with an old green Caddy on the cover is enough to spark some interest for me, so I took a gamble and put it on the counter next to my box of fried-ness.

Little did I know what I was in for when I popped the cassette (yes, cassette) into the player of my 1971 pick-up. This voice, oh….such a voice. It soothed, it tickled, it sparkled, it sang. Dear reader, you owe it to yourself to positively fly to your nearest Cracker Barrel and pick up a copy. You may also need to buy one of those Mary Engelbreit decorative travel-size packs of Kleenex they have at the check-out counter because the perfectly rhythmic, downright lyrical tone that flows from your speakers will render you a mere puddle.” —Evie Coates

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“If you hate hearing a golden instrument of transcendent articulation breathe verbal sunlight into an eager microphone, then avoid the audio book performance of Flabbergasted at all costs. If you do chance a listen you are, indeed, at great risk of falling victim to the audiological lotus. The only cure, once enchanted, is as follows:

Take the transfixed audiophile to a secluded, country home. Play a recording of the afore-referenced vocal wizard reading Old Yeller. When the pertinent moment of the book comes, administer the prescription advocated therein. It is a mercy. After hearing this performance, only heaven can bring him any succeeding joy.” —S.D. Smith

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“I was pulling tulips out of the ground by their bearded bulbs. Mulching did them no good. Nor did Miracle-Gro. To hell with non-flowering spring flowers, I thought, and thus the exhuming process went on for hours. In order to refocus my abiding consternation into a more creative endeavour, I enlisted the help of my 1989 Panasonic boombox, complete with detachable speakers. Instead of music, however, I decided to listen to a book-on-tape. There, out in the windy front lawn, I figured a cold, sterile, self-important recorded voice would further empower the muscles in my arms and back with enough adrenaline to outlast the tulips’ final grip on earth.

But a strange thing happened as those first musical notes echoed beneath the walnut tree, and the narrator’s voice consumed my audible space: I fell fast asleep. This gentle man’s tone, so thick with Florida rain, assuaged my feeble anger, and atop a fescue and bermuda mix, my body consumed rest. I awoke an hour or so later, my cheeks flushed red, pock-marked with the criss-cross of grass blades, and the remnants of a poor, unsuspecting ladybug, now deceased and flattened near the crow’s feet of my left eye. The voice, the voice! My God, that voice!

Flummoxed and flabbergasted – a new man! - I swore that day to listen more closely to the whispering angels of my better nature for surely they exist in spirit, in the sky, in libraries and at Cracker Barrel restaurants.” — Eric Peters

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“I had Homemade Chicken and Dumplings on my mind and in my belly as the overhead crane smoothly lifted me from the dining area to the infamous Cracker Barrel Country Store. The crane operator expertly guided my overstuffed body among the aisles of Rooster Canvas Wall Art, Pecan Divinity Tubs, Honey Nectar Hand Lotion, and the highly touted “Daily and Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers” CD.

With so many treasures from which to choose, I was indubitably flummoxed and overcome with verklemptness. Verily, veritably, I say unto you.

Then I spotted the audio book Flabbergasted and I made my purchase. Meanwhile, I instructed my crane operator to shift into neutral, delicately rocking me outside the restaurant, like a new born baby, as I listened to the euphonious tones of the narrator. His voice was comically melodious and pleasing, wafting euphonically among the aroma of home cooked food and a gentle breeze, as I drifted off into nap nirvana.” — Curt McLey

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I long to hear the voice of my Shepherd.  As a shepherd (pastor) myself, how can I lead the sheep in my care unless I know where we are going?  As a preacher, how can I speak the words of God without hearing the Word of God.  As a broken man, how can I be led into green pastures unless I have that voice to guide me?  I trust in Christ’s statement that “his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  But I strain after that voice.  Sure, I have the Bible to read, the traditions of the Church, the Spirit in my heart, and all the other ways God might speak to me.  But what of that voice?  I have never heard it, but I have imagined it.  In much the same way Denise Chamian might cast a movie, I have been searching for the perfect actor to portray the voice of Christ for me; that voice that might hold, if even in a temporary and earthly way, the voice of my master.  In listening to the audiobook of Flabbergasted, I have found that actor.  Did our Lord read for that audiobook?  No, but he must have inspired the man who did.  Is there something divine in the timbre, the pacing, the diction, the pauses, the color of that voice?  Yes, surely there is.  Thank you, oh reader of Flabbergasted, for being a window into heaven.  You are my vocal icon.  Henceforth, when I read the Gospels, I will hear them in your voice.” — Thomas McKenzie

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“I was still savoring the toothpick I had taken from the dispenser at the Cracker Barrel cash register when my wife popped in the audiobook she had selected from the rotating rack near the dried-apple granny dolls. Flabbergasted, it was called. And I was. Flabbergasted, that is, when the dulcet tones of the narrator’s voice came wafting through the minivan’s speakers. We fell silent, every one of us. Where did this narrator come from?

“Do you hear what I hear?” my wife asked.

“Yes,” I answered. “I can hear the tune of truth is in his voice.”

Out of the stunned silence came the decidedly un-surly voice of my teenage son. “Mom? Dad? I love you.”

—Jonathan Rogers

Are you convinced? If so, proceed, nay, quicken to the Rabbit Room Store where one lucky patron will have the honor of purchasing what is quite possibly the only autographed (by the narrator) copy of this earth-shattering work in existence. There can be only one (and it can be yours if the price is right.)