I like podcasts as much as the next girl, but sometimes audiobooks are best; they are long enough to last a whole journey, and unencumbered by the “you knows” and “likes” that are impossible to utterly omit in extemporaneous speech. I have a special soft spot in my heart for celeb memoirs read by their authors. Sparkling performances, juicy dish: The best ones may not be Jane Austen but are sure to keep you awake at the wheel. Here are some of my favorites.
Celebrate the Dreamer in You by Dolly Parton
I don’t trust people who don’t like Dolly Parton. A sweet, smart survivor, she’s one of the brightest lights in contemporary entertainment. She’s also one of the most quotable (“I’m not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb, and I also know that I’m not blonde”), though her spirit is too pure to be dismissed as camp. Here she reads her inspirational tome in such bubbly, confiding cadences that you start to believe that you, too, can grow up dirt-poor and go on to own an amusement park, record best-selling albums, launch a Broadway show, and singlehandedly improve literacy rates in your home state. Bonus: Mz. Parton sings on this audio-tome as well.
Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them by Frank Langella
It’s no surprise that actor Frank Langella is a good writer. Articulate and imposing, his kind of self-possession translates well to the page. And with that sonorous baritone, it’s no surprise it’s also heavenly to listen to his tales of the rich and infamous: Noel Coward, the Queen Mum, Laurence Olivier, Jill Clayburgh, Raul Julia, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Jackie O – oh, my! The list of his romantic encounters is seemingly endless – the word “playboy” doesn’t begin to describe him – and his neat turns of phrase are burnished by that voice. Mmm, that voice.
I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short
Martin Short is the king of semi-fame. For more than four decades, the actor and writer has created brilliant comedy while hobnobbing with some of the greatest wits of the United States and Canada: Steve Martin, Mike Nichols, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, you name’em. Hilarious and surprisingly candid, Short’s memoir is studded with good gossip about these big names as well as appearances from such signature characters as Jiminy Glick and Ed Grimley (all of whom come alive in the audiobook). It’s also a bit of a heartbreaker. For a happy-go-lucky guy, the comic has encountered more than his fair share of loss: his beloved wife of thirty years died a few years ago of cancer, and both his parents died before he turned twenty. When he reads his story aloud, his pragmatic optimism seems all the more deliberate – and inspiring!
Call Me Crazy by Anne Heche
Actress Anne Heche may not the household name she was ten years ago, but her memoir is still a delicious ride. In 1998 she was a rising star best known for her “Walking and Talking” performance as a wannabe-shrink when she and Ellen DeGeneres were outed as lovers. Though coming out was a bigger deal in the 1990s, that tabloid brouhaha was nothing compared to what surrounded Heche’s 2000 meltdown when her relationship broke up; she showed up at a stranger’s door claiming that a spaceship was coming to take her to heaven and that she could speak extraterrestrial languages. In this autobiography, Heche describes growing up in a fundamentalist Christian, hyper-dysfunctional family (she claims her closeted father molested her and gave her herpes) as well as her travails with DeGeneres and mental illness. Read in her appealingly matter-of-fact tones (she always sounds like she is talking out of the side of her mouth), this audiobook is irresistible – especially when she treats us to a few phrases of her extraterrestrial language.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
As much as I love everything on this list, I’ve saved the best for last. Poehler is one of my favorite forces in Hollywood – the feminist comedian, actor, writer, and producer has her hands in everything from “Broad City” to “Saturday Night Live” to “Parks and Recreation” – and her screwball dame memoir is a delightful farrago of Boston-bred brass and the wisdom and generosity some attain in middle age if they’re paying attention. The audiobook is even better, like a dinner party in which she presides brilliantly over such guest-star performers as Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Patrick Stewart, and Kathleen Turner. Also included: a one-night-only live performance at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and a chapter Amy reads live in front of a Los Angeles audience. Truly, this is the gold standard of audiobooks.
This was first published at Signature.