A quick round-up of six recent audiobook listens. Mostly, very good.
Featuring: Carrie Fisher, Frederick Forsyth, Anna Kendrick, Trevor Noah, Graham Norton, Nikki Sixx
Carrie Fisher, THE PRINCESS DIARIST (Penguin)
The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher’s intimate, hilarious and revealing recollection of what happened behind the scenes on one of the most famous film sets of all time, the first Star Wars movie.
When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved — plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a (sort-of) regular teenager.
With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time — and what developed behind the scenes. And today, as she reprises her most iconic role for the latest Star Wars trilogy, Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candour and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.
Reviewing this in the wake of Fisher’s death makes for a rather depressing exercise. I’ve now listened to all of her memoirs, in pretty quick succession. I’ve also watched her Star Wars movies and When Harry Met Sally countless times — pretty much every year since I was very young. She’s been an important part of my cultural upbringing, in a way. The Princess Diarist was not quite what I’d been expecting. A considerable amount of the book felt dedicated to Fisher’s affair with co-star Harrison Ford. It was not salacious, and she was (as can be expected) brutally honest about her behaviour and rather manic youth. Self-deprecating, cutting, wry, amusing — all of these can describe Fisher’s approach to memoir. But, at the same time, she addresses her fame and her fans (in a far more generous manner than she has in the past, although still finding many baffling). I didn’t enjoy this as much as I’d hoped, but I am certainly glad to have read it. Recommended if you’re a fan of Fisher’s memoirs and work in general. I’d also recommend Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic (also her novel Postcards From the Edge).
Published by Penguin in the UK, and Blue Rider Press in North America.
The Princess Diarist on Audible
Frederick Forsyth, THE OUTSIDER (Transworld)
At eighteen, Forsyth was the youngest pilot to qualify with the RAF.
At twenty-five, he was stationed in East Berlin as a journalist during the Cold War.
Before he turned thirty, he was in Africa controversially covering the bloodiest civil war in living memory.
Three years later, broke and out of work, he wrote his game-changing first novel, The Day of the Jackal. He never looked back.
Forsyth has seen some of the most exhilarating moments of the last century from the inside, travelling the world, once or twice on her majesty’s secret service. He’s been shot at, he’s been arrested, he’s even been seduced by an undercover agent.
But all the while he felt he was an outsider. This is his story.
I’m not about the impression this book gave me of Forsyth. He’s certainly led an interesting life, and this book is an engaging (if sometimes meandering) memoir. His passions are clear, as is his satisfaction from writing. He writes a fair bit about his love for flying, and his training to be a pilot. His youthful travels overseas were interesting, too. I don’t recall too much about his many novels, aside from The Day of the Jackal, of course, as well as an occasional passing mention of which novel an experience may have influenced and inspired. It’s a good audiobook, certainly, and there are interesting and entertaining moments throughout. I don’t know that it has encouraged me to read through many of his novels, though. Maybe a couple. If you’re a fan of his work, I’m sure you’ll get a great deal out of reading and/or listening to this memoir. I enjoyed it, certainly, but I didn’t love it. A cautious recommendation, therefore.
Published by Transworld in the UK, and G.P. Putnam’s Sons in North America.
The Outsider on Audible
Anna Kendrick, SCRAPPY LITTLE NOBODY (Touchstone)
Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into theWoods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.
With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can — from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”
Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page — with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).
I really enjoyed this. I’m a relative newcomer to Kendrick’s work, but so far I think I’ve at least enjoyed her performance in everything I’ve seen her in. Pitch Perfect, certainly, but also The Accountant, Up in the Air and Into the Woods were stand-out performances. So, I had no idea what to expect from Scrappy Little Nobody. It’s not a straight-up, chronological memoir. Instead, it’s presented as a series of autobiographical essays, connected by various themes. The book is, as the synopsis above suggests, filled with amusing recollections of the absurdities of celebrity life (especially those for those who find success as children) and also Kendrick’s incredible ambition and hustle early in her life (which was a stand-out section for me). If you are familiar with her on-screen work (and, I assume, on-stage), then I have no doubt that you’ll enjoy this book. It’s funny, engaging and pretty interesting throughout. Highly recommended.
Published by Simon & Schuster in the UK, and Touchstone in North America.
Scrappy Little Nobody on Audible
Trevor Noah, BORN A CRIME (John Murray)
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.
Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother — his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.
The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
Aside from a couple of interviews with the author, I realized I knew very little about the new host of The Daily Show, despite very much liking his work. I was therefore very intrigued when this book was announced. As it turns out, Born a Crime is an excellent memoir. It is alternately endearing, enlightening, shocking, moving and inspiring. Noah’s narration is superb throughout, and his humour, compassion and honesty come through in every chapter. His life has certainly been interesting, but also difficult, frustrating and painful. His memories of South Africa are recounted in an engaging manner, sprinkled with humour. He is unsparing when describing how much of a terror he was as a child, but equally clear about the incredible job his mother did of bringing him up. The story of his stepfather is a gut-punch (I won’t spoil it). Informative, educational, and ultimately uplifting. Born a Crime is one of my favourite books from last year. I certainly hope Noah writes more books. Highly recommended.
Published by John Murray in the UK, and Doubleday in North America.
Born a Crime on Audible
Graham Norton, THE LIFE AND LOVES OF A HE DEVIL (Hodder)
“Looking around the room I saw what life really was. It was made up of my passions. I saw my life reflected back at me. People I liked, people I loved, people I had shared half a century with. All the stories of my life were together in that one room and it made me very happy.”
Who wouldn’t want a friend like Graham Norton? A little bit naughty, full of frank advice, bursting with gossip about the world’s biggest stars — but most of all with an emphatic love of life and all its joys, big and small. From Dolly Parton and dogs to wine and Ireland, Graham tells of his life and loves with characteristic humour and outrageous candour.
Join him — glass of wine in hand, faithful doggy friend by your side — and delve in as he shares the loves of his life.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I haven’t read or listened to Norton’s previous book, a more-conventional memoir. This book follows a handful of themed chapters, and while it started a little slow, picked up very nicely, and I ended up enjoying this a great deal. His narration is excellent, and his observations about celebrity, Ireland, New York and various famous friends and interviewees he’s met over the years (to name but a few topics) are funny, endearing and often self-deprecating. If you are familiar with Norton’s various TV shows, then you’ll know what you’re in for: the book is amusing, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and always entertaining. Very good, certainly recommended.
Published by Hodder.
The Life and Loves of a He Devil on Audible
Nikki Sixx, THIS IS GONNA HURT (William Morrow)
This Is Gonna Hurt is music, photography, and life through the distorted lens of Nikki Sixx, bassist for heavy metal rock band Mötley Crüe’s and the New York Times bestselling author of The Heroin Diaries. A combination of powerful prose and dramatic photographs, This Is Gonna Hurt is an arresting, deeply personal look through the eyes of a real rock star at a stark, post-addiction world.
This was quite interesting. I picked it up on a whim, and ended up enjoying it far more than I’d expected. I am not the greatest fan of Mötley Crüe’s music (I don’t own a single album of theirs). Nevertheless, I am familiar with their history and, because I’m interested in musicians’ memoirs, I decided to give this a try. I wasn’t disappointed — the book is made up of interesting stories about Sixx’s band, his love of art and photography, and other personal stories about his life and being a recovering addict. There are moments of pop-psychology and not the deepest reflection, but on the whole it makes for an interesting listen, and he certainly comes across as honest. He’s self-deprecating at times, and his impressions of others can be either cutting or caring, depending on the circumstances. At one point, he recalls his bandmate Mick Mars’s troubles and his own attempts to help him, and I think that was certainly a turning point in the book. If you’re a fan of the band, you’ll certainly want to check this out (assuming you haven’t already); but if, like me, you’re interested in musicians’ memoirs then I think you’ll also enjoy this a fair bit.
Published by William Morrow in the UK and North America.
This is Gonna Hurt on Audible