Four recent audiobooks I listened to, provided for review by Audible UK…
Emilio Estevez & Martin Sheen, ALONG THE WAY: THE JOURNEY OF A FATHER AND SON (Simon & Schuster)
In this remarkable dual memoir, film legend Martin Sheen and accomplished actor/filmmaker Emilio Estevez recount their lives as father and son. In alternating chapters-and in voices that are as eloquent as they are different-they narrate stories spanning more than 50 years of family history, and reflect on their journeys into two different kinds of faith.
At 21, still a struggling actor living hand to mouth, Martin and his wife, Janet, welcomed their firstborn, Emilio, an experience of profound joy for the young couple, who soon had three more children: Ramon, Charlie, and Rene. As Martin’s career moved from stage to screen, the family moved from New York City to Malibu, while traveling together to film locations around the world, from Mexico for Catch-22 to Colorado for Badlands to the Philippines for the legendary Apocalypse Now shoot.
As the firstborn, Emilio had a special relationship with Martin: They often mirrored each other’s passions and sometimes clashed in their differences. After Martin and Emilio traveled together to India for the movie Gandhi, each felt the beginnings of a spiritual awakening that soon led Martin back to his Catholic roots, and eventually led both men to Spain, from where Martin’s father had emigrated to the United States.
Along the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage path, Emilio directed Martin in their acclaimed film, The Way, bringing three generations of Estevez men together in the region of Spain where Martin’s father was born, and near where Emilio’s own son had moved to marry and live.
With vivid, behind-the-scenes anecdotes of this multitalented father’s and son’s work with other notable actors and directors, Along the Way is a striking, stirring, funny story-a family saga that listeners will recognize as universal in its rebellions and regrets, aspirations and triumphs. Strikingly candid, searchingly honest, and full of the immediacy and warmth that can only be added by the authors reading their story in their own voices, this heartfelt portrait reveals two strong-minded, admirable men of many important roles, perhaps the greatest of which are as father and son.
This is a pretty interesting idea, as biographies go. Martin Sheen is also President Bartlet in The West Wing, so it was difficult to listen to his chapters and not feel like they were in some way a presidential pronouncement… After listening to this book, I realised that I’ve seen far less of both Sheen’s and Estevez’s movies than I originally thought. We get great accounts of the making of The Way (Estevez’s movie starring Sheen), and also Apocalypse Now – the movie that almost killed Sheen, and gave Estevez and Charlie Sheen quite the exciting and unusual experiences. There are a fair number of chapters that cover shared experiences, but also plenty that give us better insight into Martin’s upbringing and also Emilio’s solo projects. If you are interested in the work of either of them, then I highly recommend Along the Way. The audiobook is excellent, too, with great production.
Stephen Fry, MOAB IS MY WASHPOT (Penguin)
a) A fatuous, wasted, degenerate and wholly useless existence captured in delicate, lyrical and exquisitely realised prose.
b) Lightly amusing anecdotes and tender reminiscences of the great men and women encountered during a rich, varied and rewarding lifetime, fondly remembered in the tranquil evening of a career of public service.
c) The autobiography of a dizzying life fuelled by the lust for power and the search for ever more degrading downward paths of repulsive sexual adventuring and self-destructive debaucheries: the unrepentant libertine author seeks revenge on his many enemies and tears the lid off the private life of blameless churchmen and librarians.
Fry`s autobiography is all and none of these. Too old to rock and roll, too young to die, the author looks back with bruising frankness at his life so far.
I finally got around to listening to Fry’s first biography – I really enjoyed The Fry Chronicles (which started me on my recent audio-biography binging road) and More Fool Me. This one focuses exclusively on his childhood, with the occasional mention of his work and colleagues/friends to come. It’s funny, honest, doesn’t sugar-coat his weaknesses and bad behaviour. He offers plenty of opinions on society, literature, schooling, Britain and so forth. Moab is My Washpot is a good listen, but I think the two follow up volumes are far superior.
Steve Martin, BORN STANDING UP: A COMIC’S LIFE (Simon & Schuster)
In the mid-70s, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. Born Standing Up is, in his own words, the story of “why I did stand-up and why I walked away”.
At age 10 Martin started his career at Disneyland, selling guidebooks in the newly opened theme park. In the decade that followed, he worked in the Disney magic shop and the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm, performing his first magic/comedy act a dozen times a week. The story of these years, during which he practiced and honed his craft, is moving and revelatory.
Martin illuminates the sacrifice, discipline, and originality that made him an icon and informs his work to this day. To be this good, to perform so frequently, was isolating and lonely. It took Martin decades to reconnect with his parents and sister, and he tells that story with great tenderness. Martin also paints a portrait of his times: the era of free love and protests against the war in Vietnam, the heady irreverence of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 60s, and the transformative new voice of Saturday Night Live in the 70s.
I didn’t know what to expect from Born Standing Up. This covers the part of Martin’s career that I am utterly unfamiliar with. There are mentions of some of his later (but still early-ish) movies and television work, but this book covers Martin’s introduction to show-business, stand-up comedy and eventually television. It’s an interesting introduction to his work, his opinions on comedy and “where he came from”. I hope
Andrew Miller THE YEAR OF READING DANGEROUSLY: HOW FIFTY GREAT BOOKS SAVED MY LIFE (Fourth Estate)
An editor and writer’s vivaciously entertaining, and often moving, memoir – a true story that reminds us why we should all make time in our lives for books.
Nearing his fortieth birthday, author and critic Andy Miller realized he’s not nearly as well read as he’d like to be. A devout book lover who somehow fell out of the habit of reading, he began to ponder the power of books to change an individual life-including his own-and to define the sort of person he would like to be. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey of mindful reading and wry introspection. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, these are books Miller felt he should read; books he’d always wanted to read; books he’d previously started but hadn’t finished; and books he’d lied about having read to impress people.
Combining memoir and literary criticism, The Year of Reading Dangerously is Miller’s heartfelt, humorous, and honest examination of what it means to be a reader. Passionately believing that books deserve to be read, enjoyed, and debated in the real world, Miller documents his reading experiences and how they resonated in his daily life and ultimately his very sense of self. The result is a witty and insightful journey of discovery and soul-searching that celebrates the abiding miracle of the book and the power of reading.
I received an eARC of this quite some time ago, but for some reason never got around to reading it. Then I had the chance to get it as an audiobook, and I thought it would be a good listen. I was… half right. The Year of Reading Dangerously is a most uneven book. It doesn’t start well, and I almost didn’t stick with it – sad to say, it was a bland beginning. Nevertheless, I stuck with it, and came to rather enjoy much of what Miller had to say on publishing, fiction and writing. He offers some great insight into the publishing and bookselling industry, and his sharp and sometimes acerbic observations were welcome and amusing. When talking about the books he’s selected to read for this project, however, I found the book a bit dull. Which is probably not what he was hoping for – these classic of literature, and he was not able to make me even remotely interested in what he had to say about them. So, a good book, but not great. Half interesting, half… meh.