Here are short reviews for six audiobooks I’ve listened to recently. An interesting, mixed bag, I think. Thanks to Audible UK for the review copies.
SO THAT HAPPENED by Jon Cryer (NAL)
If it can happen in show business, it’s happened to Jon Cryer. Now he’s opening up for the first time and sharing his behind-the-scenes stories in a warmly endearing, sharply observed, and frankly funny look at life in Hollywood.
In 1986, Jon Cryer won over America as Molly Ringwald’s loyal and lovable best friend, Duckie, in the cult classic Pretty in Pink in a role that set the tone for his three-decade-long career in Hollywood. He went on to establish himself as one of the most talented comedic actors in the business, ultimately culminating in his current turn as Alan Harper on the massively popular sitcom Two and a Half Men.
With the instincts of a natural storyteller, Cryer charts his extraordinary journey in show business, illuminating his many triumphs and some missteps along the way. Filled with exclusive behind-the-scenes anecdotes, Cryer offers his own endearing perspective on Hollywood, the business at large, and the art of acting.
Cryer has worked with some of the biggest and most provocative names in the business, and here, for the first time, he details his experiences with Charlie Sheen, John Hughes, Robert Altman, Molly Ringwald, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, and Christopher Reeve, among many others. He shares the intimate details of his friendships and relationships, pays tribute to his mentors, and explores the peculiar combination of heart, talent, and wisdom it takes to survive not just the bad times in a notoriously fickle industry but even the good times.
In this revealing, humorous, and introspective memoir, Cryer offers readers a front-row seat as he reminisces about his life and experiences in showbiz over the past thirty years.
This was a very good memoir and audiobook. I did not realize how eventful Cryer’s career has been. I of course knew him from Two and a Half Men (a series I’ve seen a fair bit of, but also one that I felt was all over the map in terms of quality). Many people will be most interested in Cryer’s comments on Charlie Sheen’s warlock/wizard meltdown, and there’s plenty in the book about that — Cryer gives a chronological account, expressing his mixed feelings about his former co-star, his attempts to help and also eventual disappointment. It’s interesting, even-handed, and well-written. The rest of the book is also great — from his recounting of the making of Pretty in Pink, his small roles in Superman 4 and Hot Shots (his first brush with Sheen) — Cryer is witty, candid. He is self-deprecating without it being affected, he peppers the book with quips and cheeky remarks that never feel mean-spirited. Highly recommended, even if you aren’t that familiar with Cryer’s work: So That Happened has plenty of insight and commentary on the movie and TV business, from someone who has tasted success and disappointment.
So That Happened is published in print by New American Library in the US.
AND FURTHERMORE by Judi Dench (W&N)
From the moment Judi Dench appeared as a teenager in the York Mystery Plays it was clear that acting would be her career. Trained at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama it was her performance in her twenties as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s memorable Old Vic production that turned her into a star. In the theatre since she has played every classic role from Titania to Cleopatra.
She first became a household name via television, thanks initially to a sitcom, A FINE ROMANCE, in which she played alongside the actor Michael Williams, whom she married in 1971. She has since made nine series of another sitcom, AS TIME GOES BY (with Geoffrey Palmer), as well as plays and classic serials such as CRANFORD. In the cinema her films have ranged from LADIES IN LAVENDER (opposite Maggie Smith) through NOTES ON A SCANDAL with Cate Blanchett to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, in which she played Queen Elizabeth, a role which gained her a Hollywood Oscar. But it is her role as ‘M’ in seven James Bond films that has gained her worldwide recognition.
This book is, however, much more than a career record. Her marriage to Michael Williams, their daughter, and her impish sense of humour contribute vividly to her account of more than half a century as Britain’s best-loved actress.
This was a bit of a disappointment. It’s not that it’s uninteresting, it just wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped. It’s well-written and performed (by Samantha Bond), but I never really sank into it. It’s a little bland, I suppose. Which I’m sad to say. Dench’s wit still comes through on occasion, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. Perhaps it’s because Dench was not entirely sold on the idea of a memoir in the first place (as she suggests in her foreword). It was nice to learn about Dench’s history in the theatre and so forth, considering she is easily one of Britain’s best actresses. If you’re a fan of Dench’s work, then it’s still worth checking out, but perhaps in printed format, rather than audio? Perhaps also one mainly for theatre lovers and those more knowledgable about the plays in which Dench got her start and excelled at.
And Furthermore is published in print by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in the UK.
MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY by Sean Howe (Harper Perennial)
In the early 1960s, a struggling company called Marvel Comics presented a cast of brightly costumed characters distinguished by smart banter and compellingly human flaws: Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men. Over the course of half a century, Marvel’s epic universe would become the most elaborate fictional narrative in history and serve as a modern American mythology for millions of readers.
For the first time, Marvel Comics reveals the outsized personalities behind the scenes, including Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and generations of editors, artists, and writers who struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and — over matters of credit and control — one another. Marvel Comics is a story of fertile imaginations, lifelong friendships, action-packed fistfights, and third-act betrayals — a narrative of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and beleaguered pop-cultural entities in America’s history.
Who hasn’t read a Marvel comic? Or seen one of the recent mega-blockbusters based on Marvel IP? This is a great book, and a must-read/-listen for any fan of the books and comics. It’s exhaustive, so there are moments when Howe takes us on long(ish) tangents. There are many names thrown out that non-afficionados/fanboys may not know, and it was sometimes tricky to remember exactly who was who. That’s not a big issue, though, as Howe’s narrative is a fascinating look into the forces that have driven the world’s largest comic publisher from its founding. There have been plenty of scandals, bust-ups, “betrayals”, a sea of ups and downs, and plenty of colourful and interesting people involved. There has also been a massive amount of money… Howe includes the creative origin stories of many of Marvel’s most famous characters, and also a number of smaller, but still fan-beloved characters. (Oh, so very much radiation and so many accidents in science labs…) Stephen Hoye’s narration is very well-suited to the tale, and I was genuinely gripped for most of it. There were times when my attention wandered, as some minutiae were discussed, but I was always drawn back in. Definitely recommended for fans of the books and movies, and also anyone interested in the history of publishing — this offers some interesting insights into a small segment of that industry. It’s also must-read if you are a fan of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is published in print by Harper Perennial.
SCAR TISSUE by Anthony Kiedis (Sphere)
In SCAR TISSUE Anthony Kiedis, charismatic and highly articulate frontman of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, recounts his remarkable life story, and the history of the band itself. Raised in the Midwest, he moved to LA aged eleven to live with his father Blackie, purveyor of pills, pot, and cocaine to the Hollywood elite. After a brief child-acting career, Kiedis dropped out of U.C.L.A. and plunged headfirst into the demimonde of the L.A. underground music scene. He formed the band with three schoolfriends – and found his life’s purpose. Crisscrossing the country, the Chili Peppers were musical innovators and influenced a whole generation of musicians.
But there’s a price to pay for both success and excess and in SCAR TISSUE, Kiedis writes candidly of the overdose death of his soul mate and band mate, Hillel Slovak, and his own ongoing struggle with an addiction to drugs.
SCAR TISSUE far transcends the typical rock biography, because Anthony Kiedis is anything but a typical rock star. It is instead a compelling story of dedication and debauchery, of intrigue and integrity, of recklessness and redemption.
I’m not sure if I actually know anyone who doesn’t own a Red Hot Chili Peppers album… For me, Californication was when I took note. It’s one of my favourite albums, and still stands up today. During my many years reading myriad rock and music magazines (Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Rock Sound, Hit Parader and more), I gleaned some of the Chilis members stories. I was therefore very interested in this memoir — I remember when it came out it received much praise. One thing that becomes clear very quickly: Kiedis has put his body through hell. The sheer amount of drugs he seems to have put into his body is titanic. He’s brutally honest about his exploits, his mistakes, but also his luck and love for his bandmates, friends and family. There is, therefore, a lot of great content in Scar Tissue. However, the litany of drug (ab)use does seem to dominate the story, and it became a little dull to hear about another binge, or another near-overdose, etc. It’s laudable that Kiedis wants to be honest and so candid about his mistakes, but after a while the book became a little repetitive. I think I would have preferred it if that side of Kiedis’s story was pared back, and instead focussed on the story of the band and its music and history. Nevertheless, this is still a good book, and a must-read/-listen for any fan of the band. Rider Strong’s narration is very good, and suited the story.
Scar Tissue is published in print by Sphere in the UK.
NERD DO WELL by Simon Pegg (Cornerstone)
Zombies in North London, death cults in the West Country, the engineering deck of the Enterprise: Simon Pegg has been ploughing some bizarre furrows in recent times. Having blasted onto the small screens with his now legendary sitcom Spaced, his rise to nation’s favourite son status has been mercurial, meteoric, megatronnic, but mostly just plain great.
From his childhood (and subsequently adult) obsession with Star Wars, his often passionate friendship with Nick Frost, and his forays into stand-up which began with his regular Monday morning slot in front of his 12-year-old classmates, this is a joyous tale of a homegrown superstar and a local boy made good.
I was actually a relative latecomer to the work of Simon Pegg. I missed Spaced when it aired, and it took me rather long to get around to Shaun of the Dead. After I started watching his work, however, I became hooked: Hot Fuzzed, Paul and his roles in the new Mission: Impossible and Star Trek movies have all been great. It was with great anticipation, therefore, that I started listening to Nerd Do Well. It’s an abridged version, which was a bit disappointing, but it is nevertheless a tightly-written, exceptionally well-performed and produced memoir. Pegg is on top form, and he speaks candidly and accessibly about his journey to stardom and success — from the early days of his acting at community theatres (where his mother also performed), to his discovery of Star Wars and the road to becoming a Nerd Do Well. This is a funny, interesting book, and if you’re even a little bit of a fan of Pegg’s work, then I highly recommend you check this out. I’ll be buying the book, soon, so I can read the full text.
Nerd Do Well is published in print by Cornerstone in the UK.
SO YOU’VE BEEN PUBLICLY SHAMED by Jon Ronson (Picador)
‘It’s about the terror, isn’t it?’
‘The terror of what?’ I said.
‘The terror of being found out.’
For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us – people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they’re being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.
A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.
Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and the very scary part we all play in it.
A very interesting idea, given the changing nature of internet culture today (“Let’s call out everyone for everything, all the time!“). Ronson is an interesting writer, and one with a knack for finding interesting topics on which to write. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is certainly intriguing, but I think maybe the subject matter doesn’t justify quite as long a book as this one? Ronson’s point is quickly made, and as each example is presented and described, one can’t help but feel that he’s flogging the point a bit. It’s all interesting, and individually the examples and case studies are interesting in their own ways (some certainly more than others). Ultimately, though, I was not gripped throughout, and my interested gradually diminished as I listened. There were moments that brought me back in, of course (otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it), but it was far from the best audiobook I’ve listened to. Which is a pity. Worth checking out if you’re interested in internet culture and society.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is published in print by Picador in the UK, and Riverhead Books in the US.