Category: Audiobook

Audiobook Memoir Mini-Reviews

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I’ve written before about all the awesome ways they make my life better. However, I don’t usually write reviews, because driving, cleaning, cooking, or walking while I listen means that I don’t usually take any notes, which is a key part of my regular review writing process. But this year I’m trying out short reviews that will share my quick impressions of the books I’ve been listening too. These are admittedly not as in-depth or analytical as my usual reviews, but rather a quick record of what I thought about my latest listens.

Scrappy Little Nobody

Cover image for Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick Anna Kendrick

ISBN 9781501117206

This memoir features a series of funny essays about Kendrick’s rise to fame read by the actress herself. She is best known for Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect, and forgotten for, but financially supported by, her bit part in the Twilight franchise. Scrappy Little Nobody shares Kendrick’s stories about being a theatre nerd, the weirdness of appearing on red carpets in borrowed dresses that cost more than your rent—which you can barely pay—and yet having everyone assume that you are rich because you’re famous. I especially enjoyed the story about the first time she realized she was being followed by a paparazzo, and her strategy for avoiding stakeouts of her apartment (use your introvert super powers to stay inside, watch Netflix and eat take-out until they go away).  Kendrick was both funny and relatable and this audiobook made for enjoyable company while getting my chores done.

Being Jazz

Cover image for Being Jazz by Jazz JenningsJazz Jennings

ISBN 9780735207448

Being Jazz is a sweetly earnest memoir by a trans girl who realized her identity at a very young age, and was blessed with the rare support of her family despite the difficulty they faced in finding any information about raising a trans child. Jazz has now featured in several TV specials, a children’s book, and a reality series, in addition to her own memoir. Honestly, I felt like a bit of a creepy snoop for getting this intimate look into the life of a very young person, who will probably be embarrassed by some of these stories down the road. Apart from her advocacy work, Jennings’ life is pretty normal, and while that is important for people to see, it isn’t terribly interesting, especially if you’ve already been a teenage girl once yourself. Jennings also touches on her struggles with depression, and evinces a sex-positive attitude with little room for shame. Her straightforward message focuses on self-love and acceptance.

In Other Words

Cover image for In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri Jhumpa Lahiri

ISBN 9781101875551

After completing her 2012 novel, The Lowland, award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri largely gave up reading and writing in English, and moved to Rome to pursue her passion for the Italian language. After studying it sporadically for more than twenty years, she wanted to immerse herself in it to become truly fluent, something that she felt was impossible in New York. In Other Words was written in Italian (In Altre Parole) and then translated back into English by Ann Goldstein. The audiobook is read by the author, first in English, and then again in Italian. I was absolutely fascinated by these layers of mediation, as well as the process of learning another language, and I listened to the entire English half of the audio book during the January 24 in 48 readathon. Lahiri explains why she felt she had to give up English, the reason she chose to have someone else translate her book into English, and meditates on the experience of trying to express herself in a language she has only just begun to grasp with any fluency. The collection includes two of the stories she wrote during her time in Rome. One is the first story she wrote in Italian, and the other is one that came later. She also reflects on how her three languages—Bengali, English, and Italian—relate to her identity as the child of immigrants. If you find languages or the writing process interesting, or are curious about the relationship between language and identity, you absolutely have to check out this memoir!

Bossypants

Cover image for Bossypants by Tina Feyby Tina Fey

ISBN 9780316056878

I made [my husband] fly once before we married because he was offered a free trip to Vienna, Austria, to direct a sketch comedy show for an English-language theatre. If you know anything about Vienna, you know that they love Chicago-style sketch comedy!*

*The Viennese do not enjoy American sketch comedy.”

In Bossypants, Tina Fey blends comedy and memoir, hopping chronologically through her childhood—how did she get her scar, and what do peoples’ reactions to it reveal about them?—to her time working on Saturday Night Live, and eventually creating her own show, 30 Rock. She recounts her mixed feelings about her famous role imitating Sarah Palin on SNL, derides sexism in the comedy business, and shares the bizarre experience of participating in magazine cover photo shoot. Unfortunately, her popular film, Mean Girls, receives only passing mentions.

Bossypants was recommended to me repeatedly by friends who knew I had enjoyed How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. While both are humourous memoirs by women, I didn’t otherwise find the two books to be terribly similar. The rub comes down to this: like the Viennese (see quote above) I don’t actually find American sketch comedy to be all that funny most of the time, and The Washington Post has aptly described Bossypants as “sketch narrative.” When I laughed on page 173, and it dawned on me that this was the first time that I had laughed out loud at the book, I knew I was in trouble. Still wanting to give the book the benefit of the doubt, I decided to switch to the audio version. After all, certain brands of humour are meant to be performed, not read (which isn’t to say that writing can’t be funny). The audio book was a definite improvement over reading the book, and Fey does a good job of bringing the material life. However, the humour still didn’t really do it for me.

Humour aside, though, Bossypants is still an interesting read. Fey was on the front lines of a generation of women making career breakthroughs in comedy, and her observations about sexism are astute. There are a number of revealing chapters dealing with women’s physical appearances, including “Origin Story,” “Remembrances of Being Very Very Skinny,” “Remembrances of Being a Little Bit Fat,” and “Amazing, Gorgeous, Not Like That.” For me, Fey is at her best when she is tackling these issues with humour, grace, and pointed sarcasm. It’s also interesting to get a glimpse of the lifestyle and work that goes into being a profession comedian. Bossypants stood out more as a memoir than as a work of humour, but I have no doubt that others with a different sense of humour will disagree.