(Audio)Book Talk: *Stories I Only Tell My Friends*, by Rob Lowe

cover of STORIES I ONLY TELL MY FRIENDS by Rob Lowe (St. Martin's Griffin, PB 2012)
Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography
Rob Lowe (Facebook) (Twitter)
audiobook read by the author
St. Martin’s Griffin (2012), Paperback (ISBN 1250008859 / 9781250008855)
Biography/memoir, 320 pages
Source: purchased audiobook (Audible ASIN B004XXVSS8)
Reason for reading: personal, Audiobook Challenge

Opening lines: “I had always had an affinity for him, an admiration for his easy grace, his natural charisma, despite the fact that for the better part of a decade my then girlfriend kept a picture of him running shirtless through Central Park on her refrigerator door. Maybe my lack of jealousy toward this particular pin-up was tamped down by empathy for his loss of his father and an appreciation for how complicated it is to be the subject of curiosity and objectification from a very young age. That said, when my girlfriend and others would constantly swoon over him, when I would see him continually splashed across the newspapers, resplendent like an American prince, I wasn’t above the occasional male thought of: Screw that guy.”

Book description, from the publisher’s website:
A teen idol at fifteen, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty, and one of Hollywood’s top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-seventies Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood. 

The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the eighties, leading to his quest for family and sobriety. 

Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last twenty-five years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.

Comments: For years, celebrity memoirs have been my guilty-pleasure reading–in fact, they were the source of so much reading guilt that I rarely indulged in them at all. But I’ve been exploring audiobooks during the past year, and I’ve discovered that they’re an excellent medium for this particular genre. Thanks to audios, I’ve shed some of the guilt–partly because I listen alone in my car, and partly because there are no glossy covers to expose me–and shared some surprisingly fun commutes with familar voices. But I’m still pretty picky about whose stories I want to hear, and this is a genre where I give extra weight to reviews and recommendations. I’m not sure I would have chosen Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends if I hadn’t read a lot of good things about it first, and that definitely would have been my loss.

It feels like Rob Lowe has been around all my life; in fact, he’s just 12 days older than I am, so he has, but he’s been a working actor since we were both barely high-school age, which adds up to a pretty long carer at this point.

Lowe first decided he wanted to be an actor as a kid in Dayton, Ohio, and when he moved to Malibu, California with his mother and brothers after her second marriage broke up, he discovered a very different environment from the community theaters where he’d started out. Malibu was already famous for its surf scene and beach culture, but the town was a more economically diverse place in the 1970s than it is now, and while some of his public-school classmates had rich and famous parents, many residents, including his own family, had no connection to or real understanding of “the business.” He had to learn a lot on his own and on the job, but he was driven to do it (sometimes literally, at least before he turned 16), starting in commercials, landing a short-lived sitcom at age 14, and scoring some steady work in ABC’s Afterschool Specials series of TV movies. His first big film role came as part of the large cast of up-and-comers in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of the frequently-banned YA novel The Outsiders in 1982, and by the mid-80s, he’d reached Next Big Thing status as part of another iconic ensemble cast in St. Elmo’s Fire. Anyone who’s that successful, that young, and that lacking in wise guidance is likely to make some unwise life choices, and Lowe’s pretty honest about the ones he made throughout his twenties–although they did give him some terrific stories to tell. The fact that he sobered up, grew up, and settled down is why he’s around to tell them now.

As he moved beyond his teen-idol, pretty-boy years (although he has by no means lost his looks…and true confession, I have a weakness for the pretty boys), Lowe worked regularly, but his public profile rose and fell as he spent most of the 1990s moving between movies and theater, and developing an unexpected flair for comedy. And just as his young family was making him less interested in traveling for work, he got a chance at a role that required nothing more than daily freeway commutes…and the occasion location shoot in Washington DC. For me, Lowe’s portrayal of speechwriter Sam Seaborn is one of the reasons that the first three seasons of The West Wing are some of the best hours of drama ever on television. (Disclosure: I am an unabashed, partisan Wingnut whose one-time desktop wallpaper was an oversized “Bartlet for President” campaign button, but my love waned when Sam, one of my favorite characters, left during Season 4.) These days, he combines off-camera projects with television work, always looking for good stories.

I can’t really imagine experiencing Stories I Only Tell My Friends in any format but audio, and it couldn’t be narrated by anyone other than the author. These are Rob Lowe’s stories, and they’re revealing, personal, intimate (although rarely gossipy), surprisingly relatable, and almost never dull. He presents himself with a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor and genuine emotion, and I found him and his stories thoroughly charming. In all honesty, I’ve liked him for years, but I really enjoyed listening to him tell me the stories he’d previously saved for his friends during my own commutes over the course of a week.

Rating: Book 3.75/5, Audio 4/5
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