I don’t usually do the “bite-sized book reviews” thing here. But after four months away, it’s probably the most efficient way to catch up! I’m updating my 2017 Book Review Index and reading record with these collected mini-reviews.
Granted, I didn’t do a TON of reading while I was gone. However, I did read too many books to write individual posts about each one. I don’t have the time–or quite frankly, the memory of some of those books–to do that.
This was probably not the best year for me to volunteer as a judge for the Armchair Audies. I made the commitment before I made the job change, though. Fortunately, I’d already read one of the nominees in my category. Also fortunately, Jennifer manages this project with a very easy hand, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure.
The 2017 Armchair Audies: Autobiography/Memoir Finalists
Four of the five Audies finalists in this category were “celebrity memoir” of some form. The degree of celebrity varies, but most of the authors are known for some activity other than writing. My Armchair Audies choice to win was the only finalist that wasn’t one of these.
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, narrated by Sunil Malhotra and Cassandra Campbell (This was the one I’d already read and my pick for the prize.)
- The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham, read by Dion Graham (This was the one I wasn’t able to finish reading…and the one that won the Audie in this category.)
The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt, read by the authors
Journalist Anderson Cooper initiated an email conversation with his mother on her 91st birthday. Gloria Vanderbilt–heiress, actress, lifestyle designer–had been famous since long before he was born, but he realized he might not have much time left to really know who she was. The e-mail exchange lasted a year, until Vanderbilt’s next birthday. The Rainbow Comes and Goes collects these emails. The audiobook literally shifts voices back and forth as Cooper and Vanderbilt each read their own emails aloud.
The earlier sections of the book feel much like an interview, as Cooper sends Vanderbilt questions to answer. This is intentional–the journalist is approaching his mother professionally. Vanderbilt responds as a storyteller–her responses are filled with vivid detail and feeling. As the exchange continues across the year, it becomes more of a dialogue–a revealing, enlightening bonding experience for mother and son.
Although I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Rainbow Comes and Goes, I liked it very much. I was fully engaged in hearing Cooper and Vanderbilt grow closer to each other. I appreciate that they wanted to share the intimacies they exchanged with a wider audience.
Around the Way Girl by Taraji P. Henson with Denene Millner, read by the author
Actor Taraji P. Henson’s memoir was published shortly before the release of Hidden Figures, the Oscar-nominated 2016 film in which she portrayed NASA scientist Katherine Johnson. She discusses this role and others, including her Emmy-nominated breakout as Cookie Lyon in Empire, in the context of her experiences as a Black woman in Hollywood. But before Hollywood, there was Washington DC, where Henson was raised to value working hard and women supporting one another. Around the Way Girl makes clear that Henson still lives by those values.
I’m not familiar enough with Henson’s acting work to have sought this out, but I enjoyed it. I did think the later chapters were more fragmented and occasionally repetitive. I find that not unusual in celebrity memoirs, but here, the material sometimes felt very “as told to” Henson’s collaborator. (That may well have been the case.) But actors often make excellent audiobook narrators, and Henson’s reading enhances the book’s conversational, plainspoken style.
Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart, read by the author and Judy Young
I’m not well-acquainted with Taraji P. Henson’s work, but I really don’t know Hannah Hart’s at all. My knowledge of YouTube content and its creators tends to stop at the “awareness” level–I just don’t watch much of it. Buffering likely wouldn’t have crossed my radar without the Audie nomination.
I’m trying to get away from thinking that one needs to have lived a certain number of years to be “entitled” to write a memoir. Memoir and autobiography are not entirely the same thing, for one thing. For another, if one has perspective and insight on the life-shaping experiences they’ve had prior to age thirty, why wait to write about them? Hart writes with compassion, humor, and hope about fragmented families, economic instability, mental illness and sexual identity. She has the experiences and the perspective.