My name is Paul Hagen, and I am an audiobook addict. I’ve yet to meet a two-for-one sale at Audible that I did not convince me I needed two books I never wanted, and I’ve even suffered the slings and arrows of my public library’s audio lending quagmire. My tastes lean heavily toward non-fiction, preferably read by the author, and that describes all five of my five favorite titles to hit the metaphorical electronic shelves in 2015. Listen up:
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
You gotta give Amy Poehler credit. She was following in some pretty big memoirist footsteps coming after pal Tina Fey, whose Bossypants may be the nes plus ultra of audiobooks (the writing among Fey’s funniest, the performance among her most memorable). So how does one’s BFF follow up such an act? If you’re Amy Poehler, you change the rules — re-imagining the act of reading one’s memoir as a kind of variety show, featuring famous friends such as Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Patrick Stewart and – in a particularly inspired turn – Kathleen Turner embodying Amy’s dark side. It’s easy to think of Poehler as we know her post-SNL — dependably super funny and super famous. But it’s also intriguing to follow her road to stardom, including her founding membership of the now-comedy-juggernaut Upright Citizens Brigade. Poehler’s memoir is a must-listen (and, in fact, I’d dare say better-listened-to-then read).
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
I’ll admit I came upon Jenny Lawson’s first memoir by accidents, suckered in by such praise as “If you like Tina Fey and David Sedaris…” So I dove into Let’s Pretend this Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) with a we’ll-see attitude, and I liked what I saw. The blogger-author’s delightfully off-kilter sense of humor and magically-morbid love of taxidermy charmed me. Furiously Happy takes things way further. It still includes a hefty dose of comedic scenarios-involving-the-posing-of-formerly-alive-animals that made the original so enjoyable, but it is also a frank and fascinating look at Lawson’s own complicated relationship with mental health, reckoning with evolving relationships with depression, therapy, medication, how to feel okay — and how to forgive yourself when you just can’t. Brave, beautiful and delightfully off-kilter: I bet Tina Fey and David Sedaris would enjoy.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Early on in Modern Romance, Ansari warns the listener that we have made a huge mistake by listening to the audio version of his book because we will not access certain illustrated materials – charts, graphs, etc. I was nonplussed. Not much further into the introduction, he specifically explains that what he’ll have to say about modern romance will not apply to homosexuals – because they very specifically limied the scope of their study. It gave me pause. Nevertheless, I listened on and found not only that the book immensely enjoyable (even sans graphs) but also that many of its lessons — about sexual mores in different parts of the world, among people in different age groups, between people via their smartphones — to be were full of information that certainly be of interest to LGBTs, even if we were not factored into all the raw data. Ansari’s delivery here is more akin to the straightforward voice of “Dev” (his character on his recently debuted Netflix series Master of None) than his intensely-in-your-face “Tom” from Parks and Rec, and it’s a good choice. His earnestness offers the ring of authenticity and the enthusiasm of someone who has collected some interesting data about the world and done some smart thinking about their broader ramifications. If <i>Modern Romance</i> is any indication, it’s safe to assume we can look forward to more thought-provoking work from Ansari.
A Fine Romance by Candice Bergen
For me, one of the great joys of audiobooks is that – when a celebrity reads her or his memoir – it’s like getting to sit down a more-than-ten-hour (admittedly one-sided) conversation about their life. While the formula doesn’t always work out (e.g. I must strongly not recommend wasting your time on Babara Eden’s Jeannie Out of the Bottle), Candice Bergen’s is a treasure. She has led a truly fascinating life that spans from breathtaking travels around India (including the filming of Ghandi), experiencing life at the center of the cultural phenomenon that was Murphy Brown, and the titular “romance” – her surprising, remarkable relationship with the acclaimed film director Louis Malle. Bergen’s voice here is rich and warm and beautifully colored by time. Her stories feel intricate, intimate, touching and honest. I felt lucky to have spent this time with her.
Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
Perhaps the greatest strength of the Star Trek franchise in its syndicated TV heydey was following the example set by The Next Generation: always putting at the center of all the outerspace melodrama an actor of intense gravitas. TNG had Patrick Stewart. Deep Space Nine recruited Avery Brooks. And when it came time for that universe to focus on a female captain, they turned to the enormously capable Kate Mulgrew. Born with Teeth (the title is drawn from the fact that Mulgrew was the rare baby born with a full set of teeth) traces her extraordinary life and career that preceded her turn as Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. Lively scenes from her big, Irish family life, a series of complicated romances, great roles on the stage, and – centrally – a heartbreaking decision about giving up a child for adoption. I’ve had the tremendous pleasure of seeing Mulgrew play Katherine Hepburn in the extraordinary one-woman show Tea at Five, and just as she was able to engage audiences through a two-act evening of live theater, she enthralls in this reading, through each twist and turn of her life. By the time she lands the role of Captain Janeway, you’d be hard pressed not be be joyous over her prospects to live long and prosper.