To read or to listen to a book? It can be a tough choice, but when it comes to memoirs of entertainers — especially those who narrate their own work — the answer is easy: Listen. These are authors who bring not just insight, but professional chops and innate charisma to the job. You needn’t be an ardent fan of the celebrity memoirists below to appreciate hearing their personal stories in their famous voices.
No one could recount the saga of a brooding, introverted Irish actor like Gabriel Byrne with more soul than the brooding, introverted Irish actor Gabriel Byrne. In WALKING WITH GHOSTS (Recorded Books, 6 hours, 57 minutes), Byrne revisits his childhood in hardscrabble, hard-drinking mid-20th-century Dublin, introducing us to formative characters like Mrs. Gordon, an elderly friend of his family’s, whose locket held her late husband’s whiskers and who used to regale Byrne with tales of banshees, fairies and famine. He discusses his sister’s mental illness, his early vocation as a priest (“I can’t help but imagine how different my life could have been”) and his struggles with alcoholism (“I started young”). There are Hollywood-era snapshots of his life tucked into the book as well: whiskeys with Richard Burton (“Give it all you got,” he advises Byrne, “but never forget it’s just a bloody movie, that’s all it is. We’re not curing cancer”), a harrowing account of the depression that struck after it became clear “The Usual Suspects” was going to be a hit, and Byrne a star.
Listening to this book in the car was like taking a road trip with a friend sharing his slightly mournful stories in a soft brogue from the passenger seat.
It’s been decades since “Family Ties” made him a household name in the 1980s, but at almost 60 — and having lived with Parkinson’s disease for half his life — Michael J. Fox still has that Alex Keaton buoyancy. Fox’s fourth book, NO TIME LIKE THE FUTURE (Macmillan Audio, 5 hours, 59 minutes), delves into his acting career and philanthropy, his improbable passion for golf, and his worsening health. In 2018 (“my annus horribilis,” he says), Fox underwent surgery for a spinal tumor unrelated to Parkinson’s, an ordeal that tested his characteristic optimism and left him struggling to walk. “Back in the days of carefree ambling, I would have considered the topic of walking to be rather pedestrian,” Fox jokes. Sometimes the quips seem forced, but Fox’s positivity — rooted in the love of his family — is hard-won and inspiring. Although Parkinson’s has affected his speech, after the first few minutes I stopped noticing as his storytelling, suffused with warmth and emotion, drew me in. And only in the audiobook can you hear him choke up while recounting a tender moment with his wife of more than 30 years, the actress Tracy Pollan.