This humorous redundancy, credited to Yogi Berra, always tickles me. Looking over the new audiobook reviews of the last couple of weeks, I do get the feeling we’re heard some of the titles before. In some cases there are new recordings that replace older ones, or new versions with a different performance approach. And some of that feeling of recollection is with new memoirs from people who continue to write more chapters about their lives.
In a recent article in The New York Times, Henry Alford writes about serial memoirists: “This Is the Story of My Life. And This Is the Story of My Life.” He talks about Dani Shapiro, whose fifth memoir INHERITANCE: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love is among the new audiobooks we’ve reviewed. The author gives a restrained but effective performance. Her style was similar for HOURGLASS: Time, Memory, Marriage, her 2017 memoir, offering another resonant listening experience. Another author with multiple memoirs is Kathryn Harrison. The audiobook of her ON SUNSET (memoir #5 for her as well), narrated by Rebecca Lowman, “nicely blurs the line between author and narrator.”
Celebrity memoir may give a different experience. Actor Alan Arkin offers listeners a philosophical “mini-memoir” in his engaging, irreverent style in OUT OF MY MIND. His previous memoir, AN IMPROVISED LIFE from 2011, was more of a meditation on his craft. Michael Caine—with his third memoir, BLOWING THE BLOODY DOORS OFF—treats listeners to his cheeky style. Professional performers do know how to put on a show, and sometimes it’s a literal show. Patti Smith brought bits of her memoirs JUST KIDS and M TRAIN to a recorded performance, PATTI SMITH AT THE MINETTA LANE. It’s a good way to check out Smith’s presentation style before committing to one of the full memoirs.
In a different category of audiobook déjà vu is new recordings of older titles. Considering that audiobooks are a performance medium, I am always interested in hearing a new interpretation. In the relatively short lifespan of audiobooks as a medium, this has mostly happened with classics or with books in the public domain. Recently some re-recordings are available. John Irving’s THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP read by MacLeod Andrews is a good example—occasioned by the 40th anniversary of the book’s publication. Also new is Vikas Adam’s performance of LIFE OF PI, Yann Martel’s lyrical novel that many listeners might know solely from the 2012 film. I enjoyed an earlier performance by Jeff Woodman but am eager to hear a different take—much like hearing a favorite symphony performed by a new orchestra.
The multiple version option does flourish with the classics. Sometimes it’s just different narrators, but occasionally there is a new edition or translation that spurs new recordings. The ancestor of all audiobooks, THE ODYSSEY, breaks new ground in a recording of the new Emily Wilson translation with the performance by Claire Danes. Other luminaries such as Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi have done stunning recordings of Homer’s classic, but the new version is the first by a woman.