Great last-minute gifts! 2020's best celeb audiobooks: Mariah Carey, Barack Obama, Dolly Parton, more

Derek Arbogast
·10 min read

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Have celebrities read to you: Just $5 gets you started with Audible. (Photo: Amazon)
Have celebrities read to you: Just $5 gets you started with Audible. (Photo: Amazon)

Memoirs provide a specific kind of literary pleasure. They put us inside the heads, and hearts, of people—usually people we love and admire (and sometimes people we loathe, or who are just too interesting to ignore). The thing is, they take us out of ourselves, not just to a different world or time in history, but inside another’s psyche.

At least that’s what the good ones do, and as it happens 2020 has provided a bounty of inspiring, funny, touching, enlightening self-stories. And, of course, audiobooks—read by the celebrity memoirists themselves—bring added intimacy to this connective experience. Hey, if nothing else, as we head down the home stretch of what’s been an especially insulated and solitary year, who’s not craving someone else’s voice in their head?

Audible, the audiobook arm of Amazon, is making it easy to venture into deep-listening territory, with great deals on books and memberships—that are also great last-minute digital holiday gifts. Find a book below you just know your best friend (or brother or daughter) would love—a couple of clicks and it’s theirs, delivered by email.

Feeling extra generous? Sign them up for a subscription—Audible Premium Plus is 40 percent off for a limited time. Get the first four months for just $8.95 per month. That’s $24 in savings and you can cancel anytime.

With Audible Premium Plus, you get access to thousands upon thousands of audiobooks, a free premium audiobook every month (that you can keep, by the way) and an additional 30 percent off the list price of premium titles. Pick an Audible plan that suits you and your loved ones here.

Scroll for some of this year’s most rewarding, interesting and hilarious titles, each of them read by the author (and some featuring special guest voices). What are you waiting for? These aren’t going to listen to themselves, you know....

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics

Dolly brings us the stories behind the songs. (Photo: Amazon)
Dolly brings us the stories behind the songs. (Photo: Amazon)

Performer, composer, and feminist, Dolly is also the living embodiment of the term national treasure. As for this tuneful trip down memory lane, well, the subtitle says it all, as it’s essentially a long-awaited conversation with Dolly about her greatest talent, songwriting.

Dolly revisits the stories behind almost a hundred of her most famous and/or powerful compositions, including “Coat of Many Colors,” “9 to 5,” and, of course, the devastating “Jolene,” in the process revealing surprising inspirations and new depths of insight.

“I discovered that her lyrics are so fresh and straightforward—without metaphors, allusions, allegories or pretension—without guile,” gushed one enlightened reviewer. “I'm from a different generation, a different genre (I grew up on punk, new wave, metal and rap, followed by 70s hard rock and metal) and a different time, but I've realized Dolly is timeless.”

Shop it: Songteller audiobook, $22 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Alicia Keys, More Myself: A Journey

Who's cooler than Alicia Keys? Photo: Amazon
Who's cooler than Alicia Keys? Photo: Amazon

Another New York born-and-bred success story, Alicia Keys began her journey to the top especially early. A classically trained pianist, she was composing by the age of 12 and signed her first record contract at 15. As the title implies, discovery—of self, and the absent father of her childhood—is the theme here.

Thanks to the magic of the audiobook, she peppers her tale with excerpts of her most enduring song...and commentary from a few friends, including Jay-Z, Oprah, and Michelle Obama. “Words do not come easily [on] the powerful impact this book gave me,” said one very satisfied customer. “What an amazing, talented and generous woman.”

Shop it: More Myself audiobook, $25 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Rachel Bloom: I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are

The wacky, wise, all-out wonderful Ms. Bloom. Photo: Amazon
The wacky, wise, all-out wonderful Ms. Bloom. Photo: Amazon

You know Rachel Bloom as the multitalented star of the WB’s brilliantly daft musical-comedy series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. As groundbreaking as the show (which she co-created), Bloom’s memoir (in audio form) is surprising and innovative, with a high wackiness factor.

There aren’t many performers who would dare to deliver wizened re-collections of a misfit adolescence, a lifetime of anxiety, and the travails of showbiz in gut-busting song (as well as poems, essays, Hogwarts fan fiction, a chapter from the POV of her dog, even an amusement park map!), and just about none who could do it with Bloom’s panache.

“I adore Rachel Bloom and this book is so authentically her,” said one fan. “This book is hilarious and honest and raw and hopeful and utterly ridiculous and heartwarming and sad and uplifting.” A great gift.

Shop it: I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are audiobook, $21 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Colin Jost, A Very Punchable Face: A Memoir

True tales from the SNL Weekend Update co-host. Photo: Amazon
True tales from the SNL Weekend Update co-host. Photo: Amazon

Hilarious and heartwarming is the magic elixir that makes for a good memoir, and Jost (AKA Mr. Scarlett Johansson) brings it big-time. Like his Saturday Night Live predecessor Tina Fey, Jost grounds his cracked observations with a dash of self-effacement (literally; look at that title).

At the same time, the chapter on his mom, a first responder to the 9/11 attacks, brings love and life lessons to the table. As one five-star reviewer puts it, “Come for the self-deprecating humor, stay for the great stories.”

Shop it: A Very Punchable Face audiobook, $25 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Barack Obama, A Promised Land

So nice to see you, Mr. President. Photo: Amazon
So nice to see you, Mr. President. Photo: Amazon

Oh, yeah, that other Obama has a new book out too, and boy, do we need it. The man who espoused ‘the audacity of hope’ in his 2006 memoir returns with a booster shot of that essential virtue, his serene countenance and wise reflections a tonic in these nerve-wracking times.

Perhaps this reviewer said it best: “President Barack Obama writes like he speaks: deliberately, thoughtfully, and entertainingly. This book provides the reader with a much needed dose of decency and intelligent thought in an era of scare mongering and, well, stupidity.”

Shop it: A Promised Land, $40 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Megan Rapinoe, One Life

The soccer star on life, love, justice, and more. Photo: Amazon
The soccer star on life, love, justice, and more. Photo: Amazon

Most of us had never heard the name Megan Rapinoe till her mind-bending exploits during the 2011 World Cup. Then, of course, she did it again as co-captain of the US Women’s Soccer team at the 2012 London Olympics. So sure, here she chronicles how she fell in love with the game as a California teenager.

Maybe more important, though, we learn how her upbringing led her to value the pursuit of justice and meaning in the world around her, as evidenced by her activism on behalf of gay rights and marriage equality. “Such an incredible and inspiring story,” said one reviewer. “I have loved watching Megan’s journey unfold but to hear the behind-the-scenes made what she stands for even more powerful.”

Shop it: One Life audiobook, $22 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Mariah Carey, The Meaning of Mariah Carey

Mariah finally sets the record straight. (Photo: Amazon)
Mariah finally sets the record straight. (Photo: Amazon)

“When I was 12 years old, my sister drugged me with Valium, offered me a pinky nail full of cocaine, inflicted me with third-degree burns and tried to sell me out to a pimp.” If that doesn’t have you reaching for you credit card to snap up this jam-packed, jaw-dropping trip down memory lane, well, maybe the racism, child neglect, domestic violence, spousal abuse, and mental illness that pepper Mariah’s tale will seal the deal.

You want romance? There’s her marriage-turned-abduction to former-president Sony Music Tommy Mottola, her rebound relationship with Yankees icon Derek Jeter (“Just like his position on the team, our relationship was a short stop in my life.”), and her ill-fated second turn at the altar with Nick Cannon. Oh, yeah, there’s music, too, in her recounting of the rags-to-riches story of her career—she has, after all, scored more number-one singles than any solo artist—and the excerpts she sings from her spectacular repertoire.

Shop it: The Meaning of Me audiobook, $30 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Andre Leon Talley, The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir

The icon's life at Vogue magazine and beyond. Photo: Amazon
The icon's life at Vogue magazine and beyond. Photo: Amazon

I know what you’re thinking—you’ve seen ‘ALT’ on America’s Top Model, heard his withering, hilarious commentary, and are thinking his latest book will be a gut-busting, back-stabbing tell-all. Well, we’ll let this Amazon customer put you straight: "I came for the fashion gossip but went away with an amazing education about fashion history.” And what history.

Talley’s been in the game for a half century, during which he’s been a kind of Zelig, rubbing shoulder and collaborating with everyone from Andy Warhol to de la Renta, Halston, Lagerfeld, and, of course, Vogue high priestess Anna Wintour. Of course, it’s not all name-dropping and history marking, as another reviewer put it: “Talley possesses knowledge and passion, as well as a soul searching for the beauty and love in all around him."

Shop it: The Chiffon Trenches audiobook, $25 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

 We could honestly listen to this voice all day. Photo: Amazon
We could honestly listen to this voice all day. Photo: Amazon

What better time for a look back than at the wind-down of the hottest decade of one’s career? At age 50, McConaughey set off for the desert with his diaries and found in their “poems, prayers, [and] prescriptions”—not fuel for a midlife crisis but a surprising self-(re)discovery.

The title of this capstone to the 21st century ‘McConaissance’ is a reference to the metaphor of “catching greenlights” on your path to realizing one’s destiny. The key, McConaughey says, is to “know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges—how to get relative with the inevitable.” Good advice...and there’s a lot more where that came from. For one admiring listener, it’s a lot more than alright, alright, alright: “He is one of those people who just knows how to live an interesting life.”

Shop it: Greenlights audiobook, $20 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

Diane Keaton, Brother & Sister

A poignant family tale of love and heartache. Photo: Amazon
A poignant family tale of love and heartache. Photo: Amazon

It’s not often that we hear the stories of the family members who don’t become famous, those who, in one sense or another, are left behind. In this ‘brave’ recounting of family tragedy, comedy legend Diane Keaton puts away the cute hats and Hollywood glitz to tell the tragic story of her troubled younger brother, Randy.

The two were inseparable as children. But adult life, and Diane’s fame, would cause the siblings’ paths to diverge and leave Diane to helplessly watch as Randy devolved from eccentricity to “the other side of normal” to debilitating mental illness. She chronicles it all with heartbreaking memories, poetry, letters, journal excerpts, and a truckload of love and insight. A “haunting, beautifully written and intimate portrait,” said one reviewer. “I couldn’t put it down.”

Shop it: Brother & Sister audiobook, $15 (or one Audible credit), amazon.com

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.

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