Not all authors have the skill to read their own material. But those who do can add a lot of value to their memoir audiobooks if they can deliver a great performance. It doesn’t even have to be a celebrity audiobook (although there are plenty on this list). Any author can really deliver the goods if they can nail a performance with subtle intonation, character voices, just the right pauses for humor, and audio-only flourishes.
If that sounds like what you want, then you’ve come to the right place. Because we have a line-up of 20 of the best autobiographies and memoirs that are read by the author.
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Best Memoir Audiobooks (by Authors, Bloggers & Regular Folks)
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, by Jenny Lawson
Who knew that a memoir audiobook about crippling anxiety and depression could also be endearing and surprisingly funny. Some folks have found her light hearted look at such a serious subject to be off-putting. But its Lawson’s life to live and she can share it with us however she wishes. She chooses to (over)share with a strong dose of humor and she doesn’t shy away from telling stories from her bizarre childhood, which bytheway was full of taxidermied animals.
Her delivery is great. She got a very clear voice and dead pans the funniest parts of the book.
Anything by David Sedaris
Always listen to Sedaris, never “read” him.
David Sedaris honed his audio skills as a storyteller on NPR’s This American Life. As his books became popular, he further refined his skills at book readings. I daresay, he now makes as much money doing paid speaking events as he does on his books. His unique, (and frankly weird) voice, is the perfect vehicle for his delivering his own words.
If you’ve never listened to a Sedaris audiobook memoir, then you could start with the most recent Carnival of Snackery or The Best of Me. However, these books re-surface previously published works. If you want fresher content, then check out his Calypso, which was published in 2018. It covers his family gatherings at a new beach home which he and his partner Hugh have purchased on the Carolina coast. Sedaris reflects on his family’s history, relationships and regrets.
Wow, No Thank You, by Samantha Irby
This series of life essays have a very conversational tone. They cover Irby’s foibles with the Hollywood industrial complex, her discomfort with social engagement, and her inept approach to suburban life. She also has some poo issues and no cartilage in her knees. Because we needed to know that.
She delivers all of this in a really funny audio performance. She nails the right mix of outrage and dry humor with just a tinge of the long-suffering sigh. Great for a laugh out loud while out on a walk.
Shrill, By Lindy West
If you are looking some audio memoirs by comedians, then check out Shrill by Lindy West. West is fat. And in the bro-tastic world of comedy, a funny, fat, feminist who takes no sh**t and gives no f**ks wears a target on her back.
West discusses her relationship with her body, how she came to be in comedy, why some white men in politics are so very very dumb, and how she dealt with her Twitter trolls. Her story has also been turned into a very touching show on Hulu.
Her audio delivery is very funny and you can hear every eye roll. If you like it, then you should also give a listen to her newer book The Witches are Coming. It’s a searingly funny feminist screed.
High Achiever: The Incredible True Story of One Addict’s Double Life, by Tiffany Jenkins
Jenkins considered herself a master manipulator, getting what she wanted from others and keeping up a good front while also an opioid addict. It worked for her, until it didn’t. The memoir covers her life, her shocking behavior while addicted, her prison sentence and her road to recovery.
Her performance offers a raw and open access to her story.
Where I Come From: Stories from the Deep South, by Rick Bragg
“Tupperware is the Wedgewood of the South.” This quote should tell you everything you need to know about Bragg’s series of essays. They’ve been assembled from years of writing about his life in the Deep South. He covers the eccentricities of the south with a strong emphasis on food, fishing, dogs and pick-ups. He offers a nostalgic tone, but he doesn’t shy away from the South’s darker side. The book’s essays also acknowledge how racism stains Southern culture.
Pour yourself a tall glass of iced tea (sweet, of course) and listen to Bragg slowly drawl his way through his own stories. This is a good listen for sitting on the porch on a hot summer day.
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
How can we have an honest reckoning with our nation’s fraught, racist history? And how do we free ourselves from this burden?
These are the questions that Coates poses in this open letter to his son. He’s not hopeful, that’s for sure. But he’s earnest, raw and heartfelt. And he wants to give his son (and you the reader) an honest assessment of his life’s experience as a Black man in America.
If you want the full gut-punch, listen to the whole three hour audio in one go.
If you choose to read this for book club, check out our discussion guide for Between the World and Me.
Best Memoir Audiobooks (by Celebrities & Musicians)
Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
Crying in H Mart is far more than a simple food memoir. In the book, Zauner explores her life growing up as a Korean American, an awkward adolescence, her Mom’s high expectations and lots and lots of eating in her Grandmother’s apartment. It’s also a painful foray in to the pain of grief. It’s a searing, devastating and often funny look at Zauner’s life (so far).
Zauner is a singer and guitarist, so she certainly knows how to deliver a performance. But what makes this memoir so good on audiobook is that you can really hear her emotions coming through.
Hollywood Park, by Mikel Jollett
Jollett was born into one of the country’s most infamous cults, the Church of Synanon. His was a childhood filled with poverty, addiction, and emotional abuse where the children were separated from their parents and lived in an orphanage-like setting. Even when his mother flees with Jollett and his brother, things aren’t easy. The book offers a look at his dramatic personal journey, and the masks that he wore to get him through that journey.
Jollett is a musician and he delivers really in the audiobook with a strong sense of verbal urgency.
Jewel had an unconventional upbringing — homesteading in Alaska, learning to yodel and building an independent life for herself (which she kinda didn’t want to do, but her family circumstance forced the issue). There’s a lot to her story as a homeless-to-riches musician. She doesn’t shrink away from sharing some painful childhood stories, an unfiltered look at her career and her own imperfections.
The audio is great because she also sings some of her songs, which adds a lot of value to the narrative.
Broken Horses, by Brandi Carlisle
Like Jewel, Brandi Carlisle grew up with a lot of instability in her childhood. There were a lot of moves, childhood illness and the risks associated with coming out gay as a teenager. Carlisle also covers her journey as a musician and a mother and how she created a great found family for herself.
This audiobook memoir also has the delightful value-add of songs, so it’s like getting both a book and an album.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
Born a Crime is a remarkable memoir. Many celebrity memoirs simply offer a voyeur’s view into the life of someone whose work that we admire. And Born a Crime has that, but it’s also an education on how the warped Apartheid policies impacted day-to-day life for Black and Colored South Africans. And Noah’s mixed race heritage made that even more complicated. Noah offers up insight (with a strong dose of humor) into the complexities of class and race, which are disturbingly applicable elsewhere in English-speaking world.
This is a fantastic audiobook because Noah offers distinct voices for all of his friends and family members. His Mom’s voice is priceless.
This book makes a good book club read, which you can supplement with our Born a Crime reading guide.
Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey has the gift of gab and he deployes it with a full throttle in his memoir, Greenlights. The book covers his childhood, his first acting gigs and dealing with stardom. Greenlight’s themes include strong family bonds, a willingness to pivot, a spirit of adventure and being honest with yourself.
The format for Greenlights is an interesting mix of standard memoir, self-help advice, poems and pithy bumper stickers .
McConaughey delivers all of this with an enthusiastic audio performance– and even a few Alright Alright Alrights.
If you are listening to McConaughey for your book club, use our Greenlights book club questions to guide your discussion.
Becoming, by Michelle Obama
I have political opinions, and I always vote, but I’ve never been a fan of political non-fiction or presidential memoirs. Too much wonk. But Michelle Obama’s memoir is another matter entirely. In it, she covers her childhood, her growth as a professional woman, the sacrifices that she had to make when her husband decided to go for it, and the major adjustments she had to make as a political wife and First Lady.
Her audio delivery is smooth and warm.
If you do indeed like presidential memoirs, then Barack Obama’s A Promised Land makes for a good companion listen.
Read Becoming for book club and use our discussion guide to get the conversation started.
Not My Father’s Son, by Alan Cumming
Cumming had a very rough childhood at the hand of his cruel and violent father. He gets invited to participate in a genealogy TV show and through that process, he becomes reconnected with his estranged father and learns about his long lost grandfather. The memoir covers Cummings process of coming to terms with his personal history. He’s willing to share some long buried family secrets with his readers.
His audio is deeply personal and honest. Plus, that Scottish accent doesn’t hurt.
Over the Top: My Story, by Jonathan Van Ness
Van Ness is the official grooming expert and the unofficial self-care guru for Queer Eye. In this memoir, he shares the true person behind the television personality. He grew up in a small Midwestern town where folks had some trouble figuring out what he was about. Well, he was about being a sparkly, figure-skate loving, queer kid. And this book presents his childhood and his passion to truly own his life as an adult.
Van Ness delivers his performance with a strong dose of positivity, grace, humor and no small amount of over-the-topness.
Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes
Rhimes is the creative genius behind hit TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. It’s easy to say “no” when you are running hit TV shows and have kids at home. But when her sister told her that she never says yes to anything, Rhimes was shaken out of her complacency. This memoir follows her as she busts out of her introverted comfort zone and says yes to far more than she ever thought she would.
Rhimes overcomes her introverted nature by doing her own entertaining audio performance.
Walking with Ghosts, by Gabriel Byrne
The Irish are masterful storytellers and Byrne is right up there with the best of them. In this audio autobiography, He shares his childhood and his creative life with a keen eye for observation, quiet humor and poignancy.
“I begin to apply my makeup. My mask. Our tragedy, O’Neill said, is that we are haunted not just by the masks others wear but by the masks we wear ourselves. We all act all the time. Life makes us necessary deceivers. Except maybe when we are alone.”
Byrne’s writing style is very poetic and he delivers the audio with every inch of his acting talent.
A Very Punchable Face, by Colin Jost
Jost is a host of Weekend Update and lead writer for SNL. In this memoir, he talks about his childhood on Staten Island, his career and how he occasionally gets punched in the face. He shares his goofy antics and dancing rats on the ferry as well as some very heart felt stories, like his mom’s contribution to saving lives during 9/11. You also get some insider baseball on SNL.
If that doesn’t convince you, just ask Larry David, who blurbed the book with ““I always wanted to punch his face before I read his book. Now I just want to kick him in the balls.”
For a guy who didn’t even speak until he was four years old, Jost is able to delivery a very charming celebrity audiobook performance.
The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher
Fisher crafted this delightful memoir using the notebooks that she kept while working on Star Wars as a teenager. The book covers her affair with Harrison Ford (what?!?), her efforts to get work after the filming of the movie and the weird aftermath of being in a cult culture classic. She delivers all of it with her trademark crisp wit.
From her notebooks- “If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond, I shall be posthumorously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing.” RIP Princess Leia.
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