I, Rhoda by Valerie Harper (Narrated by Valerie Harper; Simon & Schuster Audio, 2013)
Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington (Narrated by Grace Coddington; Random House Audio/Books on Tape, 2013)
(all audio CDs via library)
These are three of the six titles nominated in the Narration by Author category of the Audies, which is one of the categories I'm covering for the Armchair Audies project. There's a lot of compare & contrast I'm going to do with them, plus, although I have positives to pass along, celebrity memoir is not a category I seek out, well, ever except for during the Audies. (I do realize that means I'm weird for going back to this category, since it always includes celebrity autobiographies, but it also tends to include fiction I love, and after so many trips to the 'narration by author' well, I'm more than familiar with the format. And more than capable of judging the narration regardless of genre, as well.)
So, first up, we have Shirley Jones, written and read by Shirley Jones. Jones is the mom from The Partridge Family, and she got her start being Rodgers and Hammerstein's golden girl - eventually playing the lead in the movies of Oklahoma! and Carousel. She was also Marian the Librarian in The Music Man, so although I was never a Partridge Family fan (or a fan of Jones's stepson David Cassidy, despite my being the right age to have fallen for his teeny-bopper charms), I spent a lot of my childhood watching Jones's performances.
Anyway, the story is of her life, obviously. She basically had early success with her career, a transformation from 'good girl' to 'rampant sex fiend' with her marriage to Jack Cassidy, various temptations she rejected (mostly) because of her 'good girl'ness, a few escapades that suited her 70s Hollywood lifestyle (though more often she was watching her husband's escapades and forgiving him over and over again), eventually a dwindling career and the sadness of mothering her sons through their father's suicide, and a marriage to someone less likely to cheat or ask her to participate in a threesome. It's all about what you'd expect, as long as you don't think that someone who plays prim sweethearts is actually a prim sweetheart in her personal life. It's not super compelling, with too much name-dropping from an era I didn't really know or care about terribly, and a narrative arc that kind of fizzles into nothingness.
Jones is a grand narrator. She enjoys telling her story, has a fine, articulate voice, and a touch of humor when called for. I don't think I'd have finished the book if I was reading it, but listening was effortless.
I, Rhoda, written and read by Valerie Harper. Harper is Rhoda Morgenstern from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda. (Also shows I didn't really follow, though I did watch Valerie sometimes.) She delves a little more into her childhood (parents unhappy with each other but very supportive of her love of dancing and performing) before her acting journey takes off. Harper is a little more self-deprecating and humble than Jones, and her story is more inwardly focused. I had a lot more fun with this story - not as many salacious stories and more stories about work and loss and love and strife. It's not full of all the drama in the world, but Harper is nice to get to know.
She's also a grand narrator. She speaks with a lot of compassion and humor and a little too much nose for my taste, but hey, she's got the New York thing going on. She kept me interested in every step of her story.
Grace: A Memoir, written and read by Grace Coddington. Coddington was a model who parlayed her experience into a strong, successful career at Vogue, where she is now creative director. And there's a hell of a lot going on in her back story: sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, fashion icons, power plays, stories of the rich and famous before they'd quite achieved either. It's juicy and would probably have been a certain amount of fun (though I'm the furthest thing from a fashionista, I like behind-the-scenes looks at other worlds like this.)
Unfortunately, Coddington's voice literally put me to sleep every time I tried to listen. She just marches ceaselessly on, word after word, and I never found a hook to grab me and pull me along. I gave it my best shot, but life is short, and the audiobook was too long. I might have stuck with this book in print, but as an audio production, I'm left just wondering why it was ever nominated.