Lenny Kravitz, Michael J. Fox, Cicely Tyson and Gabriel Byrne — All in Their Own Words

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.

The rocker Lenny Kravitz never chokes up in LET LOVE RULE (Macmillan Audio, 6 hours, 40 minutes), but he does periodically break into song, making for startlingly lovely interludes in this bighearted autobiography. The son of a white Jewish father and a Black mother, Kravitz grew up spending weekdays with his working-class maternal grandparents in Brooklyn and weekends at nightclubs with his parents in Manhattan. “I’d have to call it a golden childhood,” he says, ever able to find beauty even in bitter experiences. After his mother, Roxie Roker, was cast in “The Jeffersons,” the family moved to Los Angeles, where his parents’ marriage foundered and Kravitz left home at 16, bunking down in a rented Ford Pinto. His musical career blossomed after he fell in love with the actress Lisa Bonet — seeing her for the first time on a TV Guide cover, he announced, “I’m gonna marry that girl” — and the songs came pouring out. The memoir, coauthored with David Ritz, ends with the release of his first album in 1989 and the welcome words: “To be continued.”

Kravitz credits five Black godmothers with helping shape his character — among them the actress Cicely Tyson, who died last week at 96, days after the publication of her own memoir, JUST AS I AM (HarperAudio, 16 hours, 9 minutes). Tyson reads the introduction to her book, pausing to chuckle at her own anecdotes, before turning the narration over to the brilliant Robin Miles. (The foreword, read by Viola Davis, was intimate and powerful, and piqued my interest in the book before I even got going.) Cowritten with Michelle Burford, Tyson’s is a juicy, rags-to-riches opus with an unforgettable, tart-tongued heroine who used her craft to render fully the lives of Black women, “the most deeply misunderstood human beings in history.”

The daughter of West Indian immigrants, Tyson grew up in Harlem in the 1920s and ’30s, became a teenage mother and wife, stumbled into modeling and then acting, becoming an American icon for performances in “Sounder” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She was friends with Diahann Carroll and Sidney Poitier and Maya Angelou; married and divorced Miles Davis (“He was so full of the Devil, that Miles”); and took stands that were radical at the time, like embracing her natural hair on television. She describes it all with vivid recall, wit and monumental charm. If I hadn’t been listening to this book, I would have called it a page-turner.

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