My very first book review ever! This review refers to the *unabridged* audiobook version of Audition: A Memoir narrated by Bernadette Dunne. There is another audiobook available - an abridged version, read by Barbara Walters herself, which I have not listened to.
I really knew nothing about Barbara Walters' personal life and hadn't thought too seriously about her work, besides irregular watching of 20/20, her interview specials (Oscar Night Specials and 10 Most Fascinating People) and even less often, The View. But, I've paid enough attention to know that she is a well-respected broadcast journalist who has interviewed, not only celebrities, but many important political personalities as well, so I was interested to learn more about her life and personal feelings about the people she interviewed. I wasn't disappointed.
This was one of the longest audiobooks I've listened to at 26 hours and 46minutes (624 pages in the print version), but it kept me interested much more than I expected. Bernadette Dune does a wonderful narration job, sounding similar enough to Barbara in maturity to have the same feel, while leaving out the quirks of Barbara's voice and speaking style which I think I would have tired of well before the end. Bernadette is also a talented voice actor for reading the quotes from a variety of different well-known people from Barbara's personal and professional life.
Barbara begins by introducing her mentally challenged, older sister Jackie - a subject she has been very private about before. This sets the tone of the personal aspects of the book with Barbara looking at her family-life from her earliest memories forward with the maturity of hindsight and the courage to reveal her own faults and, at times, selfishness. I found the the stories of her father's great successes and failures and the toll on the family interesting and revealing. And to me, the details of Barbara's marriages, other relationships with men and the challenges of motherhood vs. career, made her seem more human than her TV persona.
Since Barbara's career was already well-established during my childhood, I hadn't thought much about a woman's difficulties in entering a broadcasting career. I found the stories about her struggles to get taken seriously professionally, for herself and for women in general, to be enlightening. It was a big deal for a woman to finally be recognized as a "co-host" and not just a decoration beside the male host. Women today often forget that it really wasn't all that long ago when things were so different.
Audition then touches on details of many of the interviews that had the biggest impact for Barbara, personally or professionally. For myself, I found this interesting even though most of the political figures were before my time (or age for me to have have noticed). One problem, for me at least, with an audiobook - it can get a little confusing hearing foreign names in different sections and remembering exactly who is who. Apparently, the print version of Audition has a comprehensive Index and list of interviewees to help interested people follow this better.
As we follow Barbara's career through 20/20 and The View we can see how the American audience moves more and more towards celebrity culture and gossip at the cost of political awareness. This is then the ultimate reason that Barbara gives for deciding when it was the right time to leave 20/20. (Another problem with doing reviews from library editions of audiobooks, is that I can't find the quote I really wanted for this since I no longer have access to it - but, IIRC, she had a scheduling conflict between a President and a reality TV star - the producers chose for her to interview the reality TV star. I found this telling.)
Overall, Audition was one of the few books where I found myself wanting to discuss it with others afterwards. I think a big part of why I found it compelling was that I really had no expectations of who Barbara was as a "real" person. If you are expecting Barbara's book to be a shining example of professionalism and virtue, you are going to be sadly disappointed in her. She is human and she has faults, but I think Audition gives you a real feel for her motivations, whether you agree with her choices or not. She is not always the best writer, but she has lived an interesting life and met a lot of interesting people and is not afraid to give her thoughts and opinions on much of it in this book.
Audition: A Memoir by Barbara Walters
Unabridged Audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne. (not to be confused with the abridged version read by Barbara Walters)
Duration: 26 hours, 46 minutes
Publisher: Books on Tape (a division of Random House Inc.)
Release date: May 20, 2008
Category: Nonfiction, Autobiography