From lowbrow to highbrow TV, from comic books to rock ’n’ roll, here are five audiobooks to feed your pop culture diet. Whether your ears are tuned to licentious behind-the-scenes stories or erudite critiques, there’s something for anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the last century.
Bachelor Nation, written and read by Amy Kaufman
This is an absolute must-listen for anyone who’s ever watched “The Bachelor” and wondered what goes on behind the scenes, and for anyone curious about the tricks employed by reality TV. We learn how producers use editing to tell whatever story they want to tell, no matter what was really said. Any casual viewer knows how petty the contestants can be, but this book reveals just how ruthless the people behind the scenes can be, too. If you ever audition for the show, never reveal your fear of heights, unless you want to be the one selected for the sky-diving date. Whether you love the show or love to hate it, the juicy, tell-all nature of this audiobook makes it hard to press pause.
I Like to Watch, written and read by Emily Nussbaum
Emily Nussbaum, TV critic for The New Yorker, shares a collection of essays that treats television with respect, acknowledging it as the art form it has become. Twenty years into what many call TV’s second golden age, this is the perfect time to look back on the pivotal shows like “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and even “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” all of which set TV on the path it’s on today. She delves into the difficult question of the #MeToo era: Can we still consume art by bad men? I found myself nodding along to the whole audiobook. It’s a thoughtful, opinionated collection of essays and a masterclass in critical writing.
Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, written by Joe Hagan, read by Dennis Boutsikaris
Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner’s life makes for a fascinating lens through which to view the changing music- and magazine-publishing industries in the later half of the 20th century. He created legends, cementing John Lennon’s legacy as a rock god and building up the mythology behind rock ’n’ roll and the 1960s as a magically creative time. He lifted up the careers of Annie Lebowitz, Cameron Crowe and Hunter S. Thompson. He’s also a total narcissist, and this book pulls no punches. He puts profits over friendship time and again. He’s a successful business mogul, but at what cost? Joe Hagan had incredible access for this book and doesn’t hold anything back.
The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, written and read by Glen Weldon
This book tracks the history of Batman from his origin as a Shadow knock-off, created to compete with Superman, and through all his permutations in comics, movies and cartoons. Author Glen Weldon posits that the most essential part of Batman is his pledge: When his parents are murdered, he vows to defend the defenseless. The adaptations that have ignored this part of his character are the ones that fail to connect with readers and viewers. Weldon draws a distinction between male and female fans: Male fans complain, make death threats and beg creators for the version of Batman they most relate to; female fans create their own versions, with stories they want to hear, using the characters they love in fan fiction. Weldon is a dynamic narrator, adopting New York and Scottish accents when quoting comic book authors. His “mad fan” voice is particularly skewering.
My Life as a Goddess, written and read by Guy Branum
Writer/comedian Guy Branum uses pop culture as a framing device for his memoir. As a kid, he watched old TV shows to learn about the world. His essay “The Man Who Watched The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is a beautiful portrait of his relationship with a father who didn’t quite understand him but was proud of him. He does a line-by-line breakdown of “Bohemian Rhopsody” by Queen, interpreted as a coming-out tale that shines a whole new light on the song. Branum’s repeated line “and then I remembered, I am a Goddess” is an inspiring mantra that will boost any listener’s self-confidence. He has a way of throwing out biting asides that make this audiobook that much more fun than the book.