Barbra Streisand’s Memoir Makes for 48 Vivid, Verklempt Listening Hours

MY NAME IS BARBRA, by Barbra Streisand. Read by the author.

Barbra Streisand’s memoir, “My Name Is Barbra,” exists as a doorstop printed volume and a 48-hour audiobook read by the author. The two are closely related, of course, but not quite the same. As Streisand recites the story of her life — her deprived childhood and her rise to stardom, then auteurdom, then finally lifetime-achievement-award-dom, all while beating back the haters — she ad-libs off the written text, splices sentences, audibly shakes her head at dubious decisions, and altogether places us opposite her on the sofa with a cup of coffee for a two-day kibitz.

Recounting a motorcycle ride with Robert Redford while filming “The Way We Were,” Streisand describes how being on the back of a bike, her hair streaming, was never her dream. “You get knots!” she writes in the book in a parenthetical, clearly meant to echo her fear of skiing a few paragraphs earlier: “(You could break bones!).”

But recorded Streisand blithely ignores the parallelism. “You get knots, right?” she says instead, with that indelible Brooklyn-Catskills inflection. Here and throughout, her voice is simultaneously crisp and mild, wistful and urgent, an ideal vehicle for a history of triumphs and slights both decades distant and — to her, at least — vividly present.

“You get knots, right?” could hardly be a tinier change, but many such changes, over many, many hours, smooth her annoyingly ellipsis-crowded writing into a natural, intimate spoken narrative — if always a queenly one. At the end of her account of visiting Amsterdam to see the Rembrandt paintings whose antiqued brownish-red conjured the atmosphere she wanted for “Yentl,” she declares, “The only pure red I like is the color of Ruby Glow azaleas.”

The sober emphasis she gives this glance into her preferences, as if it were the whole point of the story, is the kind of thing that has left me, since I finished the book, bereft.

MY NAME IS BARBRA | By Barbra Streisand | Read by the author | Penguin Audio | 48 hours, 17 minutes

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