I am only 5 out of 20 hours into listening to Bono narrate his autobiography, Surrender; 40 Songs, One Story. So why write a review, when I am only 25% through? Mostly because I am enjoying it a great deal, am excited to tell someone about it, and because this is my blog and I get to write about whatever I want, thank you very much.
I didn’t cry, you cried.
Surrender is already, easily, the most engaging biography I have ever read (or in this case, listened to). In fact, when I was only 10 minutes into the narration, I excitedly messaged my daughter, who is also a U2 fan and just bought the book to read, and told her I was already enthralled. What I did not tell her was that Bono had already nearly moved me to tears as he spoke of his heart as an artist, putting words to my own soul I hadn’t heard anyone else say before.
Not a fanboy
Let me make this clear, I like Bono as a vocalist, but have never qualified to be a member of the Bono Fan Club. I do not know the names of his pet fish, which underwear brand he prefers or whether or not he is circumcised and by whom. Previous to Surrender, all I knew about Bono was the persona portrayed by the media and what I could glean from the songs he sings.
Further, even though I have been a casual U2 fan for a long time, I didn’t know The Edge’s given name (although I know it now), whether Adam prefers Weetabix with or without fruit, or if Larry carves his own drum sticks from the bones of his adversaries. I’m just saying that nobody gets a free pass here.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to having gotten into polite arguments after claiming Bono is one of the best rock vocalists of all time. Not because he is technically the best, because he isn’t. What I hear in Bono is someone who doesn’t just sing the song, he becomes it. I relate to this, because I know what it feels like. Music should emotionally move the listener, otherwise what is the point? When I listen to Bono, I hear someone who deeply feels what he sings, or at least is emotionally wrestling with what he sings, which creates an emotional connection to the listener. He does this more than anyone I know of.
So too, his book. Bono’s prose is as lyrical and full of imagery as his songwriting. His writing really is excellent, which is something I don’t say flippantly, which makes the experience all the richer.
Always a delicate place to go, it is unavoidable that any autobiographer describe the people in their life. Family, friends and bandmates all make their appearances, and Bono is sometimes very frank in his remembrances and assessments. Somehow, without pulling punches, Bono (so far!) handles these honest revelations with humility and love. I don’t know that I have experienced that before in an autobiography, as it is no easy feat.
Again, I am only 25% through the narration, but thankfully there is no inkling of the ubiquitous prurient sensationalism which sells so many biographies. It is not a “tell-all” and it doesn’t need to be. Surrender humbly bares Bono’s life, and his soul, without apparent affectation or pretension. He allows us to see his humanity as we journey with him through his losses, faults, doubts, triumphs and growth. This book is taking Bono from being an image or an icon in my mind, and is letting me experience him as a man. A very real man. I love this.
Narrating a book is no joke. For an author to successfully narrate their own autobiography is a rare thing. Partly because the author is untrained in the intensively obtained arcane knowledge of long-form narration. Also partly because to tell a story by writing words on a page is a much different exercise than reading it out loud while sounding completely natural. In an autobiography, sounding completely natural is essential.
Let me give you an example. I have been a life-long fan of James Taylor. More of his songs have come from my mouth than any other singer/songwriter. When I heard he had an autobiography coming out called Break Shot, I was excited. Even better, he would do the narration himself! I couldn’t wait. When I eventually listened to it… I found it interesting and I learned some things, but it didn’t fulfill its promise. Disappointingly, Taylor never sounded to me like he was emotionally connected. He was telling the facts of his story, but without revealing the related internal content.
In contrast, when I listened to Voiceover Man by Peter Dickson, I was drawn into his recollections told in his own voice, colored by his own emotion. Merely reading the book myself could never do this. I wrote a review of this book in my blog post Peter Dickson Won’t be Happy, in case you are interested. Of course, Peter being an incredibly experienced and accomplished voice actor himself, it is a bit like cheating.
Bono does not have this advantage, but doesn’t need it. The narration in Surrender is nearly as good as the words themselves. His comfortable delivery is all a listener could ask for, inviting us to participate in the very personal retelling of his internal and external life. The only thing lacking is a couple of beers to complete the illusion you are sitting with a friend sharing confidences. If you are deciding between the audiobook and the printed version, buy the audiobook, or both.
Now, if my opinion changes as the book goes on, I will update this post. In fact, if you purchase the book on the basis of my opinion and hate it, I will refund you by packing an envelope with all of the time you wasted on it, and mail it to you. You only pay postage and handling. I feel that strongly about it.
There you have it. A minor tie-in to voiceover, but that isn’t really what this is about. I am just being me, being excited about a book I am experiencing, and wanting to share that with you.
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