Indulge Yourself: 2011's Best Celebrity Tell-Alls

Illustration: A woman reads a book in the bathtub.
Priscilla Nielsen for NPR

Ah, 'tis the season to be indulgent. Another glass of champagne? Please, have some homemade cookies. Does anyone want to go to the movies instead of the gym? As far as I'm concerned, December is Guilty Pleasures Time.

Yep. Time to kick back with all those books I secretly love but hate to admit reading. My literary drug of choice? Behind-the-scenes reads about the rich and famous. Five of the best of 2011 — by a rock star; a hotel concierge; a stuntman; a Brat Packer; and an Emmy-winning, Voguing lesbian — offer backstage passes to their lives as well as others'. Entertaining and star-studded, they make for perfect holiday escapism — with a cocktail (or two) in hand.

Speaking of cocktails, Aerosmith's frontman says of them, "Go big or go home." And so, I'll start with Steven Tyler.

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?

Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?

A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir

by Steven Tyler and David Dalton

Paperback, 593 pages, HarperCollins, $27.99, published May 24 2011 | purchase
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  • Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?
  • A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir
  • Steven Tyler and David Dalton

Steven Tyler is big-hearted, big-mouthed, drug-addled and raunchy. But what else would you expect? His rock 'n' roll memoir begins innocently enough, however. Tyler describes his early childhood divided between a gritty Bronx neighborhood and the wondrous beauty of New Hampshire. Yet once he hits puberty, the bass and the drums kick in.

From thereon in, Tyler doesn't recount his life in a straight progression. Tours, songwriting, marriages, affairs, band breakups and drug fests are all told in his inimitable voice — often in music-like riffs — peppered with trippy ramblings, far-out observations, wordplay and pornographic wit. He also does a good job of explaining the banality of life on the road, what he calls, "Lead Singer Disease," and the craziness that accompanies fame. With a little help from rock writer David Dalton, he offers a colorful glimpse into his head as well as his life. Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? Not at all. It's got everything you want from a guilty pleasure: obscenity, revelation, bad behavior and humor. And, oh yeah, a beat you can dance to.

Concierge Confidential

Concierge Confidential

by Michael Fazio and Michael Malice

Hardcover, 271 pages, St Martins Pr, $24.99, published February 1 2011 | purchase
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  • Concierge Confidential
  • Michael Fazio and Michael Malice

Let's say you're Steven Tyler — or just super-rich. One night, you decide you need a private helicopter to fly you to Atlantic City. Or a bathtub filled with hot fudge. Or a string quartet playing on an Amtrak platform. Or a discreet doctor to treat you for VD before your wife arrives the next morning. Who you gonna call?

Michael Fazio, that's who.

For years, Fazio worked as a concierge at Manhattan's InterContinental Hotel. The man knows about service. He can get orchestra seats for sold-out Broadway shows and tables at overbooked trendy restaurants. But best yet, he can dish.

Concierge Confidential is a behind-the-scenes peek at the luxury service industry — and the crazy clientele it caters to. Fazio's tell-all is not only filled with delicious anecdotes, but practical tips such as "Cutting the Velvet Rope," "How to Send Food Back" and "How to Get a Table." It's a must-read for rock stars, prima donnas, voyeurs and even us regular travelers everywhere.

Happy Accidents

Happy Accidents

by Jane Lynch

Hardcover, 304 pages, Hyperion Books, $25.99, published September 13 2011 | purchase
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  • Happy Accidents
  • Jane Lynch

Yeah, I'm a Gleek. But for me, the main draw is Jane Lynch. Her brilliant Sue Sylvester prevents Glee from giving me diabetes. And Happy Accidents, her memoir, achieves a similar feat. Right now, Lynch is in a very happy place, both professionally and personally. She's won awards for her acting, gotten married and become a step-mom. But it wasn't always so — and Lynch is smart and sly enough not to pen her story as one of sugary redemption.

Born into a spirited Midwestern family, Lynch spent her youth denying her sexuality and sipping her parents' leftover cocktails at parties. "Like any good, closeted young lesbian of the seventies," she writes, "I developed a raging crush on Ron Howard." Soon her fears — and passions — were parlayed into theater and drinking.

For her first three decades, Lynch struggled as an actress, an alcoholic and a lesbian. But because of a sequence of "happy accidents," she eventually came into her own. The result? The blossoming of her talents; a rise to fame; a new, great love — and now, an immensely frank, funny, generous book.

Stuntman!

Stuntman!

My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life

by Hal Needham

Hardcover, 307 pages, Little Brown & Co, $25.99, published February 9 2011 | purchase
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  • Stuntman!
  • My Car-Crashing, Plane-Jumping, Bone-Breaking, Death-Defying Hollywood Life
  • Hal Needham

While the title of this memoir sounds like hyperbole, it's not. Although he began life as a sharecropper's son, Hal Needham trained as an Army paratrooper — then went on to become "the highest paid stuntman in the world" at the time.

Since he moved to California in 1954, he seems to have lived as a comic-book hero: jumping out of planes, leaping onto runaway horses, setting himself on fire, driving cars off riverbanks. His days off are often spent with movie-star friends — or in a hospital. The logistics behind his stunts are fascinating; his injuries horrific. Yet Needham recounts it all with astonishing nonchalance.

"The explosion blew the car thirty feet into the air," he writes of one stunt. "When I opened my eyes in midflight, I was upside down and going backward. I knew this wasn't going as planned."

Really? You don't say. Stuntman! can give you whiplash. There doesn't seem to be a single daredevil activity that Needham hasn't tried. As you read, you share in his adrenaline rush — even as he shrugs it off.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

An Autobiography

by Rob Lowe

Hardcover, 308 pages, Henry Holt & Co, $26, published April 26 2011 | purchase
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  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends
  • An Autobiography
  • Rob Lowe

For years, actor Rob Lowe was labeled a pretty boy and a Brat Packer. But his autobiography reads more like Forrest Gump. The book starts with Lowe, as a young movie star, meeting John F. Kennedy Jr. Yet even before he's famous, Lowe seems to land in all sorts of pivotal moments in pop culture history.

After moving to Malibu as a kid, he finds himself hanging out with fellow wannabe actors Sean Penn, Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, (whose father, Martin, was just back from the set of Apocalypse Now.) He sees Charlie's Angels taped at his local school, talks to John Belushi at a party, and meets LeVar Burton just before Roots airs. He shares french fries with a 15-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker. Some relatives who work in special effects take him to see a "cheesy Western" they're filming. Its title? Star Wars.

All of this before he's 16. Since then, Lowe has closely encountered much of Hollywood — and he writes about it astutely. He manages to frame his own story within a greater cultural context — commenting on the times, how his industry has changed, and the nuts and bolts of being a celebrity. The result is an intelligent "insider's guide" to Hollywood — and a pleasurable one, at that.

Author Susan Jane Gilman has written two memoirs herself, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Although her work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Ms., she does not recommend it as a career. She urges aspiring writers to consider becoming process servers, bartenders or taxidermists instead.

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