I’ve long known that it’s not a good idea to scroll through my phone before bed. (I think I read that somewhere on the internet, while scrolling through my phone before bed.) While in the past I’ve been able to convince myself it’s not that bad, that it is possible to soothe yourself to sleep while flipping through Instagram stories and Facebook mom groups, these days, it really does feel that bad.
As my colleague Lior Zaltzman wrote last week, social media is a pretty terrible place to be right now. Just opening any given app can immediately spike my heart rate — and whether it’s seeing gruesome images and death tolls or callous statements that erase entire people’s humanity, it’s not exactly the stuff of lullabies.
So for the past week, instead of getting under the covers and starting to scroll, I’ve turned to a different sleep aid: Barbra Streisand.
More specifically, I am talking about the audiobook version of “My Name Is Barbra,” the multi-hyphenate star’s new memoir, read by Babs herself over the course of 48 hours.
For those who missed the big news, Spotify recently gave free access to tens of thousands of audiobooks to premium subscribers, allowing users to listen to up to 15 hours a month. That means that in just four months, I can listen to the entire storied life of one Barbra Joan Streisand, starting with her not-exactly-idyllic childhood in Brooklyn to her rise in fame — from “Funny Girl” and “Yentl” to her life with James Brolin and (I have to assume, I haven’t gotten that far yet) her cloned dogs.
While I am sure it’s a joy to read a physical copy of the book, the experience of hearing Babs herself talk us through her life feels like an immense privilege. Her accent, the way she hems and haws, the lilting way she tells a joke — pressing play on this audiobook is most likely the closest I’ll ever get to hanging out with Barbra Streisand. And I’ve realized that, the more I listen, she becomes less the idea of Barbra Streisand, the diva, and more human, more relatable — and more Jewish.
Like when she describes being in her first play, and wondering if the other actors were looking at her funny because she was standing in the back of the room, eating cottage cheese straight out of the container (I mean, probably, Babs, yeah). Or how she talks about the cinnamon cookies she ate during Hanukkah every year. Or how she attributes the fact that she can write backwards to learning to read Hebrew from right to left while attending a yeshiva. Or how she really, really hated going to Jewish summer camp. Or just anytime she name-drops anyone from her old neighborhood and it sounds like the most Jewish name in existence.
As a review in the New Yorker put it, “Sometimes she sounds like a tired bubbe, sometimes a grand dame.” But always she sounds like herself: fierce and feminist from an early age, always questioning and bucking tradition, always wanting more.
Hers is the perfect voice to listen to at the end of a long day, like your own grandmother reading you precious stories. It’s a new bedtime routine I’ve even got my husband looking forward to each night. We’ve got about 40 hours to go — here’s hoping that by the time we finish listening, she’s written a sequel.