I’ve been a huge fan of Sara Bareilles since “Love Song” came out back in 2007. After following her for nearly a decade, I was thrilled when she announced her first book, a collection of eight essays called Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song. The book came out in October 2015, and, like the obsessive fan I am, I bought it that same day. I then proceeded to read the entire book in one sitting — something I never do; it usually takes me at least a few days! Needless to say, I loved it.
In the more than five years since then, my love for Sara and her music has actually grown. Because of that, I’ve been wanting to reread her book. This time, though, I decided to listen to Sara herself narrate it in the audiobook version. I also read along with the book’s fall 2019 rerelease in paperback, which includes some bonus content.
My first reread of 2021, Sounds Like Me was just as glorious as the first time I read it… maybe even more so.
Sara Bareilles divides Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song into eight essays, each named after one of her songs. Each one captures a particular time in her life, or a certain theme that has defined her. From growing up in northern California in the 1980s and 1990s to studying abroad in Italy, from uncovering her passion and talent for songwriting to her ascension in the pop music world, we get an intimate, honest look into Sara’s heart. More than an autobiography, Sounds Like Me is a snapshot of the woman behind the music, in all her joys and insecurities and triumphs. It’s a perfect treat for anyone who’s a fan of Sara’s music, but it’s also illuminating for anyone who wants to better understand the music industry, the practice of self-love, or what it means to grow into yourself.
Original Image & Paperback Cover
When I first read Sounds Like Me in 2015, I instantly connected with the format Sara chose. As a longtime fan of her music, seeing some of her beloved song titles as chapter themes couched the book a warm familiarity. This book isn’t completely “uncharted” (get it?) territory; rather, it feels like a curtain being pulled aside so we can learn where those songs came from.
The first chapter is “Once Upon Another Time,” a title taken from the opening track on her 2012 EP of the same name. Sara’s story begins in Eureka, California, a small town surrounded by redwoods and open space. Sara candidly paints an image of her childhood, from her tight-knit family to their shared love of musical theater. But she also describes her early struggle with weight and the bullying she experienced because of it. Though it led her to develop a sharp sense of humor — something charmingly on display throughout Sounds Like Me — it also played a major role in her ongoing issues with self-image.
At once, Sara is relatable and open. It feels like she’s sitting down with a close friend, telling us her story and innermost secrets. She’s funny but fragile, filled with deep emotions and a reflective personality. Sara feels so real, and her personality shines through as fully as it does in her songs.
Sara reveals the true inspiration behind acclaimed songs like “Gravity” and “Love Song,” both of which are not as straight-forward as they may seem. While they stem from very different experiences (a romantic breakup and songwriting struggles, respectively), both also hint at Sara’s sensitivity and search for deeper connection. In relationships and in music, Sara unveils a person who is delicate but resilient. Later on, “Brave” gets its origin tale, from a rare songwriting collaboration (in this case, with Jack Antonoff) and inspiration drawn from a friend struggling to come out.
One chapter is formatted differently than any other: “Beautiful Girl” is written as a series of letters to Sara’s younger selves. She candidly talks to a Sara in middle school who is bullied, a teenaged Sara discovering love and alcohol for the first time, college-aged Sara dealing with mental health issues, Sara when she first signed her record contract, Sara on tour years later, even Sara as she writes Sounds Like Me. Each letter identifies a personal struggle Sara faced in the past, her unpolished coping mechanisms, her fragility… but they also offer hope and encouragement. As many challenges as Sara has faced, she’s still here, stronger and wiser than ever. It’s a heartbreaking chapter — I teared up! — but it’s also so heartwarming.
Another chapter that I particularly loved is “Red,” itself taken from a live song on Sara’s independent album, Careful Confessions. Sara describes her life-changing experience of studying abroad in Italy for one year during college. I, too, studied abroad: I spent one quarter of my junior year in León, Spain, and then the full year of my master’s in Valencia, Spain. So I felt a personal connection with Sara’s experiences as a student in a foreign country. For example, living day-to-day life in another language is a major challenge, and it truly does feel like a huge chunk of your personality simply can’t be translated (at least, not with such limited proficiency in that language). In Sara’s case, life in Italy changed her perception of herself and made her realize just how important writing and music were to her as a person. It’s another heart-wrenching but ultimately inspirational chapter.
Throughout Sounds Like Me, Sara is remarkably open and honest. She lets readers into her ongoing struggle with depression and anxiety, her recurring issues with body image and self-doubt, the often difficult creative process as a professional musician. But rather than feeling heavy, this book feels cathartic, warm, and sweet. Sara is a wonderful writer — not just of songs, but also in the prose format of a book. She’s also genuinely kind and wickedly funny. This book captures her personality in such a special way, and I love that it stays so close to the music the defines her.
The Audiobook’s Unique Merits
In regards to the audiobook version of Sounds Like Me, which is narrated by Sara Bareilles herself, that personality shines through even louder and clearer. She has a soothing speaking voice, and it’s fun to hear her overly affected tone when she reads out her jokes and sarcastic remarks.
Perhaps the best thing about the audiobook, though, is that Sara sings each of the chapter’s songs a cappella. Every chapter opens with the partial lyrics for the corresponding song, and here, Sara actually sings them. With no accompaniment or extra effects. Music fans like me can never have too many versions of a song, and it’s a real treat to hear these unique renditions of Sara’s songs.
The 2019 Rerelease’s Bonus Content
The paperback version of Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song includes a bit of bonus content in the last chapter. In the four years between editions, Sara’s musical Waitress has become a Broadway hit, she’s starred in it a few times herself, and she’s entered into a sweet relationship with the actor Joe Tippett.
Notably, this edition of the book ends with one final letter Sara wrote to herself. Since the 2015 publication of Sounds Like Me, Sara again battled with depression and poor body image. Despite her acute awareness of these issues, they continue to return, unfortunately. But in this letter, Sara speaks to the good that’s in her life now, from Joe to all that she’s accomplished in her career so far. It’s a bittersweet letter, one that shows she’s still a human struggling through the grind, but also that she’s continuously growing and finding “more love” (yes, that’s another song reference).
(Also, is it just me, or does this last part hint at the inspiration behind “Someone Who Loves Me,” a track on her 2019 album, Amidst the Chaos? My inner fan is excited about this tidbit.)
I’m a huge fan of Sara Bareilles, her music, and everything else she does. (And she’s expanded into several new roles lately, including developing a TV show and acting in another one.) Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song is a delightful read for anyone who’s a fan of Sara, but it’s also something that everyone can enjoy and learn from. The audiobook may be the best way to experience the book, but physical copies include tons of sweet photos from throughout Sara’s life, so my advice is to actually get both.
I would be thrilled if Sara ever wrote another book like this one. But even if she doesn’t, reading Sounds Like Me has given me a deeper understanding of her, and that carries over to my appreciation of her other projects, from music to theater to television.
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