In Pursuit of Disobedient Women
From a journalist’s perspective, the opportunity to spearhead the New York Times’s coverage of 25 West and Central African countries—and tell stories like those of the schoolgirls who Boko Haram extremists kidnapped in Nigeria in 2014—was the chance of a lifetime. For Dionne Searcey, also the married mother of three young children, it was a move that could have serious repercussions for the people she loved. Her account of the women she met in the course of her work, and the way her own professional and personal roles changed while pursuing it, is unforgettable.
Glennon Doyle knows a thing or two about living in a spotlight. After conquering the internet as an unusually forthcoming “Christian mommy blogger,” she published two smash-hit books that laid even more of her life’s evolution (and the crisis hiding in her marriage) bare. Untamed offers Doyle in the broken pieces of that spotlight: this is the story of how she learned to fight for the authentic new life and new love she realized she’d been leaving in the dark all along.
Young Heroes of the Soviet Union
Halberstadt’s family ties to the Soviet Union—where his grandfather was one of Stalin’s bodyguards (and a double agent), his grandmother designed couture for the elite, his mother survived the Lithuanian genocide, and his estranged father embraced taboo Western culture—almost sound fictional: “some days [they] seem unbelievable to me, too,” he’s said. In a series of intimate confrontations with the people and places he left behind as a 10-year-old who immigrated from the USSR to Queens, he demonstrates how easily trauma spans borders and generations.
Live in Love
When your life is the literal stuff of country songs (not the kind where you lose your sweetheart, your truck, and your dog in one fell swoop, but the kind you’d play as the first dance at a wedding), your happy ending writes itself, right? Well, yes and no. Lauren Akins shares the sweet side of marrying her childhood best friend (who grew up to be Nashville superstar Thomas Rhett), but she also reveals just how hard she works to be part of a so-called “perfect couple.” This is the story behind that music.
What We Carry
Maya Shanbhag Lang
It’s no secret that a brilliant parent can cast a long shadow over her child. In What We Carry, Maya Shanbhag Lang’s mother becomes conspicuous in absence: once a doctor who seemed to balance home and family with an acrobat’s ease, she begins to disappear from her daughter’s life as Alzheimer’s takes hold. Somewhere between raising her own child and struggling to catch the woman who raised her, Lang finds herself.
I've Seen the End of You
W. Lee Warren, M.D.
Brain surgeons don’t see patients at frivolous points in their lives, and by the time W. Lee Warren meets the people in his care, he’s well aware of the heartbreaking ways in which their stories will conclude. But those conclusions are God’s plan, he reasoned. Then his own son died at 19, and he realized that he knew far less—and needed more help—than he thought.
I Want You to Know We're Still Here
Esther Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated offers a fictionalized history of the Polish shtetl where his grandfather was born, and his search for what survived its destruction during the Holocaust. His mother’s memoir introduces family members they hadn’t even known they’d lost. “History,” she writes, “is the end of something. Memory is the beginning of something.”
Rana el Kaliouby
As a Middle Eastern STEM pioneer, Rana el Kaliouby has pushed far beyond the boundaries of what’s expected from a “nice Egyptian girl.” A cofounder of an emotion-measurement technology company, she’s made it her life’s work to crack the subtle ways we relate to each other—and to reject the ways technology makes us strangers. That process begins, and ends, with her honoring her own capability for empathy.
Eat a Peach
It will come as no surprise to fans of David Chang’s down-and-dirty, deliciously unconventional Momofuku empire that his own story is hot and messy in the best possible way. Has he always, or ever, known what he was doing? Maybe not. Is following him through the tale of how he white-knuckled through his external and self-imposed limitations and became a five-time James Beard Award–winner and household name fun as hell? Yes, yes it is.
Imagine an object from deep space burning through the troposphere and smashing into a…diary. That’ll give you a framework for My Meteorite, a wild, critical, and personal work that ignores chronology and conventional structure in favor of Dodge’s fragmented and sometimes proudly uncorrected account of his relationships with his parents, his family life with Maggie Nelson (whose version of their union became The Argonauts), and much, much more. There is an actual meteorite. Things get even more cosmic from there.
Readers have a habit of conflating Stephanie Danler with the ambiguous heroine-of-many-appetites at the center of her bestselling novel, Sweetbitter. She’s actually a woman with a painful origin story, one that begins to draw her from New York back to southern California to confront family damage she thought she’d left behind—and to leave it behind with intention. Stray is abandonment as an act of hope.
Brother & Sister
Diane Keaton’s younger brother, Randy—like her, now in his 70s—is a genius (according to their mother), afflicted with serious mental illness (according to a medical professional), and “an inexplicable burden” to his sister in childhood. He’s now dying, and she’s resolved to give him the love and attention she couldn’t spare as “[her] life got busier while his got smaller and more difficult.” She admits that she’s never had a clear understanding of how her troubled sibling experiences the world. In a delicate project that combines her memories with artifacts from his life and their relationship, she gives herself one more chance to understand and experience him.
The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness
The psychological treatment and literal lack of medical treatment that Sarah Ramey received when she began to suffer from mysterious health issues is infuriating. Her account of the caretakers who condescended to what they perceived as her hypochondria is also a literary form of care, as she’s committed to empowering other female patients to push past dismissals like the ones that made her life hell. This is a witty page-turner, but make no mistake: it’s also a call to arms.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me is not exactly a memoir: Bess Kalb’s beloved grandmother, Bobby, is no longer with her in the strictest sense. That said, Bess took Bobby’s life lessons so seriously—and loved her so hard—that she’s able to channel her in a volume of wisdom that brings her back to life. “If the earth is cracking behind you, put one foot in front of the other. Never. Buy. Fake. Anything. I swear on your life every word of this is true.” Message received, Bobby.
Wow, No Thank You.
It would be understandable to wonder if a stable partnership, conventional success, and domesticity would compromise Samantha Irby’s ability to write irascible screeds that tend to make her readers snort-laugh in awkward public settings. Fear not, Team Irby: her “new” life is also fair game for her inimitable snark, and she remains a “cheese-fry eating slightly damp Midwestern person.” Hear, hear!
Recollections of My Nonexistence
Decades before she called mansplaining by its name, Rebecca Solnit fought to develop and articulate her feminist artistic identity in a world that was much more comfortable threatening and underestimating her. Her memoir celebrates the communities who supported her, as well as her writing practice, which gave her a framework to attack the conventions that tempted her to settle for invisibility.
Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls
Nina Renata Aron
It’s easy to criticize and dismiss a codependent relationship when you’re beyond its borders. Nina Renata Aron, on the other hand, was too close to K, the addict she loved, to bring their effects on one another into focus. She frames her account of her own obsessive love with an exploration of the history of the temperance movement (and support groups like Al-Anon) to what experts now know about how substances gain control over individuals and families.
Susan Burton uses the storytelling skills she’s honed editing others’ origins for This American Life to make a very personal revelation: since her parents divorced and upended her life in her early teens, she’s felt most comfortable making herself an actual void. The cycle of binge-eating and anorexia that began in those turbulent years maintained its hold on her for three decades. Empty is a rare and much-needed account of the root of her compulsion and how she’s come to understand it.
Uber’s CEO resigned in 2017 after Susan Fowler published an explosive account of the horrific treatment she experienced and witnessed there as a young software engineer. Heralded as one of the initiators of the #MeToo movement and celebrated as a truth-teller, she was also hacked, defamed, and threatened with violence. Does she sometimes wish she’d remained silent? Yes, she admits. But “despite all of this,” she’s written, “shining a light in the darkness is the right thing to do. In some cases, like my own, it is the only way to leave the world better than you found it.”
Always Home: A Daughter's Recipes & Stories
It would be downright painful to read the story of growing up as Alice Waters’s daughter without having some way to recreate the exquisite domesticity Fanny Singer describes. Luckily, the memoirist seasons her feast of stories with actual instructions for those culinary wonders. Like the celebrity chef and restaurateur who bore her, Singer has a knack for honoring how food prepared just so strengthens bonds between the people who gather around it.
The Undocumented Americans
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
From some angles, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio has realized the American dream; she was, literally, one of the first DREAMers to graduate from Harvard, and she’s enjoyed significant professional success in the years since. She’s also feared for her parents, still vulnerable to deportation; watched her own taxes fund the unspeakable treatment of children like she once was; and, for over a year, made it her mission to hammer home the humanity of her adopted country’s immigrants. “Our entire lives have been spent trying to deserve America,” she wrote in Vogue. “America needs to earn us, too.”
Eilene Zimmerman began to notice an ominous change in her ex. Though his life still had the look of material success, he looked terribly ill—and their two children reported that he was getting worse. She realized, too late, that he had secret and fatal addictions. Smacked is her effort to shed light on the soul-shredding culture that contributed to his death and to make sense of her own family’s life in the absence of the man who fell out of it.
No one really believed the fabulous Grace Jones when she sang “I’ll never write my memoirs” in 1981—or was surprised when the lyric became the title of her splashy 2015 memoir. After a boom in the ’90s spurred by authors like Elizabeth Wurtzel and Mary Karr, memoir has galloped on to become what many industry mavens predict will be the dominant literary form of the century. Michelle Obama’s Becoming took just 15 days to become the bestselling hardcover book of 2018.
That’s a cause for celebration in some circles and the basis of backlash in others. When selfie-seeking museumgoers topple priceless works of art, is more self-display what we need?
Our answer to that question comes in 22 parts. It’s safe to say that no one needs to know what anyone else had for breakfast (sorry, Instagram). It’s also nearly impossible to consider personal stories like these without experiencing a sense of awe: at our best—and sometimes at our worst—we have so very much to teach each other.
Featured Image: Kevon Nicholas