It’s rare that a memoir is so emotionally engaging that a reader may wish to reach back through time and envelop the author in a warm parental hug. But that’s the impulse poet Tracy K. Smith engenders in this account of growing up as a dutiful daughter in a small town in northern California during the 1970s and ’80s. “My mother was proud of my decorum,” Smith recalls. “She liked having a little girl who instinctively wanted to obey.” Smith was much more than a compliant child, though. She was also preternaturally attuned to everything happening around her and determined to find a place for it in her rich imagination.
Both born in 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth could have been classmates in school. It’s easy to imagine Eleanor sitting up front (or even helping teach the class) and Alice occupying a back-row spot, launching spitballs and making wisecracks.
Stephen King called Abigail Thomas’ memoir A Three Dog Life “the best memoir I have ever read,” and Thomas has another winner with her latest, What Comes Next and How to Like It.
You don’t have to be an expert on Chinese proverbs to discern what might happen when an egg meets a stone, but you will understand much more about modern China and its struggling people when you meet this fearless egg: Chen Guangcheng, the narrator of the riveting memoir The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China. Born in 1971, blind since infancy, growing up in dire poverty, Chen learns to escape all his constraints. Barred from the village school and its force-fed propaganda, Chen instead learns from his father that the folktales and myths of his homeland carry a message: As surely as empires will rise, corruption will bring them down. Justice must find its way.
At this moment on the other side of the world, a girl is sitting in the dark. A rare skin disease prevents exposure to the sun, to a shining bulb, even to the benign glow of a Kindle screen. She covers up the slightest cracks of light with tin foil. What do people who pass her house on the street think of these ceaseless black-out blinds, she wonders. She doesn't find out.
George Hodgman had defined himself by his work as an editor in New York City. Newly out of a job, he returns home to small-town Paris, Missouri, and discovers that his mother, Betty, is in need of full-time care. Their affection and shared humor dance around the unspoken; Hodgman is gay, a fact his parents never acknowledged.
Kim Gordon’s memoir, Girl in a Band, begins and ends with two seminal gigs, the final Sonic Youth concert in 2011 that also marked the end of her marriage to front man Thurston Moore and last year’s induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Gordon was invited to sing with the remaining members of Nirvana. These experiences, each cathartic in their own way and each described in Gordon’s carefully crafted but emotionally frank language, set the tone for this remarkable book, one that is passionate without self-pity, revealing but not gossipy and never smug. Gordon’s honesty provides a remarkable window into a personality often regarded as the Queen of Cool but who here shows herself to be as sensitive as she is fearless.
In St. Augustine’s Confessions (one of the first spiritual memoirs), he famously prayed “Lord, make me good, but not yet.” In his powerful, visceral new memoir, celebrity journalist Kevin Sessums, like a modern St. Augustine, testifies to the life-threatening pull between carnality and spirituality in his own life.
When Mimi Baird was 6 years old, her father, prominent Boston dermatologist Perry Baird, didn’t come home. In that moment, Baird effectively disappeared forever from his daughter’s life, for her mother told her only that he was “away.” Baird saw her father once in the 15 years between his disappearance and his death in 1959.
Photojournalist Lynsey Addario has reported for the New York Times and other media from the frontlines in the war on terror and the Arab Spring. In her vivid memoir, It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War, Addario shows what it’s like to put oneself in danger in search of images to help the world understand life in a war zone.