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.
“It began with a death in the family. My Uncle Ed, the most debonair of the clan, a popular guest of the Gentile social clubs despite being Jewish, had succumbed at age ninety-five with a half glass of Johnnie Walker on his bedside table.”
From the time she was 5 years old, Deborah Voigt was singing with all her heart, joyously belting out hymns like "His Eye is on the Sparrow" in church. In this sanctuary of spiritual sweetness, she discovered her tremendous vocal gift, as well as her love of performing for an attentive crowd. By the time she was a teenager, music possessed Voigt; she was immersed in piano lessons, singing Broadway tunes and eventually discovering and tuning into the pop music of Bobby Sherman and Donny Osmond. It was the voice of Karen Carpenter, however, who helped her realize she could have a career in music, and the voice of God, who told her, "you are here to sing" one morning and propelled her on the path to becoming an acclaimed operatic soprano.
Alexandra Fuller’s hardscrabble African lyricism returns in her third memoir, which focuses on the push-pull of her marriage to American adventurer Charlie Ross. Although much of Leaving Before the Rains Come is set in Wyoming, where Fuller settles uncomfortably into American domesticity, her war-torn childhood in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the drunken pragmatism of her parents continue to shape her worldview.