Six Illuminating Memoirs I've Read This Year
01 Leaving the Witness
In Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life, Amber Scorah takes the reader into her confidences and lays bare her sheltered experiences, religious indoctrination, societal and gender pressures, hearty evangelism, and her eventual questioning and subsequent freezing out from the Jehovah’s Witnesses—which meant she was cut off permanently from almost everyone she knew.
Scorah retraces her steps from being a covert, illegal proselytizer in Shanghai through the implosion of her marriage and her realization that she is stranded--without her husband, without formal education, and without her faith any longer--and therefore really without any framework at all.
She’s thoughtful and helps readers track her mindset as she moves from control to freedom and how jarring and cruel and wonderful and odd a “worldly” life can be. I'm intrigued by stories of those who have left constricting faith systems. Scorah tells a fascinating personal story of growth and fear and change.
02 The Unexpected Spy
I love a peek at a secret world, and in The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World's Most Notorious Terrorists, Tracy Walder offers fascinating glimpses of her life as a CIA and an FBI agent, including training details, political machinations, and significant and rankling discrimination.
Walder explores her own glowing pride in doing her job well and protecting others from danger—even when anyone without security clearance remains necessarily ignorant of the invaluable nature of the work and the imminent dangers she and her fellow agents manage to help our country avoid. Her evolution as a person and transition into her current profession was satisfying to witness as well.
St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley provided me with an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
For my full review of this book, see The Unexpected Spy.
03 The Unwinding of the Miracle
Wow. Julie Yip-Williams is a beautiful writer who is so smart, reflects deeply, and candidly shares the many heartbreaking aspects of facing her own imminent death from metastatic colorectal cancer. This book serves as her powerful farewell to her family but also holds meaning for anyone considering the way they live and how they might choose to face their own mortality.
I feel like a meditation on dying is a heartbreakingly beautiful way to consider how we live our lives and a poignant reminder of what makes our one life so special. That said, I have a tough time reading memoirs in which someone is fighting cancer, and this one may not be everyone's cup of tea.
For my full review of The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After, click here.
04 Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
This book really hit the spot for me. I was going to be happy with a light, surface-level look at therapy and the ins and outs of a therapist's providing and receiving therapy. But the book quickly grows into a network of sometimes interconnected and consistently meaningful searches for purpose and peace.
This book was so much more meaningful than I had counted on. Gottlieb was honest about her own situation and showed herself to be wonderfully faulted, and she also delved into the details of others' struggles and journeys and joys.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed offers a beautiful exploration of dying, death, appreciating the beauty of the impermanence of our lives, planning for loved ones after our death, and living life fully. For my full review, please see Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.
05 Know My Name
Chanel Miller is a beautiful, powerful writer with clear and sophisticated arguments and with a compelling identity that is separate from the pivotal attack that led to her being in the spotlight. She also has a strong, passionate grasp of widely experienced inequalities—and ideas of how to chip away at some of the injustices and faulty norms that should be excised from society.
I began reading Know My Name because I thought I should, not because I wanted to. Miller surprised me with the delicately balanced tone she was able to strike, her passionate belief in right and wrong, her emotional reactions to her situation, and her measured arguments and calm determination. I was fascinated by her.
Now I'd like Miller to write more books about varied topics, because I like spending time in her head.
06 Open Book
In Open Book, Jessica Simpson explores her life, her ups and downs, her drinking-related missteps, and her failed loves. She tracks her scrappy and determined rise to stardom, her religious faith, her reliance on and love for her friends, her deep familial attachments and conflicts, and her path to therapy, sobriety, and a happy marriage and parenthood. I've liked JS since Newlyweds, and she takes us back to the show here too.
At times there is some silliness and some superficial focus, but I felt as though Simpson was laying it all on the table and going through some real self-examination.
Interestingly, she spends a lot more page time on John Mayer than Nick Lachey—and provides what ultimately amounts to a takedown of Mayer that explores his extensive emotional manipulation, his elaborate interview accounts of his sexual escapades with her and others, and, incredibly and most damningly, his use of the N-word during an interview. #memoir, #fourstarbookreview, #openbook
What are the most interesting memoirs you've read recently? I do enjoy a celebrity memoir if it feels like an honest examination and doesn't have too much ego coloring the author's version of events. But I'm also drawn to the life stories of everyday people--especially when they find their lives shaped by extraordinary circumstances.