Six of My Favorite Memoir Reads Last Year
Six Favorite Memoir Reads
The Bossy memoir love continues!
I've been posting roundups of my favorite reads from last year by genre. I recently posted about Six of My Favorite Fiction Reads Last Year, Six Four-Star Mystery Reads I Loved Last Year, Six More Four-Star Mysteries I Loved Last Year, Six Four-Star Historical Fiction Reads I Loved Last Year, and Six Four-Star (And Up) Science Fiction Reads I Loved Last Year.
You can check out My Very Favorite Bossy 2022 Reads for my overall favorite reads from last year.
Now I offer you six of my favorite memoirish reads from last year. Not every title fits neatly in this category; one is a grandmother's story as told by a granddaughter, and David Sedaris's book includes essays but also a big chunk of memoir.
Two other books I loved that could have possibly been included on this list were Amy Bloom's heartbreaking In Love (one of my favorite reads of last year overall) and Elizabeth McCracken's The Hero of This Book (altbough McCracken asserts that this is not a memoir, but fiction).
If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
I'd also love to hear about some of your favorite memoir reads. Did you read any favorite memoirs last year or have you read any new favorites this year?
01 Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad
Jaouad offers a powerful memoir about coping with leukemia and facing mortality, with thoughtful introspection and a road-trip journey.
Suleika Jaouad had just graduated from college to pursue her career dreams of becoming a journalist. She was in love, she was living in Paris, and her future was bright.
But she developed a strange itch in her foot. Then she began to feel fatigue she just couldn't shake, no matter how many hours-long naps she fell into. After long months of mystery and suffering, she received a diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia and a rare blood disorder, myelodysplastic syndrome.
Jaouad spent four years constantly fearing for her life; undergoing various procedures; living with intense pain; experiencing extreme lows, moments of desperate hope, and a few highs; choosing to end her long-term relationship, and writing a New York Times column about her experience. She emerged from spending years with her head down, fighting to survive, to realize that she needed to figure out how she wanted to live the rest of her days.
Along with her adopted mutt Oscar, Jaouad embarked on a 100-day, 15,000-mile trip around the perimeter of the United States, visiting many of the people--until then, strangers--who had written to her during her cancer fight.
The vast majority of page time is spent on Suleika's struggle with her physical disease. She offers hard-won insights and a rollercoaster of feelings and the desire to be independent even as she is irritatingly, deeply reliant upon the kindness and care she receives from family and friends.
Click here for my full review of Between Two Kingdoms.
02 You Can't Be Serious by Kal Penn
Penn's thoughtful memoir explores serious issues yet also made me laugh out loud. You Can't Be Serious is both thoughtful and playful, and I loved the audiobook.
Kal Penn's smart, fun You Can't Be Serious explores his early struggles to make it in Hollywood as he straddles humorous roles and dramatic opportunities; attempts to deflect racism from casting heads and writers; and digs in to try to be one of what he hopes will be an ever-increasing number of diverse faces on television and movie screens.
He takes the reader through his discovery of his passion for acting, his immigrant parents' early, practical resistance (they urge him, "at least get a real estate license"), the various early road bumps he encountered, and his dogged determination--which was admittedly shaken after landing very few and consistently stereotypical roles.
Penn pulls his memoir into another gear when he adds the fascinating layer of accidental political activism that becomes a passion and, ultimately, a career, one for which he takes a sabbatical from his steady acting job at the time, his role on House.
I laughed out loud multiple times; Kal is funny without trying too hard, and his tone is accessible even as he takes the reader deep into worlds most won't have experience with, Hollywood and the White House.
Click here for my full review of You Can't Be Serious.
03 Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono
Thoughtful, self-deprecating, earnest, and honest, Surrender is a captivating peek into the four decades (and counting) of U2. Bono explores his faith, family, loyalty, musical inspirations, and important activism efforts.
I prefer listening to my memoirs read by the author, and I loved hearing U2's songwriter and lead singer Bono take us through the stumbles, pain, joy, and faith that have inspired his music and shaped his life.
From treasuring friends he's had since childhood (one of whom was the inspiration for the song "Bad"), to exploring "growing up in Ireland in the seventies with my fists up (musically speaking)"; from digging into the difficult relationship with his father to sharing how he attempted to cope with the loss of his mother decades after the fact, Bono's Surrender is beautifully honest, self-deprecating, and fascinating.
Details of Bono's activism make up much of the second half of the book. He is interested in the potential power of his celebrity to do good, in learning about worthwhile issues without ego, and in being actively involved in improving the lives of others around the world.
For my full review (and for links to other musicians' memoirs I've loved), check out Surrender.
04 Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris
In and among Sedaris's oddball, incisive, skewering observations are poignant, funny, heartfelt, complicated moments from his personal life that add heart to the dark humor in this collection of essays.
I like to listen to my David Sedaris books, and I listened to his newest, Happy-Go-Lucky--his first book of new essays since Calypso--as an audiobook as well.
Here, Sedaris shares offbeat moments from living in Paris and Sussex, reflects on living in New York City during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and, as always, pokes fun at himself and hilariously skewers others for various affronts.
In and among these scenes, Sedaris shares strange, sweet, funny, pivotal moments with each of his living sisters, discusses his sister Tiffany, who died of suicide, and faces the decline of his nonagenarian father, with whom he has always had a complicated relationship.
I love to laugh at Sedaris's darkly funny reflections about the world and society--and at his recognition of his own absurdities, strongly held views, and exacting expectations.
But what offer depth to his work, and Happy-Go-Lucky is no exception, are Sedaris's unflinching observations of moments in time, desperate scenes, and emotionally charged issues in all of their gritty, messy, poignant, and sometimes hilarious glory. He takes the reader on a roller coaster of emotions, and I love every bit of it.
For my full review, check out Happy-Go-Lucky.
05 I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
Former child actress McCurdy's account of her mother's narcissistic, harmful, abusive behavior and how it has shaped the author's life is disturbing, yet McCurdy's tone is wry and appealing in its brutal honesty.
Jennette became a child actress at 6 in order to please her mother, pushing down her own anxiety and disinclination to be the center of attention--and eventually committing to her mother's idea of "calorie restriction," which started McCurdy on a path of constant struggling with food and eating disorders that lasted decades.
Her mother's volatile emotions; upsetting and controlling actions; pushy manner; mental, emotional, and physical abuse; and disturbing codependence with her young daughter make for an uncomfortable read.
Yet McCurdy is witty, often funny, and candid. She doesn't add drama to the often shocking and horrifying revelations she presents to the reader. She's most often matter-of-fact, because while she now has the benefit of age and increased wisdom, therapy and perspective, and distance from the situation, the various methods of constant abuse and control her mother exerted over her until her death were McCurdy's everyday life; for McCurdy, all of this was an unhappy but normal set of circumstances.
Click here for my full review of I'm Glad My Mom Died.
06 Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (As Told to Me) Story by Bess Kalb
This is an irresistible tribute to Kalb's funny, opinionated, fiercely loving grandmother--a granddaughter's best friend and a wise and formidable character.
The author saved every one of her grandmother's voicemails, and here she uses them--along with emails, letters, vividly recalled conversations, and her grandma Bobby's imagined thoughts from beyond the grave--to construct a picture of a formidable, tough-love, fiercely protective matriarch in Bobby Bell.
Through Bell's voice we also learn what has shaped the other women of the family: we hear rich stories of Bell's own mother--who fled Belarus in her youth--and her hardships and determination; and we glimpse the difficult relationship between Bobby and her daughter (Kalb's mother) and how it affected each woman's life trajectory.
Bobby's recounted memories don't paint her as anything close to a saint; she recounts the evidence of her faults as passionately as the recollections of her life's triumphs--many of which center around having made Bess feel safe and happy and seen.
This is a heartwarming, funny, poignant, sassy tribute to a life fully lived and to a determination love freely, deliberately, and unwaveringly. It made me laugh out loud and brought me to tears. I just adored this gem.
Click here for my full review of Nobody Will Tell You This But Me.