Maybe it’s the fact that we’re reading about an actual person — not a character — that makes memoir so engrossing. Perhaps it’s that memoir lets us inhabit someone else’s mind during their most important, insightful, and often painful moments of realization or discovery. We get to see how they came out on the other side.
Whether they’re allowing us to find community in stories that mirror our own or inviting us to walk into a world very different from what we know, the best autobiographical narratives help us see the world a little more clearly through someone else’s eyes. If you’re looking to read more memoir, this is a great season for it. Here are five new ones, compiled by Keltie and Mary Laura:
Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family
Twelve unidentifiable men stare out from the cover. We don’t know at the outset who they are or how they fit into Mitchell Jackson’s story — a poetic memoir about his struggle to make it to adulthood in Portland, Oregon in the ’80s and ’90s, in a world of gangs, drugs, and hustle. We learn that these cover portraits are his family. By blood or choice, from generations back to present day, these faces belong to his antecedents, his father-figures, his cousin-brothers, and his lost comrades. Each one helped him learn the tricky calculus of survival math: how to get by, play the system, use his smarts, use women, and, always “take the fast ten over the slow twenty.” Then he took all of that history and quit the game for a shot at redemption. Sometimes you read a memoir because you think you’ll find it relatable. Sometimes you can’t imagine finding it relatable but you read it because you judged a book by its cover and that bet paid off. Either way, give this one a chance.
Once More We Saw Stars
It’s hard not to pick up Greene’s memoir about the accidental death of his toddler daughter without wincing and thinking, “This is going to hurt.” Within just a few pages, however, it’s clear that this isn’t only a sad story capable of eliciting a good, hard cry (although it is that, too). It’s a meditation on how to forgive yourself, your family, and total strangers, as well as a guide to making plans for the future when the future you’d always envisioned has disappeared in one abruptly tragic instant. Greene writes about deeply personal moments — from excruciating breakdowns to exhilarating new hopes — with remarkable clarity, resulting in a memoir that has expansive emotional range.
Out East: Memoir of a Montauk Summer
John Glynn was a lonely 27-year-old junior editor at a big New York publishing house when he met a group of fellow young professionals who invited him to share their Montauk beach rental. What unfolded over that string of summer weekends was not only Glynn’s growth as a friend and an adult, but a surprising romance that opened Glynn’s eyes to something important about his own identity. In magnificent detail and polished, deliciously easy-to-read prose, Glynn captures what it feels like to be a late bloomer finally blossoming, high on sun and love (and booze in plastic cups). He also challenges the idea that coming-of-age happens only in our teens — and that’s how he turns his own memories into a universally relatable story of reinvention.
All That You Leave Behind
Erin Lee Carr knew the moment that her life became Before and After. It was the day that her father, acclaimed New York Times critic and journalist David Carr collapsed and died on the NYT newsroom floor on an ordinary Thursday. Erin spent the next three years combing through the minutiae of their everyday (and wildly prolific) father-daughter communications: emails, letters, texts, voicemails. She knew she’d inherited her father’s drive and good journalistic eye. She also knew she’d inherited a legacy of addiction and depression. This memoir is her attempt to figure out how the parts fit. While she is trying and succeeding in her career, she is trying and failing in her own recovery from addiction. Some may find this a challenging memoir. Will you like Erin or not? Does it matter?
The Farmer’s Son: Calving Season on a Family Farm
The tradition of the pastoral memoir is long, lilting, and lovely. It takes a brave author to think he has something to add to the wisdom of James Herriot and Wendell Berry. This throughly modern take is something new. John Connell, 29, depressed and broke, returns to his family’s farm in Ireland after a long absence, mostly seeking shelter in a storm and because he lacks a more appealing plan. The book takes place over the course of a few months — January to April: calving season. The narrative is about learning the business and hardness of farming life (getting a distressed calf birthed alive is not a pretty process), and the hardness of mending a long father-son estrangement. Connell also writes beautifully about his depression and the restorative powers of nature, and thoughtfully about the future of family farming in the world. Some traditions, in writing and in life, are meant to be continued.
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Now’s a good time to consult the calendar and make plans. The next several weeks are packed with can’t-miss author visits. All events are here at the bookstore unless otherwise noted:
TONIGHT! May 21, 6:30 p.m. — Tony Horwitz, author of Spying on the South, in conversation with Geraldine Brooks
TOMORROW! May 22, 6:30 p.m. — David Maraniss, author of A Good American Family
May 28, 6:30 p.m. — Henry Carrigan, author of Fifteen Spirituals that Will Change Your Life
May 29, 6:30 p.m. — Michael Knight, author of At Briarwood School for Girls
May 30, 6:30 p.m. — Layng Martine, Jr., author of Permission to Fly
June 2, 2 p.m. — Shannon Bream, author of Finding the Bright Side (*This is a ticketed event. Click here to purchase a ticket.)
June 4, 6:15 p.m. — Salon@615 presents Jill Biden in conversation with Ann Patchett (*This is a ticketed event and will be held at the Blair School of Music. Click here to purchase a ticket.)
June 5, 6:30 p.m. — Megan Griswold, author of The Book of Help
June 6, 6:30 p.m. — Liz Moody, author of Healthier Together: Recipes for Two — Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships, in conversation with McKel Hill and Laura Lea Goldberg
June 8, 2 p.m. — Clay Risen, author of The Crowded Hour: Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and the Dawn of the American Century, in conversation with Jon Meacham (*This event will be held in the Dead Poets Room at Montgomery Bell Academy)
June 8, 6 p.m. — LIT UP: An Evening with Lauren Groff — The fifth annual benefit party for The Porch Writers Collective will feature two-time National Book Award finalist Lauren Groff (Fates and Furies, Florida), plus food, drinks, and entertainment at Corsair Distillery. (For tickets, click here.)
June 9, 2 p.m. — George Wilkerson, author of Driving Nashville
June 10, 6:30 p.m. — Ocean Vuong, author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, in conversation with Jeff Zentner
June 12, 6:30 p.m. — Peter Houlahan, author of Norco’80
June 14, 6:30 p.m. — Patti Callahan Henry, author of The Favorite Daughter
June 17, 6:15 p.m. — Salon@615 presents Elizabeth Gilbert, author of City of Girls (*This is a ticketed event and will be held at Montgomery Bell Academy. Click here to purchase a ticket.)