Christy, Associate Editor

Get ready to place those holds and preoders, because 2022 is full to the brim with new releases from old favorites, such as Tina Brown, David Sedaris, Susan Cain and Philip Gourevitch; irresistible debuts from Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, Erika Krouse and Maud Newton; plus exciting nonfiction releases from fiction masters, such as Amy Bloom, Erika L. Sánchez, Ingrid Rojas Contreras and Kim Stanley Robinson.

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Black Love Matters edited by Jessica P. Pryde
Berkley | February 1

Debut author Pryde is a librarian, podcast host, editor and romance fan who has long been aware of the lack of narratives featuring Black protagonists. For Black Love Matters, she has enlisted a stellar lineup of authors, scholars and critics—including Piper Huguley, Da’Shaun L. Harrison, Allie Parker and Carole V. Bell—to share their perspectives on Black love and desire, especially the ways they’re portrayed in media. It promises to be a paradigm-shifting collection that will fundamentally change how readers engage with love stories.

In the Shadow of the Mountain by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado
Holt | February 1

You may know Vasquez-Lavado as the first Peruvian woman to ascend Mt. Everest; or the first gay woman to climb the tallest mountain on every continent; or the entrepreneur behind Courageous Girls, a nonprofit organization that helps young women recover from abuse. You probably don’t know her as an inspiring author, but that will change this February. In Vasquez-Lavado’s debut memoir, the narrative of her life—from horrific sexual abuse to immigration and professional success in San Francisco—beautifully mirrors her arduous but rewarding trip up each mountain. It’s a testament to the power of high altitudes to help heal trauma, and a pretty great story to boot. Even Selena Gomez seems to think so, since she’s already signed on to star in and produce a film adaptation of Vasquez-Lavado’s book.

Heartbreak by Florence Williams
Norton | February 1

Williams is an accomplished science writer with an eternally curious mind—as demonstrated by her previous books, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History and The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, as well as by her work for Outside, National Geographic and more. So when her husband of 25 years announced that their marriage was over, her impulse was to take her devastation and study it. The result is Heartbreak, an exceptional blend of memoir and science that showcases elegant writing, raw personal narrative, fascinating research and even some cutting-edge self-experimentation. (The supervised use of MDMA makes an appearance.) Throw in some humor and wilderness adventures for good measure, and you get a rare and inimitable book.

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Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman
Ecco | February 22

After her previous true crime hits, The Real Lolita and Unspeakable Acts, we have full confidence that a new Sarah Weinman joint is going to be good. In Scoundrel, she takes on 1960s murderer Edgar Smith, who used his devious smarts to fool the public, including conservative mogul William F. Buckley, into thinking he was innocent. He wasn’t, of course—but thanks to his well-honed manipulation tactics, Smith was able to get his death sentence overturned, get released from prison and get a second chance at murder. Weinman lays it all out with page-turning propulsion: a master of the true crime genre coming into her own.

Sounds Wild and Broken by David George Haskell
Viking | March 1

Guggenheim Fellow and biology professor Haskell has an ear for poetry as much as he has an ear for bird calls and rustling tree branches. His 2012 book, The Forest Unseen, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and went on to win a number of other nature writing awards—as did his 2017 book, The Songs of Trees. His latest masterwork is an investigation into the soundscape of the natural world: its symphonic beauty, as well as its troubling silences as climate change encroaches. Haskell’s lyrical writing brings to mind the best of Terry Tempest Williams, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez and Elizabeth Kolbert, but with his own arresting emphasis on paying attention, experiencing wonder and taking action.

In Love by Amy Bloom
Random House | March 8

Amy Bloom is best known and loved for her bestselling novels, such as Away, White Houses and Lucky Us. In Love is her debut memoir, and it will land on the literary scene with a wallop this March. In it, Bloom writes about her late husband, Brian, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in his 60s. From the time of his diagnosis, it took Brian less than a week to determine that the “long goodbye” was not what he wanted—and so he and Amy made plans to visit an organization in Switzerland that offered accompanied suicide. The book moves back and forth between scenes of Amy and Brian’s last week together in Zurich and glimpses of their life together before the diagnosis, as well as of Brian’s eventual decline. All of it is heartbreaking but beautifully rendered, and well worth the tears you will likely shed while reading it.

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Red Paint by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe
Counterpoint | March 8

In her debut memoir, LaPointe offers a poetic narrative of trauma and healing through ancestral rites and punk rock. The wearing of red paint is a ceremonial act for the Coast Salish people, identifying the wearer as a healer. After realizing the trauma she accumulated through abuse and homelessness was a sickness of the spirit, LaPointe embarked on a quest to wear the red paint of her ancestors in the context of her own life as a poet and performer, using words, language, stories, ritual and community as the tools of healing. Along the way, LaPointe discovers how restoring the self to health is entwined with restoring the historical erasure of Native women’s voices. Like White Magic by Elissa Washuta and Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, Red Paint will illuminate the voices and experiences of Indigenous women for a 21st-century audience.

In the Margins by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein
Europa | March 15

A slim collection of essays from Italian mystery woman and beloved novelist Ferrante will surprise, stimulate and delight readers this March. This book got its unexpected start when the author of The Lying Life of Adults agreed to give three lectures on writing and reading at the University of Bologna in August 2020. COVID thwarted the whole affair before she could deliver her address, but she had already written the pieces. Eventually the actress Manuela Mandracchia presented the lectures on Ferrante’s behalf in Bologna in November of 2021—but in case you weren’t in Italy in November, you’ll be able to read Ferrante’s musings in print this spring, along with one additional essay that she composed for the Dante and Other Classics conference. Together they sketch a fuller portrait of the brilliant but elusive writer behind so many elegant, intelligent books.

How to Take Over the World by Ryan North
Riverhead | March 15

The latest from comic book craftsman and funnyman North is a “spiritual successor” to his 2018 time-travel science book, How to Invent Everything. (As North puts it on his website, “Once you’ve invented everything in the world, you might as well take over the place.”) As a writer for Marvel and DC Comics, one of his jobs is to plot new schemes for the villains—and these schemes need to be credible. This makes North something of an expert on dastardly plots and criminal ploys, and the real-life science and technology that could make them possible. How to Take Over the World lays out a hilarious, but totally factual, blueprint for all the ways aspiring supervillains could seize power, control minds and dominate the earth. It’s a little dangerous, but all in good fun—so long as Pinky and the Brain don’t catch wind of it.

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Tell Me Everything by Erika Krouse
Flatiron | March 15

The buzz for fiction writer Krouse’s debut memoir is so thick, the air around it feels static-charged. Lacy Crawford, author of Notes on a Silencing, said about it, “I am reading a forthcoming book right now that—if there is any justice (I know, I know)—will dismantle for good the racist, misogynist, capitalist concussionpalooza that is D1 college football.” Melissa Febos called it “a real life feminist noir detective story. Very intense & beautifully crafted. It’s out in March and I can’t recommend it highly enough.” When a lawyer unexpectedly offered Krouse a job as a private investigator in 2002, she began investigating a rape case involving a Colorado university football team, while beating back memories of her own experiences of sexual abuse. In Krouse’s capable hands, the story reads like an elevated detective novel, full of personal intrigue and doled out with enviable control. It is not to be missed.

You Sound Like a White Girl by Julissa Arce
Flatiron | March 22

Memoirist Arce (My (Underground) American Dream) leans into her social commentary and cultural criticism chops in You Sound Like a White Girl. After feeling pressured to assimilate into white American culture since childhood—getting rid of her Mexican accent, pursuing traditional forms of educational and professional success, keeping her immigration status a secret from even her closest friends—Arce realized that assimilation was a moving finish line, and that the pressure to chase it was causing herself and others great harm. With bold, clear writing, Arce calls for immigrants and communities of color to reject assimilation, turn away from the white gaze and embrace their unique cultures, histories and identities, which deserve celebration. This book is a confident step forward for Arce as a writer and public thinker.

Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton
Random House | March 29

Newton made a name for herself back in 2002 as one of the very first book bloggers, and her acclaim has only crescendoed since then. Now, with her first book finally on the horizon, readers are working themselves up into a frenzy of anticipation. Based on Newton’s 2014 Harper’s cover story, “America’s Ancestry Craze,” Ancestor Trouble looks through the lens of Newton’s family (including her Confederate heritage-obsessed father and a grandfather who got married 13 times) at the wider world of genetics, intergenerational trauma and family secrets, both buried and spilled. Her approach is sweeping, even exhaustive, but for such a complex and far-reaching topic, Newton is certainly the one for the job. We suspect that the hype for this one is real, and then some.

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Bittersweet by Susan Cain
Crown | April 5

Bestselling author Cain sounded a (gentle, soothing) alarm to homebodies everywhere with her 2012 book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Her latest book promises an equally radical reframe, this time of the experience of sorrow, longing and melancholy. With a mix of research and memoir, Cain uncovers the value of sorrow as an essential component of creativity, empathy and wonder. Artistic, brooding types everywhere will feel seen by Cain’s thoughtful analysis, and appreciated for their superpower of transforming pain into art and connection.

Gathering Blossoms Under Fire by Alice Walker, edited by Valerie Boyd
Simon & Schuster | April 12

The journals of National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Walker, who turns 78 this year, are well worth anticipating. The selected entries in Gathering Blossoms Under Fire cover the years 1965 to 2000, and in them Walker records her experiences of everything from marching in Mississippi during the civil rights movement; to marrying a Jewish man in 1967, which defied laws about interracial marriage in the South at that time; to participating in and challenging the Women’s Movement; to becoming the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel The Color Purple. She also provides insights into all aspects of her personal life including parenthood, family, sex, spirituality and activism—not to mention her iconic 1990s romance with musician Tracy Chapman—all written in that clear, perceptive voice that made her an American icon.

Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott
Atria | April 12

Humorist, essayist, memoirist, turtle enthusiast and the internet’s mom—Philpott made fans of us all with her warmhearted 2019 debut, I Miss You When I Blink. Her next memoir-in-essays brims with the same combination of anxiety and care as she examines the limits of her ability to keep her loved ones safe in a world where danger lurks, annoyingly, around every corner. It’s a perfect book for 2022, honestly: existential dread, but make it hopeful.

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Finding Me by Viola Davis
HarperOne | April 26

The first Black actor to win an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Tony (two, actually!), Davis has already reached rare and wonderful heights in her career on the screen and stage. Does she need another credential on her long, long list of accomplishments? No. Are we nonetheless glad she’s adding “author” to that list in 2022? Yes, obviously. Davis’ memoir will cover the breadth and depth of her life, from her childhood in Rhode Island, to coming of age among poverty and dysfunction, to attending Julliard, to launching a storied acting career. All signs point to a gripping, honest and moving new star in the pantheon of celebrity memoirs.

The Palace Papers by Tina Brown
Crown | April 26

Tina Brown is the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and, perhaps even more notably, the author of The Diana Chronicles, that dishy, iconic 2007 biography of Diana Spencer. In The Palace Papers, Brown sets her sights on the royal family since Diana’s death, and no one is left unexamined. (We’re looking at you, Philip.) Brown writes with the sort of conspiratorial tone that almost makes you forget that you’re reading a deeply researched work of reporting. It’s like a sequel to “The Crown” that sticks closer to the truth, while remaining wildly entertaining.

I’ll Show Myself Out by Jessi Klein
Harper | April 26

In 2016, comedian, TV writer and producer Klein’s debut book, You’ll Grow Out of It, became an instant classic among the best of the best comedic essay collections. Her second collection, due out in April, is one fans have been waiting on for years, and it seems their patience will be richly rewarded. In I’ll Show Myself Out, Klein turns her attention from being a child to raising one, eviscerating the impossible standards of motherhood and the weirdly bittersweet reality of middle age. We’re expecting a hilarious gut-punch, poignant and absurd in equal measure.

We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu
William Morrow | May 3

The star of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel’s first film with an Asian lead, will pivot from comic books to memoir this May. We Were Dreamers is the story of Liu’s life, from living in China with his grandparents, to immigrating to Canada to live with his parents, whom he barely knew, to making the leap from accounting to acting in his 20s. He’ll tell it all with heart and sly humor, which is hardly surprising if you saw him host “SNL” this past November. (The man has jokes.)

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The High Sierra by Kim Stanley Robinson
Little, Brown | May 10

The author of the bestselling Mars trilogy, among many other works, Robinson is widely regarded as one of our greatest living science fiction writers—which is why it’s notable that he’s making the switch to nonfiction for the first time in 2022. Robinson is a California native who hiked the Sierra Nevada mountains for the first time in 1973 and has since returned over 100 times. This book is his ode to the landscape he knows better than any other, covering everything from geology to indigenous history to the environmental measures being taken to protect these mountains for future hikers and naturalists—all interwoven with events from Robinson’s life that have intersected with his love of the Sierras. Readers of his sci-fi know that whatever Robinson tackles, he conquers—so we’re excited to see this literary master venture into new terrain this year.

Ma and Me by Putsata Reang
MCD | May 17

Reang’s family fled Cambodia when she was less than 1 year old, thanks to the grit of her mother, who spent 23 days on a crowded boat waiting for refuge to become available. When sanctuary was finally offered at an American naval base in the Philippines, Reang’s mother rushed her sick baby to a military doctor, who saved Reang’s life. This is the debt Reang owes her mother—and this is the reason Reang feels her mother’s disappointment so acutely when Reang comes out as a lesbian and her mother, unable to accept Reang’s sexuality, severs the relationship. Ma and Me is an important new entry in the growing body of American refugee and immigrant literature, shining a fearless light on the experiences of queer people whose families have survived the trauma of war. It also stands apart as a work of lyrical beauty, exploring culture, duty, guilt and family with heartbreaking clarity.

River of the Gods by Candice Millard
Doubleday | May 17

Bestselling historian and biographer Millard (The River of Doubt, Destiny of the Republic) is blazing a new path through history in 2022—and this time she may have to use a machete. River of the Gods is the story of three men, two Englishmen and one previously enslaved East African man, who trekked deep into jungles of central Africa to locate the place where the Nile River originates. Clashing personalities, relentless obstacles, imperialistic misdeeds—this story comes with a bottomless supply of drama, which Millard is adept at spinning into gripping narrative nonfiction. This could be her most tantalizing adventure story yet.

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Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World by Barry Lopez
Random House | May 24

The National Book Award-winning nature writer, novelist and environmentalist Lopez has been sorely missed since his death in 2020. His final work, a collection of essays that includes five pieces that were never published, is a moving reminder of this literary giant’s legacy. As Lopez takes readers along with him to California, New York, Oregon, Antarctica and beyond, their attention will be drawn over and over again to small details of natural beauty that Lopez was famous for noticing, vividly rendering and transforming into augurs of our shared environmental fate. Along the way, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World offers a patchwork memoir of Lopez’s life, from the pain of his childhood to the wealth of knowledge he gathered from scientists and Indigenous teachers throughout the world. It’s shaping up to be a fine farewell to this powerful but tender soul.

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris
Little, Brown | May 31

A new Sedaris book is always cause for celebration. Happy-Go-Lucky will be his first essay collection since 2018’s Calypso, and fans of Sedaris’ writing—bitingly funny with a poignant, plaintive core—are eager to see how he’ll render the personal and political developments of the intervening years, including the death of Sedaris’ stubborn, complicated father, who has been a prominent character in the author’s writings over the course of his 30-year career. Sedaris’ work has always had an outsized capacity for catharsis, but after the last few arduous years, we’re expecting this latest collection to hit the heart with a little extra force.

Down and Out in Paradise by Charles Leerhsen
Simon & Schuster | June 21

Since Anthony Bourdain’s death in 2018, there have been a handful of books by and about him—including a posthumous world travel guide, an oral biography compiled by his assistant and a memoir from his longtime director about traveling and working with Bourdain. But there has yet to be a true biography of the late chef. The first one, carefully researched but “definitely unauthorized,” comes out this summer from Leerhsen, the former executive editor at Sports Illustrated. Based on interviews with those who knew Bourdain best, Leerhsen will contextualize Bourdain’s on-screen charisma and off-screen despair by revealing childhood traumas that shaped the man who was revered by some, feared by others and loved by all.

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The Man Who Could Move Clouds by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Doubleday | July 12

The acclaimed California-based Colombian novelist of Fruit of the Drunken Tree has a new magic trick up her sleeve in 2022. The Man Who Could Move Clouds sounds like an exemplary new entry in the library of “stranger than fiction” memoirs: a true story of Rojas Contreras’ life that includes fortunetelling, amnesia, ghosts and a mother-daughter road trip. She’ll weave together family secrets, Colombian history and personal narrative with the distinct skill of a novelist to create a book that, more than any other on this list, has the potential to convert readers who think they don’t care for nonfiction.

Body Language edited by Nicole Chung and Matt Ortile
Catapult | July 12

An all-star list of contributors, including Bryan Washington, Bassey Ikpi, Destiny Birdsong, Jess Zimmerman and Toni Jensen, explore the beautiful, painful and political realities of life in a physical body: ability, race, gender, age, desire, fertility, illness, weight and more. Thirty essays, originally published by Catapult magazine and compiled here by Catapult executive editor Ortile (The Groom Will Keep His Name) and author Chung (All You Can Ever Know), showcase the power of candid personal essays to undermine stereotypes, defy expectations and refresh our assumptions about how bodies should look, function and move.

The Crane Wife by CJ Hauser
Doubleday | July 12

Based on Hauser’s beautiful 2019 Paris Review essay by the same name, The Crane Wife is her debut work of nonfiction following two novels, Family of Origin and The From-Aways. A memoir-in-essays, The Crane Wife will build on Hauser’s viral story—about traveling to Texas to study whooping cranes 10 days after calling off her wedding—with 17 additional pieces that explore how to cultivate an unconventional life, from robot conventions, to weddings, to John Belushi’s grave. Hauser’s wisdom radiated out of her viral Paris Review essay, which resonated with more than a million readers. What could be better than a whole book made of that same elegant, precise and perceptive stuff?

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Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sánchez
Viking | July 12

Sánchez’s young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2017, and in 2021 it was announced that America Ferrera will make her directorial debut with a film adaptation of the novel for Netflix. So if you aren’t already familiar with Sánchez’s work, now is the perfect time to familiarize yourself—especially because she also has a memoir coming out this year. Crying in the Bathroom is a memoir-in-essays about growing up in Chicago in the 1990s and raising hell, in a good way. She touches on everything from the failures of white feminism and living with depression to loving comedy and being raised by parents who are Mexican immigrants. This book is bracingly candid, funny and pissed off. And not that this is the most important thing about it, but it’s also got a gorgeous cover that you will look very cool with if you take it to the pool this summer.

Dirtbag, Massachusetts by Isaac Fitzgerald
Bloomsbury | July 19

The founding editor of Buzzfeed Books and Saeed Jones’ best friend, Fitzgerald seems to pop up everywhere you look—as an editor, children’s book author (How to Be a Pirate), essayist and tattoo enthusiast (Pen & Ink). This summer, he’ll make his solo debut with an essay collection about his rough-and-tumble upbringing in Boston and rural Massachusetts and the choppy waters of his west-coast adulthood, learning to navigate the pitfalls of masculinity, body image, class and family strife. There will be tough stops along this journey—including discussions of violence, homelessness and trauma—but Fitzgerald’s signature tenderness, humor and generosity will carry readers gently the whole way.

Nerd by Maya Phillips
Atria | July 26

Poet and critic Phillips is known for her well-formed analyses of theater, TV, movies and books in the New York Times—but of course, professional popular media obsessives weren’t born that way. Their nerd statuses were created through long, arduous hours of discovering, loving and devoting themselves to good stories. Growing up in the 1990s, Phillips put in the hours, from Star Wars, superhero cartoons and Harry Potter to “Doctor Who,” Tolkien and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” She writes about these influences and more in Nerd, exploring the way fandoms shape young people’s perceptions of themselves and the world through their portrayals of race, gender, religion and other key components of fans’ real experiences and identities. With humor and exacting criticism, Phillips serves up food for thought—a whole meal, really—for anyone who’s ever struggled to see themselves as the hero.

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Butts: A Backstory by Heather Radke
Avid Reader | August 9

In the immortal words of Jurassic Park chief engineer Ray Arnold, “Hold onto your butts.” Radiolab reporter and contributing editor Radke’s debut book will tackle the ever-elusive, always-alluring topic of the female derriere. How did butts come to be sexualized and mythologized? Why do certain body types fall in and out of fashion? Which powerful institutions shape how we feel about ourselves and our bodies? Radke will tackle these questions and many more, creating a kaleidoscopic cultural history of a body part that just won’t quit.

You Hide That You Hate Me and I Hide That I Know by Philip Gourevitch
FSG | September 13

Philip Gourevitch is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, which was published in 1998 about the Rwandan genocide. For his latest book, Gourevitch returned to Rwanda 20 years later to capture the ways that those who killed and those who survived have continued to live alongside one another since then. It’s part travelogue and part investigative reportage, with personal narratives and political analysis all rolled in. Much like his first book, You Hide That You Hate Me and I Hide That I Know promises to be a groundbreaking exploration of the effects of genocide—nationally, politically and, most of all, personally.

Check out our most anticipated titles of 2022 in every genre!

New year, new nonfiction, same old towering TBR stack.

To celebrate Memoir March, we spoke to the authors of this spring’s most exciting memoirs about their research processes, writing roadblocks and biggest fears as they put their personal stories out into the world. Theo Padnos shares some of the joys and difficulties behind his book, Blindfold, about the two years he spent imprisoned by operatives of al-Qaida.


What do you love most about your book?
I’m not sure I do love it. I like that I told the truth, that you can understand new things about the Syrian war by reading it, that it’s about more than just me and more than just the Syrian war, that it has some funny bits, that it tells a story that many, many people have lived.

What kind of reader do you think will most appreciate or enjoy your book? 
I think the kind of person who will appreciate my book is perceptive, curious and open-minded. But perhaps the close-minded will also like it? Anyway, I wrote it for everyone. I hope everyone will appreciate it. 

What is one thing in your book that’s true that readers may have a hard time believing?
Not a thing in there that’s unbelievable, in my opinion. Possibly some people will have difficulty believing I wasn’t killed. But here I am—living and breathing.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Blindfold.


What resistance did you face while writing this book?
Lots. It was hard for me to figure out how to make my story a story about something bigger than me.

Was there anything that surprised you as you wrote?
Yes, lots of things—everything, really. So many things I didn’t remember until I started writing about them. There’s a point in this book when some kidnappers are playing in my hair with the muzzle of their gun. I was in the front seat of a car and had no idea what they were doing. I didn’t even know I was kidnapped yet, to be honest. I did, however, feel a faint messing about in my hair, as if an insect were nuzzling around the nape of my neck. I recalled some details of this scene a few days after it occurred but didn’t recover anything like a coherent memory of the event—didn’t understand what it meant—until years later when I wrote about it. 

Is there anything in your book that you’re nervous for people to read?
Nope. I’ll be grateful if people read it. I’ll be annoyed if no one reviews it. Basically, I’m happy if anyone pays any kind of attention at all.

How do you feel now that you’ve put this story to the page?
I’m relieved. It’s not so much me telling a tale about my own life that I care about but rather me telling a tale that thousands of others have also lived. I want my readers to say to themselves, “Yup, I’ve been there” or, “I could have been there.” Even if they know nothing about Syria or have no intention of visiting this place, I hope they’ll say this.

"It’s important that people understand I haven’t made anything up because I am writing about a place in which so much of what happens defies belief."

What's one way that your book is better as a memoir than it would have been as a novel?
It’s all true. If it were a novel, people might suppose that I piped in random details from my imagination. In reality, I piped in non-random details from the world of facts. It’s important that people understand I haven’t made anything up because I am writing about a place—a Syrian Islamic state—in which so much of what happens defies belief. 

Many people think writing memoir means you just write from memory and don’t have to do research, but obviously that’s not true. What is the most interesting thing you had to research in order to write this book?
I did a bit of research through my kidnapper’s Facebook pages. Otherwise, I tried to keep anything that felt like research or reporting to a minimum. I didn’t want to write an extended magazine piece. Rather, I wanted to follow a line of feeling and to have this line bring the reader into truths they might not otherwise discover. What kind of truths? Truths about the war in Syria, yes—but also about love and loneliness, life and death, dreams and reality. 

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more great memoirs this Memoir March.

 

Author photo credit: Karen Demas

Theo Padnos shares some of the joys and difficulties behind his book, Blindfold, about the two years he spent imprisoned by operatives of al-Qaida.

To celebrate Memoir March, we spoke to the authors of this spring’s most exciting memoirs about their research processes, writing roadblocks and biggest fears as they put their personal stories out into the world. Menachem Kaiser shares some of the joys and difficulties behind his book, Plunder, about his journey deep into the shadowy realm of Nazi treasure hunters.


What do you love most about your book?
How it embraces uncertainty. The story I recount in Plunder—namely, my quest to reclaim my grandfather's building and falling in with modern-day treasure hunters along the way—is not a straight-line story. Nothing went as planned. There were so many mishaps, misunderstandings, errors, and the book doesn't gloss these over, doesn’t smooth out the bumps. 

What kind of reader do you think will most appreciate or enjoy your book? 
Anyone who's confronted or wanted to confront their family story, especially with respect to World War II. So many of us don't know what our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents went through in the war, or know only fragments, bits and pieces. And I think sometimes we’re a little complacent, incurious, satisfied with undetailed family lore, because it’s always been there. It is so hugely rewarding to investigate, to step into your story. It is so much stranger, more complicated, more beautiful, more tragic than you thought.

What is one thing in your book that’s true that readers may have a hard time believing?
The way I first learned about my relative, Abraham Kajzer, the man so revered by the treasure hunters, does admittedly sound like a very unlikely story. I had initially sought out the treasure hunters only because I was curious. I had never heard of Abraham—in fact, I had no idea that my grandfather had any relatives who had survived the war. So here's what happened: I was sitting with the treasure hunters, having a beer, talking about Project Riese—the underground Nazi complex they had showed me that afternoon—and I overheard them saying, in Polish, my last name. I don’t speak Polish, I just caught my name, and I knew they weren’t talking about me. So I asked what was going on, who was this Kaiser? They explained they were talking about Abraham Kajzer, a Jewish enslaved laborer who, on account of the diary he had kept while working on Project Riese, has become an almost mythological figure among their community. 

My first thought was that it was a funny coincidence. But later that night, after pulling up some documents and translating the preface to Kajzer's diary, I was able to trace the family tree, and I realized that this was my grandfather's first cousin and his closest relative to have survived the war.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Plunder.


What resistance did you face while writing this book?
It’s a touchy subject, reclamation. I encountered resistance on all sides. Some people, including many of my relatives, were disappointed and upset that I was being at all sympathetic to the Poles living in my grandfather’s old building, who were benefiting—even if unknowingly—from the murder of my grandfather’s family. And some people, particularly in Poland, accused me of being something like an evil landlord, trying to displace helpless tenants. I understand both sets of objections, even if I disagree.

Was there anything that surprised you as you wrote?
So, so many people, upon hearing about my book, would tell me their own story of lost family property in Eastern Europe and beyond: in Egypt, the Ivory Coast, South Africa. It wasn’t the dispossession that was so surprising—that part is horrifyingly ubiquitous—but how, even generations later, the descendants of those who were dispossessed still cling to a place they often have never even been to.

Is there anything in your book that you’re nervous for people to read?
One of the chapters details the relationship between Abraham and the German woman who hid him in the final weeks of the war, saving his life. They became lovers; after the war, Abraham stayed with her and her children. (Her husband, a soldier in the Wehrmacht, was killed on the front.) It’s a beautiful but challenging story—not exactly taboo but still not the sort of Jewish-German wartime narrative people are used to.

"The constraints of memoir can be frustrating but also allow you to turn inward, to be introspective, to not have answers, to question your own motivations."

How do you feel now that you’ve put this story to the page?
Really just grateful and kind of amazed that the book exists.

What's one way that your book is better as a memoir than it would have been as a novel?
I actually address this question directly in the book: I wonder aloud if I should have written it as a novel, because then the narrative could be neat, clean, linear, not plagued by false starts and misunderstandings. But that would have been the wrong move. Ultimately memoir was absolutely the appropriate genre for this story. The constraints—it has to be true, whether or not it makes sense, whether it helps or hinders the narrative—can be frustrating but also allow you to turn inward, to be introspective, to not have answers, to question your own motivations. 

Many people think writing memoir means you just write from memory and don’t have to do research, but obviously that’s not true. What is the most interesting thing you had to research in order to write this book?
There are some very out-there conspiracy theories rampant among the treasure hunters, particularly with respect to Nazi technology that’s been lost or covered up. I spent months researching Nazi UFOs, Nazi antigravity, Nazi time travel, Nazi space stations and on and on. Fascinating if occasionally horrifying stuff.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more great memoirs this Memoir March.

 

Author photo credit: Beowolf Sheehan

Menachem Kaiser shares some of the joys and difficulties behind his book, Plunder, about his journey deep into the shadowy realm of Nazi treasure hunters.

To celebrate Memoir March, we spoke to the authors of this spring’s most exciting memoirs about their research processes, writing roadblocks and biggest fears as they put their personal stories out into the world. Louis Chude-Sokei shares some of the joys and difficulties behind his book, Floating in a Most Peculiar Way, about negotiating what it means to be African in Jamaica and the United States.


What do you love most about your book?
I love that I was able to fit so much life into such a compact space while still being true to all that I couldn’t keep in. With a memoir, you want to be true to the experiences you are conveying, but at the same time you want your particular vision as a writer to come through. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that those things could still occur after cutting so much out.

What kind of reader do you think will most appreciate or enjoy your book? 
I hope that readers who care about unique historical and personal experiences will appreciate the book. Also, those who care about writing that aims to make them see the world from a unique perspective, one that can’t be easily shaken off.

What is one thing in your book that’s true that readers may have a hard time believing?
Because this is a book about the life I’ve lived, that represents how I see, remember and tell that life, I can’t identify one thing that might be harder to believe than others. It’s only now that I’ve written the book that I’m hearing people say how unbelievable certain things are. To me it’s all eminently believable because it happened to me.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our reiew of Floating in a Most Peculiar Way.


What resistance did you face while writing this book?
One of the main difficulties I faced was the cultural and racial context. When I began sharing my story, readers seemed comfortable with a book that was either about African Americans or about Nigerians or about Jamaicans, but they were challenged by one that was about all of those groups—in one family and in one person. Some were also uncomfortable because the book is so honest about how all those different Black cultures see each other in complicated and at times politically incorrect ways. Writing in a way that honors the differences and the similarities while being true to the tensions and disagreements was a great but necessary challenge.

Was there anything that surprised you as you wrote?
I was surprised by how many memories came to me fully formed. I didn’t have to conjure them up or force them. One led to two, which led to four, and so on. I just had to begin shaping them. It was the creative aspect of dealing with memory that kept me from being overwhelmed with emotion while writing. Of course, now that it’s done, I’m surprised by how easy it is for me to become overwhelmed with emotion when I read it.

Is there anything in your book that you’re nervous for people to read?
I have some family members who will not be happy with how they or others in their family are represented, particularly in terms of how a young boy evaluates racial and cultural attitudes. Even though I disguise their names, they will know who I’m talking about. I’m also bracing myself for those who will find that the overall politics of the book don’t suit conventional narratives or positions around race in America. This is, of course, the point: The book is about new and different ways of thinking about race from the perspectives of those who come to “Blackness” from different angles and experiences. In America there is often great hostility toward those who refuse conventional racial expectations.

"The very moods, tones, worlds and conversations you produce in a memoir depend on the accuracy of your research."

How do you feel now that you’ve put this story to the page?
I’m only now coming to terms with the fact that it’s actually been completed and is being read by an incredible range of people. It’s completely different from my academic/scholarly work, where you have a good sense of who the audience is and what they are likely to say and think. But I feel incredibly proud to have put into the world some ideas and experiences that have not been fully expressed before and some stories that I think get marginalized despite being of huge significance to the country and the world today.

What's one way that your book is better as a memoir than it would have been as a novel?
Easy answer: much less stuff to invent!

Many people think writing memoir means you just write from memory and don’t have to do research, but obviously that’s not true. What is the most interesting thing you had to research in order to write this book?
That’s the thing: Memoirs require research, and I can affirm that as a professional researcher and scholar. However, what is different here is that you do the research not to display it, as you do with academic writing, but to fill in context, texture, flavor. So even if it’s not noticeable, the very moods, tones, worlds and conversations you produce in a memoir depend on the accuracy of that research. For example, the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafra War. It’s been a part of my life since birth, of course, but I had to research it—not to provide just the history of the war but the various interpretations of that history that different members of my family and community had.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more great memoirs this Memoir March.

 

Author photo credit: Sharona Jacobs

Louis Chude-Sokei shares some of the joys and difficulties behind his memoir Floating in a Most Peculiar Way, about negotiating what it means to be African in Jamaica and the United States.

To celebrate Memoir March, we spoke to the authors of this spring’s most exciting memoirs about their research processes, writing roadblocks and biggest fears as they put their personal stories out into the world. Georgina Lawton shares some of the joys and difficulties behind her book, Raceless, about growing up in a family that fiercely insisted, despite all outward appearances, that she was white.


What do you love most about your book?
That I cover multiple themes and places, that it looks at identity in a way we don’t see very often, that it’s not boring! I write about love, grief, secrets and shame by working through my family lore. And the physical journey I undertook to learn more about race and community brings the reader from London to the U.S. to Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam and back again. Examining DNA testing, Afro-futurism, Black hair and my own past took me on a journey of self-actualization while helping me understand my parents’ choices, too. 

What kind of reader do you think will most appreciate or enjoy your book? 
Those who navigate personal identities in the spaces between, anyone who has wrestled with family secrets—and readers with impeccable taste, of course.

What is one thing in your book that’s true that readers may have a hard time believing?
Perhaps on first glance, readers will find it hard to understand how an educated woman who looks like me grew up believing she was related to her white family. Or that my parents really did not ever discuss our differing racial backgrounds unless I pressed. Or that boxes were checked that declared my ethnicity as “white.”


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Raceless.


What resistance did you face while writing this book?
The turmoil of writing about my father, our life together and the strength of his love, while also attempting to understand his silence around our racial differences and to work through issues with my mother, was incredibly tough to overcome. I’m proud of the chapter “My Lot,” which is all about my dad, but I detest rereading it because it still makes me cry. 

Was there anything that surprised you as you wrote?
No one prepares you for the emotional time travel that a memoir necessitates. Writing something traumatic from your past is hard enough, but constantly editing and reworking it means that internal wounds take longer to heal. I was surprised by how draining some of it was.

Is there anything in your book that you’re nervous for people to read?
I’ve done a lot of memoir-style writing about me and my family over the years and received lovely, compassionate emails from strangers online, as well as some predictable trolling. It’s actually the other parts of Raceless—the analysis of the subjectivity of race and transracial identities—that I really hope readers are open to understanding.

"I learned a lot about love and belonging and the corrosive power of community secrets."

How do you feel now that you’ve put this story to the page?
Like I still want to go back and rewrite bits! I’m very pleased with the final product, but if I hadn’t had actual deadlines, I’d probably still be tinkering away. I am a perfectionist.

What's one way that your book is better as a memoir than it would have been as a novel?
Raceless
is a hybrid of memoir and analytical writing. If I had just written it as a novel, I wouldn’t have been able to bring in other perspectives and studies. Situating my personal experiences within some sociological discourse added weight to my narrative and hopefully made it more persuasive. 

Many people think writing memoir means you just write from memory and don’t have to do research, but obviously that’s not true. What is the most interesting thing you had to research in order to write this book?
Mining the memories of my Irish mother and English family members for insight into how and why my race and parentage remained a hidden truth for years was quite the mission. But I learned a lot about love and belonging and the corrosive power of community secrets.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more great memoirs this Memoir March.

 

Author photo credit: Jamie Simonds © Loftus Media

Georgina Lawton shares some of the joys and difficulties behind her book, Raceless, about growing up in a family that fiercely insisted, despite all outward appearances, that she was white.

To celebrate Memoir March, we spoke to the authors of this spring’s most exciting memoirs about their research processes, writing roadblocks and biggest fears as they put their personal stories out into the world. Elizabeth Miki Brina shares some of the joys and difficulties behind her book, Speak, Okinawa, about whether love can heal a family traumatized by racism and colonization.


What do you love most about your book?
I love how my book aims to capture more than my life and my story—or rather, how my life and my story encompass so many other lives and stories, including my mother’s story, my father’s story, the history of the people of Okinawa. Through writing this book, I love how I was able to realize the connectedness of it all, to understand myself and my place in this world, the events that had to transpire, the hardships that had to be endured and overcome in order for me to exist.

What kind of reader do you think will most appreciate or enjoy your book?
Readers who are children of immigrants. Readers who are biracial or have multicultural heritage. Readers who were once estranged from their mothers or fathers and therefore from their origins. Readers who want to witness this experience.

What is one thing in your book that’s true that readers may have a hard time believing?
I hope readers don’t have a hard time believing anything—but what was hard for me to believe is how I really didn’t know myself for most of my life. I avoided and denied such important aspects of my identity for so long, and that took a huge toll on me and greatly hindered my ability to love and be loved. Still does. I grew up trying to believe that race, family history and cultural history were inconsequential. I’m glad I don’t believe that anymore. 


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Speak, Okinawa.


What resistance did you face while writing this book?
I got nothing but support and encouragement from others as I was writing this book. The resistance I faced was from myself: deciding what personal details to share or not share, deciding what was mine or not mine to tell, and knowing that these decisions would affect and alter the narrative as well as the reader’s perception of and attitude toward the people being portrayed. That is a great deal of responsibility I didn’t want to abuse. Kept me awake some nights.

Was there anything that surprised you as you wrote?
I was surprised by how much I remembered, and how much my perspective on memories shifted as I was writing, rewriting and revising. There were so many revelations I could only have reached by putting memories on paper, seeing them reflected back at me, trying to view them objectively and finding the precise words to describe them.

Is there anything in your book that you’re nervous for people to read?
I’m definitely nervous for my parents to read the book. I’m nervous for them to read their secrets. I hope they forgive me. 

"In a memoir, I can be judged and evaluated and hopefully redeemed as me, a real person, not a fictional character."

How do you feel now that you’ve put this story to the page?
I feel very scraped out but also fuller and more complete. I feel relief. 

What's one way that your book is better as a memoir than it would have been as a novel?
In a memoir, I can claim my experiences and observations as my own. I can be judged and evaluated and hopefully redeemed as me, a real person, not a fictional character.

Many people think writing memoir means you just write from memory and don’t have to do research, but obviously that’s not true. What is the most interesting thing you had to research in order to write this book?
Everything I researched was interesting to me. The history of Okinawa, which I hadn’t learned before writing the book and which helped me better understand myself and my mother. The life of my mother, which I hadn’t learned about before writing the book either. Our conservations, asking and answering questions, helped heal our relationship and brought us closer.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more great memoirs this Memoir March.

 

Author photo credit: Thad Lee

Elizabeth Miki Brina shares some of the joys and difficulties behind her memoir, Speak, Okinawa, about whether love can heal a family traumatized by racism and colonization.

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