Christy, Associate Editor

Book jackets for four nonfiction books about Black history
STARRED REVIEW

February 4, 2023

Black history, well told

Four sweeping, novelistic nonfiction books illuminate important moments in American history.

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Journalist Mark Whitaker’s (Smoketown) riveting Saying It Loud: 1966—The Year Black Power Challenged the Civil Rights Movement chronicles a key moment in the movement for racial justice in the United States: the shift in 1966 from the nonviolent organizational tactics associated with Martin Luther King Jr. to an emergent focus on Black Power as a “state of mind and a badge of identity” whose adherents used whatever means necessary to achieve justice.

On January 3, 1966, Black civil rights worker Sammy Younge was murdered by a white gas station owner in Tuskegee, Alabama, for asking to use the restroom. As Whitaker points out, Younge’s death “reverberated through a generation of young people who were reaching a breaking point of frustration with the gospel of nonviolence and racial integration preached by Dr. King.” Whitaker tracks many such seismic events and the ways they shifted the leadership within core civil rights organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), leading to the development of the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party. Through meticulous research, he draws revealing portraits of figures such as Stokely Carmichael, who replaced John Lewis as SNCC’s chairman; Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, who formed the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California; and Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, who became the executive secretary of SNCC and thus the highest-ranking woman in the civil rights movement. In stunning detail, Whitaker records all the ways that 1966 became such a pivotal year in the quest for civil rights that, before it was over, “a cast of young men and women, almost all under the age of thirty . . . [had changed] the course of Black—and American—history.” He concludes by demonstrating that the defiant rhetoric of the Black Power movement in 1966 planted the seeds for the Black Lives Matter movement and other responses to police violence against Black Americans over the last 50 years.

Saying It Loud provides an essential history of events that deserve more attention and consideration. Whitaker’s striking insights offer a memorable glimpse of a key period in American history and the struggle for racial justice in the U.S.

Saying It Loud chronicles the shift in the civil rights movement from the nonviolent tactics associated with Martin Luther King Jr. to Black Power.
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You may have learned in high school that the post-Civil War Reconstruction was an inevitable failure. In her latest book, I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction, historian Kidada E. Williams demonstrates that, far from dying a natural death, Reconstruction was destroyed in a not-so-secret war waged against Black citizens.

Williams argues that the end of Reconstruction was the explicit goal of Confederates who refused to accept their military defeat. Abetted by war-weary white Northerners who wanted to put the Civil War behind them, a president who had no interest in securing civil rights for Black people and authorities who didn’t care to enforce the law, armed militias and Klansmen engaged in a concerted battle to destroy Black citizens who voted, ran for office or merely owned and farmed their own land. These white aggressors invaded homes and subjected Black Americans to a host of crimes, from arson and torture to rape and murder. The destruction of property alone amounted to millions of dollars in today’s currency, while the damage to victims, their families and their communities remains incalculable.

Williams, an associate professor of history at Wayne State University, lays out her case with forensic precision. She writes with authority about the political and social circumstances that enabled these attacks, as well as the impact that these acts of terror had on Black people’s health and financial security, for both the injured parties and the generations following them. But her most compelling evidence comes from the victims themselves: witness testimonies from the Congressional hearings on the Ku Klux Klan in 1871 and transcripts of Works Progress Administration interviews with the last survivors of slavery in the 1930s. 

These testimonies make for harrowing reading, but that is no reason not to read them. Previously enslaved people recounted the horrors of these “visits”—the deaths of loved ones, the rapes, the lingering physical and psychic wounds, the loss of hard-earned wealth—with dignity and courage, knowing full well the risks they ran by testifying. Williams honors their suffering by placing them at the center of this important, overdue correction to the historical record.

Kidada E. Williams demonstrates that the progress of the post-Civil War Reconstruction was hampered by a not-so-secret war against Black citizens.
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Everyone should know the story of Ellen and William Craft, the subjects of Ilyon Woo’s Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey From Slavery to Freedom. In 1848, Ellen, a light-skinned Black woman, disguised herself as a wealthy, young white man in a wheelchair. William, her husband, accompanied Ellen as an enslaved man, tending to his “master’s” needs. Together they traveled in disguise from the mansion in Georgia where they were enslaved to freedom in the North. Every step of their journey depended on them keeping their wits about them, especially for Ellen. Ship captains, train conductors and even a friend of her enslaver were fooled by Ellen’s ability to perform a role that transformed her demeanor in every conceivable way—from woman to man, Black to white, slave to master. Their self-emancipation was a triumph of courage, love and intelligence.

Yet the Crafts’ story is more than a romantic adventure, and Woo does an excellent job of providing historical context for the dangers they faced without losing the thread of a terrific story. The Crafts’ lives were not magically transformed merely by crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, Woo explains. The North, while free, was still hostile territory for self-emancipated Black people, with rampant bigotry and racism even among abolitionists. However, the greatest danger to Ellen and William was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, which required everyone to return formerly enslaved people to their enslavers and forced the Crafts into exile in England until after the Civil War.

The real strength of Master Slave Husband Wife comes from Woo’s exploration of how Ellen was perceived and treated after her spectacular escape catapulted her into celebrity. Woo, whose earlier book, The Great Divorce, explored another convention-defying 19th-century woman, makes the excellent point that Ellen’s method of escape was not only brilliant but transgressive, defying conventions of gender and race. Even the fair skin tone that allowed her to pass as white was the product of generations of rape, giving the lie to myths of the “happy slave.” With empathy and admiration, Woo details Ellen’s quiet refusal to conform to the racist, classist and sexist expectations of her enemies, benefactors, supporters and even her husband. Thanks to Woo, Ellen is finally at the center of her own story as someone who heroically challenged America’s myths of equality and freedom.

Ilyon Woo tells the remarkable true story of Ellen and William Craft, who came up with an ingenious and daring plan to emancipate themselves from slavery.
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Sixty-seven years after the savage murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, his cousin still seeks some kind of justice. Haunted by the 1955 hate crime that ignited the civil rights movement, Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr. brings everything and everyone back to life in A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till. The title comes from the Bible—“Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1, NIV)—and is aptly applied to the short life and violent death of 14-year-old Till, while also ironically relating to the decades of delayed and denied justice that followed.

Till’s murder became international news when his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket at the boy’s funeral, inviting the world to see her mutilated son. People fainted, the press raged—and yet the two white men accused of his murder were soon acquitted by an all-white jury. Not that the men worried about their fate; during their trial, they were allowed to leave their jail cells for supper with their families, carrying guns. Four months later, Look magazine published “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” by William Bradford Huie, which featured an exclusive interview with Till’s acquitted killers, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam. Milam admitted that they shot Till, tied a gin fan around his neck and rolled him into the river. Their confession earned them $4,000 and had no significant consequences.

Several investigations by the FBI and Department of Justice ensued, hindered by possibly racist politics and questionable sources. In 2017, Timothy Tyson published a bestselling book that contained a quotation from Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who claimed that Till had accosted her at the grocery store, motivating her husband and brother-in-law to pursue and eventually murder Till. In the quote, Donham recanted part of her original story. Or did she? As the Mississippi district attorney worked to confirm the quote in Tyson’s book, evidence of the author’s conversation with Donham vanished—if it ever existed.

Parker, with the help of his co-author, Christopher Benson, takes a hard look at everything that has transpired since 1955, including Parker’s own feelings of guilt. He was there the night Bryant and Milam came for Till, but he survived and went on to become a barber, minister and major force behind the family’s effort to achieve justice and right the record. His is a vivid chronicle of racism in America, an intense read that may make some readers uncomfortable. Perhaps that is the point. 

Anti-lynching bills struggled through Congress for years after Till’s murder. Finally, in March of 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime. As Benson writes in an afterword, “the work to achieve justice has just begun.”

The story of Emmett Till’s violent death in 1955 is retold by his cousin Wheeler Parker Jr., the force behind decades of attempts to achieve justice and right the record.

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Recent Features

Four sweeping, novelistic nonfiction books illuminate important moments in American history.
STARRED REVIEW

May 2, 2023

12 hybrid memoirs you won’t want to miss

Hybrid memoirs mix the author’s personal story with broader explorations of history, science, social science, criticism or spirituality. These 12 books are excellent examples, each one a unique blend of research and first-person narration that is more than the sum of its parts.

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What is Latino? Or, for that matter, what is Latina, or Latine, or Latinx? In Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of “Latino,” journalist and author Héctor Tobar (The Last Great Road Bum) tries to explain. Though maybe explain isn’t the right word. Through this book, readers won’t get an explanation of this broad, ancient, vital culture—this “alliance among peoples,” as Tobar calls it—but rather an experience of it. Using both his own personal narrative and testimonies from a rainbow of people of color (not just Latinx folks), Tobar manages to capture the breadth of Latinidad (i.e., the diaspora of Latinx peoples) in the United States and beyond. With moving passages about triumph in the face of adversity, tragic stories of those lost to brutality and a scathing critique of U.S. immigration policy, this book is a call to action, the first step in a redefinition of that elusive word, Latino, and an important piece in a more complete picture of humanity.

Read our interview with Héctor Tobar, author of ‘Our Migrant Souls.’

Readers, no matter their identities, will see themselves in this panorama of life experiences. The book is split into two parts. First is “Our Country,” in which Tobar takes a long, hard look at the state of the Latinx community today. This includes a careful, illuminating examination of empire and its history, analysis of the continual pillaging of Latin America by the United States, and a parsing of the idea of identity itself. What is an identity? Why does identity feel so important in today’s divided social media-centric society? Tobar uses poignant examples, such as Latina icon Frida Kahlo, to show how we construct our identities with the materials of our lives. Tobar also creates a narrative from his own place in history: From his parents’ migration from Guatemala to Los Angeles, to his childhood living next-door to the white supremacist who killed Martin Luther King Jr., Tobar’s experiences have fortified his understanding of the vital role race has played in his life. In the book’s second part, “Our Journeys Home,” Tobar takes a road trip across the United States, retelling the stories of the people he meets and showing how, no matter where we come from or what we have been through, we are all united in our humanity.

Ultimately, Our Migrant Souls is one of the most important pieces of Latino nonfiction in several decades. Tobar’s blend of philosophy, narrative and history puts him on the same level as literary giants such as Eduardo Galeano and James Baldwin. Turning the last page of this book, you will feel the weight of history on your shoulders—yet it is an uplifting experience.

Our Migrant Souls is one of the most important pieces of Latino nonfiction in several decades. Turning the last page, you will feel the weight of history on your shoulders.
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“I was twenty-eight years old when my mother first told me that her father had been imprisoned as a war criminal,” writes longtime New Yorker staff writer Burkhard Bilger. His mother was born in 1935 and grew up in Germany during World War II. She immigrated to the United States, along with Bilger’s father, in 1962, and Bilger heard little talk about his mother’s father while growing up in Oklahoma. But after his mother received a collection of letters from an aunt in Germany in 2005, Bilger decided to find out as much of the truth as he could about his grandfather, Karl Gönner. 

Bilger shares his long journey of historical investigation in his exceptionally well-written and compulsively readable Fatherland: A Memoir of War, Conscience, and Family Secrets. Official documents, letters, diaries and personal interviews with those who knew Gönner helped Bilger piece together this puzzle.

In 1940, Gönner became a school principal in the village of Bartenheim in occupied Alsace, “the land of three borders: France, Germany, and Switzerland all within a ten-mile radius.” In 1942, he also became the village’s Nazi Party chief, though Gönner would later claim that he refused the position at first. At the heart of Bilger’s book is the question of whether Gönner was a basically good person doing what he had to do to get by during wartime or if he was a committed Nazi monster. Former students and other villagers spoke well of how he had helped them during the war. At the same time, Gönner had been a member of the Nazi Party since 1933 and never seriously challenged the Party’s reign. Bilger did not find any antisemitic remarks in Gönner’s personal writings, but Bilger’s mother said Gönner made such comments at home. As Bilger writes, “There were no little errors in wartime Germany. The choices you made put you on one side of history or the other. Yet the more I learned about my grandfather, the harder he was to categorize.”

After the Germans were defeated, “more than three hundred thousand people [were] charged as war criminals and collaborators in France,” Bilger writes, including Gönner. It took a lot of hard work to convince the court that Gönner was not guilty of certain crimes, including murder. But what of Bilger’s ultimate judgment of Gönner? All of us would like to believe that we would have been strong enough to stand up against barbaric behavior and evil regimes. But as Bilger reflects, life is usually more complicated than we want it to be. Gönner’s life and times, as revealed through Bilger’s elegant and discerningly observed memoir, will challenge and enlighten many thoughtful readers.

In his exceptionally well-written memoir, Burkhard Bilger shares his long journey of historical investigation into his grandfather, who was a Nazi Party chief.

Like the garden at its center, poet Camille T. Dungy’s Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden blossoms in vivid hues, radiating love and illuminating the tangled roots of nature and ecology.

Six years after she arrived in Fort Collins, Colorado, Dungy set out to reclaim a portion of her yard and convert it into a “drought-tolerant, pollinator-supporting flower field.” However, once several dump trucks unloaded mounds of dirt on her driveway, only for it to be scattered by wind, she had second thoughts. Eventually, though, she turned what was once a cookie-cutter lawn into a richly diverse space filled with plants that prevent soil erosion and allow bees and birds thrive.

At the same time that she was planting her garden, Dungy also dug into the history of the wilderness movement. She discovered that ecology had its own homogeneity problem, especially its exclusion of Black women gardeners and Black women environmental writers from anthologies of environmental literature. “Maintaining the fantasy of the American Wilderness requires a great deal of work,” she writes. “It requires the enforced silence of women, of Black people, Chinese people, Japanese people, other East and South Asian communities, poorer white people, Indigenous people, Latinx people . . . the list goes on and on.” To help fill that gap, she introduces readers to gardeners such as Anne Spencer, a Black poet who created a spacious sanctuary of a garden in the late 19th century in Lynchburg, Virginia.

In Soil, Dungy plants poems next to memoir next to critical analysis next to environmental history next to African American history, cultivating the radical ecological thought she wants to see more of in the world. This vibrant memoir challenges readers to look beyond the racial and scientific uniformness of most environmental literature and discover the rich wildness and hope that lies all around them.

In her radical and vibrant memoir, Camille Dungy plants poems next to critical analysis next to environmental history next to African American history.

In her engaging Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, memoirist and critic Claire Dederer wrestles with a complicated, sometimes slippery subject: What do we do with art—movies, novels, songs, paintings—we once loved, and sometimes still love, from men we now consider monsters? “I started keeping a list,” she writes. “Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, William Burroughs, Richard Wagner, Sid Vicious, V. S. Naipaul, John Galliano, Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Caravaggio, Floyd Mayweather, though if we start listing athletes we’ll never stop.” The book grew out of an essay Dederer wrote in 2017 for The Paris Review that went viral in the early days of #MeToo. Here Dederer considers the subject more thoroughly in a series of connected essays from a number of angles, walking readers through her thinking and experiences as a reader, viewer, parent, friend and longtime critic.

Dederer’s definition of an art monster is straightforward: “They did or said something awful, and made something great. The awful thing disrupts the great work; we can’t watch or listen to or read the great work without remembering the awful thing.” As she asks who qualifies as an art monster, and whether female artists can be monsters, Dederer reminds us how our 20th-century concept of “genius” was bound up with masculinity, and often with brutal behavior toward women (with Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso as prime examples).

But what Dederer really wants to get at has to do with our responses to these men and their art; she wants to tell the story of the audience. Reconsidering Woody Allen’s movies, particularly Manhattan, in light of his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, for example, she notes how her male critic friends have continued to see his movies as works of genius, while she and other women have responded quite differently.

One striking chapter looks at our responses to renowned artists Richard Wagner, Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, noting the way we shrug off their antisemitic and racist comments because it was a different time. “One of the great problems faced by audiences is named the Past. The Past is a vast terrible place where they didn’t know better. Where monstrous behaviors were accepted,” Dederer writes. Referencing a range of sources, she argues nimbly that these artists did in fact know better.

Despite the heavy subject matter, Monsters is neither rant nor sermon. Dederer is not only an incisive researcher and writer, she’s also conversational, approachable and funny. The book seamlessly incorporates bits of memoir—Dederer’s life in the Pacific Northwest, her experiences as a critic and a woman, her failures—that have informed her critical thinking. Yes, Monsters is a worthy addition to contemporary literary criticism, but more than that, it’s a very enjoyable book about a thorny, elusive subject.

An enjoyable book about a thorny, elusive subject, Monsters is an incisive work of literary criticism about art created by men we now consider monsters.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” as the saying goes. This expression celebrates acceptance, affirming that the appearance of a person or object doesn’t have to align with beauty norms to be lovely. It’s a refreshing theme that runs throughout The Ugly History of Beautiful Things: Essays on Desire and Consumption by art, design, nature and science writer Katy Kelleher.

A frequent contributor to The Paris Review, where she formerly authored a column on color called Hue’s Hue, Kelleher writes candidly about her personal experiences as a home and design writer, which involved crafting descriptive write-ups of “beautiful things and their various charms.” But during this journey, she discovered that no matter which glittering objects she wrote about, the ugliness of animal cruelty, worker exploitation, toxic chemicals and other grisly realities still filtered through the beauty. “I came to accept that desire and repulsion exist in tandem,” she writes, “and that the most poignant beauties are interthread with ugliness.”

Divided into 10 thought-provoking chapters focusing on subjects such as flowers, gemstones, silk, perfume, china and even glass, Kelleher skillfully dissects many kinds of things that humans have found desirable over the years. She intertwines these discussions with her personal definition of beauty and reminds readers that beautiful things can be useful for more than their looks. For example, fine dishes are for gathering, feeding and sharing, not just display.

Combining elements of science, history, consumerism and mysticism, Kelleher’s prose is lively, informative and, at times, humorous. Her personal attachment to the concept of beauty turns what could have been a dry, aesthetic exploration into something soul-cleansing and restorative. Ultimately, her hope is that The Ugly History of Beautiful Things “will help you open your eyes to the beauty that already surrounds you, beauty that already exists in your cities and homes and backyards.”

Katy Kelleher skillfully illuminates the ugly shadows cast by some of our world’s most beautiful objects, including flowers, gemstones and silk.
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In a society that elevates white people and heteronormative relationships, the word family has come to suggest a white dad, a white mom and their two white children living in the suburbs. In Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance, however, DePaul University professor Francesca Royster provides a look at what family really means. It’s an expansive word that encapsulates what folks from all backgrounds have always done, especially within systems that can separate biological family members: blending both blood relatives and those chosen through adoption, marriage or simple affection. 

Royster brings readers along for her journey into motherhood as a queer woman fashioning a family. This includes not only the story of adopting a daughter with her wife, Annie, but also research about and with Black and queer chosen families. By artfully interweaving her own story with the work of scholars of African American and queer studies, Royster adds weight to her lived experience without distracting from the narrative. This approach also provides fuller context about the history of these marginalized identities for readers who do not share them.

Having a child inspires many parents to reflect on their own ancestral histories and families of origin, and this is certainly true for Royster. Throughout Choosing Family, she introduces the many mothers who came before her in her family line: her great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mother and stepmother, each of whom formed families from both blood and choice. For example, when her parents divorced, Royster’s mother created a family from deep friendships with strong, nurturing women. These relationships set the foundation for Royster to one day create the family she wanted, one that didn’t necessarily match the traditional image of family.

Parenthood is complex, and readers will feel Royster’s anticipation, joy and deep love, along with her fear. Her writing style has a smooth cadence and makes you feel like you’re with her every step of the way as she raises her daughter in a family that is Black, queer and chosen.

In her artful memoir, Francesca T. Royster brings readers along for her journey into motherhood as a queer woman fashioning a family.

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Recent Features

Hybrid memoirs mix the author's personal story with broader explorations of history, science, social science, criticism or spirituality. These 12 books are excellent examples, each one a unique blend of research and first-person narration that is more than the sum of its parts.
Funniest nonfiction books of 2023
STARRED REVIEW

June 13, 2023

The funniest nonfiction books of 2023 (so far)

These nine rollicking histories, memoirs and travelogues range from chuckle-inducing to wet-your-pants hilarious. Read in public at your own risk.

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In his third memoir, the hilarious and heartbreaking How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told, author Harrison Scott Key quips, “Men never talk about being betrayed. I want to. I feel I must. I have many deep convictions, and one of them is that suffering can and should be monetized.”

Key has done an excellent job thus far, with his debut The World’s Largest Man, winner of the 2016 Thurber Prize for American Humor, and 2018’s Congratulations, Who Are You Again? Fans know that his books are a potent mix of sharp, poignant and funny, thanks to the author’s penchant for openly talking about his baser instincts and his ability to take small, meaningful moments and extrapolate them out to large, cleverly expressed truths.

“Even if nobody bought it, even if my agent hated it, I had to get this mf-ing book out of my brain and my heart.” Read our interview with Harrison Scott Key.

In How to Stay Married, an onslaught of truths began with a devastating 2017 revelation: Lauren, Key’s wife since 2002, had been having an affair for five years. Her affair partner, called “Chad” in the book, was a married neighbor with a family that often spent time with Key’s own. The shock was deep and destabilizing, sending the author on an urgent journey of discovery (When did it go wrong? How did he miss the signs? How will their three daughters react? Should he buy a truck?) and a deep exploration of his Christian faith.

With wit and anger, humility and warmth, Key chronicles the myriad ways he has strived to understand how a couple with a lovely origin story could have grown so far apart. A chapter called “The Little Lawn Boy Learns His ABCs” is a tour de force of alphabetized self-examination (and, sometimes, self-flagellation), and a chapter by Lauren called “A Whore in Church” offers plain-spoken insight into the pain of her past and her choices in the present.

As the couple worked to figure out, together and separately, what the future might hold, Key found himself wondering, “What if, in some cosmically weird way, escaping a hard marriage is not how you change? What if staying married is?” How to Stay Married makes a strong case for that approach to romantic partnership, while offering plentiful food for thought about faith, humor, courage and love.

Humorist Harrison Scott Key’s memoir of the fallout following his wife’s affair offers plentiful food for thought about faith, humor, courage and love.

Leg

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When Greg Marshall and his childhood friend, Gretchen, ran for president and vice president of their high school class, they were something of an unconventional pair. Both were non-Mormons, making them a minority in Salt Lake City, Utah. Marshall had a pronounced limp and had yet to tell anyone he was gay, while Gretchen had a pacemaker “and a bone spur hanging off one foot like a sixth toe.” Marshall writes that their winning campaign strategy “was simple, and that was to make fun of ourselves.” Marshall takes that same winning approach in his stunning debut, Leg: The Story of a Limb and the Boy Who Grew From It

Marshall’s limp in his right leg caused weakness and spasms throughout his life and required surgeries from time to time. He had actually been diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months—but his parents never disclosed this fact, telling him instead that he had “tight tendons” and encouraging their son and other four children to simply rely on the mantra, “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP.” Marshall didn’t discover the true origin of his mobility limitations until 2014, by accident, when applying for health insurance. “Every day growing up was like an ABC Afterschool Special in which no lessons were learned, no wisdom gleaned,” he writes.

In different hands, this memoir might have become a tragic family story, overshadowed by a mother who was diagnosed with cancer and required decades of treatment for that and other conditions, and a kindhearted, dad-joking father who died from Lou Gehrig’s disease when Marshall was 22. Instead, Marshall has written a riotously funny book that will grab your attention and steal your heart from the very first page. His writing brings to mind early David Sedaris, with its bitingly funny caricatures and descriptions, bathed in blistering commentary, deep-seated opinions, wit, intellect and, above all else, fierce family love. Additionally, Marshall details several of his sexual experiences—not to be salacious but to illuminate his ongoing quest for identity and relationships, despite his long-standing fear of contracting HIV. “As a gay man and a person with a disability, I come out every day,” he writes.

The Marshalls’ lives are full of twists, turns and surprises that will leave readers yearning for more, and this memoir serves as a love letter to all of them, especially Marshall’s late father. Rare is the book that makes me both laugh out loud and shed actual tears, but Leg made me do both.

Bitingly funny and full of blistering commentary and fierce familial love, Greg Marshall's memoir is a winning debut.

Are lesbian bars endangered places? Down from a high of 206 bars recorded in 1987, there are currently only 20+ of these beloved, sticky, red-painted bars left in the U.S. Moby Dyke, the chronicle of Krista Burton’s obsessive quest to visit each of these remaining bars, offers readers a hilarious and affectionate investigation into the past and future of queer gathering spots.

Traveling from San Francisco to New York City, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Mobile, Alabama, Burton visits both historic neighborhood bars and newer nightclubs, talking to owners and patrons about why they love these bars and who is welcome there. Virtually every bar Burton visited is lesbian-owned but welcomes everyone, including the full range of queer identities: trans men and women, nonbinary folks and the emerging generation of gender-diverse young queers. Burton also asks why so many gay bars for cisgender men continue to thrive as exclusive spaces, while lesbian bars thrive on inclusion.

An accomplished and very funny journalist, Burton is able to track serious issues around queer belonging in a fresh and lively voice. The personal narrative underlying her pursuit of lesbian bars—including her marriage to Davin, a trans man, and coming out to her conservative Mormon family—is as topical and good-humored as the interviews and reportage contained here. 

Burton’s road trip was also shaped by COVID-19, and her experiences reveal how the isolation of the pandemic stoked a real hunger for the joy of being with others in crowded, sweaty rooms, singing karaoke, partaking in dildo races and people-watching (after showing a vaccination card, of course). Even the details about the economics of Burton’s quest (such as how to fund a road trip on a book advance while still working a day job) offer a fascinating glimpse into the reality of a writer’s life. 

Burton’s portrait of the evolution of lesbian bars into communal spaces offers a timely and engaging snapshot of queer life in America.

Krista Burton’s obsessive quest to visit each lesbian bar in the U.S. offers a hilarious and affectionate investigation into the past and future of queer gathering spots.

Jamie Loftus is a comedian, podcaster, animator, Emmy-nominated TV writer and performance artist. She’s joined MENSA as a joke, has seen Shrek the Musical 10-plus times and, in 2017, ate a copy of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Now, with the release of Raw Dog: The Naked Truth About Hot Dogs, the prolific creator and debut author takes readers on a cross-country road trip that is by turns eye-opening and gut-clenching, hilarious and poignant, scatological and existential.

In the summer of 2021—aka “Hot Dog Summer”—Loftus, her boyfriend and their dog and cat left their home in Los Angeles and set off to eat and critique a ton of hot dogs. Along the way, she interrogates our national affection for the iconic tubed meat, noting that hot dogs are “high culture, they’re low culture, they’re sports food and they’re hangover food and they’re deeply American for reasons that few people can explain.”   

Loftus digs into those mixed messages with sharp wit and righteous anger. After all, hot dogs are served at festive events but have long been made in places rife with animal abuse and worker exploitation. And while they’re the gleaming centerpiece of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, she explains that the celebrated competition is actually tainted by “jingoistic marketing” and entrenched sexism.

As for the hot dogs themselves, dozens of vendors are duly visited, sampled and reported on—from Costco and Home Depot to independent hot dog joints and even a few ballparks. She traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, “to get diarrhea at ten in the morning at all costs” and therefore ordered a hot dog topped with onion rings and Spaghetti-Os. In Baltimore, she “deep-throat[ed] a Maryland hot dog swaddled in deep-fried bologna,” and in Chicago, she reveled in a filet mignon steak dog. All this while pursuing with alacrity the answer to an urgent question: “Are the people on the Wienermobile fucking?”

Raw Dog is a wonderfully weird and wild mashup of history, social commentary, personal revelation and food journalism. The author’s passion for her work shines through as she makes a compelling case for more informed hot dog consumption while maintaining her love for the quintessential cookout food.

Comedian Jamie Loftus takes readers on a hot dog-sampling road trip that is by turns eye-opening and gut-clenching, hilarious and poignant, scatological and existential.
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Every collection of Samantha Irby essays—this is her fourth, following 2020’s Wow, No Thank You.—is a masterclass in situating pitch-perfect comedy and deep sincerity side by side. Irby’s appeal, at least to this reader, has always been how she’s found humor in some of life’s most difficult experiences, including losing both parents when she was a teenager and living with chronic illness.

In Irby’s new book, Quietly Hostile, she’s still sharing her delightfully bizarre opinions—like in the essay “Dave Matthews’ Greatest Romantic Hits,” which ranks 14 of the musician’s tenderest songs in an attempt to convince people that her love for him is not a bit. Irby also hits readers right in the feels with essays about complicated families, like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” about reconnecting with her older brother after 25 years. And as always, there are numerous gross-but-mostly-funny pieces about bodily fluids, including but not limited to diarrhea, peeing her pants and peeing on a sexual partner.

Yet Irby’s rising profile as a bestselling author and cult favorite television producer has had an impact on her Everywoman relatability. Quietly Hostile contains classic Irby humor, but her well-deserved success means the subjects she applies that humor to have irrevocably changed. For example, a handful of the essays are about writing for TV, including for Aidy Bryant’s Hulu comedy “Shrill” and HBO’s “Sex and the City” reboot. In this context, the otherwise on-brand diarrhea jokes (“During my interview I said ‘Can I give Carrie diarrhea?’ and I was hired immediately”) feel somewhat awkward. There is a dissonance between her self-deprecation and the reality that “Sex and the City” creator Michael Patrick King specifically reached out to Irby’s agent to ask if she’d be interested in writing for the new show.

This dissonance aside, Quietly Hostile is still very much worth a read. Irby is a truly hilarious writer and mines laughs from the wildest situations (even a trip to the emergency room for anaphylactic shock). And as a 40-something Black woman, a Midwesterner and a stepmother, she brings a unique and underrepresented perspective to the humor shelf of your local bookstore. This newest version of Irby’s unhinged yet subtly complex humor may not quite capture the magic of previous iterations, but she’s still someone who can (and did) write hundreds of words about what to do if you clog a public toilet—and you’ve got to admit, that’s pretty special.

Samantha Irby’s fourth essay collection plays the hits, offering readers a masterclass in situating pitch-perfect comedy and deep sincerity side by side.

Geniuses seem to inhabit a world apart from mere mortals like us. But they don’t, as the irreverent and entertaining Edison’s Ghosts makes clear. Debut author and science writer Katie Spalding has mined history, biography and psychology to turn the cult of genius on its head, shining a sassy light on the idiosyncrasies of some of history’s greatest minds. People traditionally held up as geniuses, she demonstrates, still fit under the heading of “everyone is an idiot.” Although, “Maybe it’s just the apparent contrast between what we expect from these figures and what we get.”

Take Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example, whom Spalding compares to a modern child star with an extremely pushy stage dad. After a childhood under his father’s thumb, Mozart turned out to be “kind of a handful.” Spalding unearths unusual bits of trivia about the musical prodigy, including the fact that Mozart apparently never outgrew a juvenile sense of bathroom humor, and that he believed babies should be fed on water. (Only two of his six children survived to adulthood.)

As for the title essay, “Thomas Edison’s Lesser-Known Invention: Dial-a-Ghost,” it turns out the prolific inventor had a formidable PR presence. “Basically, you can think of Edison as a sort of proto-Elon Musk,” Spalding writes. But unlike the Tesla, the rubber never met the road on Edison’s “Spirit Phone” for communicating with the dead. That didn’t keep Edison from claiming that the device would operate solely by scientific methods, however. And while he was ridiculed during his life for this idea, and biographers later claimed he couldn’t have been serious, Spalding unearthed a French version of a book of Edison’s writings that includes actual sketches for his design. 

Edison’s Ghosts can certainly be read from front to back, but you may find yourself so intrigued by some of the chapter titles that you decide to skip around. For what burgeoning philosopher can resist plunging right into “Confucius Was an Ugly Nerd With Low Self-Esteem”? Likewise, biology enthusiasts will hardly be able to resist turning first to “Charles Darwin: Glutton; Worm Dad; Murderer?”

Spalding includes chapters (and hilarious footnotes) about many other historical figures, including Leonardo da Vinci, Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Conan Doyle and Sigmund Freud. While the essays are tongue-in-cheek, they’re also well researched, informative and absolutely fun. Edison’s Ghosts will delight any science or history lover with a sense of humor.

Edison’s Ghosts will delight any science or history lover as it illuminates all the stupid things that famously smart people have done throughout history.

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Six self-help books publishing in January 2023
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January 13, 2023

6 self-help books to transform your 2023

Start the year off right with life-affirming lessons from six insightful self-help books.

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What if perfectionism isn’t a curse or a character flaw but rather a common state of being that can be harnessed for good? In her eye-opening book, The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control: A Path to Peace and Power, psychotherapist and former on-site Google therapist Katherine Morgan Schafler posits that perfectionists can live a life of joy rather than feeling perpetually disappointed by imperfection.

Schafler begins by describing the five types of perfectionists, including the classic (not spontaneous, a planner, always ready with a backup plan) and the intense (expresses anger when feeling overwhelmed, imposes standards on those around them). Indeed, this book is like a mirror for anyone who has struggled with perfectionism in any form. This reviewer identified a little uncomfortably closely with the Parisian perfectionist (wants to be liked, hides their deepest ambitions).

Schafler has treated hundreds of perfectionists in her private practice and recognizes that for many, perfectionism is rooted in a childhood of abuse, neglect or conditional love. It’s not as simple as just advising someone to lighten up. “Managing perfectionism by telling perfectionists to stop being perfectionists is like managing anger by telling people to ‘calm down,’” she writes. But the good news, according to Schafler, is that we can make perfectionism a tool in our lives by easing up on self-punishment, which she defines as hurting or denying yourself. We may think we are punishing ourselves to learn or grow, but we are actually just creating more fear and demoralization.

Schafler offers workable strategies to help perfectionists stop overthinking and overdoing and move to a joyful place. She also weaves research and suggestions with insightful vignettes from her clients’ experiences. All of it exudes warmth and empathy. “Until you can meet yourself with some compassion, you’ll reject the good in your life,” she advises.

In addition to being a fascinating look at the many influences that make a perfectionist, The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control is a welcome antidote that will help readers reframe and refocus.

The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control is a warm and welcome antidote to perfectionism that will help readers reframe and refocus.

Throughout our lives, we encounter fraught decisions around love and money: whether to take a better job across the country when our partner wants to stay put; when and whether to marry, buy a house, have a child; if we should work full time with children in the picture. Money and love “are profoundly intertwined, and both are fundamental to living a life of purpose and meaning, health, and well-being,” write Myra Strober and Abby Davisson, co-authors of Money and Love: An Intelligent Roadmap for Life’s Biggest Decisions.

Strober, who was the first female faculty member at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, created a groundbreaking class on work and family and has led thousands of students through it over the years. As a business school student, Davisson took Strober’s class with her then-boyfriend, and for their final paper, the couple chose the topic of living together before marriage. (Now married, the two have returned to the class as guest speakers for a decade.) Money and Love is informed by this popular class.

Organized around issues such as dating, marriage, deciding where to live and dividing household chores, the book’s chapters offer anecdotes, background research and thoughtful commentary, as well as questions and exercises. The authors call their decision-making framework the 5Cs: clarify (define your deep-down preferences), communicate, choices (generate a broad range of choices), check in (consult with friends, family, research) and consequences (categorize possible outcomes over time). This framework may sound simplistic, but the authors emphasize the complexity of each step toward making life decisions. Good communication, for instance, “isn’t always polite and calm. Sometimes it’s incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes it involves raised voices and, later, apologies for what was said in the heat of the moment.”

Money and Love offers a readable approach with nuggets of wisdom throughout. “Remember that each new agreement is essentially temporary, changing as different parts of life ebb and flow,” Strober and Davisson note in the chapter on sorting out housework and caregiving. The authors supplement anecdotes from former students and colleagues with their own, and Strober’s stories about the end of her first marriage and her second husband’s Parkinson’s disease, and Davisson’s story of her mother’s devastating brain injury at 68, add depth to the book. Money and Love is a useful guide, particularly for young couples on the verge of big decisions.

Organized around issues such as dating, marriage and deciding where to live, Money and Love is a useful, logical guide for couples on the verge of big life decisions.

After a decade of analyzing the internet’s worst apologies on their blog, SorryWatch, Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy have written the definitive book on how to apologize with Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies

The message of Sorry, Sorry, Sorry is a simple one: Accept responsibility for your actions, listen to the grievances of those involved and try to offer recompense based on their needs. However, if following these steps were simple, good apologies would be fairly common, right? Yet they remain elusive. Humans are highly intelligent creatures, smart enough to know that it’s easier to shift blame, procrastinate and politic than to face the consequences of our misdeeds. In fact, most of the book is devoted to examining the ways in which people—from celebrities to politicians to children—often maneuver around the core of an issue and how this avoidance causes more harm than good.

For example, in Chapter 6, Ingall and McCarthy consider the ways that doctors apologize—or, more commonly, the ways they slyly avoid doing so. Ingall recounts the time she went to a doctor’s appointment and had to wait over three hours to be seen. Every time Ingall pursued the issue, both in person and through email correspondence afterward, the doctor and his staff would essentially remix a “that’s just how it is” excuse. She is not alone in this experience, and people who have experienced more serious mishaps than an inconvenient wait have received little more than a pitiless “We regret . . .” statement from a medical professional in response. On the other hand, Ingall also demonstrates the ways that a good apology can prevent many of the legal repercussions that motivate doctors to dodge apologies in the first place. It turns out that when you earnestly take responsibility for your actions, people tend to respect you more than when you avoid the problem.

Good apologies are becoming rarer as disingenuous sorrys become the norm of internet discourse, like a kind of form to fill out after breaking unwritten rules. To avoid falling into this trap in your private or public life, read Sorry, Sorry, Sorry. The writing style is distinctive, if sometimes taxing, with parenthetical statements making up entire paragraphs and more references than your average “Family Guy” episode. That said, Sorry, Sorry, Sorry remains a very well-researched, insightful and useful book.

After a decade of analyzing the internet’s worst apologies, Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy have written the definitive book on how to apologize.

If the viewer count for Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk “What Makes a Good Life” is any indication, a lot of us (43 million and counting) are interested in finding out how to live meaningful and happy lives. In The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, Waldinger and co-author Mark Schulz help readers do just that by sharing with enthusiasm and warm encouragement what they’ve learned as stewards of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, “the longest in-depth longitudinal study of human life ever done.”

The study, which began in 1938 with 724 men and has since grown to include three generations of the original participants’ families, has obtained blood and DNA samples, brain imaging, et al., from its subjects, who have also answered countless questions over the decades. Waldinger is currently the study’s fourth director and Schulz its associate director. In 10 illuminating and wide-ranging chapters, they assert that a truly good life is well within reach if we will acknowledge one straightforward yet profound conclusion: “Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.”

Chapters like “The Person Beside You” and “Family Matters” explore how romantic and familial connections shape and strengthen us. In “The Good Life at Work,” survey participant Loren exemplifies the benefits of developing office allies: Her stress level lowered and her interactions at home improved thanks to a newly boosted sense of belonging. And “All Friends Have Benefits” argues that we shouldn’t underestimate casual friendships. After all, even if someone isn’t a ride-or-die friend, positive-yet-fleeting interactions still “provide us with jolts of good feeling or energy.” What’s not to like about that? 

Those looking for concrete how-tos will appreciate the authors’ W.I.S.E.R. (Watch, Interpret, Select, Engage, Reflect) model for breaking out of confounding relationship patterns. Self-assessment questions such as “Was I willing to acknowledge my role in the situation?” will help readers assess and improve on their roles in interpersonal conflicts.

To do that requires flexibility, of course, and that’s another key lesson of The Good Life: A willingness to consider new perspectives is proven to protect our physical and mental health. So, too, will remembering the authors’ uplifting discovery that “it doesn’t matter how old you are . . . everyone can make positive turns in their life.”

Findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development reveal that a truly good life is well within reach, and The Good Life will show you how to grasp it.

When was the last time you truly had fun? If you’re like most adults, it’s probably been longer than you care to admit. In the lighthearted and entertaining The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life, psychologist Mike Rucker suggests that fun is as important to human welfare as relationships and exercise—and therefore that we should all take fun a little more seriously.

Rucker argues that we are not experiencing nearly enough fun in our lives due to modern hindrances such as social media addiction, overwork and negative societal views about leisure (always be hustling). According to Rucker, the importance of fun cannot be overstated because it is not only good for us but also one of the most fundamental ways we interact with the world. However, as we age, we forget to make time for playtime, and this is having a detrimental effect on our collective well-being, resulting in widespread worker burnout.

Fun, to be clear, can be anything from dancing to helping others to learning a new language to rock climbing: essentially, any activity that sustains engagement and leaves you feeling like you’ve experienced something positive. But this isn’t a book that promotes “toxic positivity”—the sort of relentless positivity that drives people to ignore the actual problems in their lives. Rucker’s main concern is teaching us to examine how we spend our time so we can be more deliberate in our choices instead of living on autopilot.

Rucker provides a scientific approach to incorporating more fun, satisfaction and spontaneity into daily life, including practical ideas and strategies. For example, he suggests that people schedule fun into their day ahead of time, and that they take photos while they’re having fun so they can be reminded often of a fun moment. Rucker also recommends that, when possible, people prioritize their time over money. After all, time is a resource you can’t get back.

With expertise and a personal, intimate understanding of the subject matter, Rucker backs up his suggestions with scientific research regarding happiness, fun and, most interestingly, how our brains interpret stimuli. This well-researched and impressive guide to finding more meaning in your day-to-day life will offer readers endless rewards.

Psychologist Mike Rucker suggests that fun is as important to human welfare as relationships and exercise—and therefore that we should all take fun more seriously.
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There’s only so much of the sweet stuff to go around, and in The Sugar Jar: Create Boundaries, Embrace Self-Healing, and Enjoy the Sweet Things in Life, wellness expert Yasmine Cheyenne helps readers consider their own sugar reserves. Sugar is “all the sweet parts of you—your time, your energy, your attention, your money, your expertise/education, and every single part of you that can be given or exchanged.” Paying attention to one’s own sugar jar entails thinking carefully about where the sugar is going—and how you might better guard it in order to enjoy life.

Cheyenne’s guiding metaphor, the sugar jar, is immediately understandable. Some jars might have cracks. Other jars might not have lids and are therefore susceptible to anyone helping themselves. Cheyenne shows how a lack of boundaries may be holding readers back from understanding and pursuing what really matters to them, and she offers many questions to transform idle observations into deeper reflection and action.

Cheyenne also devotes several chapters to how aspects of identity—such as race, class and family structure—impact our sugar jars. In the chapter “Black Healing,” Cheyenne offers insights specifically for Black readers, noting that the wellness field is often not a welcoming space for people of color. In “Healing as the Parent and as the Child,” Cheyenne acknowledges that parents are, in a sense, continually monitoring the sugar jars of their kids, which can be a unique and draining job. Throughout the book, Cheyenne offers personal stories to bring principles to life and connect with the reader. In all, The Sugar Jar is an accessible and thoughtful discussion of boundaries from a wellness advocate who has both talked the talk and walked the walk.

The Sugar Jar offers an accessible and thoughtful discussion of boundaries from a wellness advocate who has both talked the talk and walked the walk.

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November 30, 2022

From stage to page

Give the gift of intrigue with a celebrity memoir that captures all the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame.

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Sam Heughan, known to legions of fans as Jamie Fraser in the popular TV show based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, recently decided it was time to walk the rigorous West Highland Way in Scotland, a long-distance hiking trail that runs from north of Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. He wanted a solitary challenge and a pause in the acting career he has worked tirelessly at, and packing 96 miles into five days seemed like it would provide the right combination of endurance and introspection. In his remarkable, thought-provoking memoir, Waypoints: My Scottish Journey, he welcomes readers along for the journey.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Before Heughan stepped out the door onto the West Highland Way, he was a runner, not a walker. Marathons, yes; walking slowly, not his thing. His camping and hiking experiences were limited; he even thought hiking poles were “cumbersome” and almost threw them away once he hit the trail. His overstuffed rucksack, complete with whiskey and cigars, weighed him down. The rain in late October almost ruined him on the second day, and he soon chose comfortable wayside inns over his tent. But he was nearing his 40th birthday (making him the same age as the Way) and, despite these challenges, felt it was simply time he got this done.

Bracketing Heughan’s journey is an account of his visit to his dying father in faraway British Columbia, Canada. The man was a stranger who abandoned his family long ago, but Heughan and his brother felt nonetheless compelled to offer a goodbye. Once they arrived, Heughan was stunned to learn that his father had been following his acting career all along. He recorded their visit on his phone, but later, back on the set of “Outlander,” the phone vanished. It was, he writes, “a fitting epitaph.”

The award-winning actor, author, philanthropist and entrepreneur offers plenty of details of his walk to Fort William, including a daunting hike up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. Along the way, Heughan has a clear, precise and entertaining style. He is a funny man, and his encounters with roaming sheep, other hikers and clusters of mushrooms are wonderfully comic. 

If Waypoints were merely about Heughan’s walk, it would be delightful, instructive and enticing. But this is a memoir, after all, and it is his reflection on his life and work, interspersed with the challenges and discoveries of the Way, that lend his story heft and grit.

“Outlander” star Sam Heughan’s reflections on his life and work add heft and grit to his memoir about walking the West Highland Way in Scotland.

A few years after British actor Tom Felton hung up his Slytherin robes for good, he hit rock bottom. It was the first step toward reclaiming his identity, as it prompted him to ask how and when he left the wisecracking kid from Surrey behind and instead became dependent on the numbing effect of alcohol. In Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard, Felton looks back in order to uncover the path forward as he candidly details the surreal experience of being a prominent part of a pop culture juggernaut.

Felton’s first major on-screen role was in 1997’s The Borrowers, an adaptation of the classic children’s book. This opened the door to other promising opportunities, notably playing The Boy Who Lived’s archenemy: sneering, peroxide-blond Draco Malfoy. At the time of his audition, 12-year-old Felton had never read a Harry Potter novel and couldn’t quite understand the breathless excitement that the books inspired.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Felton spent nearly a decade immersed in the world of witches and wizards, where he became accustomed to a singular life on set. The final stretch of filming was bittersweet, and when it was through, he hoped to transition into a career brimming with star-studded blockbusters and high-end craft services. Instead, Felton’s move to Los Angeles made him feel like a rudderless ship. “I missed having an ordinary conversation with an authentic human, who didn’t know who I was, and didn’t care,” he writes.

Felton’s memoir isn’t a shameless tell-all or a cautionary tale about the ills of fame. He frequently expresses gratitude and praises the skills and professionalism of older actors who were in the Harry Potter films, such as Jason Isaacs and Alan Rickman. He has no problem poking fun at himself, but his moments of self-reflection are compassionate. Beyond the Wand may focus on Felton’s Harry Potter days, but it’s so much more than fan service. With introspection and charm, Felton’s narrative captures the growing pains of adolescence.

In his memoir, Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton captures the growing pains of adolescence with introspection and charm.

Lauren Graham is perhaps best known for her acting, particularly her role as the young, headstrong single mom Lorelai in the television show “Gilmore Girls.” But Graham, who has a bachelor’s degree in English from Barnard College and master’s of fine arts in acting performance from Southern Methodist University, is also the accomplished author of a novel (Someday, Someday, Maybe), a collection of personal essays (Talking as Fast as I Can) and a book of advice for graduates (In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It). 

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Graham’s second book of personal essays, Have I Told You This Already?: Stories I Don’t Want to Forget to Remember, is composed of 15 insightful pieces relaying impactful moments and life lessons that have shaped who she is. She explains how her creative outlook was molded by people and experiences from her youth. For example, although her mother was largely absent from her upbringing, Graham sees a positive side to this fact: “I think not growing up with my mom means I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what a mom is supposed to be!” 

Graham takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour of Hollywood, sharing acting jargon such as “pumpkin” (the term for when child actors have to be done working for the day) and “sold it in the room” (getting backing from someone with clout). She’s candid about the demands of show business, too, and the acrobatics that actors have to perform to fit into the Hollywood mold. In a chapter aptly named “Forever 32,” Graham reflects on aging, comparing her recollections of being a 20-something to when, at the age of 32, she realized “I had a sense of myself I’d never had before.” She also muses about her days as a young actor, hustling to various jobs while trying to make it. These stories and anecdotes are especially raw, real and humorous.

Graham’s writing is fresh, sharp and very funny, with fast, staccato sentences that evoke what it must be like to have a conversation with her. Her voice invites the reader in, emanating a refreshing openness that will make them want to be her best friend. Have I Told You This Already? is an enjoyable, amusing revelation.

Actor Lauren Graham’s second collection of essays is fresh, sharp and very funny, with staccato sentences that evoke what it must be like to have a conversation with her.
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Oh, Lord Grantham, patriarch of Downton Abbey! We feel as though we already know you, with those twinkling eyes and deep, reassuring voice. In Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru, stage and screen actor Hugh Bonneville shares what he calls “a series of snapshots I’ve taken along the way,” allowing us to know him more truly. As you might expect, his account is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect and humor. It’s also a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names, including Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Laurence Olivier, Celia Imrie, Leonardo DiCaprio and many more.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

The memoir is divided into sections discussing Bonneville’s childhood, theater years and film roles. His father was a urologist and his mother a nurse—or so he thought before learning after her death that her second job was with MI6, the British Secret Service. “I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth but I realised I had a nice set of crockery compared to so many others,” he writes. Early on, he began thinking of the theater as a “magic toybox,” although he originally thought he would become a lawyer and also contemplated theology until drama school beckoned.

There’s no mean-spirited gossip in this memoir, just plenty of humorous self-deprecation and some laugh-out-loud anecdotes—like the time an actor in a live theater performance was popping peanuts while making a confession and ended up choking and passing out. Or the time Judi Dench dropped a note that said “Fancy a shag?” in the lap of an audience member she thought was a friend. Turns out, the man was not her pal.

Bonneville’s years of rich stage, television and film performances are nicely detailed, including amusing audition mishaps and disappointments. Although he offers a number of anecdotes about his parents, siblings, wife and son, he remains largely private about his personal life. But the “Downton Abbey” stories are wonderful, even if rabid fans like myself will wish for more. We shouldn’t complain though, given tidbits like Shirley MacLaine’s comment, “I had lovers all over the world. Overseas was fun. This one time, three in a day.” To which Maggie Smith responded, “Oh darling, you have been busy.”

Playing Under the Piano is a must-read for Bonneville fans, as well as an excellent look at the ups and downs of being an actor. Now excuse me while I go watch Paddington again.

Hugh Bonneville’s memoir is intriguing, breezy and full of intellect, a delicious stroll down a red carpet lined with big names and laugh-out-loud anecdotes.

Actor Paul Newman was known for many things: acting, car racing, philanthropy through his Newman’s Own food business and, of course, his rugged good looks and piercing blue eyes. He was a beloved Hollywood icon, but he didn’t think of himself that way. In fact, he wrestled with internal demons throughout his life.

Newman’s memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, composed posthumously from interviews he began conducting in 1986 with the help of screenwriter and close friend Stewart Stern, is raw, honest and revealing. Through his own reminiscences and those of his contemporaries, including Elia Kazan, Stuart Rosenberg, Eva Marie Saint and Tom Cruise, the book provides a firsthand glimpse of Newman’s life and how his choices affected those around him. His upbringing, military service in World War II, first marriage to Jackie Witt, second marriage to actor Joanne Woodward, six children and professional and personal endeavors are all laid out on the table.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

Even after he became famous, Newman was often unsure of himself. Part of this stemmed from the fact that he likely had a learning disability. The way he was treated by his parents, especially his mother, was also detrimental. She could be hurtful and treated him like a dress-up doll rather than a son. Newman’s memories of his father depict the man as an indifferent alcoholic. Unfortunately, this contributed to Newman’s own problems with alcoholism, as well as his son Scott’s substance issues and depression—burdens Newman carried his whole life.

But Newman also had more positive traits, from charisma and humor to compassion and business savvy. These qualities pop up throughout the book and were obvious to those who knew him. But even after all his success, he just couldn’t seem to shake his feelings of self-doubt. “If I had to define ‘Newman’ in the dictionary, I’d say: ‘One who tries too hard,’” he writes. The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man is a humble and candid look into the life of a celebrated but often misunderstood man.

In Paul Newman’s posthumous memoir, his upbringing, military service, marriages, children and professional endeavors are all laid out on the table.

Nothing could have prepared Melanie Jayne Chisholm—aka Sporty Spice—for the loneliness, isolation and debilitating episodes of imposter syndrome that accompanied the extreme highs (and lows) of fame. In The Sporty One: My Life as a Spice Girl, the singer, songwriter and tracksuit-wearing Brit carefully unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

The Spice Girls were a pop culture supernova at the turn of the new millennium. Contrary to the narrative wrought by the misogynistic media, the group was not the brainchild of industry executives. After answering a magazine advertisement, Victoria Adams (Posh), Geri Halliwell (Ginger), Melanie Brown (Scary), Michelle Stephenson and Chisholm came together to form the band Touch. When Stephenson proved to be a weak link, Emma Bunton (Baby) was recruited. It would take a pivotal name change and the reclamation of creative autonomy from their early male managers, but the Spice Girls would go on to smash records and, even more importantly, disrupt the cultural and musical landscape.

6 more celebrity memoirs that capture the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame

This type of rise at a young age leaves a few scars, and Chisholm isn’t afraid to recount her personal battles. The pressures of being a ubiquitous pop star coupled with her innate perfectionism brought on depression and severe anxiety. At one point after the Spice Girls had gone on hiatus and Chisholm had embarked on a successful solo career, she was nearly agoraphobic and plagued by incessant panic attacks. And despite her public image of health and fitness, the singer was secretly contending with disordered eating, which eventually led to anorexia and binge eating disorders. In 2009, Chisholm gave birth to her daughter, Scarlet. Motherhood wasn’t a cure-all for her mental health issues, but this new caregiver role allowed her to appreciate the extraordinary power of her body and all she has put it through.

Chisholm’s narrative voice is warm, funny and unabashedly real. Fans will feel as though they’ve been invited to an enlightening soul session with a close friend. Hard truths about patriarchal oppression and the fickle nature of celebrity are examined with sympathy and understanding. The Sporty One is more than the memoir of a pop star; it’s an emotional revelation.

Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice, unpacks her nonlinear journey toward self-acceptance while pinned under the glare of the spotlight.

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Give the gift of intrigue this holiday season with a celebrity memoir that captures all the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame.
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November 15, 2022

The best World War II histories and memoirs of 2022

Even the most devoted history buffs will discover fresh perspectives among these 11 outstanding World War II reads.

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Reading One Hundred Saturdays: Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank is like watching an artist piece together a mosaic. A splash of blue sea here. A mother’s song over there. The smell of Purim pastries. The flash of first love. But the mosaic is never completed. Instead, a terrible wind descends, leaving the artist to pick up the pieces as best she can and begin a new image.

Here, the artist is Stella Levi, a 99-year-old Jewish woman living in New York City. The mosaic is the Juderia, the main Jewish quarter on the island of Rhodes, where Levi was born in 1923. And the wind is the Holocaust, which reached the Juderia in the last months of World War II and scattered Levi’s parents, family, friends and community. One Hundred Saturdays is the story of that time and place, but it is also much more: a story of friendship, survival, reinvention and courage.

Frank, author of The Mighty Franks and What Is Missing and a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow, met Levi by chance—or perhaps serendipity—when he rushed in late to attend a lecture, and the elegant older woman in the chair next to him struck up a conversation. The following Saturday, he found himself in Levi’s Greenwich Village apartment, the first of 100 Saturdays that he would spend with her over the following six years. Over the course of those visits, Levi became both a friend and muse as she recounted the minutest details of her life, from its rich beginning to its remarkable present.

Maira Kalman’s illustrations, heavily influenced by Matisse with their deceptive simplicity, rich colors and delicate textures, are perfect complements to Levi’s story, portraying vanished scenes from life on Rhodes before the Holocaust. Together with the text of Frank’s beautiful book, they create a sensitive portrait of an extraordinary woman. Fiercely independent, keenly intelligent and remorselessly honest, Levi refuses to be defined solely by the tragedy of her youth. Her life has been a constant evolution, and her final years are being lived with the same vitality as her earliest ones.

One Hundred Saturdays is the story of a Jewish community before the Holocaust, but it is also much more: a story of friendship, survival, reinvention and courage.
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From 1932 to 1942, Joseph C. Grew served as the United States ambassador to Japan, where he was devoted to cultivating peace between the two countries. Despite his extraordinary efforts, he left the post in 1942 following six months of internment in the Tokyo embassy after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Author Steve Kemper draws on a wide range of sources, including Grew’s memoirs and diary, diplomatic messages and Japanese accounts of events, as he recounts the lead-up to America’s involvement in World War II in Our Man in Tokyo: An American Ambassador and the Countdown to Pearl Harbor.

Grew was an unlikely career diplomat. His background—Boston, Groton, Harvard—indicated a different path, perhaps a career in business or banking. But he sought adventure. On his way to assume new duties in Tokyo, he wrote in his diary that of all his 14 posts, Japan “promises to be the most adventurous of all.”

Kemper takes readers behind the scenes to see the complex realities that Grew coped with on a daily basis. He tried to alert America’s leaders to the challenges of Japan’s increasing militarism and fervent nationalism while doing what he could to keep their foreign policy in check. Where he was open-minded and pragmatic, his boss, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, had a fundamental distrust of Japan. Grew strongly protested Japan’s many devastating acts against Americans, but he was also concerned by the ignorance of American isolationists and pacifists at home who saw the U.S. as a warmonger. 

On January 27, 1941, long before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the ambassador first heard the rumor that if the Japanese government broke with the United States, it would plan a surprise mass attack. He passed that word along to the U.S. State Department—however, the Navy had already studied the possibility of a Pearl Harbor attack and considered it unlikely.

Grew’s tireless efforts to avert war with Japan demonstrate both the value and the limitations of any one person in international power politics. This enlightening and well-written history should be of interest to a wide range of readers.

Steve Kemper’s splendid portrait of the American ambassador to Japan during the lead-up to World War II will be of interest to a wide range of history lovers.
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When award-winning British journalist Simon Parkin (A Game of Birds and Wolves) dug through the National Archives in London looking for a story idea, he literally found one: A newspaper called The Camp was mistakenly folded between some pages. Produced by German and Austrian internees at a camp for “enemy aliens” during World War II, the newspaper revealed details about a time and place discreetly buried within a shameful chapter of England’s fight against the Nazis. The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp brings to light a truly extraordinary example of humanity at its best and worst in a country at war, sometimes with itself.

With copious and often heart-wrenching detail, Parkin brings this interlude back to life through the experiences of those imprisoned in Hutchinson camp on the Isle of Man and their thwarted yet persistent rescuers. In 1938, Peter Fleischmann, a Jewish teenager thought to be an orphan, escaped Berlin via the legendary Kindertransport train and landed in England. Then, in 1940, he was arrested. Suspected of (but never charged with) being a Nazi spy, he was released, then arrested again, as British fears about refugees intensified. Thousands of people, young and old, Jews and Nazi sympathizers alike, were deported or imprisoned in camps on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. 

In Hutchinson camp, the arts were encouraged as an antidote to anxiety and despair, enabling imprisoned painters, composers, journalists, scholars, poets, sculptors and musicians to create “Hutchinson University.” There, Fleischmann flourished. He and many others—such as his mentor, Dadaist pioneer Kurt Schwitters—would later excel in their fields.

Justice seekers like Bertha Bracey of the Germany Emergency Committee kept pressure on the government to end the misbegotten idea of mass internment, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill defended it as a necessary wartime protection. “Most regrettable and deplorable things have happened,” Sir John Anderson said in an address to Parliament in 1940. It was as close as England ever came to an apology.

In addition to the prison newspaper, Parkin’s primary sources include firsthand accounts of the tragic sinking of the SS Andora Star, an ill-equipped former cruise ship that deported hundreds of “enemy aliens” to Canada and was attacked by a German U-boat, and interviews with internees’ friends and descendants. It is a cautionary yet inspiring tale, one that bears remembering.

Simon Parkin brings the shameful history of British internment camps during World War II to life in The Island of Extraordinary Captives.

Caroline Moorehead, author of the New York Times bestselling Resistance Quartet, brings her prodigious research and storytelling talents to Mussolini’s Daughter, her study of Edda Mussolini, the eldest and favorite child of Benito Mussolini and one of the most powerful women in 1930s Europe. In her foreword, Moorehead notes the challenges facing any biographer of the Mussolini family, including the difficulty of separating swirling myths from facts. Yet through her skillful mining of archival materials, personal papers and memoirs, Moorhead has created for readers—even ones previously unfamiliar with the rise of fascism in Italy—a nuanced portrait of a complex woman.

One of the pleasures of a deeply researched biography is being transported into the past through rich details that bring historical figures to life. Moorehead is masterful at this. For instance, we learn early on that in 1910, Edda’s mother, Rachele, already pregnant, defied her family and left home to live with Mussolini. The young couple walked five kilometers in a downpour, taking with them only “four sheets, four plates and six knives, spoons and forks.”

Moorehead writes that “Mussolini and Fascism made Edda what she was.” With this in mind, the author devotes considerable space to tracing Mussolini’s rising political career, which paralleled Edda’s youth. By the time Edda was 11, her father was the editor of a successful newspaper “and the leader of a quickly growing political movement.” In 1922, he became prime minister of Italy and set about consolidating power to become dictator.

In 1930, in an impressive ceremony Moorehead describes as “the wedding of the century,” glamorous, mercurial 19-year-old Edda married Count Galeazzo Ciano, son of one of the founders of the Fascist Party. Although she was part of a “golden couple,” Edda also had a fierce independent streak.

Moorehead spends ample time covering World War II and the ways in which the military conflict, Italy’s alliance with Germany and complex internal power struggles determined the fates of the two men closest to Edda. Despite her efforts to save him, her husband was executed for treason in January of 1944—an outcome Mussolini did little to prevent. Mussolini himself was killed in April 1945. Edda, meanwhile, escaped to Switzerland with her three children. Though for a time she professed to hate Mussolini, Edda once told an interviewer that her father “was the only man I ever really loved.”

Moorehead’s clear, compelling prose and sure-handed grasp of historical events combine to make Mussolini’s Daughter read like a page-turning thriller, one that will have special appeal for readers fascinated by European history, World War II and the conditions that gave rise to fascism.

Caroline Moorehead’s clear, compelling prose and sure-handed grasp of historical events combine to make Mussolini’s Daughter read like a page-turning thriller.

As World War II recedes further into the past, Jonathan Freedland has revived one story from the Holocaust that’s both historically significant and a riveting read. Freedland, the author of several thrillers and a correspondent for The Guardian, writes with a novelist’s verve to tell the story of Rudolf Vrba, one of the first Jewish people to escape from Auschwitz.

The Escape Artist opens with Vrba (born Walter Rosenberg) and Fred Wetzler, another young prisoner, in the middle of an escape attempt. With the help of two other prisoners, Vrba and Wetzler climbed into a woodpile to hide, the first step in escaping the death camp. “For the teenage [Vrba], it was an exhilarating feeling—but not a wholly new one,” Freedland writes. “Because this was not his first escape. And it would not be his last.”

In the late 1930s, leaders in Slovakia seized Jews’ assets and steadily banned them from public life, including schools. Even so, a young Vrba taught himself new languages and learned chemistry from an illicit textbook. As deportation approached, Vrba tried to escape to England but landed in a transit camp. He escaped the camp, got captured again and was eventually sent to Auschwitz. The Nazis had convinced the deported Jews that they were merely being resettled, but once inside Auschwitz, Vrba began to understand the truth: The Nazis were methodically killing millions of Jewish people.

When Vrba was put to work in the section of Auschwitz that processed stolen Jewish belongings, he found a new level of corruption: The Nazis had stolen every material possession from each deported Jewish person, and SS guards were making deals with enslaved workers to keep certain valuables. The brutality and inhumanity of Nazis at every level is chilling and can make for difficult reading. At the same time, Freedland’s depth of research gives a more complete picture of Auschwitz, and Vrba’s inventiveness and ultimate escape from the camp, and his efforts to tell the world the truth about its horrors, make for a gripping narrative.

The book’s last section follows Vrba through his long postwar life in Canada, where he worked as a biochemistry professor at the University of British Columbia. Vrba wrote his own memoir in the 1960s, but now The Escape Artist vividly brings his story to a new generation of readers.

Jonathan Freedland tells the story of Rudolf Vrba, one of the first Jewish people to escape from Auschwitz, with a novelist's verve.
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“Finis Austriae” was the only entry in Sigmund Freud’s journal on the day the Nazi army flooded over the Austrian border. In Saving Freud: The Rescuers Who Brought Him to Freedom, former Newsweek foreign correspondent Andrew Nagorski maps the Nazi takeover of Austria and the urgent operation to rescue Freud, one of Austria’s most famous and most devoted Jewish sons, along with fifteen other people, including his personal doctor, in-laws and other family members.

Nagorski is masterful at juxtaposing the evolution of the global emergency that became World War II with the deep interiority of a man whose passionate life work concerned people’s half-hidden thoughts. The father of psychoanalysis downplayed the threat the Nazis posed, clinging to his optimism that humans would turn back to the light and all would be made right, until it was almost calamitously too late. Saving Freud is the sort of book that, though you know the outcome of the events, still makes you hope with Freud that something might take a turn for the better. Nagorski has a gift for revealing that everything—worldwide emergencies, far-away news, political decisions—is, in the end, about people. This is wonderfully appropriate for a book about Freud, who laid the groundwork for interrogating and understanding the inner self.

It is dizzying to think of everything that had to be achieved to move a large, wealthy and well-known Jewish family out of Nazi territory and into the relative safety of the broader world, which was still often unwelcoming to both Jews and immigrants. Yet Saving Freud tells the story of a group of people—including Freud’s daughter Anna and her lover, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham (heiress to the Tiffany & Co. fortune); the U.S. ambassador to France, William Bullitt; and Marie Bonaparte, princess of Greece and great-grandniece to Napoleon—who did just that. Motivated by love and towering respect for a man and his work, the unlikely team cooperated seamlessly to achieve the near impossible. It is a tale of good-heartedness, of human devotion and of people who unhesitatingly rushed in to do the right thing. In this way, it feels like a relief to read. Far from being a dry historical account, the book’s emphasis on the personal creates a compelling, page-turning narrative that is wholly engrossing and difficult to put down. Nagorski has written a book for our time, reminding us of the potential for good and adherence to higher ideals in moments of global emergency.

Far from being a dry historical account, Saving Freud is a compelling, page-turning narrative of the urgent operation to rescue Sigmund Freud from the Nazis.

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Even the most devoted history buffs will discover fresh perspectives among the best World War II histories and memoirs of 2022.

A good old-fashioned yarn that spans generations and eras, A Generous Pour: Tall Tales From the Backroom of Jimmy Kelly’s traces the remarkable origins of a beloved Nashville, Tennessee, establishment: Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse. Mike Kelly, the restaurant’s current owner, tells the intriguing story of how his Irish immigrant family established a thriving restaurant business after an adventuresome start in whiskey making and liquor running. Filled with moonshiners, bootleggers and crooked cops, A Generous Pour is a book that’s as bracing as a shot of Kelly’s best.

Divided neatly into four parts, the narrative documents the rise of the Kelly family enterprise—an achievement made possible by the clan’s natural instinct for commerce and spirit of hardscrabble ingenuity. The author’s great-grandfather, James Michael Kelly, left Ireland in the 1840s, became a moonshiner in Tennessee at the age of 17 and lost an eye in the Civil War. His son John made clandestine liquor deliveries and, in 1934, opened a restaurant in Nashville called the 216 Club, “a respectable drinking alternative to the rowdy downtown speakeasies.” The 216 Club served a clientele that included notable politicians and musicians (Elvis Presley was a patron) with first-rate steaks and spirits.

John died in 1948. A year later, his son Jimmy opened Jimmy Kelly’s in Belle Meade, an upscale suburb within metro Nashville. Both restaurant locations flourished. Always a family enterprise, the business passed into the hands of Bill Kelly (Jimmy’s brother and the author’s father) after Jimmy retired.

Kelly handles the book’s complex chronology with wonderful assurance. He seasons the story with fascinating bits of Nashville trivia and demonstrates an undeniable gift for setting scenes. (The book’s sensational opening chapter chronicles the kidnapping of John Kelly by Al Capone’s henchmen.) Kelly himself was raised in the restaurant trade—as a boy, he bused tables with his brothers and slid down the banister of 216’s staircase—and his insider knowledge gives the book a special spark.

Mixed in with his colorful account of the ambitious Kelly clan is a fascinating survey of Music City history, from the upheaval of World War One to the payoffs and police raids of Prohibition, through economic booms and busts, to the landmark event of 1967: the legalization of liquor-by-the-drink in Davidson County, which Kelly identifies as the starting point for Nashville’s ascendance as a business center and major tourist destination. 

Today Kelly manages Jimmy Kelly’s at its current home on Louise Avenue in Midtown Nashville. His book is a charming, briskly written narrative, rich with adventure and detail, that provides a compelling look at Nashville’s past.

Filled with moonshiners, bootleggers and crooked cops, A Generous Pour is a book that’s as bracing as a shot of whiskey.

Filled with moonshiners, bootleggers and crooked cops, A Generous Pour is a book that’s as bracing as a shot of whiskey.

Filled with moonshiners, bootleggers and crooked cops, A Generous Pour is a book that’s as bracing as a shot of whiskey.

Some of the best historians, scientists, poets and memoirists working today—plus a few multitalented movie and music stars—are ready to dazzle you with their latest works of brilliance.

Scenes From My Life by Michael K. Williams
Crown | August 23

Growing up in an East Flatbush housing project in Brooklyn, New York, Michael K. Williams was a fragile outsider and bullied kid. As he grew older, he progressed from Manhattan dance clubs to a nascent modeling career, then to acting. When the beloved performer died in September 2021, his memoir about this wild life journey, written with author Jon Sternfeld, was nearly finished. Now the posthumously published Scenes From My Life will explore not only Williams’ many iconic television roles, especially Omar from “The Wire,” but also his work as an activist and advocate for young people who get stuck in the school-to-prison pipeline. Scenes From My Life will cement Williams’ legacy as a kind, thoughtful man who used his public prominence to give back to his community.

A Place in the World by Frances Mayes
Crown | August 23

In Frances Mayes’ new collection of essays, she ponders the meaning of “home,” that intangible thing to which countless magazines and blogs are dedicated. The storied author recalls the literal homes where she has taken up residence over the years—from the iconic Italian villa from Under the Tuscan Sun, to the humid and fragrant Georgia town that was the subject of her memoir Under Magnolia, to the North Carolina farmhouse where she and her husband live when they’re not in Italy. She even recalls temporary homes, such as rentals in Mexico and Capri, as well as the sculptures, books, kitchens and fireplaces of her friends’ homes around the world. Tempered by a dash of wistful examination as Mayes enters her 80s, A Place in the World promises to be as nourishing and comforting as a home-cooked meal.

Strangers to Ourselves by Rachel Aviv
FSG | September
13

Rachel Aviv’s first book explores questions of self-knowledge and mental health, subjects she’s previously examined in her award-winning journalism for The New Yorker. Strangers to Ourselves offers sensitive case histories of people whose experiences of mental illness exceed the limits of psychiatric terminology, diagnosis and treatment—including the author’s own experience of being the youngest child in the U.S. to receive a diagnosis of anorexia. After being hospitalized for a failure to eat or drink, she met anorexic girls twice her age and learned to mimic their strategies for losing weight. But which came first: the diagnosis or her symptoms? This contradiction between psychiatric terminology and lived experience is the core issue driving Aviv’s book, which also examines Western psychiatry’s long history of ignoring the link between racial violence and mental illness. It’s a sharp, compassionate and necessary investigation, not to be missed.

What If? 2 by Randall Munroe
Riverhead | September
13

Randall Munroe returns with the answers to more questions that you have probably never asked. (What would happen if the solar system were filled with soup out to Jupiter? If a T. rex were released in New York City, how many humans per day would it need to consume to get its needed calorie intake?) The former NASA roboticist and bestselling author of How To, What If? and Thing Explainer combines scientific prowess with humor and his signature stick figure comics to illustrate complicated physics concepts in the silliest ways possible. But as Munroe writes in the introduction to What If? 2, “The same kind of science is used to answer serious questions and silly ones.” So abandon your pretensions, all ye who enter here, and you’ll be sure to learn something new.

The Year of the Puppy by Alexandra Horowitz
Viking | September
20

Do you ever wish you’d known your dog for its whole life? That you could have met it right after it was born and watched it grow into the dog you know and love today? Dog cognition extraordinaire and bestselling author Alexandra Horowitz (Our Dogs, Ourselves) decided that her family’s next dog would provide the perfect opportunity to study puppy development, and The Year of the Puppy records everything she learned in the first year of that puppy’s life. It’s a heartwarming personal story that seamlessly incorporates captivating science about our beloved canine companions. It’s also a must-read for dog lovers, which probably goes without saying, but we suspect that even cat lovers will find much to enjoy in this endearing scientific memoir.

Stay True by Hua Hsu
Doubleday | September
27

New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu’s memoir is born of trauma. In the summer of 1998, Hsu’s friend and classmate Ken Ishida was murdered in a carjacking just before their senior year at the University of California, Berkeley. Stay True examines the reverberations of a friendship frozen in time by death, while charting a parallel exploration of the experiences of immigration and assimilation that both drew together and pushed apart Hsu, whose parents are immigrants from Taiwan, and Ishida, whose Japanese American family had been in the United States for generations. Ultimately it’s a touching portrait of the years in a young person’s life when every album, every item of clothing is a stake in the ground of their burgeoning identity. Readers who came of age at the turn of the 21st century will be especially rewarded by the pop culture gems studded throughout.

Fen, Bog and Swamp by Annie Proulx
Scribner | September
27

The acclaimed author of The Shipping News, Barkskins and Brokeback Mountain turns her perceptive eye to the calamitous destruction of the world’s peatlands in Fen, Bog & Swamp. Annie Proulx is a lifelong environmentalist but not a scientist, so her language is always accessible as she explains how fens, bogs and swamps differ by water level and vegetation, and how crucial they are to a healthy ecosystem. She ranges widely, both thematically and geographically, and considers plenty of archaeology and literature along the way. She also sprinkles in reminiscences of her own wetland encounters and discusses the interactions between human and peatland throughout history, such as the ritual sacrifices that were later turned up as “bog bodies” by terrified peat cutters. It’s a smorgasbord of information that nature lovers won’t want to miss.

The Sporty One by Melanie Chisholm
Grand Central | September
27

Melanie Chisholm, aka Mel C., aka Sporty Spice, is giving readers everything, all that joy can bring, this I swear. But The Sporty One doesn’t just cover the joyful highs of Chisholm’s life—such as answering an ad in the newspaper at age 22 and landing herself in one of the world’s biggest musical groups, performing at the Olympics and appearing on the covers of countless magazines—but plumbs the darker depths of her life, too, including a lifelong struggle with perfectionism and insecurities about her body. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “girl power” while wearing platform shoes, this book will be a wonderful bright spot this autumn.

Rest Is Resistance by Tricia Hersey
Little, Brown Spark |
October 11

Tricia Hersey is the founder of the Nap Ministry, an organization that facilitates workshops and art installations that explore rest as a tool for healing and reconnecting with our humanity. She makes her publishing debut with Rest Is Resistance, a searing indictment of capitalist grind culture. With a background in theology, art and community organizing, Hersey especially addresses the soul-deep weariness of Black Americans whose ancestors were enslaved. The system of slavery that treated humans like machines for production, Hersey says, is the same system that drives today’s punishing, profit-driven economic system. Rest Is Resistance is a call to move toward racial justice and community healing by engaging in activities that have nothing to do with productivity, such as daydreaming and napping.

Madly, Deeply by Alan Rickman
Holt | October 18

When iconic actor Alan Rickman died in 2016, he left behind shoes that are virtually unfillable. (Who else could embody roles in Die Hard, Sense and Sensibility and Harry Potter and be perfect in all three?) For those still mourning his loss, Madly, Deeply will provide a wealth of insight to this man and his many charms. The book collects entries from Rickman’s diaries from 1993 to 2015, with some additional snippets from 1974 to 1982, to create an intimate picture of the daily rhythms of his life as they occasionally collided with incredible success and life-changing opportunities. Fans of theater and film will revel in Rickman’s candid witticisms about his co-stars, and their love for his work will deepen as they learn more about this artist’s dynamic life and legacy.

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man by Paul Newman
Knopf | October 18

If any actor in the last 100 years has reached icon status, Paul Newman has. His posthumous memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, grew out of a project that Newman himself initiated in 1986 to compile an oral history of his life by interviewing friends, family, lovers and colleagues about their honest impressions of the beloved actor. In turn, Newman gave his own takes, offering up incredible details about his troubled childhood, introduction to acting, marriage to Joanne Woodward, the death of his son and much more. Newman’s unvarnished recollections of Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor make this book a treasure trove for movie buffs of every ilk.

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff
Little, Brown | October 25

Master biographer Stacy Schiff (Vera, Cleopatra) sets her sights on America’s rocky beginnings in The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams. In her sixth book, the Pulitzer Prizewinning author brings to light the radical rabble-rousing of Samuel Adams, who, as it turns out, was much more than just the namesake for a beer. As one of the architects of the Boston Tea Party, Adams played an integral part in spurring America toward revolution. As it chronicles Adams’ journey from a frivolous youth to a rebellious adulthood, Schiff’s sprawling biography will secure Adams a place of significance in our national memory once again.

The Song of the Cell by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Scribner | October 25

Take a journey into the smallest unit of our bodies with bestselling and Pulitzer Prizewinning author Siddhartha Mukherjee—no Magic School Bus required. In The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene, Mukherjee laid out the moving history of genetics and their effects on our biological destinies, including their influence on cancer. Now in The Song of the Cell, the cancer physician and researcher explores another essential piece of the human story: cells. Covering everything from their discovery in the 1600s through today’s rapidly developing technology for healing and manipulating our maladies on a cellular level, Mukherjee’s latest harnesses some of the most important scientific work being done today and distills it into a beautiful, readable page turner.

Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
Algonquin | October
25

Award-winning author Ross Gay has become something of an authority on joy after his 2015 poetry collection, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, and his bestselling essay collection, The Book of Delights. But his next collection of essays is somewhat sneakily about sorrow. That is, it’s about the ways that sorrow draws us together, causes us to rely on one another and then, rather unexpectedly, squeezes joy out of our togetherness. With playful metaphors and language that skips along like a game of hopscotch, Inciting Joy: Essays promises to deliver heart-swelling insights into life, death and the joyful necessity of interdependence.

And There Was Light by Jon Meacham
Random House | October 25

It’s a big season for new releases from Pulitzer winners! Add Jon Meacham (The Soul of America, His Truth Is Marching On) to the list with And There Was Light, his 720-page biography of Abraham Lincoln. In his 13th book for adults, Meacham explores Lincoln’s moral development, mapping the influences—from Baptist preachers to the books that provided his self-made education—throughout Lincoln’s life that contributed to the 16th president’s eventual status as an antislavery mountain-mover. Along the way, Meacham’s writing is engaging and brisk, telling a familiar story with fresh insights and interesting emphases.

The Grimkes by Kerri K. Greenidge
Liveright | November 8

For less well-trod historical ground, put Kerri K. Greenidge’s reexamination of the Grimke family on your TBR list for this fall. Angelina and Sarah Grimke (the latter of whom was one of the subjects of Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Invention of Wings) were white sisters who left their plantation in South Carolina to become abolitionist activists in the North. For many years, they have been upheld as antislavery heroes, but Greenidge takes a closer and more nuanced look at their story and fleshes out the full Grimke family, including its Black members who have so far been overshadowed by their white relatives. Reaching from the 18th century into the 20th, The Grimkes is an exciting, groundbreaking work of biographical history about one of the most important multiracial families in America.

Fatty Fatty Boom Boom by Rabia Chaudry
Algonquin | November 8

From the host of the “Undisclosed” podcast and author of Adnan’s Story comes a memoir about family, food and the push and pull these things have exhibited over Rabia Chaudry’s body. Growing up in a Pakistani immigrant family, Chaudry’s relationship with food was shaped by her parents’ belief in the nutritional superiority of American cuisine. But when she visited family in Pakistan, Chaudry was teased and told that she would never be able to entice a man because of her size. Over the course of her life, she has experienced food as both punishment and joy, and her body as both a wonder and a burden. Fatty Fatty Boom Boom runs the gamut from rejection to acceptance, complicating the dominant narratives around how fat women are expected to feel about their bodies.

The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama
Crown | November 15

Michelle Obama, the mega-bestselling author of Becoming—and, oh yeah, our former first lady—will publish her second book this November. The Light We Carry is full of personal stories and practical wisdom for sharing our light with others and staying afloat when circumstances are tough. Anyone looking for a guide to deeper self-knowledge and steadier connection with their community will benefit from Obama’s newest heartfelt book.

How to Stand Up to a Dictator by Maria Ressa
Harper | November 29

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Maria Ressa tells her story of fighting fascism in How to Stand Up to a Dictator. As a Filipino American journalist, Ressa has spent her career rooting out lies and misinformation sown by the government of the Philippines. Her memoir charts the risks, consequences and rewards of fighting against authoritarian systems and outlines the ways that social media has made it easier for fascist movements to gain momentum in recent years. Champions of democracy and the free press will find both crucial information and a moving memoir in How to Stand Up to a Dictator.

Weightless by Evette Dionne
Ecco | December 6

Evette Dionne, whose middle grade book Lifting as We Climb was nominated for a National Book Award in 2020, makes her adult debut with Weightless: Making Space for My Resilient Body and Soul. The former editor-in-chief of Bitch Media not only tells her own story as a fat Black woman who has been discriminated against by society and who rarely sees herself represented in pop culture except as comic relief, but she also dismantles the culture of fatphobia that upholds these injustices in public and private spaces. As Dionne writes in the introduction, “Fat people aren’t a problem that needs to be solved. Fatphobia, which creates a world in which we’re all made to believe that thin bodies are better and deserving of better treatment, is the issue—and that’s where my focus lies.”

Discover all our most anticipated books of fall 2022.

Read on. Your new favorite nonfiction book might be waiting for you to discover it.

When British author Katherine May released her debut book, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, in 2020, the editors of BookPage became deeply obsessed. (Forming a cult was briefly discussed, but the thought was ultimately abandoned as cults require too much administrative work.) We knew right away that this was a book to return to year after year, a ritual to bring us comfort during the months when sunlight grows sparse and we need someone to remind us how to embrace the darkness.

Since then, readers the world over have been enchanted by May’s flowing, rhythmic writing, both in Wintering and in her follow-up book, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, about walking the southwestern coast of England as May reckoned with the realization that she is autistic. Her next book, Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age, is one of our most anticipated books of 2023, and this description from Riverhead will make it clear why:

Many of us feel trapped in a grind of constant change: rolling news cycles, the chatter of social media, our families split along partisan lines. We feel fearful and tired, on edge in our bodies, not quite knowing what has us perpetually depleted. For Katherine May, this low hum of fatigue and anxiety made her wonder what she was missing. Could there be a different way to relate to the world, one that would allow her feel more rested and at ease, even as seismic changes unfold on the planet? Might there be a way for all of us to move through life with curiosity and tenderness, sensitized to the subtle magic all around?

In Enchantment, May invites the reader to come with her on a journey to reawaken our innate sense of wonder and awe. With humor, candor, and warmth, she shares stories of her own struggles with work, family, and the aftereffects of pandemic, particularly the feelings of overwhelm as the world rushes to reopen. Craving a different way to live, May begins to explore the restorative properties of the natural world, moving through the elements of earth, water, fire, and air, and identifying the quiet traces of magic that can be found only when we look for them. Through deliberate attention and ritual, she unearths the potency and nourishment that come from quiet reconnection with our immediate environment. Blending lyricism and storytelling, sensitivity and empathy, Enchantment invites each of us to open the door to human experience in all its sensual complexity, and to find the beauty waiting for us there.


Here’s what the author had to say about why Enchantment is such an essential book for our times:

Enchantment asks how we live after we’ve survived difficult times. We’re all reeling from so many aftermaths, and I wanted to explore how we can find sanctuary again. Enchantment is a book about noticing, cutting through the brain fog and despair to reconnect with our sense of delight and wonder at the world around us. As I wrote it, I felt like I was uncovering a seam of magic that I’d forgotten how to sense.”

—Katherine May

Enchantment will be available at your local bookstore or library on March 7, 2023, and you can preorder it here. Until then, feast your eyes on and whet your appetite with this beautiful cover.


Enchantment by Katherine May
Enchantment by Katherine May, to be published March 7, 2023, by Riverhead Books

Cover art by Lauren Peters-Collaer/Riverhead Books

We’re thrilled to reveal the cover of the newest book from Katherine May, bestselling author of Wintering.

Ander Monson’s exploration of the 1987 film Predator has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby.

Ander Monson’s exploration of the 1987 film Predator has the rampant energy and good-natured, aw-shucks humility of a lively conversation in a movie theater lobby.

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.

Black Love Matters cover

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.

Finding Me cover

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.)

The High Sierra cover

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.

Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World cover

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.

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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.

Nerd by Maya Phillips
Atria | October 11

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.

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

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

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