Memoir can be cathartic, painful, shocking, funny, revelatory, informative, entertaining. Inquiring minds want to know: how our beloved icons made it to the top, how that drug addict made it back, why someone left the comfort of home, saved a horse, went on stage, changed gender, survived a revolution. We want to hear about overcoming loss, grief, displacement, disappointment, and always, who slept with whom.
A pedigree makes our ears perk up. Benjamin Busch, the rough and tumble macho son of novelist Frederick Busch, plays football, fights in Iraq, and lives in the physical world. He looks back with the same power that propelled him through his adventurous life in Dust to Dust, after an injury sends him on a journey to understand himself, and especially his father. Literary agent Bill Clegg follows up his crack memoir with Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery. He’s back in the business and telling us what it’s like to recover... and relapse.
Novelists have real lives, too, which we usually dig out piecemeal from their fiction; more important, they have mothers. Jeanette Winterson, adopted as a baby, was raised by an especially complicated one, the Pentecostal Mrs. Winterson, as she calls her, who when angry would claim, “the Devil led me to the wrong crib.” Winterson’s search for love and her biological mother enthrall in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Cheryl Strayed, who lost her mother too young, works out the wreck of her life on an 1,100-mile solo hike from the Mojave Desert in Southern California north to the Washington State line, and chronicles the trek in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. With our ever smaller world and ever more tumultuous times, the stories of coming-of-age in those places that fill the news and our imaginations bring understanding: journalist Wenguang Huang, who grew up in northern China under Mao, delivers insight and enlightenment to the day-to-day life of an ordinary Chinese family during the Cultural Revolution in The Little Red Guard, while We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran is Aria Minu-Sepehr’s story of being the privileged son of a high-ranking officer in the Shah’s army and the fallout and terror that reigned when the regime fell.
Accomplished men on very different tracks tell how they reached the apex of their professions: Colin Powell with It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership and the Ethiopian-born, award-winning Swedish chef, Marcus Samuelsson, with Yes, Chef.
And there’s Joe Blair, a dreamer who tells us about his motorcycle honeymoon and M.F.A. that evolved into a blue-collar job, four kids, a mortgage, and a marriage on the rocks in By the Iowa Sea. But sometimes, we just want someone to come right out with all the terrible, silly, secret things we feel but never say, about our spouses and children and, yes, sex. Jenny Lawson does it in her columns and blogs, and now, a book: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir). We’re listening. Maybe we’ll learn a thing or two.
PW’s Top 10: Memoir
Dust to Dust: A Memoir
Benjamin Busch. Ecco, Feb.
Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery
Bill Clegg. Little, Brown, Apr.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Jeanette Winterson. Grove, Feb.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Cheryl Strayed. Knopf, Mar.
The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir
Wenguang Huang. Riverhead, Apr.
We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran
Aria Minu-Sepehr. Free Press, Apr.
It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership
Colin Powell and Tony Koltz. Harper, May
Marcus Samuelsson. Random House, June.
By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir
Joe Blair. Scribner, Mar.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir)
Jenny Lawson. Putnam/Amy Einhorn, Apr.
Personal Memoirs/Biography Listings
Allen & Unwin
(dist. by IPG)
Tamil Tigress: My Story as a Child Soldier in Sri Lanka’s Bloody Civil War by Niromi de Soyza (May, paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1742375182). In 1987, 17-year old Niromi de Soyza shocked her middle-class Sri Lankan family by joining the Tamil Tigers as one of the rebels’ first female soldiers.
It’s Not About the Pom-Poms: How a 40-Year-Old Mom Became the NFL’s Oldest Cheerleader and Found Hope, Joy, and Inspiration Along the Way by Laura Vikmanis and Amy Sohn (Mar., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0345532909). A 40-year-old single mom who wants to be an NFL cheerleader, shows that, no matter your age, it’s never too late to go, fight, and win.
Treasure Hunter: Diving for Gold on North America’s Death Coast by Robert MacKinnon (June, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0425247389). World-renowned diver and modern-day treasure hunter Robert MacKinnon takes readers behind the scenes and under the sea in this gripping memoir.
Coffee House Press
(dist. by Consortium)
Half in Shade: Family, Photography, and Fate by Judith Kitchen (Apr., $16, ISBN 978-1566892964). When Judith Kitchen inherited boxes of family photographs and scrapbooks, they sparked curiosity and speculation leading to this meditative memoir on family, heritage, mother-daughter relationships, and recovery from illness.
Da Capo Lifelong Books
Bay and Her Boys: Unexpected Lessons I Learned as a Single Mom by Bay Buchanan (Mar., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0738215136). Conservative leader Bay Buchanan shares the real meaning of family values—the joys, struggles, and lessons she lived through as a single mother raising three sons. 100,000-copy announced first printing.
King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman (Feb., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0385534321). The charming, uplifting story of an American secretary who finds herself king of a town in her native Ghana with no running water, doctor, or high school.
Dust to Dust: A Memoir by Benjamin Busch (Feb., hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0062014849). The son of an intellectual father (novelist Frederick Busch) who sought physical challenges as a football player and Marine in Iraq examines his life and relationships. 75,000-copy announced first printing.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
American Gypsy: A Memoir by Oksana Marafioti (June, paper, $16, ISBN 978-0374104078). A young Gypsy girl from a family that roams the Russian steppes immigrates to America and cracks open the secretive world of the Roma along with the absurdities and miscommunications of the immigrant experience.
We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran by Aria Minu-Sepehr (Apr., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1451652185). The sheltered and privileged son of a high-ranking general in the Shah’s army until 1979 faces his country’s ominous and drastically changing political climate.
Burying the Typewriter: A Memoir by Carmen Bugan (June, paper, $15, ISBN 978-1555976170). This childhood memoir of political oppression and persecution during Romania’s Ceausescu years a winner of the Bakeless Prize for Nonfiction.
Giant George: Life with the World’s Biggest Dog by Dave Nasser with Lynne Barrett-Lee (Apr., hardcover, $23.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-1145-7). The delightful story of runt of the litter George who grew up to be a doggie superstar, named by Guinness World Records as the Tallest Dog in the World—ever. 75,000-copy announced first printing.
The Broken King by Michael Thomas (Mar., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0802120144). From the award-winning author of Man Gone Down comes an explosive memoir told through the stories of four generations of African-American men in one family.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (Feb., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0802120106). Winterson mined her life (she’s the adopted daughter raised in England’s industrial north by evangelicals) for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Here, in a heartbreaking and also funny memoir, she recalls a life looking for love.
Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie by Beth M. Howard (Mar., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0373892570). With that quintessential American comfort food, pie, as the organizing principle, a young woman sets out across America after a devastating loss to reconnect and recover.
Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone (May, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0061766213). Navigating the strange and colorful world of competitive magic, Stone probes the mysteries of human nature, the limits of consciousness, and the nature of deception. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership by Colin Powell and Tony Koltz (May, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0062135124). Colin Powell, undisputedly one of America’s most admired public figures, reveals the principles that have shaped his life and career. 1 million–copy announced first printing.
Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948 by Madeleine Albright (Apr., hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-0062030313). An intimate memoir from the former secretary of state that explores the past and offers vital lessons for the future. 150,000-copy announced first printing.
I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern (Apr., hardcover, $16.99, ISBN 978-0062113375). Follow-up to the massive bestseller Sh*t My Dad Says, Halpern takes on relationships with the opposite sex, from his first kiss to getting engaged and all the awkward moments in between. 500,000-copy announced first printing.
Lawrence Hill Books
This Fragile Life: A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son by Charlotte Pierce-Baker (June, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1613741085). A mother tells of a loving African-American family facing the daily crisis of their son’s unpredictable mental disorder.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Father’s Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son by Buzz Bissinger (Apr., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0547816562). The bestselling author of Friday Night Lights journeys cross-country and into the psyche of his savant son and traveling companion to discover the skills and debilities of savantism. 100,000-copy announced first printing.
House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid (Feb., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0547134666). Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Shadid tells the story of rebuilding his family’s ancestral home in Lebanon amid political strife, and his eventual understanding of the emotions behind the turbulence in the Middle East. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater by Gail Simmons (Feb., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1401324506). Simmons, of the TV show Top Chef, traces her evolution into a foodie with professional wisdom in this personal memoir with recipes.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (Mar., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0307592736). Strayed finds peace and understanding on a grueling solo 1,100-mile California trek. 100,000-copy announced first printing.
Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery by Bill Clegg (Apr., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-0316122528). The literary agent traces his recovery in this follow-up to his memoir of crack addiction. 60,000-copy announced first printing.
French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon (Apr., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-0062103291). An American mother explains the French way to feed children and includes recipes, practical tips, and 10 easy-to-follow rules. 75,000-copy announced first printing.
Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Around the World and Back by Claire Fontaine and Mia Fontaine (Apr., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-0061688393). A decade after Come Back, the story of Mia’s drug addiction and her mother Claire’s successful attempts to save her, the pair return to document their unforgettable round-the-world adventure. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America’s Leaders by Chesley B. Sullenberger (Apr., hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0061924705). Captain “Sully” asks people of achievement what it takes to lead and inspire. 100,000-copy announced first printing.
Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography by Bear Grylls (Apr., hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0062124197) presents the adrenaline-fueled life story of adventurer Bear Grylls, star of the survival series Man Vs. Wild. 100,000-copy announced first printing.
William Morrow Paperbacks
The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem by Ken Budd (Apr., paper, $15.99, ISBN 978-0061946462). A memoir about losing your father, accepting your fate, and finding your destiny—by volunteering around the world. 30,000-copy announced first printing.
Jeneration X: One Reluctant Adult’s Attempt to Unarrest Her Arrested Development; Or, Why It’s Never Too Late for Her Dumb Ass to Learn Why Froot Loops Are Not for Dinner by Jen Lancaster (May, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0451233172). Lancaster aims for another pop culture bestseller as she chronicles her attempts to “grow the hell up.”
Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer by Susan Gubar (Apr., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0393073256). A feminist scholar explores the physical and psychological ordeal of living with ovarian cancer.
Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and a Love Reclaimed by Leslie Maitland (Apr., hardcover, $29.95, ISBN 978-1590514962). From an award-winning New York Times investigative reporter, the amazingly true story of one family’s struggle to survive WWII and a love that survived time and distance.
Putnam/Amy Einhorn Books
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson (Apr., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0399159015). For fans of Tina Fey and David Sedaris—irreverent columnist and blogger Jenny Lawson, aka the Bloggess, tracks her life from rural Texas childhood to Internet star.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen (May, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1400069347). Perennial favorite Quindlen uses her past, present, and future to explore what matters most to women at different ages, in a funny and candid look back.
Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James (Apr., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1400069569). In 2009, James sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris for a joyful year.
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson (June, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0385342605). A tale of personal discovery and the passionate, playful pursuit of flavors—one man’s struggle to find a place for himself in the kitchen and in the world.
The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang (Apr., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-1594488290). The unbending dictates of Communist China pit one generation against another in this story of a family’s 15-year struggle to honor a grandmother’s final wish.
Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son by Anne Lamott with Sam Lamott (Mar., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1594488412). Lamott, who wrote endearingly about raising her son, Sam, as a single mother, now faces grandmotherhood when 19-year-old Sam has his own son, Jax. 150,000-copy announced first printing.
A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by Gideon Lewis-Kraus (May, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-1594487255). At loose ends, a young writer sets out on our oldest excuse for escape—a pilgrimage
14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life by John Brant and Alberto Salazar (Mar., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1609613143). A sweeping memoir from the accomplished and controversial marathoner, framed around the 14 minutes in which he was pronounced dead. 60,000-copy announced first printing.
By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir by Joe Blair (Mar., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-1451636055). Committed to seeking freedom, a young writer ends up, 15 years after leaving his wedding with his bride on the back of a motorcycle, fixing air-conditioners and raising four kids in a crumbling marriage.
Seal Press/Avalon Travel
Riding Fury Home: A Memoir by Chana Wilson (Mar., paper, $17, ISBN 978-1580054324). A daughter deals with a suicidal mother in this story of overcoming homophobia and mental illness.
Simon & Schuster
Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs (Apr., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1416599074). Known for his “immersion journalism,” Jacobs sets out on a yearlong mission to radically improve every element of his body and mind, from his brain to his fingertips to his abs.
Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir by Doron Weber (Feb., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1451618068). Toni Morrison has put her imprimatur on this account of a father’s struggle to save his son from a rare heart condition that threatens his life.
To the Last Breath: A Story of Going to Extremes by Francis Slakey (May, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1439198957). In the tradition of adventure stories, Slakey takes readers on a physical and spiritual journey to the most extreme points on Earth and deep inside the human psyche.
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman (Feb., hardcover, $23, ISBN 978-1439187005). Growing up in, and ultimately escaping from, a strict Hasidic community, Deborah Feldman reveals what life is like trapped within a religious sect that values silence and suffering over individual freedoms.
(dist. by PGW)
Exile Nation: Prisons, Politics, Drugs, and Spirituality in America by Charles Shaw (Apr., paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1593764418). An arrest and prison time for possession of Ecstasy in 2005 inspired Shaw’s insider look at the forgotten or excluded segments of our society.
The Drunk Diet: How I Lost 40 Pounds... Wasted: A Memoir by Luc Carl (Feb., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1250001825). A long-haired, leather-clad rock ’n’ roll party-maker transforms a whiskey-and-5 a.m.-cheeseburger lifestyle into a wildly successful weight-loss regime.
Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies by Mikey Walsh (Feb., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-0312622084). Raised in a caravan, Walsh exposes the violence inherent in the secluded world of the Roma culture; billed as “equal parts Angela’s Ashes and Running with Scissors.”
Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Fletcher Wortmann (Mar., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-0312622107). The darkly comic story of growing up with OCD and undergoing A Clockwork Orange–like “trigger” therapy.
Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America’s Most Outlaw Industry by Greg Campbell (Apr., hardcover, $22.95, ISBN 978-1402779251). The coauthor of Blood Diamonds presents a closeup investigation of America’s schizophrenic attitude toward the legalization of pot as he taps into DIY ganjapreneurialism.
Greenhorns: 49 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement, edited by Paula Manalo, Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, and Zoe Ida Bradbury (Mar., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1603427722). A companion to the documentary The Greenhorns features voices from the new farmers’ movement and the challenges of farming organically.
Univ. of Arizona Press
Hogs, Mules, and Yellow Dogs: Growing Up on a Mississippi Subsistence Farm by Jimmye Hillman, foreword by Robert Hass (Mar., paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-0816529919). A literary memoir offers glimpses into life in the rural South during the Depression.
Univ. of Wisconsin Press
Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders by Joy Ladin (Mar., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0299287306). After years of teaching literature at Yeshiva University, Professor Jay Ladin returned to the Orthodox Jewish campus as a woman in this story of her transition.
Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich (May, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0670023523). Bastianich charts his culinary journey from working in his parents’ red-sauce joint to becoming a successful restaurateur.
Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets, One Helping Hand at a Time by Carissa Phelps and Larkin Warren (July 5, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0670023721). Phelps tells of her journey from runaway prostitute at 12 to lawyer and youth advocate.
Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest by Sally Koslow (June, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0670023622). The former McCall’s magazine editor-in-chief, a mother of two “adultescents,” reports from the parenting trenches.
Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir by Kambri Crews (Feb., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0345516022). A daughter looks back on her childhood with deaf parents while trying to reconcile it to her present, in which her father is serving 20 years in prison for attempted murder.
A Long Way from Paradise: Surviving the Rwandan Genocide by Leah Chishugi (Apr., paper, $13.95, ISBN 978-1844086573). The inspirational story of a woman who survived the Rwandan genocide and uses her experiences to become an agent of change.
Walker & Co.
I Was Born There, I Was Born Here by Mourid Barghouti (June, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0802779977). A revelatory account of the power of homeland and the pain of exile by a poet of displacement, both in general as well as in its specific Palestinian form.