When we remember, we look back, but memoirs, while commonly exercises in navel gazing, can also hand over a wide landscape as well as that small point of pain or epiphany or, hopefully, light. This season the top contenders focus on family, the one we were dealt and the one we create, and because that family is a mixed bag of love and malfunction and loss and an endless provider of tales that often tip into mythology, there’s a stellar group of writers to tell us about theirs, and who would have us understand that regardless of the experience, we are all brothers under the skin.
Pat Conroy’s novel, The Great Santini, about his violent and abusive Marine fighter pilot father, broke apart his family and his and his parents’ marriages (rumor is that his mother presented the novel as evidence in divorce court). Ultimately, father and son reconciled, and Conroy’s father made the book tour circuit with him. With The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son, Conroy revisits the man he immortalized in fiction. On the subject of fathers, Katy Butler’s expanded her New York Times Magazine piece on her father’s end of life to exquisitely present her personal story and an examination of the medical profession’s handling of end-of-life care in Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death. Film critic Molly Haskell recounts her sibling story, My Brother, My Sister: Story of a Transformation, about her brother, married and about to turn 60, who visits her in New York with the news that he is becoming a woman.
Delia Ephron grew up with sisters, and her memoir, Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc., is filled with empathy and humor about her life and the people in it, and notably, the loss of Nora. Ann Patchett celebrates with This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which she calls “the great joy and astonishment of my life,” although it was almost the marriage that wasn’t, a modern love story with all the requisite twists and turns and happy ending. For Rebecca Musser, her forced polygamous marriage in a fundamentalist Mormon sect inspired her to fight against the repressive and fearful lifestyle in order to protect others from her fate. With M. Bridget Cook, she tells her story in The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice. In Levels of Life, Julian Barnes intensely reflects on his love for his wife of almost 30 years, Pat Kavanagh, and his unyielding grief at her death in 2008. He contemplates ballooning and photography, and writes with raw and disturbing emotion about considering suicide.
An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist is atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’s look into his childhood to consider his intellectual development into “one of the most outstanding intelligences in modern science,” wrote the Evening Standard. And consider this: Gary Shteyngart riffs about his Soviet family who immigrated to America in 1979. He’s said readers should expect “almost no sex” in Little Failure: A Memoir, since “it’s actually based on my life.” Enough about sex. What did they eat in Soviet Russia? Anya von Bremzen, who grew up in a communal apartment with a kitchen shared by 18 families answers that question with Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing, in her multigenerational story of what it was like behind the Iron Curtain. As the Beatles put it, “All you need is love.”
PW’s Top 10: Memoir
The Death of Santini. Pat Conroy. Doubleday/Talese, Oct. 29.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Katy Butler. Scribner, Sept. 10.
My Brother, My Sister. Molly Haskell. Viking, Sept. 5.
Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc. Delia Ephron. Penguin/Blue Rider Press, Sept. 17.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Ann Patchett. Harper, Nov. 5.
The Witness Wore Red. Rebecca Musser, with M. Bridget Cook. Grand Central, Sept. 3.
Levels of Life. Julian Barnes. Knopf, Sept. 24.
An Appetite for Wonder. Richard Dawkins. Ecco, Sept. 24.
Little Failure. Gary Shteyngart. Random House, Jan. 7.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. Anya von Bremzen. Crown, Sept. 17.
Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman (Oct. 1, hardcover, $13.95, ISBN 978-1616203146). The guidebook Hoffman has said she wished she’d had while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Allen & Unwin
(dist. by IPG)
Fit, Fifty and Fired Up by Nigel Marsh (Sept. 1, paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1742379180). From the author of Fat, Forty and Fired comes another provocative memoir that encourages pursuing a life filled with passion.
Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West by Bryce Andrews (Dec. 3, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1476710839). A young man, a wolf, their parallel lives and ultimate collision on some of the wildest and most beautiful land in the world.
The Romantic Economist: A Story of Love and Market Forces by William Nicolson (Jan. 7, paper, $16, ISBN 978-1476730417). A young economist tries applying the rules of the market to his own floundering love life.
(dist. by Random House)
Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother by Lauren Slater (Oct. 15, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0807001738). Slater’s rocky childhood left her cold to the idea of family, but a husband, two dogs, and two children later, she’s come around.
(dist. by Midpoint)
Live from Mongolia: From Wall Street Banker to Mongolian News Anchor by Patricia Sexton (Oct. 1, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0825306976). After 10 years in banking, Sexton packed up to take an internship at a Mongolian TV station.
Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward (Sept. 17, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1608195213). Ward, who won the National Book Award in 2011 for her novel Salvage the Bones follows with this memoir of the deaths of five young black men.
Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son by Lori Duron (Sept. 3, paper, $15, ISBN 978-0770437725). The joys and difficulties of raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son, based on the blog of the same name.
Standing Up: A Memoir of a Funny (Not Always) Life by Marion Grodin (Nov. 5, hardcover, $23, ISBN 978-1455510139). The story of Grodin’s Hollywood childhood, teenage years of drugs and sex, and sober adult life on the standup circuit. 40,000-copy announced first printing.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen (Sept. 17, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0307886811). Celebrated food writer Von Bremzen pulls back the curtain on Soviet life in this sweeping, multigenerational memoir.
My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead (Jan. 28, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0307984760). New Yorker writer Mead revisits the seminal book of her youth—Middlemarch.
Da Capo Lifelong
(dist. by Perseus)
Happily Ever After: How Gratitude Transformed My Life and Can Change Yours Too by Trista Sutter (Nov. 26, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-0738216652). The first Bachelorette shares her secrets for finding happiness and success. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Pure Joy: The Dogs We Love by Danielle Steel (Oct. 29, hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-0345543752). Bestselling author, Steel puts together a love letter to the pet dogs that have enriched her life, complete with adorable photos.
Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo by Anjan Sundaram (Jan. 7, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0385537759). “The powerful travel-writing tradition of Kapuscinski and V.S. Naipaul,” Sundaram writes of a dangerous year of self-discovery the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy (Oct. 29, hardcover, $28.95, ISBN 978-0385530903). The bestselling author of The Prince of Tides and his father, the inspiration for The Great Santini, find some common ground at long last.
The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood by Roger Rosenblatt (Nov. 5, hardcover, $19.99, ISBN 978-0062241337). An evocative homage to a postwar Manhattan childhood and to the magic of the city, from the author of Making Toast. 25,000-copy announced first printing.
An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist by Richard Dawkins (Sept. 24, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0062225795). Evolutionary biologist Dawkins takes an intimate look into his childhood to discover how he developed into a world renowned scientist. 200,000-copy announced first printing.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany by Yascha Mounk (Jan. 7, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0374157531). A moving and unsettling exploration by a young man growing up in a country still struggling with its past.
Breeding in Captivity: One Woman’s Unusual Path to Motherhood by Stacy Bolt (Sept. 1, hardcover, $22.95, ISBN 978-0762787982). A quirky couple’s journey to having a child, complete with fertility struggles and adoption adventures.
David R. Godine
The Education of a Craftsman: Why We Make Things and Why It Matters by Peter Korn (Oct. 24, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1567925111) gets to the “why” of craft to understand how making objects reflects and refines our own identities.
(dist. by Perseus Books Group)
Gaddafi’s Harem: The Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya by Annick Cojean (Sept. 3, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0-8021-2172-1). Le Monde special correspondent Cojean adds a series of interviews with key Libyans to Soroya’s story of being coerced as a 15-year-old schoolgirl into Gaddafi’s harem.
The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice by Rebecca Musser, with M. Bridget Cook (Sept. 3, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1455527854). A woman forced into polygamous marriage in the FLDS Church inspires with her escape and her struggle to save others from the same fate. 200,000-copy announced first printing.
Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney (Jan. 14, paper, $14, ISBN 978-1455544677). One young woman’s life-long (and totally unsuccessful) search for love. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (Nov. 5, hardcover, $28.99, ISBN 978-0062236678). With these previously published essays, novelist and bookseller Patchett forms a portrait of love. 100,000-copy announced first printing.
Kindred Beings: What Seventy-Three Chimpanzees Taught Me about Life, Love, and Connection by Sheri Speede (Sept. 10, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0062132482). A sweet and scientifically compelling memoir about the relationship between humans and primates and the surprisingly complex emotional lives of chimpanzees. 25,000-copy announced first printing.
Nurturing, Healing, Love by Scarlett Lewis (Oct. 28, hardcover, $17.95, ISBN 978-1401944230). Lewis’s son Jesse was killed in the Newton, Conn., shootings, and she saw the message the six-year-old scrawled on the family’s kitchen chalkboard, the title of this book, as a premonition of his leaving and one that would comfort and inspire. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Mind Without a Home: A Memoir of Schizophrenia by Kristina Morgan (Aug. 27, paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1616494605). The inner world of a woman with schizophrenia is explored in this lyrical memoir of mental illness.
Report from the Interior by Paul Auster (Nov. 19, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0805098570). Paul Auster’s most intimate autobiographical work to date.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
My Mistake by Daniel Menaker (Nov. 19, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0547794235). Menaker reflects on his 40 years of a life in language (26 of them at the New Yorker). 30,000-copy announced first printing.
Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel by Sherill Tippins (Dec. 3, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0618726349). The history of the Chelsea and the generations of artists who lived there.
The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia by David Stuart MacLean (Jan. 14, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0547519272). Imagine waking up in a train station in India with no idea who you are or how you got there. 30,000-copy announced first printing.
Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin: A Memoir by Nicole Hardy (Aug. 20, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1401341862). Single and still a virgin at 35, Hardy trades her traditions for a chance at love. 60,000-copy announced first printing.
Free Spirit: Growing up on the Road and off the Grid by Joshua Safran (Sept. 10, hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-1401324605). A look at Safran’s circuslike childhood and journey through adolescence. 30,000-copy announced first printing.
Teaching Arabs, Writing Self: Memoirs of an Arab-American Woman by Evelyn Shakir (Oct. 25, paper, $20, ISBN 978-1566569248). Shakir contemplates life as an Arab-American woman, from the subtle bigotry she faced growing up in the U.S. to the dislocation she felt later while working in the Middle East.
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (Sept. 24, hardcover, $22.95, ISBN 978-0385350778). A reflection on the devastation wrought by the death of his wife and the despair he felt in the aftermath. 75,000-copy announced first printing.
For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches from the World of the Blind by Rosemary Mahoney (Jan. 14, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0316043427). The author of Down the Nile (in a rowboat) travels far investigates the world of the blind. 30,000-copy announced first printing.
One Hundred and Four Horses: A Memoir of Farm and Family, Africa and Exile by Mandy Retzlaff (Oct. 8, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0062204370). Driven from their land by political unrest, a family crosses central Africa with a herd of 104 rescued horses in this epic tale. 75,000-copy announced first printing.
Lasting City: The Anatomy of Nostalgia by James McCourt (Oct. 21, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0871404589). Poetic ruminations on old Irish New York City, from the author’s coming-of-age in the ’40s and ’50s to the death of his mother.
How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia by Kelsey Osgood (Nov. 14, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1468306682). Osgood was fascinated with anorexics at 14 and hospitalized for the disease a year later. She looks into the cult of anorexia and other eating disorders in the 21st century.
An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir by Phyllis Chesler (Oct. 1, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0230342217). A modern American woman reveals how her long-ago ordeal in Afghanistan led her to become a crusader for the universal rights of women.
Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life by Melody Moezzi (Aug. 1, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1583334683). With candor and humor, a manic-depressive Iranian–American Muslim chronicles her experiences with both clinical and cultural bipolarity.
Penguin/Blue Rider press
Sister Mother Husband Dog: Etc. by Delia Ephron (Sept. 17, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0399166556). Author and screenwriter Ephron returns with a memorable collection of personal stories and essays, anchored by a remembrance of losing her older sister, Nora.
Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart (Jan. 7, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0679643753). Acclaimed for biting satire in his novels, the author, whose family emigrated from Soviet Russia, turns his jaundiced eye on his life so far.
Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain (Aug. 13, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1400068623). A literary memoir of a mother-son relationship that is also the unflinching account of a murder.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler (Sept. 10, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1451641974). A memoir of her father’s death and an exposé of modern medicine’s end-of-life care.
A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett (Sept. 10, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1451645606). Lindhout’s curiosity led her from rural Canada to dangerous countries on every continent, and then into 15 months of harrowing captivity in Somalia, chronicled in this spectacular and inspiring memoir.
A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York by Anjelica Huston (Nov. 19, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1451656299). The actress reminisces on her early life, from her childhood on an Irish estate to her modeling days in New York in the ’60s.
Simon & Schuster
Unremarried Widow: A Memoir by Artis Henderson (Jan. 7, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1451649284). A young Army widow’s heartbreaking story about recovering from her husband’s death.
Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked by Chris Matthews (Nov. 12, hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-1451695991). Tip O’Neill’s former chief of staff delivers the firsthand story of the friendship between President Reagan and the Speaker of the House.
Simon & Schuster/Gallery
Weekends with Daisy by Sharron Kahn Luttrell (Sept. 10, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1451686234). The uplifting memoir of a woman who became a volunteer trainer for Daisy, a sweet yellow Lab puppy, and her relationship with Daisy’s inmate partner in the Prison PUP program.
(dist. by W.W. Norton)
My Path Leads to Tibet: The Inspiring Story of the Blind Woman Who Brought Hope to the Children of Tibet, by the Founder of Braille Without Borders by Sabriye Tenberken (Nov. 6, paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1611458893). Twenty-six, blond and beautiful... and blind, Tenberken set off to help the blind of Tibet.
Confessions of a Mediocre Widow: Or, How I Lost My Husband and My Sanity by Catherine Tidd (Jan. 7, paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-1402285226). Planning her husband’s funeral on their 11th wedding anniversary, a widow recounts her odyssey of grief.
Fakebook: A True Story. Based on Actual Lies by Dave Cicirelli (Sept. 1, paper, $14.99, ISBN 978-1402284151). Four years ago, Cicirelli announced on Facebook that he was quitting his job and heading west in a move that seemed either brave—or crazy. Over the next several months, he reported his adventures on Facebook. No one guessed he had made up the whole story.
Spiegel & Grau
Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage by Rob Delaney (Nov. 5, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0812993080). “The Funniest Man on Twitter,” according to Rolling Stone, writes autobiographical essays about childhood, fatherhood, addiction, recovery, and lots of sex.
After Woodstock: The True Story of a Belgian Movie, an Israeli Wedding, and a Manhattan Breakdown by Elliot Tiber (Jan. 1, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0757003929). Tiber chronicles a series of adventures that take him around the world over three decades. 30,000-copy announced first printing.
The Priority List: A Teacher’s Final Quest to Discover Life’s Greatest Lessons by David Menasche (Sept. 17, hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-1476743448). A high school English teacher diagnosed with terminal brain cancer undertakes a cross-country journey to reunite with his former students in order to find out if he made a difference in their lives.
(dist. by DAP)
An Atomic Love Story: The Extraordinary Women in Robert Oppenheimer’s Life by Shirley Streshinsky and Patricia Klaus (Sept. 3, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-1618580191). A narrative of the love, scandals, and betrayal of Oppenheimer, told through the lives of three special women.
Things I’ve Learned from Dying: A Book About Life by David R. Dow (Jan. 7, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1455575244). An account of how illness and loss can ravage a family reaffirms the importance of acceptance and love. 50,000-copy first printing.
Univ. of Nevada
Wild Horse Annie: Velma Johnston and Her Fight to Save the Mustang by Alan J. Kania (Aug. 1, paper, $21.95, ISBN 978-0874179170). A compelling biography of one of the West’s most influential wild horse advocates.
My Brother, My Sister: Story of a Transformation by Molly Haskell (Sept. 5, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0670025527). Film critic Haskell’s outspoken memoir about transgender and family written after her 60-year-old brother told her he was becoming a woman.