Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, according to John Lennon. And sometimes life can also feel like being pecked to death by ducks, which is why we all love a good story about someone else’s life, though who among us has not thought of writing down our own war stories, even if it’s just a bunch of grandma’s recipes? Fortunately, there are plenty of enthralling published memoirs to read, giving the rest of us plenty of time to fantasize.
Overcoming adversity always inspires, as in Gregg McBride’s Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped. A professional Hollywood writer, McBride was morbidly obese and, not surprisingly, massively unhappy, when he finally managed to beat the battle of his bulge and lose 250 pounds, keeping it off for 10 years and counting. His memoir shares the story and reveals the plan. Jessie Close describes living with severe bipolar disorder in Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness; her sister, actress Glenn Close, contributed chapters. New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow bravely describes confronting terrible demons in Fire Shut Up in My Bones, his memoir of growing up poor, African-American, and unsure about his sexuality in 1970s Louisiana.
Family relationships take a front seat in forming lives, and this fall, two memoirs in translation explore the intricate bond between fathers and sons. The Fall by Diogo Mainardi, translated from the Italian, is composed of 424 short passages, the number of steps Mainardi’s son Tito walks with his father through Venice to the Renaissance Hospital where a medical error at his birth left Tito with cerebral palsy. Marcos Giralt Torrente, in his Father and Son: A Lifetime, which won the Spanish National Book Award, writes about the complicated relationship he had with his distant father. Silent and angry at his father’s absence after his parents divorce when he was very young, Torrente finds closure as the two move toward reconciliation in the months before his father’s death from cancer.
An interesting life well lived in interesting times and places intrigues in Anjelica Huston’s second memoir, Watch Me. This follow-up to her coming-of-age memoir fills us in on her working years as an Academy Award–winning Hollywood actress, and on her relationship with longtime love Jack Nicholson. Brigid Keenan’s second memoir, Packing Up: Further Adventures of a Trailing Spouse, follows her hilarious and heartfelt travels as the wife of a British diplomat. And Gail Sheehy, who’s been tracking life’s “passages” since her 1976 bestseller, chronicles her career and experiences as a “girl” journalist in the 1960s in Daring: My Passages.
The sister of Chris McCandless—the young man who was the subject of the 1996 bestseller Into the Wild, who went off to live in the Alaskan wilderness, where he starved to death—reveals in The Wild Truth the until-now-hidden story of the violent and dysfunctional family from which she claims her brother fled.
And in Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned,” a book of essays by Lena Dunham (for which she was paid a staggering advance), the actress/writer/director states, “ I am a girl with a keen interest in self-actualization, sending hopeful dispatches from the front lines of that struggle.” Onward.
PW’s Top 10: Memoirs
Daring: My Passages.Gail Sheehy. Morrow, Sept. 9
The Fall. Diogo Mainardi, trans. by Margaret Jull Costa. Other Press, Oct. 7
Father and Son: A Lifetime. Marcos Giralt Torrente, trans. by Natasha Wimmer. FSG/Sarah Crichton, Sept. 9
Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Charles M. Blow. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept. 23
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned.” Lena Dunham. Random, Sept. 30
Packing Up: Further Adventures of a Trailing Spouse. Brigid Keenan. Bloomsbury, Sept. 30
Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness. Pete Earley and Jessie Close. Grand Central, Jan. 6
Watch Me. Anjelica Huston. Scribner, Nov. 11
Weightless: My Life As a Fat Man and How I Escaped. Gregg McBride. Central Recovery Press, Sept. 9
The Wild Truth. Carine McCandless. HarperOne, Nov. 4
Allen & Unwin
Starting With Max: How a Wise Stray Dog Gave Me Strength and Inspiration by Ying Ying (Oct. 1, paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-74331-794-5). A Chinese immigrant facing a new identity in a foreign land finds inspiration and strength in her rescue dog.
Tsunami and the Single Girl: One Woman’s Journey to Become an Aid Worker and Find Love by Krissy Nicholson (Oct. 1, paper, $22.95, ISBN 978-1-74331-694-8). The story of Nicholson’s path to becoming an aid worker and her seemingly endless quest for Mr. Right.
Saving Simon: How a Rescue Donkey Taught Me the Meaning of Compassion by Jon Katz (Oct. 7, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-53119-3). Many find themselves through the love and devotion of a pet, but a donkey? Charming.
Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns (Oct. 7, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8070-3703-4) tells the story of the twin fallout of a small Rust Belt mill town’s struggle for survival and Burns’s childhood choice to keep her sexual abuse secret.
Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America by Stuart H. Smith (Oct. 7, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-939529-23-7). A memoir from an attorney uncovers the truths about Big Oil, our government, and the power people have to change the tide. 20,000-copy announced first printing.
Andy Kaufman: The Truth, Finally by Bob Zmuda and Lynne Margulies (Oct. 7, hardcover, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-940363-05-9). Close friends of Andy Kaufman detail his life and work in a biographical account that includes a big reveal. 30,000-copy announced first printing.
Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir by Gail Godwin (Jan. 13, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-62040-824-7). Three-time National Book Award–finalist Godwin chronicles her writing and publishing life.
Packing Up: Further Adventures of a Trailing Spouse by Brigid Keenan (Sept. 30, hardcover, $23, ISBN 978-1-4088-4690-2). Keenan’s Diplomatic Baggage was the riotous story of her life as a British diplomat’s wife. Here she recounts the singular excitement of their last posting and the life that followed.
Central Recovery Press
Weightless: My Life as a Fat Man and How I Escaped by Gregg McBride (Sept. 9, paper, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-937612-69-6). The Hollywood writer and frequent contributor to the Huffington Post inspires with this story of triumph in his lifelong struggle with his weight.
Angels by the River by James Gustave Speth (Oct. 1, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1603585859). “Gus” Speth tracks his path from southern boyhood in a racially divided town to influential mainstream envoirmentalist to dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Enviormantal Studies.
Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and her Quest for Terroir by Deirdre Heekin and Alice Feiring (Oct. 1, hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-1603584579). Heekin’s story of how, along with her husband, she created a vineyard, an orchard of heirloom fruits and a vegetable garden on an eight acre hillside in Vermont.
Cold Sweat: My Father James Brown and Me by Yamma Brown and Robin Gaby Fisher (Sept. 1, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-883052-85-0) describes an uncommon childhood with a father whose life was marked by fame, drugs, jail, and complicated women.
Da Capo Press
Easy Street (the Hard Way) by Ron Perlman (Sept. 9, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-306-82344-2). The candid memoir of the star of Beauty and the Beast and Sons of Anarchy. 35,000-copy announced first printing.
There Was a Little Girl: The Story of My Mother and Me by Brooke Shields (Nov. 18, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-525-95484-2). Shields’s new memoir explores her relationship with her show business–loving mother.
The Prince of Los Cucuyos: A Miami Childhood by Richard Blanco (Sept. 30, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-06-231376-8). A memoir from the first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet, exploring his coming-of-age as the child of Cuban immigrants. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician by Sandeep Jauhar (Aug. 26, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-374-14139-4). A memoir-exposé of the health-care system by the cardiologist-writer.
Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal by Michael Mewshaw (Jan. 13, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-374-28048-2). An old friend of Vidal’s pens an entertaining look at a man who prided himself on being difficult to know.
Timeless Love, Morgenthau, and Me by Lucinda Franks (Aug. 19, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-374-28080-2). An intimate look at a quintessetial May-December New York couple: Manhattan’s former district attorney’s wife writes of the trials and successes of their long marriage.
Father and Son: A Lifetime by Marcos Giralt Torrente, trans. by Natasha Wimmer (Sept. 9, hardcover, $23, ISBN 978-0-374-27771-0). One of Spain’s foremost writers asks: how can you write about those who mean the most to you?
My Heart Is a Drunken Compass by Domingo Martinez (Nov., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-4930-0140-8). follows the author’s National Book Award–finalist memoir, The Boy Kings of Texas, with a bittersweet narrative of love, grief, and family.
One Lucky Bastard: Tales from Tinseltown by Roger Moore (Oct., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-1-4930-0797-4). Actor Moore lifts the lid on the movie business, with tales from his life and career, as well as those told to him by such colleagues as Tony Curtis, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, David Niven, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, and Peter Sellers.
The Dark Art: My Undercover Life in Global Narco-Terrorism by Edward Follis and Douglas Century (Oct. 7, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1-59240-893-1). A decorated veteran DEA agent recounts his undercover career and the links between narcotics trafficking and terrorism.
Beijing Bastard: Into the Wilds of a Changing China by Val Wang (Oct. 30, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-59240-820-7). A humorous and moving coming-of-age story brings a not-quite-outsider’s perspective to China’s shift from ancient empire to modern superpower.
Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness by Jessie Close, with Pete Earley (Jan. 6, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-1-4555-4882-8). Glenn Close’s sister tells about the challenges of living with severe bipolar disorder, with chapters by Glenn Close. 150,000-copy announced first printing.
Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom by Lewis Buzbee (Aug. 5, hardcover, $23, ISBN 978-1-55597-683-5) is a timely and charming meditation on education from the author of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.
Eat, Drink and Remarry: Confessions of a Serial Wife by Margo Howard (Sept. 30, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-373-89304-1). Journalist and advice columnist (and daughter of Ann Landers) tells her story.
Chinese Rules: Mao’s Dog, Deng’s Cat, and Five Timeless Lessons from the Front Lines in China by Tim Clissold (Nov. 4, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-231657-8). This part memoir, part history, part business imbroglio offers valuable lessons to help Westerners win in China. 25,000-copy announced first printing.
Lessons of Hope: How Courage, Grit, and Accountability Can Save Our Schools by Joel Klein (Nov. 4, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-226864-8). The former chancellor of the New York City schools looks at the city’s dramatic campaign to improve public education and a blueprint for national reform. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil (Jan. 20, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-226948-5). Investigative memoir, crime procedural, and revenge thriller combine in the author’s real-life search for the childhood nemesis who has haunted his life for more than 40 years. 40,000-copy announced first printing.
Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul (Oct. 14, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-212330-5). An intimate biography of an artist who revolutionized American comedy. 40,000-copy announced first printing.
I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short (Nov. 4, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-06-230952-5) shares stories of Short’s life, revealing how a Canadian kid obsessed with American show business became a comedian. 150,000-copy announced first printing.
True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva by Deborah Voigt (Jan. 27, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-211827-1). The international opera star recounts her harrowing and ultimately successful private battles to overcome the addictions and self-destructivness that nearly destroyed her. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming (Oct. 7, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-06-222506-1) tells of the actor’s complicated relationship with his father, as well as family secrets that shaped his life and career. 100,000-copy announced first printing.
Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s by Meryl Comer (Sept. 2, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-06-213082-2). Broadcast journalist and Alzheimer’s advocate Meryl Comer offers her personal account of her husband’s battle with Alzheimer’s. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless (Nov. 4, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-0-06-232514-3). The key missing piece of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild is revealed by Chris McCandless sister, who has wrestled with the facts for more than 20 years. 125,000-copy announced first printing.
Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks by Dick Cavett (Nov. 4, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-8050-9977-5). Dick Cavett is back, sharing his reflections and reminiscences about Hollywood legends, American cultural figures, and the absurdities of everyday life.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow (Sept. 23, hardcover, $27, ISBN 978-0-544-22804-7). New York Times columnist Blow describes growing up poor, African-American, and sexually conflicted in the 1970s Deep South, and the violence that marked his past. 75,000-copy announced first printing.
Rise: A Soldier, a Dream, and a Promise Kept by Daniel Rodriguez, with Joe Layden (Oct. 7, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-544-36560-5) presents the story of a young soldier who survived one of the bloodiest battles in Afghanistan and went on to pursue his dream of playing Division I college football. 35,000-copy announced first printing.
Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die by Amy Fusselman (Jan. 13, hardcover, $21, ISBN 978-0-544-30300-3). Fusselman’s visit to a “thrillingly alarming” adventure playground in Tokyo leads her to explore America’s obsession with safety.
In a Rocket Made of Ice: Among the Children of Wat Opot by Gail Gutradt (Aug. 12, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-385-35347-2). A temple complex in Cambodia became a home for children of HIV/AIDS. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
A Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg (Jan. 6, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-385-35272-7). South African journalist Steinberg tells the uplifting story of an exiled Somali man and his quest for stability. 60,000-copy anmnounced first printing.
Guantánamo Diary by Larry Siems (Jan. 20, hardcover, $29, ISBN 978-0-316-32868-5). The only diary written by a still-imprisoned Guantánamo detainee. 50,000-copy announced first printing.
Daring: My Passages by Gail Sheehy (Sept. 9, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-06-229169-1). The author of the classic Passages returns with a chronicle of her trials and triumphs, starting with her beginnings as an early “girl” journalist in the 1960s. 125,000-copy announced first printing.
Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene (Oct. 20, hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-393-23995-9). A trip along the Trans-Siberian railroad captures an overlooked, idiosyncratic side of Russia in the age of Putin, by NPR host Greene.
Epilogue: A Memoir by Will Boast (Sept. 15, hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-87140-381-0). A young man loses his family only to discover another family: the secret one his father had in England.
My Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner (Sept. 15, hardcover, $23.95, ISBN 978-0-393-24501-1). A war memoir from the author of the poem “The Hurt Locker.”
New York Review Books
The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914 by Bela Zombory-Moldován, trans. by Peter Zombory-Moldován (Aug. 5, paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-59017-809-6). The first publication of a haunting memoir of WWI, recently discovered among the artist Béla Zombory-Moldován’s private papers.
Echoes of Heartsounds by Martha Weinman Lear (Sept. 16, paper, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4976-4615-5). Part love story, part medical mystery, Lear follows up her memoir, Heartsounds, with the drama of her own heart attack and the story of her two loves.
The Dog Stays in the Picture: Life Lessons from a Rescued Greyhound by Susan Morse (Sept. 29, paper, $16.99, ISBN 978-1-4976-4393-2). Morse’s moving story of how an anxious dog and an anxious woman find tranquillity together.
The Fall by Diogo Mainardi, trans. by Margaret Jull Costa (Oct. 7, hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-1-59051-700-0). Ruminative and reportorial, this account of a father’s struggle to grapple with his son’s cerebral palsy diagnosis shifts our understanding of those with the disorder, but also of all those identified as outsiders. 40,000-copy announced first printing.
The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins by Robert Baer (Oct. 28, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-399-16857-4). An odyssey through the art, theory, and brutality of modern political murder by a former CIA operative, and, yes, assassin.
Red Love: The Story of an East German Family by Leo Maxim, trans. by Shaun Whiteside (Oct. 28, paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-78227-042-3). Growing up in East Berlin, now married with children and the Wall a distant memory, the author looks back on why so many dreamed the GDR would be a new world and why, in the end, it fell apart.
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham (Sept. 30, hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-8129-9499-5). The creator, producer and star of HBO’s Girls delivers a frank series of dispatches about growing up, in her anticipated (and expensive) debut.
Watch Me by Anjelica Huston (Nov. 11, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-4767-6034-6). Following her coming-of-age memoir, Academy Award–winning actress Huston continues the story, writing about her relationship with Jack Nicholson, her rise to stardom, and much more.
Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, M.D. and T.J. Mitchell (Aug. 12, hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-4767-2725-7). The fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a New York City medical examiner.
While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal by Elizabeth Enslin (Sept. 23, paper, $17, ISBN 978-1-58005-544-4). Set against the backdrop of increasing political turmoil, an American anthropologist tells of moving to a remote Nepali village for love, and describes the challenges of marriage, childbirth, and child rearing in a foreign culture.
Simon & Schuster
Russian Tattoo: A Memoir by Elena Gorokhova (Jan. 6, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4516-8982-2) portrays a mother-daughter relationship under the comic pressures of assimilation that reaches from Cold War Russia to modern-day New Jersey.
Foreign Correspondent by H.D.S. Greenway (Aug. 19, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4767-6132-9) tells about 50 years of close-up war reporting from Vietnam to the Balkans, Pakistan to Gaza, Iraq to Afghanistan.
Cosby: His Life and Times by Mark Whitaker (Sept. 16, hardcover, $29.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-9797-1). The former Newsweek editor’s biography of Bill Cosby is based on interviews with more than a hundred sources, including Cosby.
The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield (Jan. 13, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4767-5728-5) explores what it meant to be the daughter of a smalltown undertaker, when the place you called “home” happened to be a funeral home, in this memoir evocative of Six Feet Under.
You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman by Mike Thomas (Sept. 23, hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-250-02796-2) is a revealing and harrowing biography of the comedian and actor.
Mountain to Mountain: a Journey of Adventure and Activism for the Women of Afghanistan by Shannon Galpin (Sept. 16, hardcover, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-250-04664-2). The transformation of a young rape survivor into a global activist.
Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: A Memoir by Andrew Lohse (Sept. 16, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-250-03367-3). An account of sordidness and redemption by the Dartmouth fraternity member who blew the whistle on inhumane hazing practices in a Rolling Stone profile.
The Teardrop Island: Following Victorian Footsteps Across Sri Lanka by Cherry Briggs (Jan. 1, paper, $13.95, ISBN 978-1-84953-414-7). Briggs discovers the travel writings of a Victorian explorer and decides to retrace his journey across the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn (Aug. 14, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-670-01544-3). A foodie memoir from the author of The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry.
A World Elsewhere: An American Woman in Wartime Germany by Sigrid MacRae (Sept. 4, hardcover, $27.95, ISBN 978-0-670-01583-2). The extraordinary love story of an American blueblood and a German aristocrat, and her tale of survival in WWII Germany.
Who Knows Tomorrow: A Memoir of Finding Family Among the Lost Children of Africa by Lisa Lovatt-Smith (Nov. 11, hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-60286-270-8) shows how the author made a difference in the story of her journey from Vogue international editor to living in a mud hut in Ghana.
Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Little Hawk and the Lone Wolf by Raymond Kaquatosh (Nov. 3, hardcover, $22.95, ISBN 978-0-87020-650-4). The memoir of a young Wisconsin Menominee, the son of the tribe’s medicine woman, who grew up with a wolf as his companion.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Charles Blow, author of Fire Shut Up in My Bones, murdered an older cousin who had molested him at seven. The author only considered murdering his cousin.