We all have one. And if you're one of the few, or as it seems these many years now, one of the many, who gets that story published, congratulations, you've joined a group that ranges all over the literary map.
The esteemed writer Joan Didion, who changed the face of widow's weeds, in Blue Nights confronts aging and the past with remembrances of her only child, daughter Quintana Roo (who died not long after her husband).
The stars of stage and screen are always ready to reveal the backstage scoop. Carrie Fisher keeps us laughing (and crying) in her sixth book, Shockaholic, promising to go right to the heart of her life, the Princess Leia/Star Wars years, about which she says, "It wasn't all sweetness and sabers." Actress Diane Keaton, a celebrity darling for four decades who managed to maintain long relationships and ongoing friendships with some of her generation's most desirable men, says her mother's death was her reason for reflecting. She's not dishing the dirt, but we can expect to hear about those men in Then Again.
Another famous and familiar name, film critic Roger Ebert, has written his story, Life Itself, documenting his incredible and ongoing career despite the thyroid cancer that has taken away his ability to speak.
And there's the ordinary Joe who's either had an exceptional life or has the gift of making an ordinary life extraordinary. Lindsay Harrison was a 20-year-old sophomore, estranged from her mother for two months, when she got the terrible news that her mother was missing. Harrison's account, Missing, covers the frantic 40 days of searching until her mother's body was found and the emotional searching that followed.
The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn continues Lucette Lagnado's story of her family's exile from Egypt, focusing on her mother and moving through her early years in America, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, far from her privileged childhood in Cairo's Jewish community. Donna M. Johnson saw the back roads of America on the revival tent trail with the evangelical preacher, David Terrell, when her mother became the group's organist. Terrell's rise and fall and Johnson's place in his inner circle comes to life with humor and pathos in Holy Ghost Girl.
In The Voyage of the Rose City, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's son, John, found adventure at sea when he signed up for a stint as a Merchant Marine one college summer, a trip that morphed from 45 days to four months, and resulted in a coming-of-age memoir that the young man, who sadly died in his 40s, recorded in an illustrated journal; nature-loving Lou Ureneck found his adventure closer to home. To handle his mounting midlife crises—divorce, job loss, his mother's death—he called his brother with an invitation to join him in building a house, the day-by-day story he tells in Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine.
But as ubiquitous as the celebrity tell-all, stories of family, loss, recovery and redemption are, it's the animal story that gets us every time. And while there's "Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!" those all-time favorites, dogs, get their due in Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself, in which Julie Klam's Boston terriers make room for some rescue pooches.
PW's Top 10 Memoir
Joan Didion. Knopf, Nov.
Carrie Fisher. Simon & Schuster, Nov.
Diane Keaton. Random House, Nov.
Life Itself: A Memoir
Roger Ebert. Hachette, Sept.
Lindsay Harrison. Scribner, Aug
The Arrogant Years: One Girl's Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn
Lucette Lagnado. Ecco, Sept.
Holy Ghost Girl: A Memoir
Donna M. Johnson. Gotham, Oct.
The Voyage of the Rose City:
An Adventure at Sea
John Moynihan. Spiegel & Grau, Oct.
Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and
Five Acres in Maine
Lou Ureneck. Viking, Sept.
Love at First Bark
Julie Klam. Riverhead, Oct.