In this edition of our monthly thematic roundup of BookLife titles, we’re celebrating memoir and autobiography.
The Escape Artist: A True Story
About the book: A family of four is thrown into the high-octane history that was communist Poland in the 1960s and ’70s. A visionary architect, a central-planning feminist economist, and two little girls grapple with life in a logic-challenged system.
Author statement: “ ‘So, where are you from?’ A simple enough icebreaker, but not for me. Poland, by way of New York, a bit of Italy. How to properly answer and do justice to my family’s escape and emigration from communist Poland? I have tried condensing the story to an elevator speech. Naturally, the dramatic parts would pique the listeners’ curiosity, and just as they would start peppering me with questions it was time to get off the elevator. This book finally gives me the opportunity to tell the story in the fullness that it deserves.”
Everything in Between
About the book: Everything in Between takes the reader around the world and back again, the story of a woman letting go of the past and society’s conditioning to find her freedom. In her 20s, Caitlin decides to quit her soul-sucking job to live in South America, a decision that catapults her into a totally new life. From Peru to Bali to India to Vietnam to Ireland to Costa Rica to the Faroe Islands, the reader joins Caitlin on a worldwide adventure, fraught with as many hilariously unfortunate mishaps as insightful moments.
Author statement: “Women’s voices have been silenced for centuries. I wrote this book of essays to share my true and honest experience of choosing not to get married, traveling instead of raising a family, and deconditioning myself from capitalist, colonial, and patriarchal standards around my sexuality and life purpose.”
Memory Road Trip
About the book: This journey down memory lane is a coming-of-age excursion that takes armchair explorers on an odyssey of life, love, and loneliness.
Author statement: “Memory Road Trip is a collection of travel stories ranging from the sublime to the surreal.”
Half In: A Coming-of-Age Memoir of Forbidden Love
About the book: What if your first love was a forbidden one? At 23, Felice Cohen was, like other recent college grads, hesitant about entering the real world, with the added stress of coming out in the early 1990s. Since she was focused on how to land a full-time position as a writer, falling in love was the last thing on her mind. But fall in love she did—with her boss, a woman 34 years older. In this candid coming-of-age memoir, Cohen chronicles the happiness and heartbreak of an age-gap love affair while struggling to figure out the direction of her future. Ultimately, this is a story about navigating life’s unpredictable path while following one’s heart and finding acceptance.
Author statement: “This book started out as a therapeutic exercise. The first love of my life had died. We had had a secretive, 10-year lesbian affair, and after she passed, I was forced to mourn her exactly as I had loved her: in secret. But the secret was fighting to come out. I wrote something late one night after she came to me in a dream. On a whim I entered it into a first chapter contest and won. A publisher came up to me and asked, ‘How much of the book do you have done?’ Book? I thought. What book? It took me almost 18 years to finish this book. Not because of the writing process, but because of the healing one. Finishing meant letting her go. But it was time. Time to tell our story. Time to move on. Time to fall in love again.”
Life After Death
About the book: Becoming a one instead of half a twosome is not what you bargained for? You find yourself really alone, a lot? You need a cheerleader. You need to hear you are going to live again. You need to know it’s okay to live and laugh while being angry and sad. With all the courage of a kitten coming out of the box for the first time, and seeing the world in a new light, Machacek found widowhood wasn’t all that bad.
Author statement: “When my husband died (oh how I hated those words), I looked for a book that wasn’t all just sad. So after some cajoling from friends, I wrote about the widow’s journey. This is the book I looked for when I became the newest widow on my block. I want to let other people know that there is hope. That there really, truly is life after a death.”
Triumph and Transformation
California Chrome: Our Story
About the book: The Martins built a comfortable middle-class life, only to risk it all and push their finances to the limit in building Martin Testing Laboratories. Regaining their financial feet after working hard to make the business profitable, they could have relaxed and enjoyed their success. Instead, they embarked on the adventure of a lifetime: the first horse they ever bred, California Chrome, took the world by storm and won the Kentucky Derby.
Author statement: “This book is an effort to clear the social media and internet fog surrounding California Chrome. It is a clear-eyed look at the business of breeding and racing a champion racehorse and all the thrills and heartaches that go along with it.”
In Our Blood
About the book: Caitlin Billings thought she could neatly walk away from her past, but her work as a mental health professional and role as a mother causes tremendous pressure to be perfect and present stability. But a hold-up at gunpoint breaks her carefully balanced world apart. Suddenly, Caitlin is trapped by frightening mental health issues while raising two young children. Just when she feels in control of her newfound bipolar disorder, her elder child shows similar depressive symptoms and an allegation of sexual assault in their home makes her question her fundamental ability to protect her children. And when her elder child comes out as transgender, Caitlin must reconsider her own tolerance and understanding. Part coming-of-age, part reckoning of motherhood, In Our Blood is a therapist’s honest account of professional and personal struggles and an intergenerational story of acceptance, self-love, and fluidity.
Author statement: “I decided to write a memoir because I was trying to make sense of two colliding identities: clinical social worker and psychiatric patient. I want readers to know that despite the societal pressure many of us feel to be perfect, imperfection is the reality, and acceptance of self will open new paths for you while perfectionism becomes an ever-tighter and more cramped prison cell. We can make mistakes with our lives and take paths that in hindsight we wish we’d never walked, but if we can lean into our understanding of ourselves and stop calling ourselves imperfect failures, we can find peace in little slips of time and in the most mundane of ways.”
Never Make a Sound
About the book: A young girl growing up in a turbulent family setting creates a secret inner world to escape her toxic environment. Told through stories and poetry, this memoir is a raw, intimate journey of a young girl finding a way to survive in an impossible situation. A true story of resilience and the strength of the human spirit.
Author statement: “This memoir is a creative work, but my hope is that it will help promote greater understanding about childhood abuse and developmental trauma.”
Observations Through Yellow Glasses: A Memoir Through Poems
About the book: Yong Takahashi moved to The United States with her parents when she was three years old. She grew up in a traditional household where her Korean and American worlds pulled her in opposite directions. Observations Through Yellow Glasses invites readers to follow Takahashi’s journey as she learns life’s bitter lessons, longs for love, and attempts to heal the wounds she collects along the way.
Author statement: “I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in Detroit. Currently, I live in Atlanta. When I started kindergarten, I was the only Asian student in a newly desegregated school. The white students lived on one side of the highway and the black students lived on the other. I remember the landlord telling my parents we could choose which side because we were yellow. Trying to fit in was difficult. Some of my experiences and their long-lingering effects are in my memoir.”
Releasing the Butterfly: A Love Affair in Four Acts
About the book: In the bleak house of Alzheimer’s, love is fragile and often on the brink of losing its power. If one is not careful, everything can become medical, pharmaceutical, clinical, legal, agonizing, and suffocating, both to the beloved with Alzheimer’s and to the lover-caregiver. Releasing the Butterfly is a layman’s account of how love triumphs over Alzheimer’s.
Author statement: “For anyone worrying about forgetting and not remembering, join Gene Alice and me on a journey of love in the shadow of Alzheimer’s. Each time of life has its own kind of love. Our fifth act is filled with hugs and kisses.”
Reluctant Healer: On Learning to Listen to That Still Small Voice Within to Better Bring Your Gifts to the World
Mary H.A. Kearns
About the book: This memoir recounts Mary Kearns’s journey to trust in her innate gifts and the wisdom of that still, small voice within. She shares the challenges she has faced in following her life path, along with methods she has learned to make the journey smoother. Blending her lived experiences with research in a variety of scientific disciplines, Kearns offers a message of hope during this unique time in history.
Author statement: “My memoir began in November 2018 with National Novel Writing Month, in which I challenged myself to write 50,000 words in one month, focusing on interesting vignettes from my life. I worked on it here and there for several months, but it was still just several short, unrelated pieces. Then, in 2020, I found myself (as did many other people), with a lot more time for writing and reflecting. Over the next year, I wove the pieces into a coherent story, and added some lessons I had learned and insights I’d had during the early months of the pandemic.”
The Sea Once Swallowed Me: A Memoir of Love, Solitude, and the Limits of Language
About the book: Sleeping in the woods outside a medieval city in Spain, Sondra Charbadze ponders her decision to abandon a more ordinary life. “I am here to decipher nature,” she writes. “But as the stone glints back, I know this is a lie. Humans can decipher nothing but their own small lives.” Entranced by a mysterious musician, yet yearning for the man she left behind, she struggles to find the path to connection while retaining her identity. As she befriends people on the margins, she is compelled to confront how pain and privilege haunt both relationships and societies. In the process, she finds love in unlikely places and healing at the limits of language.
Author statement: “I wrote this book while living in Spain, but edits required a few more years of self-reflection. Memoir is a difficult genre because it requires the memoirist to develop enough self-awareness to understand her motivations and weaknesses. I had to wrestle with my internalized sexism, my childhood trauma, and the ways I hurt others by refusing to face my own pain. But in spite of that difficulty, exploring my personal past through a narrative lens has been liberating. Writing this book has also convinced me that symbolism and meaning are embedded in the fabric of the ordinary.”
Stalked by Demons, Guarded by Angels: The Girl with the Eating Disorder
About the book: Stalked by Demons, Guarded by Angels is a window into the depths of dysfunction as experienced through bulimia, binge eating disorder, self-harm, and suicidality. Simone’s journey into the world of psychological recovery is raw and personal, as full of relapse and regret as it is hope for the future. Her road to recovery is not a destination; it comprises learning a new way of being. She leaves the reader with a vision of freedom from disordered eating—as she imagines it to be.
Author statement: “My memoir began life as a private journal entry that was part of my mental health recovery process. Over the course of time my private writing increased; I created a public blog, enrolled in writing courses, and then my story was born. It has been an incredible cathartic labor of love and I’m so grateful for all that I have learned in the process.”
You’ll Forget This Ever Happened
About the book: By writing her truth, Laura Engel gives a voice to that 17-year-old girl caught up in a tangle of a secret pregnancy and the relinquishment of her son, to educate the reader about the guilt and trauma that women endured in previous eras. This book delves into how a traumatic secret is never forgotten and colors the secret-keeper’s life, showing how the bursting open of a shameful secret can change the direction of a life in a powerful and positive way.
Author statement: “In 2016, a miracle happened in my life, resulting in me writing a memoir about a secret I had planned on taking to my grave. A son I had put up for adoption as a teenage unwed mother 49 years before found me through AncestryDNA. My book begins in 1967 in a maternity home for unwed mothers in New Orleans and travels over the span of 50 years across the country to California and back again. Heartbreaking, yet magically triumphant at times, my book is a narrative of the backstory of a closed adoption.”