As 2023 comes to an end, it’s the perfect time to revisit a few of the most inspiring and impactful memoirs of the year. From Prince Harry’s shocking confessions about royal life in Spare to Britney Spears’ candid bestseller The Woman in Me, there are several big names included in this memoir roundup, but there are just as many subtle triumphs, including Kate Zambreno’s deeply personal exploration on family during the pandemic with The Light Room and Camonghne Felix’s dissection of heartbreak with Dyscalculia.
Whether you’re in the mood to cry, contemplate, or laugh, we’ve gathered a collection of the most memorable and significant personal stories of the year that includes something for every reader.
1. Spare by Prince Harry
One of the most talked-about memoirs of the year has been Spare, Prince Harry’s tell-all account of his life as a member of the royal family. The book’s title famously comes from the phrase an heir and a spare, which relates to Harry’s position as third in line to the throne after his father King Charles III and his older brother William, the Prince of Wales. With unflinching candor, Spare includes bombshell revelations about the loss of Harry’s mother Princess Diana, his lifelong struggle with the British tabloids and media, his highly publicized relationship with Meghan Markle, and his brave decision to leave the royal family.
2. Pageboy by Elliot Page
Pageboy is a bestselling autobiographical memoir from Oscar-nominated Canadian actor Elliot Page. The book offers an emotional depiction of Page’s journey to self-discovery after the success of his performances in award-winning films such as Juno and Inception, as well as the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy. With brutal honesty, Page recounts his personal experience of coming out as transgender and encountering anti-queer attitudes in the entertainment industry.
3. Worthy by Jada Pinkett Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith’s memoir Worthy tells the story of the actress and talk show host’s life from her childhood in Baltimore to her success in Hollywood and marriage to actor Will Smith. Pinkett Smith courageously shares intimate details about her unconventional upbringing, her struggle with depression, the experience of motherhood, and the intense scrutiny that has come with the infamous Oscars Slap. Ultimately, Worthy offers an inspiring story of a woman’s journey toward self-discovery and spiritual healing.
4. The Woman in Me by Britney Spears
Britney Spears’ groundbreaking memoir The Woman in Me reveals the incredible story of one of the greatest performers in pop music history’s life in the spotlight. The memoir comes two years after her 13-year conservatorship was terminated in September 2021. Spears writes with candor about her fraught relationship with her father, her relationship with singer Justin Timberlake, her infamous encounters with the paparazzi, and her experience of childbirth and becoming a mother to her two children. After listening to constructed narratives about her life for the entirety of her career, with The Woman in Me, Spears is finally able to speak on her unique life with her own words, offering an inspiring story about finding one’s voice.
Memoirs About Self-Improvement and Healing
5. Dyscalculia by Camonghne Felix
In Dyscalculia, a touching new memoir from Camonghne Felix, the American writer and poet uses her childhood dyscalculia — a learning disorder that affects a person’s ability to understand math — as a metaphor for miscalculations in love and relationships. Dyscalculia tells the story of Felix’s healing process from a painful breakup, which brings up memories of childhood trauma, relationships, and mental health experienced over the writer’s life. The memoir is Felix’s second book following her 2019 poetry collection Build Yourself a Boat, and it explores heartbreak and healing through poetic narration.
6. Enchantment by Katherine May
Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age is a new memoir from bestselling author Katherine May that invites readers to rediscover their innate sense of wonder at the world around them. The book was written during the pandemic and explores the concept of identifying with the natural world as a way of inner healing. In Enchantment, May shares personal stories about her struggles with work and family in the aftermath of the pandemic, encouraging her readers to seek connection with the environment in order to reignite their enchantment with life.
7. The Body Liberation Project by Chrissy King
Writer, speaker, and former fitness coach Chrissy King’s moving book The Body Liberation Project blends the genres of memoir, inspiration, and workbook, offering an inspiring statement on health, fitness, and nourishing the human body. In her memoir, King tells the story of her fitness journey and breaks down harmful societal messages about physical appearance. In this stunning debut work, King encourages readers to find freedom through individualized fitness and diet plans that encourage health and self-love without promoting Eurocentric beauty standards.
Memoirs by Writers and Artists
8. Still Pictures by Janet Malcolm
Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory is a memoir by acclaimed writer and staff journalist at The New Yorker Janet Malcolm. It tells the story of Malcolm’s encounter with old photographs of her Czech refugee family and friends, which prompts her to write about her upbringing in New York and the influence of family and ancestry on her life. It also features meditations from Malcolm on her marriage to Gardner Botsford, her time at William Shawn’s New Yorker, and her involvement in an infamous libel trial. Still Pictures arrives two years after Malcolm’s passing in June 2021, and it features her signature wit and sharp commentary.
9. You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith
American poet and freelance writer Maggie Smith’s new memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful explores heartbreak and a renewed commitment to healing and self-discovery in the aftermath of a divorce. As Smith works through the complex emotions following the termination of her marriage, she explores contemporary womanhood and gender roles with her trademark empathy and thoughtfulness. In You Could Make This Place Beautiful, Smith examines the themes of parenthood, isolation, love, and the power of sharing our stories, which are also present in her book of quotes and essays Keep Moving, and her poetry collection Goldenrod.
10. Worm by Edel Rodriguez
Worm: A Cuban American Odyssey is a graphic memoir from Edel Rodriguez — one of the most prominent contemporary political artists. Rodriguez is a Cuban American artist and illustrator whose work has been featured in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, The New Yorker, and various other publications. In Worm, Rodriguez tells the story of his childhood in Cuba in the 1970s and his family’s passage on the infamous Mariel boatlift through striking illustrations.
Memoirs That Tell Moving Stories
11. I Can’t Save You by Anthony Chin-Quee
I Can’t Save You by Anthony Chin-Quee is a captivating memoir from a Black physician who grapples with his past mistakes and relationships and ultimately finds a path forward. Chin-Quee explores his inability to fit neatly into any particular category due to his Black and Asian ancestry, and he also contemplates the impact of his family’s history with depression and the feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure that have driven him to make mistakes in his relationships. I Can’t Save You offers Chin-Quee’s musings on what it means to be both a physician and a Black man in the modern world, and ultimately, the memoir displays Chin-Quee’s belief in the healing power of storytelling and inward reflection.
12. The Light Room by Kate Zambreno
The Light Room from American novelist, essayist, and professor Kate Zambreno offers a look into the life of a mother and two young daughters during the pandemic. Zambreno moves from season to season as she muses on current issues such as climate change and public health while imagining her children’s future. The Light Room is one of the most critically-acclaimed memoirs of the year and Zambreno has been praised by Nobel Laureate Annie Ernaux as having invented a new form through her acute attention to the present moment. In this memoir, Zambreno examines the trials of living through a pandemic while finding sparks of hope and encouraging readers to live an engaged life.
13. Owner of a Lonely Heart by Beth Nguyen
With Owner of a Lonely Heart, American novelist and nonfiction writer Beth Nguyen tells the emotional story of her relationship with her mother who stayed behind when she and her family fled Saigon for America at the end of the Vietnam War when Nguyen was only 8 months old. In this memoir, Nguyen narrates her upbringing in the Midwest, her first meeting with her mother at the age of 19, and her own experience of becoming a mother. She writes about family and the connections between mothers and daughters, the search for belonging, and the experience of being a Vietnamese refugee in America.
14. They Called Us Exceptional by Prachi Gupta
Prachi Gupta is a journalist and writer based in New York, and her debut memoir They Called Us Exceptional examines the dangerous pressures of the model minority myth. In this book, Gupta reminisces on her upbringing in the suburbs of Pennsylvania as the daughter of successful Indian American parents who raised high-achieving children. As she recounts her childhood with candor, Gupta points out the negative implications of changing oneself to fit the perfect image often expected of Asian Americans and makes a case for choosing self-compassion over pursuing traditional standards for success.
Memoirs About Nature and the Environment
15. Fieldwork by Iliana Regan
Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir is the second release from Michelin-starred chef Iliana Regan, following her 2019 National Book Award-nominated memoir Burn the Place. In Fieldwork, Regan tells the story of her Eastern European ancestry, her childhood in rural Indiana, and her current home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The memoir focuses on how Regan’s complex gender identity has impacted her throughout her career as a chef, and also how the COVID-19 pandemic presented obstacles in opening her business The Milkweed Inn.
2023 has been an incredible year for memoirs, and there are far too many great stories to fit in a single roundup. Be sure to let us know if you’ve read any of these wonderful memoirs, or if you have other favorites from this year!
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