Memoirs are all about the personal. They allow writers an outlet to put their perspective — feelings and opinions and all — on the page. And readers are given the chance to personally connect with someone they relate to — or don’t relate to. Here are some of the best memoirs of recent years.
1. Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon, 2018
Laymon’s Heavy is about many things. If it had to be placed in a nutshell, it would be: a black man confronts his childhood and coming of age by directly writing to his mother. Written in the second person, Laymon’s relationship with his mother — who raised him on her own — is at the core. But it is also about Laymon’s struggle with race, weight, early sexual abuse and gambling. It covers an expanse of weighty topics that are hard to read, but Laymon’s writing is not. It is poignant, striking and confident — it is impossible to look away from.
2. Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, 2016
Valenti has written five books on feminist theory, the first of which was published in 2008. But, in Sex Object, she turns the spotlight onto herself and writes about her own personal experiences as woman in society. The chapters chronicle street harassment, treatment from sexual partners and even Valenti’s very personal abortion story. Many of her experiences are easily recognizable by other women, a fact that Valenti is keenly aware of in her writing. She writes sharply and critically, but thoughtfully and carefully. She pushes away the absurdity of this treatment, but pulls the reader in.
3. Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrand Conley, 2016
When Conley’s parents found out he was gay, they sent him to conversion therapy, a program called Love in Action. Grown up in Arkansas in a fundamentalist family meant Conley was already struggling to reconcile his faith with his sexuality. He wrote Boy Erased about his experiences at Love in Action and confronting his family about his faith and identity. Conley’s strong grasp on the trauma he experienced translates to a captivating account written in beautiful prose. It also gives an insider’s look into all angles of conversion therapy: the individuals sent there, the families who force it and the overarching damage it ultimately results in. Boy Erased was adapted into a film in 2018, with Joel Edgerton directing and Lucas Hedges playing Conley.
4. The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae, 2016
For a much more lighthearted memoir, look no further than Rae’s 2016 collection of personal essays. The Insecure creator and star writes a charming and compelling tell-all of her awkward coming of age. Rae narrates her experience as an introvert and a black girl and how the two made for a not so great combination. Rae’s voice is witty and wry, while her experiences are relatable and laugh out loud funny. All in all, Rae’s self-awareness and combined charisma make for an un-put-down-able reading experience.
5. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Whether you know Brownstein from Portlandia or as the front woman of rock band Sleater Kinney, she wrote an entire memoir if you want to know her better. Her memoir, named after one of her lyrics, tracks her life centered around music. It chronicles her childhood and tumultuous family life to her eventual life as a woman in the rock music industry. Brownstein writes sharply and with purpose. Brownstein has a clear idea of her own identity and writes poignantly to show readers how she sees herself. Whether you had a perception of Brownstein prior to reading or not, you will have no choice by to see Brownstein — and her world — the way she herself does.
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