Memoirs look at life: for Richard Russo, whose novels reflect his working-class origins, it’s contemplating a childhood marked by poverty in the factory town of Gloversville, N.Y., but also gifted with the love and inspiration of his mother, in Elsewhere: A Memoir. Literary critic Marco Roth tells a different story of childhood in The Scientists: A Family Romance. He grew up on New York City’s affluent Central Park West with intense, accomplished, and intellectual parents, but was burdened with the shame of a father afflicted with AIDS, the origins of his contracting the disease masked in secrecy. Memoirs also contemplate death: Christopher Hitchens confronts his own in Mortality, in which the outspoken orator and writer, diagnosed with esophageal cancer soon after completing his memoir Hitch-22 (he died in 2011), chronicles his illness and how disease affects our relationship with the world around us, and remains an adamant atheist even to the end. Will Schwalbe deals with his mother’s illness and impending death by forming a book club as a way of bringing them closer, and relates that experience in The End of Your Life Book Club.
Looking back almost always involves family (an Italian film director once called family the first institution that tries to kill you), and family scrutiny almost always results in revelations and scandals that have remained hidden, perhaps, for centuries. In The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition, journalist Doreen Carvajal, American born and Catholic raised, travels to Spain to investigate ancestors who might have been conversos, Jews forced in Inquisition-era Spain to convert to Christianity, while another journalist, Joe Mozingo, searches the history of his part-black, part-white family descended from an African slave who won his freedom in the Jamestown court in 1672 and was one of the first free black men, in The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, Our Search for Family.
Robert Anasi leaves family behind and concentrates on place in The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, showing how, not so long ago, Williamsburg had cheap rents and funky streets, but like Soho and countless other neighborhoods before it, went from artists lofts to developers’ towers as the bohemian lifestyle gave way to sidewalks crowded with double baby strollers.
On a sweet note, A Dog Named Boo: How One Dog and One Woman Rescued Each Other is Lisa J. Edwards’s story of a puppy, abandoned, of course, and the runt of the litter, who goes on to restore Edwards, suffering from her own physical and emotional traumas, and become a world-class therapy dog. Rhoda Janzen’s follow-up to Mennonite in a Black Dress continues her saga with Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?: A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right and Solves Her Lady Problems, a title that tells the whole story. And for just fun, Jacob Tomsky, whose op-ed piece on hotel housekeeping for the New York Times went behind the scenes after the Dominique Strauss-Kahn incident, writes a Kitchen Confidential for the hotel industry: Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality. Everyone, it seems, has a story.
PW’s Top 10: Memoir
Elsewhere: A Memoir by Richard Russo. Knopf, Nov.
The Scientists: A Family Romance by Marco Roth. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sept.
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens. Twelve, Sept.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Knopf, Oct.
The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition by Doreen Carvajal. Riverhead, Aug.
The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, Our Search for Family by Joe Mozingo. Free Press, Oct.
The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn by Robert Anasi. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Aug.
A Dog Named Boo: How One Dog and One Woman Rescued Each Other by Lisa J. Edwards. Harlequin, Sept.
Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?: A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right and Solves Her Lady Problems by Rhoda Janzen. Grand Central, Oct.
Heads in Beds: a Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. Doubleday, Nov.
Read and sort all our picks from this fall's memoirs in the spreadsheet below: