Looking for your next fall book club pick? Look no further than this list of ten thought-provoking, tear-jerking, and original memoirs. Most memoirs are perfect for any book club because of the raw and intimate insights they provide into some of today’s most pressing topics, but each of these titles in particular has a master storyteller at its helm to guide you through perspectives and experiences that are sure to stimulate hour-long discussions. After you choose one of these unforgettable true stories, all that’s left is picking out the wine and cheese.
In this charming and uplifting memoir, Italian book publicist turned bookstore owner Alba Donati describes how her small hillside bookstore became a beloved community center and literary destination. Donati’s plan to open a bookstore in her hometown of Lucignana, a Tuscan village of fewer than two hundred people, seemed like a long shot. But soon the cottage inspired family members, community volunteers, and booklovers worldwide to flock to Donati’s store for one of her fail-safe book recommendations. Perfect for fans of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, this memoir is a love letter to books and their readers.
Under the Tuscan Sun meets Diary of a Bookseller in this charming memoir by an Italian poet recounting her experience opening a bookshop in a village in Tuscany.
Alba Donati was used to her hectic life working as a book publicist in Italy—a life that made her happy and allowed her to meet prominent international authors—but she was ready to make a change. One day she decided to return to Lucignana, the small village in the Tuscan hills where she was born. There she opened a tiny but enchanting bookshop in a lovely little cottage on a hill, surrounded by gardens filled with roses and peonies.
With fewer than 200 year-round residents, Alba’s shop seemed unlikely to succeed, but it soon sparked the enthusiasm of book lovers both nearby and across Italy. After surviving a fire and pandemic restrictions, the “Bookshop on the Hill” soon became a refuge and destination for an ever-growing community. The locals took pride in the bookshop—from Alba’s centenarian mother to her childhood friends and the many volunteers who help in the day-to-day running of the shop. And in short time it has become a literary destination, with many devoted readers coming from afar to browse, enjoy a cup of tea, and find comfort in the knowledge that Alba will find the perfect read for them.
Alba’s lifelong love of literature shines on every page of this unique and uplifting book. Formatted as diary entries with delightful lists of the books sold at the shop each day, this inspirational story celebrates reading as well as book lovers and booksellers, the unsung heroes of the literary world.
Jeannie Vanasco loved her father, a man who named her after his daughter from a previous marriage who died. And when he—the man she always viewed as her hero—dies, Vanasco vows to keep her promise to him of writing a book by investigating the mysterious circumstances around the other Jeannie’s death. As Vanasco falls deeper into a manic obsession with the puzzle-like mystery before her, THE GLASS EYE asks, in its own mesmerizing and engrossing way: What kind of answer can ever be enough to recover from such grief?
When award-winning author Beth Nguyen was eight months old, she, her father, sister, grandmother, and uncles all escaped Saigon for America. Her mother did not. Years later, when Beth was nineteen, they finally met again. Now, unfolding through a collection of brief, fragmented visits over the course of years, OWNER OF A LONELY HEART crafts a refugee coming-of-age story that grapples with motherhood, absence, and conditions of estrangement, all through the lens of Beth’s complex relationship with her mother. Aching, joyful, and compassionate, Nguyen’s memoir is a heartrending must-read.
From the award-winning author of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, a powerful memoir of a mother-daughter relationship fragmented by war and resettlement.
At the end of the Vietnam War, when Beth Nguyen was eight months old, she and her father, sister, grandmother, and uncles fled Saigon for America. Beth’s mother stayed—or was left—behind, and they did not meet again until Beth was nineteen. Over the course of her adult life, she and her mother have spent less than twenty-four hours together.
Owner of a Lonely Heart is a memoir about parenthood, absence, and the condition of being a refugee: the story of Beth’s relationship with her mother. Framed by a handful of visits over the course of many years—sometimes brief, sometimes interrupted, sometimes with her mother alone and sometimes with her sister—Beth tells a coming-of-age story that spans her own Midwestern childhood, her first meeting with her mother, and becoming a parent herself. Vivid and illuminating, Owner of a Lonely Heart is a deeply personal story of family, connection, and belonging: as a daughter, a mother, and as a Vietnamese refugee in America.
In this unflinching portrait of single, working motherhood, Stephanie Land describes the years she spent scraping by while cleaning the houses of America’s upper-middle class. At twenty-eight, Land’s life was forever altered by an unplanned pregnancy. To build a life for her child, Land began working as a housekeeper by day and completing online courses by night. In MAID, she shares the experience of existing—often invisibly—beside her clients’ biggest triumphs while also being witness to their most vulnerable selves. Catch up on this can’t-miss book before Land’s second memoir, CLASS, comes out this November 7.
Poet Safiya Sinclair was raised by her volatile father, a reggae musician and militant observer of a strict Rastafari sect, who crafted everything around protecting her purity from Babylon, the sect’s term for the corrupting influences of the Western world. But as Sinclair embraced the books her mother gave her and the education she received, she found herself on a rebellious and violent collision course with her father’s beliefs. HOW TO SAY BABYLON is a nuanced and lyrical look at one woman’s grappling with the interlocked legacies of patriarchy and colonization.
With echoes of Educated and Born a Crime, How to Say Babylon is the stunning story of the author’s struggle to break free of her rigid Rastafarian upbringing, ruled by her father’s strict patriarchal views and repressive control of her childhood, to find her own voice as a woman and poet.
Throughout her childhood, Safiya Sinclair’s father, a volatile reggae musician and militant adherent to a strict sect of Rastafari, became obsessed with her purity, in particular, with the threat of what Rastas call Babylon, the immoral and corrupting influences of the Western world outside their home. He worried that womanhood would make Safiya and her sisters morally weak and impure, and believed a woman’s highest virtue was her obedience.
In an effort to keep Babylon outside the gate, he forbade almost everything. In place of pants, the women in her family were made to wear long skirts and dresses to cover their arms and legs, head wraps to cover their hair, no make-up, no jewelry, no opinions, no friends. Safiya’s mother, while loyal to her father, nonetheless gave Safiya and her siblings the gift of books, including poetry, to which Safiya latched on for dear life. And as Safiya watched her mother struggle voicelessly for years under housework and the rigidity of her father’s beliefs, she increasingly used her education as a sharp tool with which to find her voice and break free. Inevitably, with her rebellion comes clashes with her father, whose rage and paranoia explodes in increasing violence. As Safiya’s voice grows, lyrically and poetically, a collision course is set between them.
How to Say Babylon is Sinclair’s reckoning with the culture that initially nourished but ultimately sought to silence her; it is her reckoning with patriarchy and tradition, and the legacy of colonialism in Jamaica. Rich in lyricism and language only a poet could evoke, How to Say Babylon is both a universal story of a woman finding her own power and a unique glimpse into a rarefied world we may know how to name, Rastafari, but one we know little about.
All her life, Chloé Cooper Jones has depended on her existence as an academic to provide a cloistered solace from the judgements of the outside world, a world made even crueler because of her rare congenital condition, sacral agenesis. But when Jones unexpectedly becomes a mother, she is forced to look beyond the confines of her academic success to reclaim a life that others—and perhaps even herself—have denied her for years. In EASY BEAUTY, Pulitzer Prize finalist and philosophy professor Jones explores taboo questions of disability and motherhood.
Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Memoir or Autobiography
A New York Times Notable Book of 2022 * Vulture’s #1 Memoir of 2022 * A Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA TODAY, Time, BuzzFeed, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and New York Public Library Best Book of the Year
From Chloé Cooper Jones—Pulitzer Prize finalist, philosophy professor, Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant recipient—an “exquisite” (Oprah Daily) and groundbreaking memoir about disability, motherhood, and the search for a new way of seeing and being seen.
“I am in a bar in Brooklyn, listening to two men, my friends, discuss whether my life is worth living.”
So begins Chloé Cooper Jones’s bold, revealing account of moving through the world in a body that looks different than most. Jones learned early on to factor “pain calculations” into every plan, every situation. Born with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenesis which affects both her stature and gait, her pain is physical. But there is also the pain of being judged and pitied for her appearance, of being dismissed as “less than.” The way she has been seen—or not seen—has informed her lens on the world her entire life. She resisted this reality by excelling academically and retreating to “the neutral room in her mind” until it passed. But after unexpectedly becoming a mother (in violation of unspoken social taboos about the disabled body), something in her shifts, and Jones sets off on a journey across the globe, reclaiming the spaces she’d been denied, and denied herself.
From the bars and domestic spaces of her life in Brooklyn to sculpture gardens in Rome; from film festivals in Utah to a Beyoncé concert in Milan; from a tennis tournament in California to the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, Jones weaves memory, observation, experience, and aesthetic philosophy to probe the myths underlying our standards of beauty and desirability and interrogates her own complicity in upholding those myths.
“Bold, honest, and superbly well-written” (Andre Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name) Easy Beauty is the rare memoir that has the power to make you see the world, and your place in it, with new eyes.
Critically acclaimed novelist Martha McPhee grew up on Omega Farm, a ramshackle New Jersey property that, to her, always seemed filled with art, people, and chaos that were by turns compassionate and sinister. Suddenly, McPhee must travel back to the now-neglected home she once knew with her husband and children to help care for a mother who no longer recognizes her as she slips into dementia. As McPhee tries to mend family ties and surrounding forests alike, her past will not let her go in this complex story of family legacy and environmental repair.
A long-awaited memoir from an award-winning novelist—a candid, riveting account of her complicated, bohemian childhood and her return home to care for her ailing mother.
In March 2020, Martha McPhee, her husband, and their two almost-grown children set out for her childhood home in New Jersey, where she finds herself grappling simultaneously with a mother slipping into severe dementia and a house that’s been neglected of late. As Martha works to manage her mother’s care and the sprawling, ramshackle property—a broken septic system, invasive bamboo, dying ash trees—she is pulled back into her childhood, almost against her will.
Martha grew up at Omega Farm with her four sisters, five stepsiblings, mother, and stepfather, in a house filled with art, people, and the kind of chaos that was sometimes benevolent, sometimes more sinister. Caring for her mother and her children, struggling to mend the forest, the past relentlessly asserts itself—even as Martha’s mother, the person she might share her memories with or even try to hold to account, no longer knows who Martha is.
A masterful exploration of a complicated family legacy and a powerful story of environmental and personal repair, Omega Farm is a testament to hope in the face of suffering, and a courageous tale about how returning home can offer a new way to understand the past.
In this clear-eyed exploration of race, class, and identity, writer and lawyer Omer Aziz describes his experience of growing up as a first-generation Pakistani Muslim boy outside Toronto. Despite fearing the violence and discrimination he sees in the world around him, Aziz embraces his education. But as he moves from college in Ontario to prestigious institutions in Paris and Cambridge, and finally to law school at Yale, Aziz is constantly in conflict with himself: Is it possible to escape his feelings of shame and powerlessness in a Western world seemingly dedicated to reminding him of those feelings?
Brown Boy is an uncompromising interrogation of identity, family, religion, race, and class, told through Omer Aziz’s incisive and luminous prose.
In a tough neighborhood on the outskirts of Toronto, miles away from wealthy white downtown, Omer Aziz struggles to find his place as a first-generation Pakistani Muslim boy. He fears the violence and despair of the world around him, and sees a dangerous path ahead, succumbing to aimlessness, apathy, and rage.
In his senior year of high school, Omer quickly begins to realize that education can open up the wider world. But as he falls in love with books, and makes his way to Queen’s University in Ontario, Sciences Po in Paris, Cambridge University in England, and finally Yale Law School, he continually confronts his own feelings of doubt and insecurity at being an outsider, a brown-skinned boy in an elite white world. He is searching for community and identity, asking questions of himself and those he encounters, and soon finds himself in difficult situations—whether in the suburbs of Paris or at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Yet the more books Omer reads and the more he moves through elite worlds, his feelings of shame and powerlessness only grow stronger, and clear answers recede further away.
Weaving together his powerful personal narrative with the books and friendships that move him, Aziz wrestles with the contradiction of feeling like an Other and his desire to belong to a Western world that never quite accepts him. He poses the questions he couldn’t have asked in his youth: Was assimilation ever really an option? Could one transcend the perils of race and class? And could we—the collective West—ever honestly confront the darker secrets that, as Aziz discovers, still linger from the past?
In Brown Boy, Omer Aziz has written a book that eloquently describes the complex process of creating an identity that fuses where he’s from, what people see in him, and who he knows himself to be.
Christie Tate thought her problems with commitment were over when she finally settled down with the right guy. But when her friend Meredith—twenty years older and both brutally and somehow gently honest—challenges her to dig into her many past failed female friendships, Tate realizes the hard work is still to come. Together, the two explore the shame, jealousy, and fears that led to Meredith’s many broken relations with other women and begin to consider what a “healthy relationship” really means. Funny and emotionally generous, BFF is a love letter to female friendship.
From the author of Group, a New York Times bestseller and Reese’s Book Club Pick, comes a moving, heartwarming, and powerful memoir about Christie Tate’s lifelong struggle to sustain female friendship, and the friend who helps her find the human connection she seeks.
After more than a decade of dead-end dates and dysfunctional relationships, Christie Tate has reclaimed her voice and settled down. Her days of agonizing in group therapy over guys who won’t commit are over, the grueling emotional work required to attach to another person tucked neatly into the past.
Or so she thought. Weeks after giddily sharing stories of her new boyfriend at Saturday morning recovery meetings, Christie receives a gift from a friend. Meredith, twenty years older and always impeccably accessorized, gives Christie a box of holiday-themed scarves as well as a gentle suggestion: maybe now is the perfect time to examine why friendships give her trouble. “The work never ends, right?” she says with a wink.
Christie isn’t so sure, but she soon realizes that the feeling of “apartness” that has plagued her since childhood isn’t magically going away now that she’s in a healthy romantic relationship. With Meredith by her side, she embarks on a brutally honest exploration of her friendships past and present, sorting through the ways that debilitating shame and jealousy have kept the lasting bonds she craves out of reach—and how she can overcome a history of letting go too soon. But when Meredith becomes ill and Christie’s baggage threatens to muddy their final days, she’s forced to face her deepest fears in honor of the woman who finally showed her how to be a friend.
Poignant, laugh-out-loud funny, and emotionally satisfying, B.F.F. explores what happens when we finally break the habits that impair our ability to connect with others, and the ways that one life—however messy and imperfect—can change another.
CREEP is a collection of essays by writer and critic Myriam Gurba that unearths the disturbing manifestations of toxic traditions. In essays that are half cultural criticism and half personal essay, Gurba explores everything from the carceral system to Mexican stereotypes to inmate abuse. Wide-ranging and adventurous, razor-smart and provocative, these pieces explore the ecosystems that both sustain and result from oppression, systems that creep into every facet of life, from school to work and government institutions to family homes.
A ruthless and razor-sharp essay collection that tackles the pervasive, creeping oppression and toxicity that has wormed its way into society—in our books, schools, and homes, as well as the systems that perpetuate them—from the acclaimed author of Mean, and one of our fiercest, foremost explorers of intersectional Latinx identity.
A creep can be a singular figure, a villain who makes things go bump in the night. Yet creep is also what the fog does—it lurks into place to do its dirty work, muffling screams, obscuring the truth, and providing cover for those prowling within it.
Creep is Myriam Gurba’s informal sociology of creeps, a deep dive into the dark recesses of the toxic traditions that plague the United States and create the abusers who haunt our books, schools, and homes. Through cultural criticism disguised as personal essay, Gurba studies the ways in which oppression is collectively enacted, sustaining ecosystems that unfairly distribute suffering and premature death to our most vulnerable. Yet identifying individual creeps, creepy social groups, and creepy cultures is only half of this book’s project—the other half is examining how we as individuals, communities, and institutions can challenge creeps and rid ourselves of the fog that seeks to blind us.
With her ruthless mind, wry humor, and adventurous style, Gurba implicates everyone from Joan Didion to her former abuser, everything from Mexican stereotypes to the carceral state. Braiding her own history and identity throughout, she argues for a new way of conceptualizing oppression, and she does it with her signature blend of bravado and humility.
Photo credit: iStock / Andrii Medvediuk