2023 Holiday Picks - Biography / Memoir



Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein. A doppelganger is commonly defined as a person who looks very much like another unrelated person. But in the case of Klein and fellow writer Naomi Wolf, the causes of mistaken identity are much broader. The two Naomis are not dissimilar in appearance, but they've also  been writing about social and political issues for 20 years - Klein focusing on corporate malfeasance and climate change, Wolf on women's sexuality and leadership. But in recent years, Wolf has undergone a political right turn -  an outspoken anti-vaxxer during COVID and spouter of conspiracy theories. That's made things increasingly unsettling for Klein as she continues to be mistaken for Wolf. That unease, coupled with the social media-driven spread of Wolf's views, has led Klein to examine our current online culture and the spread of political authoritarianism, which makes this memoir and cultural study enlightening and compelling.

How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair. 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. "Sinclair recounts her harrowing upbringing in Jamaica in this bruising memoir.... Readers will be drawn to Sinclair's strength and swept away by her tale of triumph over oppression. This is a tour de force." –Publishers Weekly, starred review

In the Form of a Question by Amy Schneider. In eighth grade, Amy was voted "Most likely to appear on Jeopardy!" by her classmates. Decades later, this trailblazer finally got her chance. Not only did she walk away with $1.3 million while captivating the world with her impressive forty-game winning streak, but she made history and won an even greater prize--the joy of being herself on national television and blazing a trail for openly queer and transgender people. Now, she shares her singular journey that led to becoming an unlikely icon and hero to millions. Her super power: Boundless curiosity and fearless questioning.

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig. In this landmark biography, Eig gives us an MLK for our times: a deep thinker, a brilliant strategist, and a committed radical who led one of history’s greatest movements, and whose demands for racial and economic justice remain as urgent today as they were in his lifetime.  “An enthralling reappraisal that confirms King's relevance to today's debates over racial justice." --Publishers Weekly, starred review

Making It So: A Memoir by Patrick Stewart. I'll admit I'm a bit of a closet Trekkie, so I went into this book super excited to read loads of behind the scenes tidbits about Star Trek: The Next Generation. This delightful and heart-felt memoir proved to have all that and so much more. From his early days growing up in poverty in Yorkshire, touring as a young Shakespearean actor with Vivien Leigh and his eventual worldwide television success, Stewart provides us with fascinating insight into his life and passion for his work. Some terrific celebrity interactions are peppered throughout; his first meeting with Gordon Sumner (aka Sting) is especially entertaining. 

A Man of Two Faces by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The highly original, blistering, and unconventional memoir by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer, which has now sold over one million copies worldwide. With insight, humor, formal invention, and lyricism, Nguyen rewinds the film of his own life. He expands the genre of personal memoir by acknowledging larger stories of refugeehood, colonization, and ideas about Vietnam and America, writing with his trademark sardonic wit and incisive analysis, as well as a deep emotional openness about his life as a father and a son.

Wandering Through Life by Donna Leon. As she enters her ninth decade, the author of the Commissario Brunetti mystery series offers up a series of delightful semi-chronological vignettes about her life, travels, and myriad interests. Leon describes growing up in New Jersey, teaching overseas in Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia, and her love affair with Venice - now tempered by the influx of cruise ships. Her self-deprecating style belies a natural curiosity (I loved her chapter on bees), and her writing here -  casual and straightforward - has its own elegance. I was thoroughly taken with this leisurely, anecdote-filled memoir.

You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith. In this ravishing gut punch of a memoir about a broken marriage, poet Maggie Smith (of "Good Bones" fame) unveils the fractures that led to her divorce, the bittersweet knowledge born from parenthood, the harrowing solitude of miscarriage and postpartum depression, the unseen weight of labor carried by women in relationship with men, the creative process of writing and living, in prose that is aptly poetic, fierce and unflinching. You don't need to have walked through the fires of divorce to feel the lick of the flame, to be burned and reborn along with Maggie. What a gift.