While reading fiction might have been our go-to method of escapism for the last few months, now that lockdown has started to lift, we’re broadening our literary horizons. This month, we’re learning life lessons from other people’s stories via a series of inspiring new memoirs. From overcoming the odds to discovering forgotten pasts, these are the best memoirs of 2020 to take with you on your holidays or devour at home.
Award-winning writer and columnist Caitlin Moran’s new release is a sequel to her best-selling 2011 book How to Be a Woman. Now 45, Moran takes a follow-up look at womanhood and the issues underpinning middle age today. Don’t worry if it sounds heavy – Moran is a master of witty, observational writing and so, unsurprisingly, More than a Woman is brilliantly funny.
Divided up into a day in the life of Moran, with each chapter representing a different thematic ‘hour’, from married sex to physical acceptance, this warm, entertaining novel is part memoir, part manifesto. The result is something akin to a handbook for growing older, which also celebrates the middle-aged women out there who keep the world turning. A joyful read.
Bryony Gordon is a journalist, author and award-winning mental health campaigner. But she is also an alcoholic. In this dark, honest memoir, Gordon reveals her toxic twenty year battle with drug and alcohol abuse and how it took her hitting rock bottom to finally make the changes needed to save her life.
Shining a light on the connection between addiction and mental health issues, Gordon’s story is at times brutal and shocking. But the ultimate message is one of pride at being able to achieve what her younger self never thought possible – sobriety. A hopeful read for anyone struggling with their own demons.
£14.99 (Jonathan Cape)
After an unprotected sexual encounter with a casual musician boyfriend leaves her pregnant, journalist Sophie Heawood is forced to leave her job as a hotshot Hollywood hack in LA and start life again as a single mother in Hackney. From then on she leads a double life, working as a freelance writer during the day, and heading out on dates at night – all whilst raising a baby alone.
This is the story of how she navigated those antenatal classes alone, and the dating quandaries posed by single motherhood. Hailed by critics as the ‘deeper, realer, more poignant Bridget Jones’, this Sunday Times bestseller is a dry, funny and tender look at parental love, which will resonate with single women and mothers alike.
When asked how she wished to be remembered after leaving office, Madeleine Albright replied: “I don’t want to be remembered. I am still here and have much more I intend to do. As difficult as it might seem, I want every stage of my life to be more exciting than the last.”
This is the story of how the six times best-selling author and America’s first ever female Secretary of State did just that. In this funny and revealing memoir, Albright reflects on the final stages of her career and the writing, teaching, travelling, speech-making and campaigning that has defined it. An inspiring read.
£14.99 (Square Peg)
Criminal barrister Mohsin Zaidi grew up in a strict shia Muslim household in East London, where the concept of being gay was simply inconceivable. Coming out for him was therefore a battle – a battle with shame, with his South Asian community’s beliefs and with the expectations of his devout family.
Left feeling isolated and alone, Mohsin overcame the odds to be the first student from his school to attend Oxford University, where he could be his true self. But after falling in love, a hard choice presented itself about coming out to his family. At times a challenging read – the episode where Mohsin’s father hires a witch doctor in order to ‘cure’ him being particularly hard – this memoir is a moving story about reconciling faith and queer identity.
£15.99 (Melville House Publishing)
Native American voices are too often overlooked in publishing, so this novel from award-winning Haudenosaunee writer Alicia Elliott is an important one. This book was a national bestseller in the author’s native Canada and was shortlisted for the country’s prestigious Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize – it’s easy to see why.
Through asking essential questions about trauma, legacy, oppression and racism in North America, Elliott captures the indigenous experience and explains her own personal exposure to these issues growing up. Through her essays on her mother’s mental health and her own struggles with suicidal thoughts, Elliott also connects the dots between colonialism and depression. The result is an insightful and important look at issues we need to be discussing right now.
Described as ‘raw and unflinchingly honest’, this brilliant memoir looks at what happens when your life unravels. On paper, Terri White was a high-flying, award-winning New York magazine editor, but in reality, she was on the brink of a mental health crisis caused by alcohol and past ordeals which would push her to breaking point.
In her memoir, she recalls her childhood experiences of growing up in a household in poverty and the sexual and physical abuse she received at the hands of her mother’s partners, which led to her being sectioned. But she also discusses the ways in which she overcame these past traumas to write this book. A moving read.
£16.99 (Harper Collins)
After her grandmother passes, Guardian writer Hadley Freeman finds a shoebox filled with her most prized belongings, propelling her on a decade-long quest to uncover their significance. Sala Glass had been a mystery to her granddaughter, but by piecing together her letters, photos and an unpublished memoir, Freeman brings her story to life.
This memoir-cum-detective novel sees Freeman uncover the Glass family history, from the extraordinary acts of survival undertaken by her three great-uncles during World War II to the quiet self-sacrifice made by Sala herself. Together their tale covers issues of such as assimilation and belonging, creating a brilliant study of modern Jewish identity.
Tamsin Calidas and her husband left their high-flying careers in London to move 500 miles north to a coastal croft on a remote island in the Scottish Hebrides. Despite having no experience of crofting or island life, for Tamsin, the move feels like coming home. For a while, her life there is idyllic.
But when the expected children fail to materialise, Tamsin’s marriage breaks down, leaving her with no money, few friends and in an incredibly isolated situation. This memoir is the story of how she rebuilds her life thanks to what she describes as “the incredible ability of the natural world to provide when everything else has fallen away”. A beautiful, evocative tale about resilience and the healing power of nature.
£14.99 (Fourth Estate)
Justifiably compared with Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky and Lynn Barber’s An Education, Aspinall’s memoir charts her relationship with her glamorous mother, Audrey. Despite being born into poverty in Liverpool in the 1930s, Audrey always believed herself destined for bigger, better and altogether more dazzling things. This is the story of how she pursued that.
Moving from the seaside town of Southport to New York and Hollywood, and then post-war London and the stately homes of the aristocracy, Audrey makes her daughter Sarah the companion for her wanderings. But Sarah comes to realise her mother’s life is full of mysteries – ones she looks to solve in this beguiling tale of chasing dreams and defying convention.
This sharp series of posthumously published columns from the late Jenny Diski demonstrate just how fearless she was a writer. Able to tackle any subject, regardless of how unpleasant or uncomfortable, Diski was always insightful, original and mordantly funny. Expect musings on death, motherhood, sexual politics and the joys of solitude in this collection.
Although her writings transport you to various locations, from Highgate Cemetery to the interior of a psychiatric hospital to the icebergs of Antarctica, it’s the intelligent essay based at her hairdressers which stands out. However I Smell is a searing look at old age in which her hairdresser respond to everything she says with ‘Ah, bless’ – a clear sign for Diski she is no longer young.
£20 (Harper Collins)
Part memoir, part revenge piece for Anna Wintour freezing him out of American Vogue where he was formerly editor-at-large, this colourful book by Andre Leon Talley makes for an entertaining read. Fashion lovers will enjoy it for the anecdotes alone – Anna Piaggi dancing with a basket of dead pigeons on her head in a Paris disco, for example, is particularly memorable.
But there are also moments of poignancy in the book, such as the abuse he suffered as a child, the racism he experienced in the fashion industry and the friends he lost to AIDS. Yet despite it all, Andre’s overriding narrative is one of fabulousness, even if his stories do verge on the ridiculous at times.