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11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list

From reflections on the Black experience to Joan Didion’s musings, these powerful memoirs will supercharge your book list

With lockdowns leaving us craving human interaction, a gripping memoir or collection of essays can be the perfect source of connection and inspiration. This January and February sees the release of a host of compelling options, ranging from astonishing deep dives into family histories to first person accounts from famous voices like Joan Didion and Cicely Tyson. Plus, following last year’s protests, memoirs about race and the Black experience are certainly taking centre stage, with Nadia Owusu and Georgina Lawton’s works drawing particular attention. Here, discover the most exciting new memoirs to add to your book shelf. 

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
Let Me Tell You What I Mean
by Joan Didion
Out 4 February
HarperCollins (£20)

From the pioneer of New Journalism and iconic writer Joan Didion comes this new collection of twelve essays pulled together from her early years. The topics and events she covers are wide-ranging, from a Gamblers Anonymous meeting to a reunion of WWII veterans in Las Vegas, but all are captured in her distinctive, sharp style.

With other subjects including Martha Stewart, Nancy Reagan and Ernest Hemmingway (who Didion later cited as a major influence on her writing style), these early essays, published together here for the first time, offer a fascinating insight into the mind and process of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
Brown Baby
by Nikesh Shukla
Out 4 February
Pan Macmillan (£16.99)

A brutally honest and tenderly intimate examination of race, fatherhood and sexism, Nikesh Shukla’s memoir offers a search for hope in a time of uncertainty. Dedicated to his two daughters, Shukla’s work dives into his questions around how to raise children in a world that is racist, sexist and facing a catastrophic climate crisis, and manages to draw answers rooted in optimism.

Weaving together stories of grief, love and food, Shukla’s memoir is simultaneously probing and uplifting, drawing together a picture of modern day parenthood that is relatable and illuminating. With some truly hilarious moments, it’s an impressive lesson in remembering to be hopeful, whatever odds we may face.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
Just As I Am
by Cicely Tyson
Out 4 February
HarperCollins (£20)

Actress and former model Cicely Tyson’s career has been nothing short of extraordinary, credited by the likes of President Obama (who awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016) with reshaping the depiction of African American women on screen. Now in her 90s, Tyson’s memoir unpacks her entire life, from her childhood in Harlem, to becoming the first African American woman to star in a television drama, to being the multi-award winning star she is today. 

The autobiography also traces her tumultuous relationship with legendary jazz musician Miles Davis, which was marked by Davis’ notorious temper and cocaine addiction, which he later credited Tyson for helping him overcome. Gripping from the start, Tyson’s account is a must-read for any cinema fan.

Tracing her heroic journey out of the wreckage, into college and eventually into nonprofit work, Owusu’s memoir beautifully describes how she navigated her sense of statelessness and the consequences of her childhood trauma.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
No Such Thing As Normal
by Bryony Gordon
Out now
Headline Publishing Group (£14.99)

Mental health has been a particularly hot topic during the pandemic, making Bryony Gordon’s memoir all the more timely. The acclaimed journalist, podcast host and founder of Mental Health Mate’s work is a mix of memoir and self-help advice, sharing frank accounts of her own struggles alongside practical, realistic tools for readers to try at home.

Covering everything from insomnia to body dysmorphia, anxiety to addiction, No Such Thing As Normal is a no-nonsense, honest unpacking of today’s most prevalent mental health issues. With Gordon’s distinctive lively and approachable voice, it’s the ideal antithesis to the Instagram wellness fluff, and a welcome addition to the mental health resource options. 

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
Aftershocks
by Nadia Owusu
Out 4 February
Hodder & Stoughton (£16.99)

Nadia Owusu’s astonishing memoir has critics raving, and for good reason. The core of the account centres on her childhood when, following years of displacement as the child of a U.N. employee, her father suddenly dies. Abandoned by her birth mother and begrudgingly tolerated by her stepmother, Owusu’s teenage years are already full of enough devastating events to fill a memoir. But, as the title suggests, her debut work is just as concerned with the long-lasting effects of these adolescent scars.

Tracing her heroic journey out of the wreckage, into college and eventually into nonprofit work, Owusu’s memoir beautifully describes how she navigated her sense of statelessness and the consequences of her childhood trauma.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
How to Be a Refugee
by Simon May
Out 21 January
Pan Macmillan (£20)

A mix of biography and memoir, How to Be a Refugee traces author and historian Simon May’s investigation into the lives of his mother and her two sisters, who hid their Jewish identity in order to escape the genocide in Hitler’s Germany. Exploring an aspect of the Holocaust that has previously been minimally covered, May’s work is a haunting tale of three young women grappling with what they fear is a lethal genetic inheritance. 

Their individual journeys, which include a conversion to Catholicism, a marriage to a German aristocrat and an engagement to a card-carrying Nazi, make for a fascinating read. But it’s the challenges around ideas of identity and the horrors of the Holocaust that will stay with readers long after finishing the final page.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
How We Met: A Memoir of Love and Other Misadventures
by Huma Qureshi
Out 21 January
Elliott & Thompson Limited (£12.99)

From journalist Huma Qureshi comes this romantic memoir about marriage, family obligation and her decision to marry a white Englishman. Having grown up in a South Asian community in 1990s Walsall, Qureshi always struggled to navigate the two worlds of her home life and the school one. But it’s when questions around marriage arise that the conflict comes to a head.

How We Met follows Qureshi as she flees to Paris to indulge her romantic, adventurous side, only to have her world shaken by the abrupt death of her father. Then, when she falls for someone who isn’t Pakistani or Muslim, she is forced to decide whether she will honour tradition or her heart. Understated and incredibly moving, Qureshi’s story is a coming-of-age tale that proves impossible to put down.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
The Secret Life Of Dorothy Soames
by Justine Cowan
Out 4 February
Little, Brown Book Group (£17.99)

Similar to How to Be a Refugee, Justine Cowan’s work is a mix of memoir and family history. While Cowan’s childhood in a wealthy San Francisco community seemed perfect, her mother’s temper was so destructive that she fled home the moment she could and never returned. But when her mother died, Cowan became intrigued by her mother’s past and, through some digging, discovered that she had been raised in London’s Foundling Hospital. In this work, we follow Cowan’s journey as she seeks to uncover the past that shaped her mother into the woman she knew. 

Vividly written, Cowan’s work weaves together her mother’s history with that of the Hospital, which is famous for having inspired the likes of Dickens and Handel, with astonishing results.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
Raceless
by Georgina Lawton
Out 18 February
Little, Brown Book Group (£15.99)

Guardian columnist and The Secrets In Us podcast host Georgina Lawton’s memoir is a compelling and unique perspective on racial politics in the family home. As a child, Lawton’s Blackness was never addressed by her white Anglo-Irish family. But following the death of her father and an inconclusive DNA test, 22-year-old Lawson sets out to uncover the truth of her genetic heritage.

While the central narrative of the memoir traces Lawton’s efforts to get answers, a journey which takes her around the world and into the now popular business of DNA tests, it’s also a fascinating account of a woman’s experience with race. Powerfully written and deeply moving, Lawton’s book ponders the question of how you come to terms with your Blackness when you’ve been raised White.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
Everybody (Else) Is Perfect
by Gabrielle Korn
Out 26 January
Atria Books (£9.99)

Offering a behind-the-scenes look at the beauty industry and publishing world, former Nylon editor-in-chief Gabrielle Korn’s collection of essays offers a provocative — and at times scathing — look at society’s obsession with perfection. Korn covers every hot topic of today, from the #MeToo movement to internet feminism, but her work is also extremely personal. 

With seemingly the perfect life, Korn’s essays reveal the truth about her experience working in the fashion world, including her battle with anorexia and struggles to feel confident in the era of Instagram-fuelled impossible beauty standards. Weaving in tales of love, sexuality and ambition, Korn’s insights are searing and make for an addictive read.

11 fascinating new memoirs to add to your reading list
Love Is an Ex-Country
by Randa Jarrar
Out 2 February
Penguin (£14.99)

In this bold memoir about a cross-country road trip, American writer Randa Jarrar blends together tales from her past with her real-time adventures in the states she passes through. During her journey, Jarrar’s encounters are wide-ranging, including Tinder hook-ups and fights with racists while burning their Confederate flags. Each experience prompts her to reflect on her past, from memories of the threats she received following a controversial tweet about Barbara Bush to her experience of domestic abuse.

Wacky, joyful and genuinely moving, Jarrar’s memoir is a mesmerising ride and a singularly unique account of a queer Palestinian-American woman’s life in modern day America.

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