Let's Talk Books: Biographies & Memoirs

We had a great discussion this week about our favorite biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, and nonfiction books and essays that read like memoirs! If you missed it, here are all the titles mentioned for you to explore. And join us for more Let's Talk Books events this winter.

Eat a peach : a memoir

David Chang

641.5092 /Chang
Memoir

In 2004, Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in a tiny space in Manhattan's East Village. Chang, the chef-owner, worked the line, serving ramen and pork buns to a mix of fellow restaurant cooks and confused diners whose idea of ramen was instant noodles in Styrofoam cups. He was about to become one of the most influential chefs of his generation, driven by the question, "What if the underground could become the mainstream?" Here he recounts the improbable series of events that led him to the top of his profession. He wrestles with his lifelong feelings of otherness and inadequacy, explores the mental illness that almost killed him, and finds hope in the shared value of deliciousness. -- adapted from jacket.

Kitchen confidential : adventures in the culinary underbelly

Anthony Bourdain

641.509 /Bourdain
Biographies

A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine - now with all-new, never-before-published material.

Educated : a memoir

Tara Westover

BIOGRAPHY Westover, Tara
Memoir

"Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag." In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent. As a way out, Tara began to educate herself, learning enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University. Her quest for knowledge would transform her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Tara Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes, and the will to change it."--Provided by publisher.

Wild : from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Cheryl Strayed

917.9 /Strayed
Memoir

A powerful, blazingly honest, inspiring memoir: the story of a 1,100 mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe--and built her back up again.

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot

616.0277 /Skloot
Biographies

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer, yet her cells-- taken without her knowledge-- became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first "immortal" human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer and viruses; helped lead to in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks is buried in an unmarked grave. Her family did not learn of her "immortality" until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. The story of the Lacks family is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.--From publisher description.

The diary of a young girl : the definitive edition

Anne Frank

940.5318 /Frank/2010
Memoir

The Diary of a Young Girl is the record of two years in the life of a remarkable Jewish girl and one of the most moving and eloquent accounts of the Holocaust, Frank's triumphant humanity in the face of unfathomable deprivation and fear has made the book one of the most enduring documents of our time. This edition reprints the Definitive edition authorized by the Frank estate, plus a new introduction, a bibliography, and a chronology of Anne Frank's life and times.

Sitting pretty : the view from my ordinary resilient disabled body

Rebekah Taussig

RECEIVED
Memoir

Growing up as a paralyzed girl during the 90s and early 2000s, Taussig only saw disability depicted as something monstrous, inspirational, or angelic. She longed for more stories that allowed disability to be complex and ordinary, uncomfortable and fine, painful and fulfilling. Here she writes about the rhythms and textures of what it means to live in a body that doesn't fit. Taussig reflects on everything from the complications of kindness and charity, living both independently and dependently, experiencing intimacy, and how the pervasiveness of ableism in our everyday media directly translates to everyday life. She shows how disability affects all of us, directly or indirectly, at one point or another. -- adapted from jacket

Enrique's journey

Sonia Nazario

325.73 /Nazario
Biographies

Thick : and other essays

Tressie McMillan Cottom

814.6 /Cottom
Memoir

"In these eight ... explorations on beauty, media, money, and more, Tressie McMillan Cottom--award-winning professor and ... author of Lower Ed--embraces her ... role as a purveyor of wit, wisdom, and Black Twitter snark about all that is right and much that is wrong with this thing we call society"--Dust jacket flap.

I used to be charming : the rest of Eve Babitz

Eve Babitz

814.54 /Babitz
Nonfiction

With Eve's Hollywood Eve Babitz lit up the scene in 1974. The books that followed, among them Slow Days, Fast Company and Sex and Rage, have seduced generations of readers with their unfailing wit and impossible glamour. What is less well known is that Babitz was a working journalist for the better part of three decades, writing for the likes of Rolling Stone, Vogue, and Esquire, as well as for off-the-beaten-path periodicals like Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing and Francis Ford Coppola's short-lived City. Whether profiling Hollywood darlings, getting to the bottom of health crazes like yoga and acupuncture, remembering friends and lovers from her days hobnobbing with rock stars at the Troubadour and art stars at the Ferus Gallery, or writing about her beloved, misunderstood hometown, Los Angeles, Babitz approaches every assignment with an energy and verve that is all her own. I Used to Be Charming gathers nearly fifty pieces written between 1975 and 1997, including the full text of Babitz's wry book-length investigation into the pioneering lifestyle brand Fiorucci. The title essay, published here for the first time, recounts the accident that came close to killing her in 1996; it reveals an uncharacteristically vulnerable yet never less than utterly charming Babitz.

Hissing cousins : the untold story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Marc N. Peyser

BIOGRAPHY Roosevelt, Eleanor
Biographies

Examines the relationship between cousins Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, "revealing the contentious bond between two political trailblazers who short-circuited the rules of gender and power, each in her own way"--Dust jacket flap.

Shoe dog : a memoir by the creator of Nike

Philip H. Knight

338.76887 /Knight
Memoir

"In this candid and riveting memoir, for the first time ever, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company's early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world's most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands. In 1962, fresh out of business school, Phil Knight borrowed $50 from his father and created a company with a simple mission: import high-quality, low-cost athletic shoes from Japan. Selling the shoes from the trunk of his lime green Plymouth Valiant, Knight grossed $8,000 his first year. Today, Nike's annual sales top $30 billion. In an age of startups, Nike is the ne plus ultra of all startups, and the swoosh has become a revolutionary, globe-spanning icon, one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable symbols in the world today. But Knight, the man behind the swoosh, has always remained a mystery. Now, for the first time, in a memoir that is candid, humble, gutsy, and wry, he tells his story, beginning with his crossroads moment. At 24, after backpacking around the world, he decided to take the unconventional path, to start his own business--a business that would be dynamic, different. Knight details the many risks and daunting setbacks that stood between him and his dream--along with his early triumphs. Above all, he recalls the formative relationships with his first partners and employees, a ragtag group of misfits and seekers who became a tight-knit band of brothers. Together, harnessing the transcendent power of a shared mission, and a deep belief in the spirit of sport, they built a brand that changed everything"--

Born a crime : stories from a South African childhood

Trevor Noah

COMPACT DISC 791.45028092 Noah
Memoir

One of the comedy world's fastest-rising stars tells his wild coming of age story during the twilight of Apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

Becoming

Michelle Obama

BIOGRAPHY Obama, Michelle
Memoir

"An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States. When she was a little girl, Michelle Robinson's world was the South Side of Chicago, where she and her brother, Craig, shared a bedroom in their family's upstairs apartment and played catch in the park, and where her parents, Fraser and Marian Robinson, raised her to be outspoken and unafraid. But life soon look her much further afield, from the halls of Princeton, where she learned for the first time what if felt like to be the only black woman in a room, to the glassy office tower where she worked as a high-powered corporate lawyer--and where, one summer morning, a law student named Barack Obama appeared in her office and upended all her carefully made plans. Here, for the first time, Michelle Obama describes the early years of her marriage as she struggles to balance her work and family with her husband's fast-moving political career. She takes us inside their private debate over whether he should make a run for the presidency and her subsequent role as a popular but oft-criticized figure during his campaign. Narrating with grace, good humor, and uncommon candor, she provides a vivid, behind-the-scenes account of her family's history-making launch into the global limelight as well as their life inside the White House over eight momentous years--as she comes to know her country and her country comes to know her. [This book] takes us through modest Iowa kitchens and ballrooms at Buckingham Palace, through moments of heart-stopping grief and profound resilience, bringing us deep into the soul of a singular, groundbreaking figure in history as she strives to live authentically, marshaling her personal strength and voice in service of a set of higher ideals. In telling her story with honesty and boldness, she issues a challenge to the rest of us: Who are we and who do we want to become?"--Dust jacket.

Churchill : walking with destiny

Andrew Roberts

BIOGRAPHY Churchill, Winston
Biographies

"When we seek an example of great leaders with unalloyed courage, the person who comes to mind is Winston Churchill: the iconic, visionary war leader immune from the consensus of the day, who stood firmly for his beliefs when everyone doubted him. But how did young Winston become Churchill? What gave him the strength to take on the superior force of Nazi Germany when bombs rained on London and so many others had caved? In Churchill, Andrew Roberts gives readers the full and definitive Winston Churchill, from birth to lasting legacy, as personally revealing as it is compulsively readable. Roberts gained exclusive access to extensive new material: transcripts of War Cabinet meetings, diaries, letters and unpublished memoirs from Churchill's contemporaries. The Royal Family permitted Roberts--in a first for a Churchill biographer--to read the detailed notes taken by King George VI in his diary after his weekly meetings with Churchill during World War II. This treasure trove of access allows Roberts to understand the man in revelatory new ways, and to identify the hidden forces fueling Churchill's legendary drive. We think of Churchill as a hero who saved civilization from the evils of Nazism and warned of the grave crimes of Soviet communism, but Roberts's masterwork reveals that he has as much to teach us about the challenges leaders face today--and the fundamental values of courage, tenacity, leadership and moral conviction."--Dust jacket.

A grief observed

C. S. (Clive Staples) Lewis

242.4 /Lewis
Memoir

Walking on water : reflections on faith & art

Madeleine L'Engle

801.9 /L'Engle
Memoir

Maybe you should talk to someone : a therapist, her therapist, and our lives revealed

Lori Gottlieb

616.8914092 /Gottlieb
Memoir

"From a New York Times best-selling author, psychotherapist, and national advice columnist, a hilarious, thought-provoking, and surprising new book that takes us behind the scenes of a therapist's world--where her patients are looking for answers (and so is she)"--

No time like the future : an optimist considers mortality

Michael J. Fox

BIOGRAPHY Fox, Michael J.
Memoir

Diagnosed at age 29, Fox is engaged in Parkinson's advocacy work, raising global awareness of the disease and helping find a cure through The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, the world's leading non-profit funder of PD science. Here he shares personal stories and observations about illness and health, aging, the strength of family and friends, and how our perceptions about time affect the way we approach mortality. Running through the narrative is the drama of the medical madness Fox recently experienced: the Parkinson's disease he's had since 1991, and a spinal cord issue that necessitated immediate surgery. He describes how his challenge to learn how to walk again, only to suffer a devastating fall, nearly caused him to ditch his trademark optimism. -- adapted from jacket

Me & Patsy, kickin' up dust : my friendship with Patsy Cline

Loretta Lynn

781.642092 /Lynn
Memoir

"Me & Patsy Kickin' Up Dust shares the 'important and inspiring' (Miranda Lambert) never-before-told complete story of the remarkable relationship between country music icons Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Loretta Lynn and the late Patsy Cline are legends--country icons and sisters of the heart. For the first time ever Loretta tells their story: a celebration of their music and their relationship up until Patsy's tragic and untimely death. Full of laughter and tears, this eye-opening, heartwarming memoir paints a picture of two stubborn, spirited country gals who'd be damned if they'd let men or convention tell them how to be. Set in the heady streets of the 1960s South, this nostalgia ride shows how Nashville blossomed into the city of music it is today. Tender and fierce, Me & Patsy Kickin' Up Dust is an up-close-and-personal portrait of a friendship that defined a generation and changed country music indelibly--and a meditation on love, loss and legacy"--Amazon.com.

I'm your huckleberry

Val Kilmer

791.43028092 /Kilmer
Memoir

"Legendary actor Val Kilmer shares the stories behind his most beloved roles, reminisces about his star-studded career and love life, and reveals the truth behind his recent health struggles in a remarkably candid autobiography. Val Kilmer has played so many iconic roles over his nearly four-decade film career. A table-dancing Cold War agent in Top Secret! A trouble-making science prodigy in Real Genius. A brash fighter pilot in Top Gun. A swashbuckling knight in Willow. A lovelorn bank robber in Heat. A charming master of disguise in The Saint. A wise-cracking gumshoe in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Of course, Batman, Jim Morrison, and the sharp-shooting Doc Holliday. But who is the real Val Kilmer? In this memoir-published ahead of next summer's highly anticipated sequel Top Gun: Maverick, in which Kilmer returns to the big screen as Tom "Iceman" Kazansky--the actor steps out of character and reveals his true self. Kilmer reflects on his acclaimed career, recounts his high-profile romances, chronicles his spiritual journey and reveals details of his recent throat cancer diagnosis and recovery-about which he has disclosed little until now. While containing plenty of tantalizing celebrity anecdotes, I'm Your Huckleberry-taken from the famous line Kilmer delivers as Holliday in Tombstone-is ultimately a deeply moving reflection on mortality and the mysteries of life"--

Game-day eats : 100 recipes for homegating like a pro

Eddie Jackson

641.5 /Jackson
Nonfiction

Bring your tailgate party into the comforts of your living room! While Jackson was known for his athletic abilities at the University of Arkansas, he found a lucrative business opportunity-- and furthered his cooking skills-- by packaging tasty meals for his teammates. After retirement he focused on perfecting his culinary skills. Here he presents his absolute favorite, all-star recipes that are fit for any homegate or gathering. -- adapted from Introduction.

Minor feelings : an Asian American reckoning

Cathy Park Hong

BIOGRAPHY Hong, Cathy Park
Memoir

"Asian Americans inhabit a purgatorial status: neither white enough nor black enough, unmentioned in most conversations about racial identity. In the popular imagination, Asian Americans are all high-achieving professionals. But in reality, this is the most economically divided group in the country, a tenuous alliance of people with roots from South Asia to East Asia to the Pacific Islands, from tech millionaires to service industry laborers. How do we speak honestly about the Asian American condition--if such a thing exists? Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively confronts this thorny subject, blending memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose the truth of racialized consciousness in America. Binding these essays together is Hong's theory of "minor feelings." As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these "minor feelings" occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality--when you believe the lies you're told about your own racial identity. With sly humor and a poet's searching mind, Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today. This intimate and devastating book traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and artmaking, and to family and female friendship. A radically honest work of art, Minor Feelings forms a portrait of one Asian American psyche--and of a writer's search to both uncover and speak the truth"--

Is this anything?

Jerry Seinfeld

817.54 /Seinfeld
Memoir

"Since his first performance at the legendary New York nightclub "Catch a Rising Star" as a twenty-one-year-old college student in fall of 1975, Jerry Seinfeld has written his own material and saved everything. "Whenever I came up with a funny bit, whether it happened on a stage, in a conversation, or working it out on my preferred canvas, the big yellow legal pad, I kept it in one of those old school accordion folders," Seinfeld writes. "So I have everything I thought was worth saving from forty-five years of hacking away at this for all I was worth." For this book, Jerry Seinfeld has selected his favorite material, organized decade by decade. In page after hilarious page, one brilliantly crafted observation after another, readers will witness the evolution of one of the great comedians of our time and gain new insights into the thrilling but unforgiving art of writing stand-up comedy." -- Amazon.com

You never forget your first : a biography of George Washington

Alexis Coe

BIOGRAPHY Washington, George
Biographies

"In a genre overdue for a shakeup, Alexis Coe takes a closer look at our first--and finds he's not quite the man we remember Young George Washington was raised by a struggling single mother, demanded military promotions, chased rich young women, caused an international incident, and never backed down--even when his dysentery got so bad he had to ride with a cushion on his saddle. But after he married Martha, everything changed. Washington became the kind of man who named his dog Sweetlips and hated to leave home. He took up arms against the British only when there was no other way, though he lost more battles than he won. Coe focuses on his activities off the battlefield--like espionage and propaganda. After an unlikely victory in the Revolutionary War, Washington once again shocked the world by giving up power, only to learn his compatriots wouldn't allow it. The founders pressured him into the presidency--twice. He established enduring norms but left office heartbroken over the partisan nightmare his backstabbing cabinet had created. Back on his plantation, the man who fought for liberty finally confronted his greatest hypocrisy--what to do with the hundreds of men, women, and children he owned--before succumbing to a brutal death. Alexis Coe combines rigorous research and unsentimental storytelling, finally separating the man from the legend."--

Good talk : a memoir in conversations

Mira Jacob

BIOGRAPHY Jacob, Mira
Memoir

"Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob's half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything. At first they are innocuous enough, but as tensions from the 2016 election spread from the media into his own family, they become much, much more complicated. Trying to answer him honestly, Mira has to think back to where she's gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love. Written with humor and vulnerability, this deeply relatable graphic memoir is a love letter to the art of conversation--and to the hope that hovers in our most difficult questions" --

The salt path

Raynor Winn

BIOGRAPHY Winn, Raynor
Memoir

"Just days after Raynor Winn learns that Moth, her husband of thirty-two years, is terminally ill, their house and farm are taken away, along with their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, through Devon and Cornwall. Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea, and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter, and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable and life-affirming journey. Powerfully written and unflinchingly honest, The Salt Path is ultimately a portrayal of home--how it can be lost, rebuilt, and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways"--

The good neighbor : the life and work of Fred Rogers

Maxwell (Maxwell Evarts Perkins) King

791.45028092 /Rogers
Biographies

Drawing on original interviews, oral histories and archival documents, the author traces the iconic children's program host's personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work.

My family and other animals

Gerald Durrell

508.495 /Durrell
Memoir

When the unconventional Durrell family can no longer endure the damp, gray English climate, they do what any sensible family would do: sell their house and relocate to the sunny Greek isle of Corfu. My Family and Other Animals was intended to embrace the natural history of the island but ended up as a delightful account of Durrell's family's experiences, from the many eccentric hangers-on to the ceaseless procession of puppies, toads, scorpions, geckoes, ladybugs, glowworms, octopuses, bats, and butterflies into their home.

Paris in love : a memoir

Eloisa James

914.436 /James
Memoir

James chronicles her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world--Paris--all the while inviting her reader into the life of her most enchanting family.

Into the planet : my life as a cave diver

Jill Heinerth

796.525 /Heinerth
Memoir

"From one of the world's most renowned cave divers, a firsthand account of exploring the earth's final frontier: the hidden depths of our oceans and the sunken caves inside our planet. More people have died exploring underwater caves than climbing Mount Everest, and we know more about deep space than we do about the depths of our oceans. From one of the top cave divers working today--and one of the very few women in her field--Into the Planet blends science, adventure, and memoir to bring readers face-to-face with the terror and beauty of earth's remaining unknowns and the extremes of human capability. Jill Heinerth--the first person in history to dive deep into an Antarctic iceberg and leader of a team that discovered the ancient watery remains of Mayan civilizations--has descended farther into the inner depths of our planet than any other woman. She takes us into the harrowing split-second decisions that determine whether a diver makes it back to safety, the prejudices that prevent women from pursuing careers underwater, and her endeavor to recover a fallen friend's body from the confines of a cave. But there's beauty beyond the danger of diving, and while Heinerth swims beneath our feet in the lifeblood of our planet, she works with biologists discovering new species, physicists tracking climate change, and hydrogeologists examining our finite freshwater reserves. Written with hair-raising intensity, Into the Planet is the first book to deliver an intimate account of cave diving, transporting readers deep into inner space, where fear must be reconciled and a mission's success balances between knowing one's limits and pushing the envelope of human endurance." --Amazon.