The best biographies and memoirs of April

Al Woodworth on April 08, 2020
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The best biographies and memoirs of April

The best biographies and memoirs of April are going to make you laugh out loud, cry with empathy, marvel at the capacity for resilience, and shake your head at the state of humanity, and how we treat the people that make up our world. From memoirs of immigrants—documented and undocumented—to Alicia Keys' memoir of music and belonging, to biographies on zany, diligent taxonomists, and the always hilarious essayist Samantha Irby, this month's selections run the gamut of personalities.

Here are some of our favorites of the month, but be sure to check out the complete Best of the Month list for inspiring stories of canine heroes, intriguing political memoirs of 'hell and other destinations,' and foodie memoirs that just might make you drool.


Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran

Named our debut spotlight of the month, Sigh, Gone is a stunning memoir about refugees, racism, displacement, the lifeline of literature, fitting in—and fighting to do so. When Phuc Tran was just a boy, he and 11 family members survived the Viet Cong, fled Vietnam, and landed in their new home: the small town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which “seemed like a slice of American pie a la mode.” With a measured, comedic voice saturated with introspection, Tran bravely lays his life (the poverty, racism, vicious taunting, and domestic violence) on the page without judgment and without rose-colored glasses. Literally fortified by literature (which he fell in love with), he uses the classics to explain his own childhood and adolescence as an immigrant. This is a moving memoir that may make you heave with hurt, but it is also full of belly laughs that will give you hope.


The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Like the people she meets and profiles in her book, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is an undocumented immigrant, and this book pays tribute and investigates their lives – the hardship, the hard work, the vulgar dismissals, the hope that they carry. Her writing is frank and wry, allowing the people whose stories she tells to shine with their own personalities and quirks. This is a portrait of America – unfiltered, undocumented, moving and challenging. I was utterly absorbed by her writing and the stories she shared.


More Myself by Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is a 15-time Grammy Award-winning artist, songwriter, musician, and producer; she’s an entrepreneur, a successful actress, and a powerful force in the world of activism. In her new memoir More Myself, Keys dives into her life – the challenging relationship with her father, dropping out of Columbia University to pursue music, the loss of privacy surrounding her romantic relationships, striving to be perfect, and so much more. More Myself is thoughtful, informative, revelatory, questioning, and celebrates what it truly means to live a creative life.


Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby wears pajamas during the daytime—and, no, not just in the strange and surreal moment we are living in, but all the time. She also lives with a healthy dose of panic and largely indoors—again, not because of this moment, but on most days. With the same verve, observational hilarity, and honesty she brought to her previous books, Wow, No Thank You continues Samantha Irby's inquiry into her life that now involves homemade salads in mason jars, her friends that just so happen to be celebrities, and, still, the chaotic comedy of life.


Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller

Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, Why Fish Don’t Exist examines the will to persevere in a world that will forever be interrupted by events impossible to predict. David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist who discovered nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. He was meticulous in his cataloging—but all of his work came smashing down during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Rather than succumbing to the profound loss of his life’s work, he got right back to it and began to rebuild his collection. NPR reporter Lulu Miller brings her own spark of personality to this story about the magnificent capacity to wonder at the natural world.


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