The Best Biographies and Memoirs of the Year So Far

Jon Foro on June 25, 2018

Here are just a few of our favorite biographies and memoirs of 2018. Browse all of our picks, and find more editors' picks across a dozen categories in the Best Books of the Year So Far.

BOTYSF-Line.jpgThese days, mention of “the Border” stirs both imagination and emotion, what you see and feel depending on how you perceive the world. But how many of us understand this real-world interzone where actual borders shift and bleed, and hard scenes of death, drug smuggling, and human suffering unfold daily? The son of a park ranger, Francisco Cantú grew up in the southwest. When he joined the Border Patrol, he became witness to the stark realities of the desert, where the obligations of his job weighed heavy against his sense of humanity. Dark material for sure, but Cantú is a good no-nonsense writer, and his direct, stoic prose makes The Line Becomes a River a weighty and timely document on one of our most divisive arguments. (Print | Kindle)

BOTYSF-Electric.jpgWe all have things that we’re afraid of, from the mundane (spiders) to the profound (boasts about the size of one’s nuclear buttons). Tessa Fontaine’s greatest fear was losing her mother — and after suffering a series of debilitating strokes, this was imminently becoming a reality. Despite her precarious health, Fontaine’s mom decided to defer a dream no longer and tour Italy with her husband — a courageous, if not medically advised, adventure. It was also just the cue her daughter needed to cross off a bucket list item of her own: Join the circus. Like any other job, a certain skill set is required, one that Fontaine (not so convincingly) espoused. But she was a quick study, and over the course of a season with the World of Wonders, the last touring sideshow in America, she learned to eat fire, charm snakes, become a human flashlight, and fit in with her sideshow family (perhaps the biggest feat of all). Turns out, there isn’t much smoke and mirrors involved; to perform these death defying acts, you must “un-train your instincts, unlearn self-preservation.” You have to, essentially, make peace with pain. That also happens to be one of the keys to living a full life and the overarching message of this unique and moving memoir: If you don’t face your fears and open yourself up to heartache, you’re closing yourself off from the best life has to offer. The Electric Woman is a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek at carnival life and an ode to unconditional love. (Print | Kindle)

BOTYSF-Look-Alive.jpgIn her latest collection of essays, Sloane Crosley demonstrates, yet again, a knack for making the mundane miraculous. Reading Look Alive Out There is like listening to your smartest, funniest friend regale you about their (mis)adventures, be it waging war on a rude neighbor, making an ill-conceived climb up a volcano, or helping a swinger couple pick out a third (as you do). And like a friend, Crosley is not afraid to veer into vulnerable territory, which reveals the growth of a writer who first displayed her sardonic wit and keen appreciation of the absurd in, I Was Told There’d Be Cake. It’s as good a time as any to be reminded that life is full of good humor, but only a select few do that as well as Sloane Crosley. (Print | Kindle)

BOTYSF-Broad-Band.jpgFascinating and often moving, Broad Band sheds light on the true stories of women who pioneered crucial technological and social leaps throughout the history of computing. Much like the dedicated female mathematicians in Hidden Figures, the women in Broad Band solved new and complex technical problems while also dealing with stifling social mores that kept them marginalized in the writing of the “official” history. Author and VICE reporter Claire L. Evans relates these stories with a candor and humor that matches the relentless spirit of the subjects. Broad Band is an inspiring and timely read for anyone interested in the digital world. (Print | Kindle)

BOTYSF-Real-Magic.jpgFor a memoir about a life spent performing magic, Here Is Real Magic is wonderfully grounded in real life. Nate Staniforth, magician and former host of the Discovery Channel's TV show Breaking Magic, takes us along his journey from wide-eyed kid trying to convey his sense of wonder to the adults around him, to young magician trying to get a break in LA, to the demands and drudgery of constant touring, to finally feeling that he’s lost the sense of awe that originally set him on his course. And that’s just the first part of the book. In the second part, Staniforth travels to India to try to redeem that lost sense of wonder. What results is a thoughtful, often moving memoir about a man who truly understands (and loves and respects) his craft, even more so for the struggles he has had with it. It seems like every few years a memoir about magic comes along—this one does the trick. (Print | Kindle)

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