The best biographies and memoirs of 2019

Al Woodworth on November 22, 2019

The best memoirs and biographies of 2019

There is nothing like reading the wild and inspiring, heartbreaking and redemptive, eye-opening and laugh-out-loud true stories of people who walk among us. So many of the memoirs and biographies we read this year were outstanding, and there are many we still can’t stop talking about. Thank you, writers, for sharing your most intimate thoughts and those of your subjects with us—for exploring the hard truths with honesty, integrity and, sometimes, sass.

Here are a few of our very top picks. To see our full list of the Best Biographies and Memoirs of 2019 click here.

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Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur

We named Wild Game the best book of October, and our favorite memoir of the year.

When Adrienne Brodeur was fourteen years old, her mother entered her room to tell her “Ben Souther just kissed me.” Her mother wasn’t upset, despite the fact that Ben was not Adrienne’s stepfather. In fact, she was happy about it. This event sets off Brodeur’s memoir exploring her outwardly comfortable upbringing and the odd triangle that she, her mother, and Ben eventually created—the result is an engaging, at times breathless, read that builds in anticipation, even after that bang of a beginning. There is barely a wasted word in the book, and the tensions that develop between various members of the family, good or bad, recognized or not—as well the tensions we feel as readers—keep the narrative humming. It’s difficult to describe what makes one memoir more readable than another. But put this one at the top of your list. —Chris Schluep

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone was a best book of April, and made our top 10 Best Books of the Year. To read our interview with Lori Gottlieb click here.

Giving the reader a behind-the-scenes peek from both sides of the couch, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is a witty, relatable, moving homage to therapy—and just being human. While therapists are required to see a counselor themselves as part of their training, Gottlieb enlists an experienced ear when an unexpected breakup lays her flat. Working through her issues with the enigmatic “Wendell” helps Gottlieb process her pain, but it also hones her professional skills; after all, a good therapist possesses the ability to empathize with their patients (four of whom she chronicles in funny, frustrating, heartbreaking and profoundly inspiring detail). Like Gottlieb, you will see yourselves in them—in all their self-sabotaging, misunderstood, unlucky, and evolutionary glory. —Erin Kodicek

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They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

This was a best book July and is in the top 20 of our 100 Best Books of 2019 list. During his packed publicity schedule, we had the opportunity to chat with George Takei about his book and being imprisoned in his own country when he was a child.

Made famous via his role as Sulu in Star Trek, George Takei became a cultural phenomenon in the real world through his civil rights engagement and his support for democracy. Now, in his graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, Takei reveals the story of his family’s incarceration during the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. A United States citizen—as was everyone in his family except his father, who had been living in the U.S. for decades—Takei was only 5 years old when the government forced his family to leave their home and possessions and move to a concentration camp along with hundreds of others. Takei pivots between showing through his child’s eyes the years in internment with expressing his later, more-adult understanding of how deeply his parents suffered during and after their imprisonment. It would be easy to consider Takei’s story simply a colorful glimpse of the misbegotten past. But its power, like John Lewis’ March trilogy, burns in how it persuades the reader to consider how much we’ve really changed since Franklin D. Roosevelt and Earl Warren decided to imprison families based on unsupported fears. They Called Us Enemy also inspires readers to engage through democracy to insist that we treat fellow human beings with fairness and dignity. —Adrian Liang

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I Will Never See the World Again: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Altan

We named this one of the best books of October, and one of the best memoirs of 2019.

Prepare to have your mind gently cracked open by Ahmet Altan’s I Will Never See the World Again. After the failed coup in 2016, Turkish writer Altan was imprisoned via trumped-up charges and sentenced to life without parole. His self-reflective, short essays written from prison are deceptively graceful and often humorous even as they deliver a blow to the heart. Altan’s cellmates, his days in solitary confinement, and his childhood love of O. Henry’s stories provide glimpses of Altan’s hardships and the mental feats needed to stay engaged. Ultimately, Altan discovers that the power to survive his new reality has lurked inside him all along: “I am a writer. I am neither where I am nor where I am not.” Uplifting, often sharply funny, and poetic, I Will Never See the World Again will awaken readers to the luminous strength of creative passion in even the worst circumstances. —Adrian Liang

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Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

Save Me the Plums was named a best book of April, a best book of 2019 (so far), so it’s no surprise that it’s one of our favorite memoirs of 2019.

When Gourmet magazine closed its doors, no one was more surprised than its editor-in-chief, Ruth Reichl. Save Me the Plums is a memoir of how Reichl came to be at the magazine she’d pored over as a child, how she transformed it from a stuffy relic of the old guard into a publication that embraced a new culinary era, and how Gourmet magazine met its end. Reichl is a marvelous writer, and in Save Me the Plums readers experience her exhilarating journey from New York Times restaurant critic, to the farm-to-table movement of Los Angeles, and finally to the job she never expected to get: editor-in-chief of Gourmet. Reichl’s passion for the role food plays in our lives is evident on every page, including a smattering of recipes that complement the narrative. Save Me the Plums is a book not only about a changing food culture, but also about a woman taking on new challenges, pushing boundaries, and hanging onto the sense of wonder that started her on this road to begin with. A memoir to savor. —Seira Wilson

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