The best biographies and memoirs of May

Al Woodworth on May 07, 2020
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The best biographies and memoirs of May

This month's best memoirs run the gamut, and the collection we've assembled below represent some of the wildest, most inspiring, and honest books we read. There's the memoir of a rock star who grew up in the country's most dangerous cult (our spotlight pick of the month), the story of a father who schlepped his family to France in pursuit of learning how to cook, the best friend of Mister Rogers, and a tender memoir of a daughter discovering the secrets of her mother's past that reads like a mystery.

And, don't forget to check out our full list of the best biographies and memoirs of the month, which includes the memoir from the bestselling author of Sweetbitter, a poetic memoir about the trials and tribulations of sleep, a memoir of growing up in the deep south, and more.


Hollywood Park: A Memoir by Mikel Jollett

Jollett spent the first five years of his life in a cult that was one of the most infamous and dangerous in the country; under the cover of night, he and his brother fled Synanon with a person they were told to call “mom,” but life on the outside wasn’t much better. He grew up living on the margins of society—where alcoholism, drug addiction, and poverty reigned, sadness permeated, abuse was a given, and the notion of a traditional parent was as foreign as regular food on the table. Recollects Jollett, “Is that a mom? Someone who you can’t ever remember not loving you? I know Mom doesn’t think that’s what it is…” Despite the hardships of his childhood, he found a path where lyrics, compassion, and familial love set him free and on the road with his band the Airborne Toxic Event. This rewarding memoir will fascinate you with its abnormality but will also remind you of the power of loyalty and empathy.—Al Woodworth


Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking by Bill Buford

Bill Buford is a foodie with literary chops—he founded the literary magazine Granta and was fiction editor of the New Yorker—but he is also an adventurer, and apparently a very hard worker. After locating a home abroad (Buford’s wife is essential in many of his endeavors), enrolling his kids in a local school, learning French, studying technique at L’Institute Bocuse, and enduring fifteen-hour days at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lyon, the heart of French cuisine, he still managed to write down his experiences with humor and vibrancy. Dirt is the result of five years of living and working in France, learning to know the people and their food, and getting to the heart of something—some feeling or quality of living—for which many of us are searching. —Chris Schluep


What We Carry: A Memoir by Maya Shanbhag Lang

Profoundly moving, tender, and unabashedly honest, What We Carry is Maya Shanbhag Lang’s memoir of her mother. Beautifully written, and paced perfectly, the memoir reads like a mystery. At first, Lang recounts her extraordinary mother whom she admired, idolized, and confided in, but as she grows up, she realizes that her mother’s life as she knew it was far from the truth. A memoir of secrets, family myths, and one woman’s ability to prove that we are stronger than we think.


Officer Clemmons: A Memoir by Dr. François S. Clemmons

From the man who played the police officer on Mister Rogers for decades comes a memoir of friendship and resilience, mentorship and song. François Clemmons recounts key moments of his life with intimate detail and feeling—from his abusive childhood in the south, to discovering music and embracing his sexuality, to a chance encounter with Fred Rogers, which would change the course of his life forever. Officer Clemmons is a story of strength and perseverance, of individuality and friendship.


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