The Best Biographies and Memoirs of June

Jon Foro on June 15, 2018

This month, our picks include an inspirational first-personal journey through the challenges of early-onset Alzheimer's Disease, the memoirs of one of our most celebrated (and controversial) journalists, the latest collection from master self-deprecator David Sedaris, and an ingenious biography of director David Lynch. See more of our favorites—past and present—as well as everything else in the Best Books of the Month

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Somebody I Used to Know: A Memoir by Wendy Mitchell

Anyone who has witnessed the ravages of Alzheimer's and other manifestations of dementia in a friend or family member—and there are many of us—will recognize what Wendy Mitchell is talking about in Somebody I Used to Know. The difference, however, between this book and so many others about these diseases is that the titular somebody is Mitchell herself. Diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 58, Mitchell chose to engage her condition, chronicling her challenges and treatment, as well as the habits and work-arounds she devised to live independently as long as possible (she still does). Full of humor, wisdom, and inspiration, Somebody addresses a tragic subject in a decidedly affirmative way. 

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Reporter: A Memoir by Seymour Hersh

Hersh is a complicated guy. He's a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter whose work exposing the My Lai Massacre and torture at Abu Ghraib prison helped change U.S. policy in Vietnam and Iraq. His stories on Watergate escalated the rivalry between the New York Times and the Washington Post, pouring accelerant on an already smoldering scandal. But for all he's done as a reporter, he's never enjoyed the esteem of a Woodward or Bernstein. He can be irascible and a bit defiant, and possibly prone to conspiracy theories. He's been accused of a too-heavy reliance on unreliable or anonymous sources. He's made enemies in high places. But he seems to have friends in deep places, and keeps churning up interesting and unsettling material (check out Wormwood, Errol Morris's documentary series on CIA mind-control experiments and their tragic consequences). Now he's telling his own story. Reporter spans five decades of groundbreaking journalism, run-ins with power brokers, a few I told-you-sos, and a fair amount of wit.

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Calypso by David Sedaris

Reading ruminations on middle age and mortality is not typically a cheery exercise, unless David Sedaris is doing the writing. Many of the essays in Calypso are set at the “Sea Section”—Sedaris’s retreat on the Carolina coast. There, his family whiles away the holidays playing cutthroat board games, baking in the sun, and feeding tumors to snapping turtles (yes, you read that right). In others, he describes shopping shenanigans in Japan (you can thank him for the resurgence of the culotte, or not), his unhealthy Fitbit obsession, and a side vocation picking up trash near his Sussex home. All provide the sort of everyday fodder that is ripe for his beloved brand of witty repartee. But Calypso is as dark as it is droll; it also touches on his late mother’s alcoholism, his sister’s suicide, and a sometimes strained relationship with an irascible father. Any one of these things could fracture a family but it’s clear from these pages that their bond is strong. Calypso is David Sedaris’s funniest, most outrageous, most moving offering yet. —Erin Kodicek

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Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna

With his aversions to linear storytelling and explanations of his often inscrutable films, a straightforward autobiography was probably never in the cards for iconoclast director and magnificent weirdo David Lynch. That’s why the call-and-response construction of Room to Dream is so ingenious. For this hybrid biography/memoir, critic-journalist (and longtime Lynch friend) Kristine McKenna tackled the just-the-facts biographical bits, very standardly organized in chapters describing pivotal periods of Lynch’s life and career: childhood, art school, the making of Elephant Man, etc. Lynch read McKenna’s pieces and presented his own recollections in reply. Like his films, his memories are unconstrained by linear narrative, often dropping into peculiar moments that would appear later in his work, whether it’s a shocking moment from Blue Velvet or a seemingly inscrutable clue from Twin Peaks. Lynch’s singular voice and stream-of-consciousness style are transmitted faithfully to the page, and a reader might imagine Lynch dictating his comments from a dark basement studio, speaking into a vintage chrome microphone. For fans, this is damn fine reading.

More of the best biographies and memoirs of June:

Mother American Night: My Life in Crazy Times by John Perry Barlow

To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine

Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons by Mike Reiss with Matthew Klickstein

Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein by Jamie Bernstein

Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous by Christopher Bonanos

My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie by Todd Fisher 

The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes  

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