If you ask us, Educated by Tara Westover was the book to read in 2018. This memoir of a woman who grew up off the grid in a survivalist household and eventually won a Ph.D. from Cambridge University spotlights how deep family roots can run even when the outside world beckons. The Amazon Books editors unanimously picked Educated as the Best Book of 2018.
But what to do after you’ve flipped that last page of Educated? Here are five stranger-than-fiction memoirs that will deliver that shiver up the spine that signals you're reading a book that will stick with you for a long, long time.
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
Raised in numerous states around the country as her free-spirited parents followed jobs and their own whims, Jeannette Walls recounts with an almost eerily balanced voice the privation, ignorance, and instability and she and her siblings lived with under the parentage of her alcoholic father and irresponsible mother. Heartbreaking and infuriating scenes would cause others to complain, but, like Westover in Educated, Walls also recognizes the moments of love and wisdom she experienced, even as she plots her escape to a better life.
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
Audible editors named Heavy as their pick for the best audiobook of 2018, and it only takes a few pages to understand why. Kiese Laymon writes of growing up overweight, black, and abused in a fierce yet vulnerable voice that lays bare troubling truths. Penning his memoir as if he's writing to his mother, Laymon says, “It’s important for me to accept, that like all American children, I've been brutally dishonest with you. And like all American parents, you've been brutally dishonest with me.” As Westover does in Educated, Laymon relates searing and heart-wrenching moments with an unparalleled level of genuine grace. Laymon bravely explores the weight — and the lift — of love, even as he asks whether we truly know how to love each other.
Cea Sunrise Person's name alone is a good indicator that her mother refused to be bound by social strictures. Person's grandfather moved her family to the wilderness of Canada to smoke pot, be naked, live in tipis, and get back to nature. As Person grows up, she begins to realize that the free-love world she lives in has a darker side. When Person wins a modeling competition and leaves for high-fashion cities like New York and Paris, she becomes everything her family rejected, even as she learns to traverse a glamorous new way of life and the pitfalls it hides. Person's childhood adventures veer between idyllic and shocking, highlighting how the concept of liberty can easily become an excuse for neglect.
The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams
When Julie Yip-Williams was an infant in Vietnam, her grandmother thought that Yip-Williams's blindness would be a burden on the family, and conspired to kill her. After Yip-Williams came to the United States, got eye surgery, graduated from Harvard, and created a family, she thought she was living a miracle of a life, and the worst was behind her. Then she was given a terminal medical diagnosis when she was in her 30s. “There is hope, anger, fear, reflection, immersion in the everyday, and joy reflected in this book,” says Amazon Books editor Chris Schluep about this unforgettable memoir from a woman who refuses to let death derail her life.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
If you assumed that the current host of The Daily Show had a conventional upbringing, you'll be disabused of this notion by the second paragraph of chapter 1: "I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car." Due to South Africa's Immorality Act, four years' imprisonment could be the fate of any "native female" who slept with a European man, and Trevor Noah was the product of such an event. Noah's story of growing up of mixed race in South Africa, a country racked by racism and hate, goes down easy as he coats his gut-wrenching stories with wisecracks and a keen sense of the absurd. Audiobook lovers, take note: the Audible audiobook is read by Noah himself, giving an unique glimpse inside his world.
A slightly different version of this article was originally published on Amazon Charts on February 27, 2019.
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