‘Crying in H Mart’ by Michelle Zauner: If Belief Were Real

by Ray Levy Uyeda

The chorus of “In Heaven,” the first track on Michelle Zauner’s first album as Japanese Breakfast, goes: Oh do you believe in heaven? / Like you believed in me / Oh it could be such heaven / If you believed it was real. The “you” and the “me” could be anyone, the “heaven” could be any utopia. But as revealed in Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart (239 pages; Knopf), these lyrics were drafted in the aftermath of her mother’s death from pancreatic cancer and formed at a time when she was reckoning with her identity while caring for her […]

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‘Somebody’s Daughter’ by Ashley C. Ford: Together Amidst the Flames

by Oriana Christ

From a young age, author Ashley C. Ford was taught that family is all you have and all you need, and for this reason you should love them and hold onto them, no matter what. In her memoir, Somebody’s Daughter (210 pages; Flatiron Books), Ford grapples with this maxim as she grows up with a single mother prone to violent fits of rage, and an absent father who has been incarcerated for as long as she can remember. Her childhood, which makes up about half of the book, is spent believing that she is fundamentally bad inside, while fearing her […]

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‘Low Country’ by J. Nicole Jones: Lost Dreams, Anger, and Ghosts

by Ray Levy Uyeda

In every family there is an archivist. Someone to keep track of lost things, tales of victory and heartbreak, someone who can recall nearly-forgotten names. In author J. Nicole Jones’ family, that person was her grandmother, a woman who could fluidly weave a tale of home—Horry County, South Carolina. With her memoir, Low Country (230 pages; Catapult), Jones has succeeded in the role of family archivist, imploring us to see that the story of the Jones family is the story of South Carolina, and the story of J. Nicole Jones is the story of the women who preceded her. Low […]

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Q&A WITH MEGAN CULHANE GALBRAITH: ‘THE GUILD OF THE INFANT SAVIOUR’ AND DIORAMAS OF A CHILDHOOD

by K.L. Browne

In Megan Culhane Galbraith’s hybrid memoir, The Guild of the Infant Saviour: An Adopted Child’s Memory Book (288 pages; Mad Creek Books), she investigates our desire for belonging with generosity and an eye for hidden truths. Galbraith was adopted as a baby in the late 1960s, and through a dual lens of subject and observer, she considers this tumultuous period of sexual freedoms for women and its consequences. The book’s unique form bridges the private and historical. Galbraith looks at programs for women and infants that echo an unconscious disregard; Catholic charities claimed to save unwed mothers, a domestic economy […]

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Q&A with Joshua Mohr: ‘Model Citizen’ and Pointing Out the Frictions

by Kyubin Kim

Model Citizen (336 pages; Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is Joshua Mohr’s memoir on addiction, sobriety, and fatherhood. It’s a brutally sincere addition to his repertoire that includes the previous memoir Sirens and five novels. Told in a series of non-chronological vignettes, Model Citizens begins with Mohr’s jagged path to recovery in episodes of self-destruction and regret. We’re pulled so viscerally into San Francisco bars where one drink turns into a blacked-out night that we feel like the gears in Mohr’s brain, trying to make sense of how we got here. We also experience the anguish of recovery and relapse, drawn […]

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‘Beautiful Things: A Memoir’ by Hunter Biden: A Document of Addiction and Redemption

by Joseph Holsworth

“I’ve smoked more cheddar popcorn than anybody on the face of the earth.” This line from Hunter Biden’s new memoir catches him at the lowest of lows. At this point in his decades-long addiction, he’s scrounging around for drugs, desperately searching between the seats of his car for anything resembling crack. His favorite snack food left flaky little pieces that to his addict’s eye looked just like rocks. Hunter Biden’s memoir, Beautiful Things: A Memoir (272 pages; Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), is written with the acumen and craft of a born writer. This book is not the typically pointless and […]

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‘Love is an Ex-Country’ by Randa Jarrar: An Unexpected Destination

by Kyubin Kim

When we think of the American road trip novel, it’s easy to recall Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the manic adventures of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, traipsing from New York to San Francisco as carefree and self-destructive as white men in the Fifties were allowed to be. That was America for them. But Randa Jarrar’s road trip memoir, Love Is an Ex-Country (240 pages; Catapult), demands a re-landscaping of America for a queer Arab American woman. The road trip is not a linear starting point-to-destination; it’s an evolving struggle to claim and inhabit a home in a place […]

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‘In the Dream House’ by Carmen Maria Machado: No Mere Confessional

by Sophia Stewart

Carmen Maria Machado’s new book, In the Dream House (264 pages; Graywolf Press), begins with a statement of intention. Machado, the author of the acclaimed story collection Her Body and Other Parties, tells us she has written a memoir to add her story of queer domestic violence to the catalog of contemporary literature: “I enter into the archive that domestic abuse between partners who share a gender identity is both possible and not uncommon,” she writes, “and that it can look something like this.” Depictions of intimate partner violence between women have been largely left out of our collective culture, […]

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Q&A with Brandon Shimoda: ‘The Grave on the Wall’ and Writing with Ghosts

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How to capture a life, how to represent it, is a difficult if necessary question to address in writing. Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall (222 pages; City Lights Books) relentlessly contends with this concern as it recounts the story of Midori Shimoda, the author’s grandfather, within the entangled histories of immigration, Japanese incarceration during World War II, mourning, and memory. The book is also an examination of writing itself, the mechanism available for, and sometimes burdened with, conveying these stories; with relaying and reimagining them, opening them to visitation. A chronicle of the living and the dead and the places […]

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‘People I’ve Met From the Internet’ by Stephen van Dyck: Delight in the Details

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Stephen van Dyck’s People I’ve Met From the Internet (151 pages; Ricochet Editions) is the ultimate memoir for the Information Age: a series of extraordinarily personal vignettes derived from a data spreadsheet. The book spans 11 years and takes place in multiple states, mostly roaming the arid space between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California. It reads like a grand road trip in the age of dial-up Internet. The book’s earliest pages take the form of a table divided into columns like “REAL NAME,” “SCREEN NAME AT THE TIME WE MET,” and “X=TIMES MET OR DAYS SPENT.” When starting […]

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‘Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker’ by Kathleen Hale: Embracing the Inner Animal

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Kathleen Hale’s essay collection, Kathleen Hale Is A Crazy Stalker (174 pages; Grove Press), presents a fascinating reflection on the sexual assault that shaped part of Hale’s life, as well as on humanity’s rapacity, Internet trolling, and mental illness. Although the collection of six non-fiction essays grapples with heavy topics, Hale’s self-deprecating humor helps to build and release tension, showcasing the irresistible charm of her writing. In the book’s titular essay, Hale recounts the time she once visited a negative Good Reads reviewer’s house in an effort to make amends. The story takes multiple turns as Hale discovers the negative […]

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‘The Light Years’ by Chris Rush: The Turbulent Sublime

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Chris Rush’s memoir, The Light Years (368 pages; FSG), opens during the Summer of Love. In the suburbs of New Jersey, Rush is the sweet yet strange middle child in a family of seven kids. As a boy, he is obsessed with making paper flowers by hand, maintains an enchantment for a pink satin cape described as a “fashion miracle,” and turns the family’s psychedelic basement into his bedroom. To him, his parents are “the most fabulous –– and most happy,” and he is content to play the part of the devout Catholic son. However, at twelve-years-old, Rush’s world is […]

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