These days, it seems like everyone has a memoir: celebutantes, reality show contestants, moaning hipsters. The genre is full of books about lives that are not even a quarter lived. Thankfully, a few writers still find fresh ways to chronicle their personal histories. We’ve chosen three recent memoirs that nudge the genre in new directions.
White Girls by Hilton Als
Hilton Als, culture writer for The New Yorker, turns the critic’s eye inward for his memoir, White Girls. As a gay, black man, Als is also one of the book’s titular “white girls” — not a club but a state of mind — along with public figures such as Truman Capote, Malcolm X, Flannery O’Connor, and Louise Brooks who influenced his life and work. Using cultural criticism and pop references, Als tells the story of complicated and beautiful relationships, of soulmates and “twinships,” while also meditating on race, sexuality, and identity. The book’s essays vary in length and style, and at times can be difficult to follow. But no one ever said understanding a white girl was easy.
You Should Read It If… you like deeply emotional stories flecked with cultural critique and a dash of NYC art-world gossip.
Culture Binge Mashup: Basquiat meets The New Yorker meets Kids
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
For her latest, novelist Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, State of Wonder) pens a literary memoir-as-essays that examine her writing life, her marriage, and her latest chapter: opening an independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville. The book is full of colorful, humorous pieces about driving cross-country in a Winnebago, tough love from early writing teachers such as Russell Banks, and her relationship with her cop father. But it also applauds romance rooted in reality rather than teenage fantasy, and celebrates Patchett’s unerring dedication to literature. When her first marriage ended, Patchett vowed never to marry again. Her perspective on what constitutes “a happy marriage” changes over the course of these pages.
You Should Read It If… you like colorful essays with tight prose, stories about the writing life, and romance for adults.
Culture Binge Mashup: Wild by Cheryl Strayed meets Black Books meets Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
Mo’ Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
A founding member of the seminal hip-hop band the Roots, Questlove delivers a love letter to music that doubles as a memoir. The drummer-DJ draws on the hip-hop, punk, rock, and pop music that shaped his life, not just as an artist but as a man. Born in Philadelphia to two musicians, Questlove spent time on the road, touring with his family, before going to art school and finding his own voice in the rich music community of Philadelphia, where he started the Roots. Unlike the typical rise-fall-rerise narrative of most musician tell-alls, Mo’ Meta Blues contemplates and confronts race, the politics of pop influence, and the problems of artistic communities. Plus, it’s just really fun.
You Should Read It If… you mark life’s milestones with records/albums/songs and like your intellectual debates sprinkled with backstage gossip.
Culture Binge Mashup: Just Kids by Patti Smith meets Chuck Klosterman meets that DJ who knows every song from ever genre, no matter how obscure