1. Jell-O Girls: A Family History by Allie Rowbottom Capturing both the evolution of the iconic brand of Jell-O and her own life within it’s “curse,” Rowbottom’s memoir is such a delight. Part history lesson and part exploration of feminism, this book speaks eloquently of typically taboo topics like inheritance, eating, and family. The whole story feels collective-so much bigger than just the author’s own life or loss. If you liked Educated this year, this memoir makes an excellent follow up.
2. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank A much needed break from heart wrenching memoirs, this novel came at just the right time. I picked it up in DC, thanks Ruby, and stacked it by my bedside. This book reads so easily; I finished it in two days, without any effort. The voice is fun, smart, and fast. It centers on Jane, a woman living in the illusive world of publishing in New York. Coming of age has never been funnier, more relatable, and unforgettable than in this novel.
3. Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon Recommended by the teacher of the writing class I’m in, the next two picks were read in succession. They couldn’t be more different, but are both anchored in trauma. If memoir isn’t classically your genre, don’t fret. Heavy is poetry, story, anthology, and memoir all wrapped up in an honest, candid package. I can’t recommend this enough. It’s the sort of book that is best read with no expectations and someone you can discuss its poingancy with.
4. Mourning Diary by Roland Barthes Equally as emotional, but a little more sparse, is this sort of collection of grief. Barthes started a journal the day after his mother died in October 1977. The French theorist explores the way grief speeds up and slows down, its constant inconsistency. For two years, he records his day to day, the weight he carries, and the way his mother’s absence colors it all. This book is considered the key that unlocks all of his work-the core of who he was the the brilliant work he created.
5. The Odd Woman and The City by Vivian Gornick I picked this book up in Harlem half a year ago, drawn in by the concept of a memoir on walking and life in New York. As the weather drops the practice or walking I once worshipped can become a chore. This little book helped me to remember how special it can be and the connections it affords. The themes are really more focused on self discovery and friendship than walking, but imagining Vivian Gornick pounding the pavement from neighborhood to neighborhood is a dream.