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Nonfiction Focus: Memoirs on Audio Read by the Author

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

Selected Reviews

Saeed Jones’s How We Fight for Our Lives - Saeed Jones's memoir How We Fight for Our Lives is brilliant and brutal. The story centers on Jones life as a young, black, gay man growing up in the American South and on his relationship with his single mother. Listening to Jones (who narrates the audiobook--I listened on Scribd) describe the ways that he defined his identity within and against Southern culture is fascinating and moving. Though he makes many deliberate decisions about how to be in the world, I appreciated the way that Jones accepted so much about about who he and his mother were as individuals and as a strong pair. Saeed and his mother, who practiced Buddhism in the midst of a staunchly evangelical family and culture, often avoided articulating certain things that they understood about themselves, and so sometimes, those declarations gave me goosebumps . . . or brought me to tears. I don't want to spoil anything about Jones's journey (and I think it's going to be hard to do justice to the book's power in a short book review--there's too much nuance for that), but I'll just say that his writing is the star. While I'm glad that I listened because of the power of Jones's voice in narrating his own story, I often wished for a text copy, too, because there were quotations I desperately wanted to mark. His style is not showy, but it's precise and contemplative. There's a sense of humor and a foundation of love that lie underneath the whole of the narrative. Hearing Jones revisit his life, experiences unbelievable and shocking and horrifying and joyful, is a beautiful reading (listening?) experience. (Jen)

Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr. You - Mary-Louise Parker is a writer. Yes, she's also an actor. But this memoir, told in a series of essays addressed to men in her life, men who are identified most often by station or function or position ("Dear Former Boyfriend," "Dear Mentor," and so on) rather than by name, is simply gorgeous. It's whimsical and serious and heartbreaking. When Parker has a confrontation with a taxi driver, fully committing to her rage at his driving at the wrong direction, and then breaks down because she's pregnant and alone and scared, I FELT every moment of her anger and her vulnerability and her sadness. And her empathy for this man who had come into contact with her at a bad time. (I should say here that I listened, via Scribd, and that Parker reads her book herself. I can't recommend her narration more--actors make great readers of their own memoirs, and her voice is so strong in the writing already. Just wow.) Through every moment of this book, Parker makes clear her independence, her love for her children, her love for her parents, her hopes and her heartbreaks. I can't recommend Dear Mr. You more. (Jen)

Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table - Ruth Reichl's narration of her memoir Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table brings to life one of my favorite types of audiobooks: authors reading their own work, their own lives. The book, which covers Reichl's childhood through the beginning of her career as a food critic, provides a brilliant focus on her family, particularly her mother, who suffers from manic depression; her more distant father; and her amazing partner. In the midst of these stories, Reichl shares the gradual development of her love for food and cooking, and we see the way all of her experiences move toward her career. Funny, poignant, thoughtful reflection on her early life. (Jen)

Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love - Inheritance is the second memoir by Dani Shapiro that I've read (I listened to Hourglass, which I also highly recommend). In Inheritance, Shapiro explores the aftermath of her accidental discovery that she was conceived by donor-assisted artificial insemination and that her father is not her biological father. As she searches for more information, she finds her donor father, Ben Walden, and contends with the knowledge that the Orthodox Jewish ancestry she's always known is not her birthright. Shapiro's writing is gorgeous: spare and reflective and precise. Her memoir takes on the very nature of identity, of what makes her who she is. Beautiful, stunning work. (Jen)

Other Recommendations

Ellie Kemper’s My Squirrel Days

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir

Kiese Laymon’s Heavy: An American Memoir

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