The 10 Best Memoirs of the Decade

And Then Some

Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some damn fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.

So, as is our hallowed duty as a literary and culture website—though with full awareness of the potentially fruitless and endlessly contestable nature of the task—in the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the best and most important (these being not always the same) books of the decade that was. We will do this, of course, by means of a variety of lists. We began with the best debut novels, the best short story collections, and the best poetry collections of the decade, and we have now reached the fourth list in our series: the best memoirs published in English between 2010 and 2019 (not for nothing: 2015 was a very good year for memoirs).

The following books were chosen after much debate (and several rounds of voting) by the Literary Hub staff. Tears were spilled, feelings were hurt, books were re-read. And as you’ll shortly see, we had a hard time choosing just ten—so we’ve also included a list of dissenting opinions, and an even longer list of also-rans. As ever, free to add any of your own favorites that we’ve missed in the comments below.

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The Top Ten

Patti Smith, Just Kids (2010)

In 1967, 20-year old aspiring poet Patti Smith moved to New York City, where she expected to make ends meet by working as a waitress, got a job instead at a bookstore, met budding artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and embarked with him upon the kind of bohemian late-twentieth century life that defined downtown during the city’s last great period of artistic foment. More than fifty years later, with CBGBs now a shoe store and Velvet Underground t-shirts available in toddler sizes, the counter-culture has become the culture, and it’s near impossible to differentiate the baby-boom mythology from fact. Those wishing to know how it was, though—or at least how it felt—can do no better than turning to Smith’s 2010 National Book Award-winning memoir, Just Kids, a masterpiece of social observation and self-scrutiny, exhilaratingly alive with what it is to be young and to love someone and to want things. The book flows through the city in all its energy and squalor, from mornings at the Chelsea Hotel to nights at Max’s Kansas City, until, one by one, Smith and Mapplethorpe get famous. Throughout, she is good company, by turns shrewd chronicler of the hard work that goes into building an artist’s career and disbelieving observer of her own success. Plus she’s an excellent, often hilarious portraitist, with a seemingly endless supply of captivating subjects, from Burroughs to Warhol, to Mapplethorpe, whom she is endlessly tender about and loyal to and infatuated with, and whose passing elicits one of the most raw-nerve eulogies you’re ever likely to read. Most importantly, Smith is possessed of that quality that sets apart the truly great work of autobiography from the merely good: she knows herself. –Emily Firetog, Deputy Editor

 

 

Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped (2013)

Most readers of contemporary American fiction know Jesmyn Ward (the prodigiously talented McArthur Genius Fellowship-winning Mississippi writer who, at barely forty years old, became the first woman to win two National Book Awards for Fiction) for Salvage the Bones (2011) and Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017)—a pair of haunted, lyrical novels, subtly infused with the mythic, which examined southern black communities ravaged by unimaginable disaster and generational trauma. Her harrowing 2013 memoir, Men We Reaped—in which Ward considers the premature deaths, over just four years, of five men in her life (including her beloved brother), as well as the terrible risks inherent in just trying to simply live as a young black man in the rural south—deserves to stand right alongside these magnificent novels. Ward is drawing from a deep and shimmering well of sorrow here, describing with exquisite tenderness the lives these doomed men lived—who they were, the people they aspired to become, and what they meant to their families and friends—before poverty and the eroding nature of systemic racism wore away at their defenses and left them vulnerable. Having navigated a childhood of familial instability and extreme financial hardship, Ward became the first member of her family to attend college, leaving behind a community that was full of both nourishing love and wearying strife, and some of the most heartbreaking writing in Men We Reaped juxtaposes her warm memories of joyful Mississippi nights back home with the intense feeling of survivor’s guilt that washes over her in the wake of these terrible losses. –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

 

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Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (2015)

Creative nonfiction already redefines, for many readers and writers alike, what nonfiction can do; as nonfiction that uses the mechanical techniques of fiction, it allows us to create expansive, experimental writing that may look, at a glance, almost indistinguishable from a short story, novel, or lyrical prose poem. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts takes this to heart. It is a beautiful, astonishing memoir—a piece of “autotheory,” really, meaning a work that applies literary and philosophical theory to the writer’s own life—that reimagines what a memoir can look like.

Told non-linearly in sharp fragments, it explores desire, what it means to be cis or trans, the limits of the gender binary itself for people who are non-binary, sexist and heteronormative expectations, and what it means to exist as a woman in the world broadly—and it does all this in one of the most devastatingly gorgeous bits of prose I’ve seen in a while. Its exploration of queer desire is poignant and powerful. The Argonauts pushes creative nonfiction to its limits, and I can’t recommend it enough as an example of how some memoirs—particularly ones like these—can only be written out of order, because that, in reality, is just the right order for it.  –Gabrielle Bellott, Lit Hub staff writer

 

 

Helen Macdonald, H is For Hawk (2015)

Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk was, to say the least, a surprise phenomenon in America. An erudite, lyric, very British memoir that describes the simultaneous grieving of a beloved parent, the mourning of a particular version of the English countryside, and the attempt to cohabitate with a ferocious raptor? Not what most publishers would consider a license to print money; add to that the embedded retelling of T.H. White’s own deeply troubled account of life with a fractious goshawk and “bestseller” seems unlikely at best. And though a book’s sales should factor fairly low (if at all) when considering its worthiness, one is tempted to make an exception for memoir, the genre that most wants to be read.

But it is neither the familiarity of the circumstances (they are decidedly not) nor the plainness of the language (this is the memoir of a poet!) that makes Macdonald’s memoir so universally accessible—it is the unrelenting honesty of a writer grappling on the page with the hard stuff most of us reserve for 4am: the finality of death, the paralysis of self-doubt, the loss of the natural world, and… the winged killing machine lurking in the other room. That Macdonald manages literary biography, pastoral meditation, grief diary, and falconry how-to all in one book is a true marvel, and will remain so as this nearly perfect memoir takes its rightful place in the canon.   –Jonny Diamond, Lit Hub Editor-in-Chief

 

 

William Finnegan, Barbarian Days (2015)

“They were silhouettes, backlit by low sun, and they danced silently through the glare, their boards like big dark blades, slashing and gliding, swift beneath their feet.” Not the type of language we’ve come to associate with sporting memoirs, but as anyone who has picked up this extraordinary work—which Alice Gregory, writing in the New York Review of Books, astutely described as “an utterly convincing study in the joy of treating seriously an unserious thing”—will attest, this is no ordinary sporting memoir. New Yorker staff writer William Finnegan has lived an impassioned and peripatetic life that would be the envy of even the most seasoned vagabond reporter. For over forty years he has been roaming the world’s outer reaches, chronicling everything from journalists in Apartheid South Africa to youth poverty in the United States, from drug cartels in Mexico to billionaire mining tycoons in Australia. Throughout it all, though, his great love, his obsession, his savior and muse, his sin and his soul and his North star, has been that most solitary and mystical of pastimes: surfing. Barbarian Days is Finnegan’s ode to a life spent slaying liquid dragons, meeting bodacious kindred spirits, and finding contentment inside the tubes of some of the most awesome waves on the face of the earth. Finnegan is a magnificent, humane writer, as adept at conjuring thirty-year-old swells and breaks from memory as he is at describing the unique, and often tender, bonds that are forged between dreamy acolytes of the ocean. With Barbarian Days, he has given us a genuinely moving and profound meditation on an elemental existence.  –Dan Sheehan, Book Marks Editor

 

 

Margo Jefferson, Negroland (2015)

The title of Margo Jefferson’s Negroland, her memoir of growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 60s, is her nickname for the space in which she grew up: not just a physical location, but a state of mind. “Negroland” is, in Jefferson’s words, her “name for a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Jefferson’s father was a prominent physician, and her mother was a socialite. She grew up as a member of the black upper-middle-class—experiencing greater wealth and better education, and living a life of greater refinement than most of the white people she encountered while also immersed in a culture that insisted on exceptionalism among the national black community. “Children in Negroland,” she writes, “were warned that few Negroes enjoyed privilege or plenty and that most whites would be glad to see them returned to indigence, deference and subservience. Children there were taught that most other Negroes ought to be emulating us when too many of them (out of envy or ignorance) went on behaving in ways that encouraged racial prejudice.”

Jefferson’s mission, in this magnificent account, is to unfurl all the different, painful, awkward, damaging, and sometimes quasi-empowering components of this highly complicated mass mindset, as well unpack the cultural forces that begat this specific crystallization. Besides that Jefferson’s reflections are so movingly written, her book clearly fulfills a critical need: so rarely do scholars approach issues of race and class simultaneously to such productive ends. Jefferson’s memoir is useful in expressing that the black experience in America is not unilaterally one of inequality and persecution—but that these are components of a larger, varied, more nuanced national identity which also incorporates excellence, achievement, and status.

Negroland additionally offers essential considerations about how oppression manifests within specific groups and grows as forms of self-love and hate. It is also about identification and alienation: who do you identify with, Jefferson asks herself, and why?  –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads Editorial Fellow

 

 

Susan Faludi, In the Darkroom (2016)

I borrowed this one from work, and, afraid of doing damage to its white binding, I bought a cloth cover, originally no doubt intended for bibles, to protect the book from smudges or anything else untoward. That covering became symbolic as I dived into this memoir of hiding, transformation, and reversals. In the Darkroom follows feminist scholar Susan Faludi as she reunites with her estranged father, who is now living as a woman in the Budapest of her youth. Her father survived the Holocaust through disguises and subterfuge, then found refuge after the war in depictions of women on film; she is proud to show her daughter the life she has made in Budapest, even as right wing nationalism grows around her. Susan Faludi frankly discusses her struggle to accept her father, both in her estrangement and in her new life as woman, and reading the memoir of an old school feminist figure out how to be trans-inclusive is one of the most heartwarming things you’ll ever come across.

The book also serves as a snapshot of the entire Jewish century—Faludi’s father survived the Holocaust as a boy, then strived to be the most American of Americans after starting a family in the US; Susan Faludi came to an appreciation of her heritage more through history and her family’s lived experience rather than through religion, and the whole family embraced artistic expression of some kind or other.

In the Darkroom is brilliant, beautiful, and very difficult to describe, but I do hope you’ll read it.  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

 

 

Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison L. Strayer, The Years (2017)Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison L. Strayer, The Years (2017)

There’s a revolution happening in life writing and the French novelist Annie Ernaux deserves far more credit than she’s received for showing how a depth of style and tone can situate a life within the larger rivers of time. Ernaux was born in 1940 in the heart of the France’s working class Normandy. Since that time period, up until 2006, when this book ends, France has lived through the war, the pill, the rise of consumer culture and a whole blizzard of idea-fads, which she threads her life through and around—a boat traveling down a current of past-ness. Along the way Ernaux became a public person, a famous person even, in small circles, and this book comes to grip with the loss of singularity that entails. Mostly, though, to read The Years is to re-experience, as if anew, what the past feels like. Not just what it is made of, what rocks around which a times flow, but how it feels to be traveling upon a before. In an era when nostalgia is so rapidly commodified—witness the 1970s—Ernaux’s attempt to forge a way of considering life as singular and collective is strangely moving, unfashionable, and dignified.   –John Freeman, Executive Editor, Lit Hub

 

 

Sarah M. Broom, The Yellow House (2019)

Before I picked it up, Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House was intriguing to me precisely because it blends memoir with so many other forms. In her review of the books, Angela Flournoy describes it as “part oral history, part urban history, part celebration of a bygone way of life.”

The oral history component is drawn from Broom’s interviews with her mother and her 12 siblings about their lives in New Orleans East, an area of the city once vaunted as “a ‘new frontier,’ ripe for development,” which by the time Broom was coming of age there had been largely abandoned by the city. Her brothers and mother tell their stories of Katrina, “the Water,” which Broom experienced from New York, in one of the most wrenching sections of the book. The hurricane destroys the titular Yellow House and scatters the Broom family across the country. Broom herself lives for some months in Burundi before returning to New Orleans to work as a speechwriter for the mayor, then back to New York, then to New Orleans once more.

Broom is a master of sentences, but she also knows precisely when to hand over the floor. The result is a gorgeous pastiche of histories that is at once deeply personal and incredibly wide-ranging. Home—both the physical and the intangible sorts—are at the center of the story. The question of who gets to have a home in America, in the face of vast income inequality, institutional racism, and climate change, is ever-present. In his review, Dwight Garner predicts that The Yellow House “will come to be considered among the essential memoirs of this vexing decade.” I couldn’t agree more.   –Jessie Gaynor, Social Media Editor

 

 

Naja Marie Aidt, tr. Denise Newman, When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back (2019)Naja Marie Aidt, tr. Denise Newman, When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back (2019)

This remarkable memoir is easily one of the best of any kind published in the last decade. On a fundamental level, it paints a warm, vivid portrait of Danish writer Aidt’s son, a chef and searcher who died tragically in his early twenties when a home-made batch of hallucinogenics led to a terrible accident. Drawing on the author’s diaries in the aftermath, poets of lacunae like Anne Carson and Ingrid Christensen, and narrating the boy’s life and upbringing, it is also a powerful formal assertion of the heartbreaking illegibility of loss, even as all one wants to do with the missing is keep them alive, present, somehow. Watching Aidt pull it off is akin to watching Philippe Petit walk a tight-rope between the Twin Towers. There’s such dexterity and joy even line by line in her prose. Yet the gap over which Aidt strings her lines is terrifying. It’s not just a grief this book narrates, it’s how to rethread time’s projector when an accident has caused a sudden tear in the reel. In Denmark, Aidt has long been read as an essential poet, and her fiction, Baboon, is taught in high schools. This book secures her role in a very small collection of writers who have taken the form of a memoir and revealed how much thought and loss live in the same ventricle of the heart’s true accounts.   –John Freeman, Executive Editor, Lit Hub

 

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Dissenting Opinions

The following books were just barely nudged out of the top ten, but we (or at least one of us) couldn’t let them pass without comment.

 

Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the CityVivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City (2015)

In an essay for the Village Voice in 1973, Vivian Gornick described her engagement with contemporary feminist thought as a process of redefining what it meant to move through life as a woman. “It is a journey of unimaginable pain and loneliness, this journey, a battle all the way, one in which the same inch of emotional ground must be fought for over and over again, alone and without allies, the only soldier in the army the struggling self,” she wrote. “But on the other side lies freedom: self-possession.” The Odd Woman and the City, her memoir published in 2015, shows part of Gornick’s long road of self-examination and is filled with the sharply self-aware observations and insights that have marked her as one of our most important memoir writers. The book showcases Gornick as an incredible documentarian of the emotional worlds that collide throughout the course of a day in New York City; her book focuses in particular on her friendship with a man named Leonard, but also on all the other small interactions that fill city life and all the minuscule, passing ways in which humans seek connection with one another. Describing these with clarity and compassion is one of Gornick’s biggest strengths; this memoir is a model of self-reflection and a mirror for those of us that have not yet fully arrived in ourselves, but are on the way. –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

 

 

Oliver Sacks, On the Move (2015)

There are many records of Oliver Sacks’s life and work, but none marries the two subjects quite so powerfully as his memoir, On the Move, a book published just a few short months before his death in 2015. Sacks was one of the century’s great intellects, a mind alive to experience, nuance, the unknown, experimentation, and, above all, communication. Few scientists have ever been so gifted in the art of storytelling. Over the years, Sacks expanded our notions of the world, our bodies, and our minds. Those were the stories of his professional work. But the story of his own life was just as compelling. In On the Move, he grapples with his past, his sexuality, his literary craft, his medical achievements, his failures, and his many, many experiments of all stripes and colors. We may come to a book like this one for the medicine tales, but we stay for the stories of cross-country motorcycle rides, self-administered experiments with powerful drugs, struggles with addiction, bodily transformations, and affairs of the heart. Throughout it all, Sacks maintains the intense, at times wrenching intimacy of his prose. In a perfect encapsulation of the storytelling approach that made him legendary, Sacks writes, “All sorts of generalizations are made possible by dealing with populations, but one needs the concrete, the particular, the personal too.” With those particulars, those personal items, Sacks made a kind of magic. On the Move is that rare memoir written by an author whose life experiences and ideas are the match for his literary talents. He was the consummate storyteller. His stories had rigor and power, and they served to make the world seem like larger place, and ever more curious. –Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Managing Editor

 

 

Sally Mann, Hold StillSally Mann, Hold Still (2015)

I remember the first time I saw a Sally Mann portrait in real life—I nearly walked by, but something caught me and held me there, for much longer than I expected. The eyes, the pose, the exposure, the cobwebby Southern trees—I still can’t put my finger on it, can’t explain, a phenomenon that for me is the mark of artistic genius.

In this exquisite memoir, the widely lauded and highly controversial Mann unpacks her family’s history in her beloved Virginia, telling her own tales as well as shaking out old boxes of photographs and letters that point towards “deceit and scandal, alcohol, domestic abuse, car crashes, bogeymen, clandestine affairs, dearly loved and disputed family land . . . racial complications, vast sums of money made and lost, the return of the prodigal son, and maybe even bloody murder.”

All that is about as fun as it sounds, but Hold Still stands out most of all for being a true photographer’s memoir: in weaving her photographs throughout, Mann both showcases her art and uses it to illustrate her story—and sometimes her point. She responds to her critics with a sort of bemused tolerance, and shows shots taken fractions of seconds apart, in which her children’s faces break from hard-edged vamping into goofy smiles. But she also grapples with the fear that they might, in some sense, be right—that she has put her children in danger by making them her subjects. It’s complicated, and ultimately unresolved, which feels like truth. Read an excerpt here. –Emily Temple, Senior Editor

 

 

J. Drew Lanham, The Home PlaceJ. Drew Lanham, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (2017)

“I am, in the deepest sense, colored,” writes naturalist and wildlife biologist J. Drew Lanham, in a memoir whose masterful opening sections bring to mind Jean Toomer’s descriptions of Georgia in Cane (1923).The Home Place is on one level about lives not easily categorized, a man who watches the people and landscapes of his childhood shift and disappear as often as he watches the birds he so dearly prizes. Lanham is as much a poet as an academic. He writes not only in homage to the family that made him who he is, but also to decouple nature and environmental literature from academia, which he accuses of alienating readers who might otherwise find a way in. The “in-between place” that the title refers to is a 200-acre inholding in the tiny county of Edgefield, South Carolina, where Lanham grows up with his parents, siblings and grandmother. Lanham aptly writes with the precision of an agriculturalist; his prose is circuitous, humorous, and often understated: “There were three or four old crepe myrtles in the yard that erupted in purple and white blooms in April and May. Little copses of lemon-yellow daffodils and nodding snowdrops preceded the crepe myrtles in the new warmth of march.” Or: “[R]oving gangs of noisy blue jays conducted morning raids to gather a share of nuts.” Though lingering in this kind of descriptive prose is the book’s greatest pleasure, Lanham also speaks to the difficulties he’s encountered throughout his career. He’s aware that, unfortunately, a black man in his profession is relatively rare, and Lanham’s private experiences in and beyond the Home Place are always circumscribed by this knowledge. Coincidentally, The Home Place was published just months before the election of a president whose administration would roll back key legislation meant to protect endangered species. Lanham took a more placid approach than the post-2016 “doomsday” mode of ecological writing, though we must now wonder what Lanham might say in an introduction if the book ever gets another printing. –Aaron Robertson, Assistant Editor

 

 

Nora Krug, BelongingNora Krug, Belonging (2018)

Reading Nora Krug’s Belonging is like watching a mind unfold in front of you. It’s classified as a graphic memoir (and it won the 2019 National Book Critic Circle Award for Autobiography!), but it feels like a scrapbook. (You can see what I mean here, in this excerpt on homesickness and heimat, or “the place that a person is born into.”) Belonging is Nora Krug’s honest attempt to reckon with her German heritage. Born decades after the Holocaust but surrounded by a familial silence about it, she boldly interrogates her family’s role in this terrible history. Belonging doesn’t just tell Nora Krug’s story. Yes, there are plenty of her own handwritten notes and beautiful illustrations, but she also cobbles together family photographs and letters to tell this story through the generations. Belonging reads like a home video and a history textbook rolled into one. On one page, you’ll have an anecdote about mushroom-foraging with her family. On another, you’ll trace the history of a particular kind of German bandage, which her mother used to patch up her six-year-old knee after a skating accident. But on the next, she’ll include some of her uncle’s journal, complete with anti-Semitic rhetoric and his drawings of swastikas. (Random and hodge-podge as it may sound, trust me: the curation feels organic. These things are connected, is what Nora Krug seems to be saying.) There is something unbelievably generous about the way she offers these bits of history to us. The story isn’t brought to us as an olive branch or a request for forgiveness for her family. It’s an open-ended question. This is perhaps why the graphic memoir/collage medium is the perfect one in which to tell this story; there is no posturing or justification or attempt at explanation. She can leave us with an image and let us sit with the complicated discomfort. We join her in the midst of her reckoning.  –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

 

 

Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House (2019)

It feels appropriate that describing Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House—comprised of the tellings and retellings of Machado’s relationship with an abusive ex-girlfriend—falls to the three of us who loved this memoir so much that we all had to have a say. This is a story with many forms, all centered on the Dream House: a real place where Machado and her ex-girlfriend lived, but also a series of mental fortifications forged through emotional abuse, physical violence, gaslighting, and suspicion. Machado calls on a series of narrative traditions in recounting this story, one for which there is little to no existing narrative precedent, since abusive queer relationships have so rarely been addressed in popular culture; the result is a dizzying, monumental achievement. So many of us have our own versions of this story, and reading through hers feels intensely personal and powerfully affirmative, the equivalent of a friend looking you in the eye and saying, over and over, you’re not crazy. I needed this book; I think a lot of us do. –Corinne Segal, Senior Editor

The dedication page to In the Dream House goes: “If you need this book, it is for you.” Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir does something I’ve never seen done before, which is to examine an abusive queer relationship from many different angles, to hold it in many different lights. She uses footnotes to call upon tropes in mythology and taboos in literature. She references queer theory. It’s all in an attempt to situate the story in a different context, to find a way to tell it that can help us make sense of what’s happening. In the Dream House is a dizzying, raw, and deeply personal story and with her experimental structure, she is casting lines out, trying to find (and helping others find) the structure that holds. –Katie Yee, Book Marks Assistant Editor

I have never before read a memoir that reads like a thriller. Machado deconstructs the memories of her abusive relationship and filters them through literary tropes in order to lay out the signs, interpret, organize and in doing so repeatedly, in what becomes a pattern that never satisfies, she and the reader come to the understanding that there will never be a unity of narrative, nor any traditional resolution to a tale of trauma. Machado’s course through the Dream House strikes me as the inverse of the madwoman narrative—rather than a downward spiral, the recognition of danger calls upon the protagonist’s inner strength, while the continual grappling with what is true and what isn’t only sharpens her resolve to save herself. In the Dream House is a Heroine’s Journey and it is stunning in both its invention of a new memoir form and its emotional resonance. To echo Corinne and Katie, this is a book you need to read.  –Eleni Theodoropoulos, Editorial Fellow

 

 

Kier-la Janisse, House of Psychotic WomenKier-la Janisse, House of Psychotic Women: A Personal Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (2012)

I’ve always been of the mind that the best way to get to know someone is not through their experience so much as their taste, a little-explored topic in the wide world of recorded lives—until now.

In her brilliant and bizarre memoir, Kier-la Janisse reinvents film criticism as memoir, and tells the story of her life through the horror and exploitation films she enjoyed growing up and which later became her life’s passion. Anecdotal musings and harrowing life accounts mix together with astute criticism incorporating a quarter-century of thought on horror cinema; the chapter on films of teenage rebellion goes together with Janisse’s account of her baby delinquency, while Janisse’s relationship with her father, always fraught, leads into discussions of family, gender and sexuality as represented by exploitation cinema. Janisse isn’t making the case that these films are valuable works of art, so much as windows into the modern psyche, and occasionally (as in the case of rape and revenge cinema) a narrative form to be reclaimed by feminists despite its original prurient intent. House of Psychotic Women is what I hope all works of pop culture criticism to be in the future— erudite, personal, intense, mind-bending, and refusing to draw a line between literary merit and personal taste. Plus, the design is awesome!  –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Associate Editor

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Honorable Mentions

A selection of other books that we seriously considered for both lists—just to be extra about it (and because decisions are hard).

Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22 (2010) · Binyavanga Wainaina, One Day I Will Write About This Place (2011) · Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011) · Emmanuel Carrère, tr. Linda Coverdale, Lives Other Than My Own (2011) · Gabrielle Hamilton, Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef (2011) · Meghan O’Rourke, The Long Goodbye (2011) · Tony Judt, The Memory Chalet (2011) · Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water (2011) · Joan Didion, Blue Nights (2011) · Joshua Cody, [Sic]: A Memoir (2011) · Mira Bartók, The Memory Palace (2011) · Alison Bechdel, Are You My Mother? (2012) · Anthony Shadid, House of Stone (2012) · Héctor Abad, tr. Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey, Oblivion (2012) · Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies (2012) · Cheryl Strayed, Wild (2012) · Edna O’Brien, Country Girl (2013) · Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, I Am Malala (2013) · Liao Yiwu, tr. Wenguang Huang, For a Song and a Hundred Songs (2013) · Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave (2013) · Amy Wilentz, Farewell, Fred Voodoo (2013) · Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (2014) · Viv Albertine, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. (2014) · Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (2014) · Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch (2014) · Heidi Julavits, The Folded Clock (2015) · Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light (2015) · Patrick Modiano, tr. Mark Polizzotti, Pedigree (2015) · Lacey Johnson, The Other Side (2015) · Mohamedou Ould Slahi, ed. Larry Siems, Guantanamo Diary (2015) · Jenny Diski, In Gratitude (2016) · Scholastique Mukasonga, tr. Jordan Stump, Cockroaches (2016) · Hisham Matar, The Return (2016) · Hope Jahren, Lab Girl (2016) · Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy (2017) · Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey (2017) · Xiaolu Guo, Nine Continents (2017) · Annie Ernaux, tr. Alison L. Strayer, The Years (2017) · Kiese Laymon, Heavy (2018) · Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Small Fry (2018) · Sarah Smarsh, Heartland (2018) · Francisco Cantú, The Line Becomes a River (2018) · Leslie Jamison, The Recovering (2018) · Terese Marie Mailhot, Heart Berries (2018) · T Kira Madden, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls (2019).

Emily Temple
Emily Temple
Emily Temple is a senior editor at Lit Hub. Her first novel, The Lightness, will be published by William Morrow in 2020.





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