BitchReads: The Best Memoirs of 2017

Memoirs are an indelible literary genre that, over the years, have become my favorite books to read. Being able to peek into the lives of other people who are far different—and sometimes incredibly similar—to me has deepened my understanding of the sacrifices and choices we are all forced to make as we navigate this complex life. In 2017, a number of incredible writers, including Roxane Gay, Sherman Alexie, and Janet Mock opened layers of their lives for us, and in this BitchReads, we honor their stories and their courage. These are the best memoirs of 2017.

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1. The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

{ Random House }
Release Date: March 14, 2017
Price: $18.50

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Ariel Levy, a staff writer at The New Yorker, has spent her career chronicling others peoples’ lives. In The Rules Do Not Apply, she turns the lens on herself to offer a candid look at the life that led up to her fateful trip to Mongolia in 2012. Her essay about that traumatic trip, which began with Levy being pregnant and married and ended with neither of those facts being true, won the National Magazine Award in 2014, and spawned this impressive memoir. Throughout the book, Levy makes clear that she’s “a woman who is free to do whatever she chooses,” but what that does mean in the context of heartbreak, grief, and trauma? I swallowed The Rules Do Not Apply in a few sittings, and I’ve been digesting it ever since.

2. This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

This Is Just My Face book cover

{ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt }
Release Date: May 1, 2017
Price: $17.50

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Gabourey Sidibe understands better than most how difficult it is to navigate the world as a plus-size Black woman. She recounts many of those struggles in This Is Just My Face, a collection of personal essays about her upbringing in Brooklyn, her relationship with her abusive father, and her ascension in Hollywood. Through her humorous voice, which shines through the pages, Sidibe creates a roadmap for fat Black girls who are on a journey to figuring out their places in the world.

 

3. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays by Scaachi Koul

One Day We'll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter book cover

{ Picador }
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Price: $16.00

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Scaachi Koul’s debut collection of essays are hilarious. The title suggests a freedom attached to her ability to be uproariously funny about her Indian parents and incisive about social ills, including racism, sexism, and caste systems. Since essays are often driven by the writer’s perspective and voice, so often they lose steam midway through, but Koul doesn’t have that problem whatsoever. From the front page to the last, she makes readers laugh, cry, and invest in her slapstick comedic antics.

 

4. Priestdaddy: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood book cover

{ Riverhead Books }
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Price: $18.50

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Patricia Lockwood’s father, Greg Lockwood, is one of the few known married priests. That alone made her childhood riveting, and in Priestdaddy, she hilariously chronicles her father’s quest for a dispensation and the impact that had on her family. Lockwood has a gift for comedic timing and witty language, which shows up time and time again in her memoir, and she generously shares with her more than 69,000 Twitter followers. Here’s hoping Priestdaddy is adapted for television, as Fresh Off the Boat was.

 

5. Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give by Ada Calhoun

Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give book cover

{ W. W. Norton & Company }
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Price: $17.50

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Marriage is hard work. Anybody who’s made the decision to get married can attest to the fragility of unions, and the amount of work that goes into keeping the relationship together. Yet, marriage is often peddled to us in pop culture as a whimsical fantasy that’s only temporarily interrupted by occasional disagreements. In Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, Ada Calhoun disrupts that messaging to offer her readers the truth. She uses her own marriage as the foundation of the book, which began as an essay in The New York Times’ Modern Love section, to show the truth about marriage. The book is both poignant and funny, making it the perfect weekend read.

6. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life book cover

{ Vintage }
Release Date: May 30, 2017
Price: $10.95

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Samantha Irby is funny as fuck. Whether she’s writing about a romantic vacation gone wrong an awkward sex encounter, the Bitches Gotta Eat writer retains her wittiness while offering spot-on observations about ideas we all think about, but never discuss. Irby is our inner voice come to life, and nowhere is that more present than in her sophomore essay collection, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. The New York Times bestselling book tackles everything from pooping to mental health with the distinctiveness that’s made Irby one of the best writers of our generation.

 

7. The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

The Bright Hour book cover

{ Simon & Schuster}
Release Date: June 6, 2017
Price: $17.50

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When poet Nina Riggs was 38, she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. It was metastatic, incurable, and taking its toll on her body. After her diagnosis, Riggs, a direct descendent of Ralph Waldo Emerson, sharpened her focus on her two children and her husband, and decided to use the written word to chronicle the end of her life. In The Bright Hour, Riggs beautifully writes about the pain of her facing her own mortality. Memoirs about cancer are difficult to read, particularly when the author dies, as Riggs did in February, but they’re worthwhile because they have the power to shift our perspective on living.

8. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Hunger by Roxane Gay book cover

{ Harper }
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Price: $25.99

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Plus-size people often robbed of our humanity in myriad ways. In Hunger, Roxane Gay uses her personal relationship with her body as a vehicle for exploring that dehumanization. Trauma is the origin point of Gay’s complex relationship with her body and size, but as she’s fluctuated in weight, she’s found that many people assume the “why” of her body. Her experiences, as chronicled in her memoir, are so familiar for other people of size who will surely see themselves reflected in her story.

 

9. Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me by Janet Mock

Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock book cover

{ Atria }
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Price: $24.99

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Since Janet Mock revealed in a 2011 Marie Claire profile that she’s a transgender woman, her career has skyrocketed. She’s released a New York Times bestselling memoir, produced a documentary for HBO, hosted a show on Shift by MSNBC, become a leading voice in the trans rights movement, and joined the writer’s room of Ryan Murphy’s forthcoming show Pose. In order to reach this unparalleled level of success, Mock had to create a foundation for her career, which is what she explores in her second book, Surpassing Certainty. From grad school to her first marriage to making her initial mark in journalism, she offers really intimate details about her twenties, the decade when she truly discovered herself.

10. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie

You Don't Have To Say You Love Me book cover

{ Little, Brown and Company }
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Price: $28.00

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You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is an unusual memoir because it combines prose, poems, and fractions of thoughts that both honor Sherman Alexie’s mother and rails against her abusive behavior toward him. While it’s clear throughout the 78 sections—one for each year of his mother’s life—that Alexie loved the woman who birthed and raised him, there’s an underlying tension and resentment that leaps off the page. Alexie’s work is not designed to make people comfortable, and his memoir is no exception. As all of his books are, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is blazingly honest about what his mother gave him and simultaneously how she failed him.

11. The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart by Emily Nunn

The Comfort Food Diaries book cover

{ Atria Books }
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Price: $17.95

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I am an absolute sucker for memoirs that revolve around food and use cuisine as a lens for healing and better understanding themselves. Whether it’s Eat, Pray, Love or Nourished: A Memoir of Food, Faith & Enduring Love, these memoirs, which tend to be written by women, resonate immensely with me. In The Comfort Food Diaries, restaurant critic Emily Nunn explores how a family tragedy, a recession, and a devastating breakup broke her, and how she used food to find her way back to herself. Equal parts sad and beautiful, The Comfort Food Diaries is one of those books that can be read over and over again to uncover a different kernel of truth about our own lives.

12. Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind by Jaime Lowe

Mental book cover

{ Blue Rider Press }
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Price: $19.50

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Jaime Lowe has been battling bipolar disorder for decades. After being diagnosed at the age of 16, Lowe was prescribed lithium, which eased the symptoms of the disorder, but also caused long-term effects including severe kidney damage. In her eye-opening memoir about mental illness, Lowe interviews an array of experts, including psychiatrists and scientists, about how a medication that has done so much for so many can also cause such extensive irreversible damage. It’s a necessary memoir in a climate where stigma is still so handedly attached to mental illness.

13. We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union

We're Going To Need More Wine book cover

{ Dey Street Books }
Release Date: October 17, 2017
Price: $26.99

Buy It Now

We all know Gabrielle Union is an incredible actress. We’re Going to Need More Wine proves that she’s also an insightful and entertaining writer. Her debut collection of essays traverses her childhood, her career, and her marriages, but also delves into deeper topics, including colorism, sexual trauma, gang violence, and being the only Black girl in a school full of white children. Union’s book will make you laugh out loud, but also shed tears—the perfect combo.

Evette Dionne
by Evette Dionne
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Evette Dionne is Bitch Media’s senior culture editor. She’s all about Beyoncé, Black women, and dope TV shows and books. You can follow her on Twitter.

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