Sixteen FSG Memoirs

Reading List

A list of sixteen memoirs new and old, spanning a story of growing up in the most hated family in America, a psychedelic journey through the ’60s, and an inside view of Silicon Valley. The perfect additions to your fall reading list.

Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper

At the age of five, Megan Phelps-Roper began protesting homosexuality and other alleged vices alongside fellow members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Founded by her grandfather and consisting almost entirely of her extended family, the tiny group would gain worldwide notoriety for its pickets at military funerals and celebrations of death and tragedy. As the church’s Twitter spokeswoman, she was exposed to new dialogues that caused her to begin doubting the church’s leaders and message. Unfollow relates Phelps-Roper’s moral awakening and departure from the church, as well as exposes the dangers of black-and-white thinking.

Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick

Chosen by The New York Times as the #1 Best Memoir of the Past 50 Years, Fierce Attachments tells the story of Gornick’s lifelong battle for independence from her mother. Born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of “urban peasants,” Gornick grows up in a household dominated by her intelligent but uneducated mother’s romantic depression over the early death of her husband. Next door lives Nettie, an attractive widow whose calculating sensuality appeals greatly to Vivian. These women, with their opposing models of femininity, continue to affect Gornick’s struggle to find herself in love and in work well into adulthood. As Gornick walks with her aged mother through the streets of New York, arguing and remembering the past, each wins the reader’s admiration: the caustic and clear-thinking daughter, and the still powerful and intuitively wise old woman, who again and again proves herself her daughter’s mother.

My Parents: An Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon

In My Parents, Hemon tells the story of his parents’ immigration to Canada—of the lives that were upended by the war in Bosnia and siege of Sarajevo and the new lives his parents were forced to build. It is a story full of many Hemons—his parents, sister, uncles, cousins—and also of German occupying forces, Yugoslav partisans, royalist Serb collaborators, singing Ukrainians, and a few befuddled Canadians. This Does Not Belong to You, meanwhile, is the freewheeling, unabashedly personal companion to My Parents—beautifully distilled memories and observations and explosive, hilarious, poignant miniatures. Jennifer Szalai of The New York Times wrote: “Hemon has always played with boundaries—of places, of selves—exploring how lines that can be so porous and contingent could also matter so much.”

“Hemon has always played with boundaries—of places, of selves—exploring how lines that can be so porous and contingent could also matter so much.”

The Undying by Anne Boyer

A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness. Sally Rooney, author of Normal People, wrote: “The Undying is a startling, urgent intervention in our discourses about sickness and health, art and science, language and literature, and mortality and death. In dissecting what she terms ‘the ideological regime of cancer,’ Anne Boyer has produced a profound and unforgettable document on the experience of life itself.”

Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb

After editing The Columbia Review, staging plays at Cambridge, and a stint in the greeting-card department of Macy’s, Robert Gottlieb stumbled into a job at Simon and Schuster. By the time he left to run Alfred A. Knopf a dozen years later, he was the editor in chief, having discovered and edited Catch-22 and The American Way of Death, among other bestsellers. At Knopf, Gottlieb edited an astonishing list of authors, including Toni Morrison, John Cheever, Doris Lessing, John le Carré, Michael Crichton, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Graham, Robert Caro, Nora Ephron, and Bill Clinton. In Avid Reader, Gottlieb writes with wit and candor about the challenges and satisfactions of these experiences, about running The New Yorker, about his love of dance. Sixty years after joining Simon and Schuster, Gottlieb is still at it—editing, anthologizing, and, to his surprise, writing.

High School by Sara and Tegan Quin

The revelatory and unique coming-of-age story of Sara and Tegan Quin, identical twins from Calgary, Alberta, who grew up at the height of grunge and rave culture in the nineties, well before they became the celebrated musicians and global LGBTQ icons we know today. While grappling with their identity and sexuality, often alone, they also faced academic meltdown, their parents’ divorce, and the looming pressure of what might come after high school. Written in alternating chapters from both points of view, the book is a raw account of the drugs, alcohol, love, music, and friendship they explored in their formative years.

The Light Years by Chris Rush

Chris Rush was born into a prosperous, fiercely Roman Catholic New Jersey family. But underneath the image of the put-together family ran an unspoken tension that, amid the upheaval of the late 1960s, was destined to fracture their facade. His older sister Donna introduces him to the charismatic Valentine, who places a tab of acid on twelve-year-old Rush’s tongue, proclaiming: “This is sacrament. You are one of us now.” Rush heads to Tucson and disappears into the nascent American counterculture. His adolescence is spent looking for knowledge, for the divine, for home. Given what Rush confronts on his travels—from ordinary heartbreak to unimaginable violence—it is a miracle he is still alive. The Light Years is a joyous and defiant coming-of-age memoir in which Rush confronts his lost childhood and, finally, himself.

Out of Egypt by André Aciman

From the author of Call Me By Your Name and the forthcoming Find Me, this richly colored memoir chronicles the exploits of a flamboyant Jewish family, from its bold arrival in cosmopolitan Alexandria to its defeated exodus three generations later. In elegant and witty prose, Aciman introduces us to the marvelous eccentrics who shaped his life—Uncle Vili, the strutting daredevil, soldier, salesman, and spy; the two grandmothers, the Princess and the Saint, who gossip in six languages; and Aunt Flora, the German refugee who warns that Jews lose everything “at least twice in their lives.” And through it all, we come to know a boy who, even as he longs for a wider world, does not want to be led, forever, out of Egypt.

Through it all, we come to know a boy who, even as he longs for a wider world, does not want to be led, forever, out of Egypt.

Touched By the Sun by Carly Simon

A chance encounter at a summer party on Martha’s Vineyard blossomed into an improbable but enduring friendship. Carly Simon and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made an unlikely pair—Carly, a free and artistic spirit still reeling from her recent divorce, searching for meaning, new love, and an anchor; and Jackie, one of the most celebrated, meticulous, unknowable women in American history. Nonetheless, over the next decade they forged a connection deeper than either could ever have foreseen. The time they spent together—lingering lunches and creative collaborations, nights out on the town and movie dates—brought a welcome lightness and comfort to their days, but their conversations also helped each other navigate life in the wake of great love and great loss.

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener

In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener—stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial—left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs. But amid the company ski vacations and in-office speakeasies, boyish camaraderie and ride-or-die corporate fealty, a new Silicon Valley began to emerge: one in far over its head, one that enriched itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building.

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

This New York Times bestseller comes from world-famous ceramicist Edmund de Waal. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots, he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. When he inherited a collection of 264 tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, called netsuke, he wanted to know who had touched and held them, and how the collection had managed to survive. And so begins this extraordinarily moving memoir and detective story as de Waal discovers both the story of the netsuke and the story of his family, the Ephrussis, over five generations. A nineteenth-century banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna, the Ephrussis were as rich and respected as the Rothchilds. Yet by the end of the World War II, when the netsuke were hidden from the Nazis in Vienna, this collection of very small carvings was all that remained of their vast empire.

Everything Is Under Control by Phyllis Grant

Phyllis Grant’s Everything Is Under Control (out April 2020) is a memoir about appetite—how it comes, goes, and refocuses its object of desire. Grant’s story spans her days as a dancer struggling to find her place at Juilliard, her time in and out of four-star kitchens in New York City, her love story with her future husband, and her experience of leaving the city after 9/11 for California where her children are born. The book charts her transition from a young woman longing to be sustained by a city to a mother now sustaining a family herself, told in the form of a series of vignettes followed by tried-and-true recipes from Grant’s table.

Lives Other Than My Own by Emmanuel Carrère

In Sri Lanka, a tsunami sweeps a child out to sea, her grandfather helpless against the onrushing water. In France, a young woman succumbs to illness, leaving her husband and small children bereft. Present at both events, Emmanuel Carrère sets out to tell the story of two families—shattered and ultimately restored. As full of twists and turns as any novel, Lives Other Than My Own confronts terrifying catastrophes to illuminate the astonishing richness of human connection. Carrère, longtime chronicler of the tormented self, unexpectedly finds consolation and even joy as he immerses himself in the lives of others.

Carrère, longtime chronicler of the tormented self, unexpectedly finds consolation and even joy as he immerses himself in the lives of others.

This Is Not a T-Shirt by Bobby Hundreds

Streetwear occupies that rarefied space where genuine “cool” coexists with big business. In the beginning, a few brands defined this style; fewer still survived as streetwear went mainstream. The Hundreds is one of those persevering companies, and Bobby Hundreds is at the center of it all. The creative force behind the brand, Bobby Kim, a.k.a. Bobby Hundreds, has emerged as a prominent face and voice in streetwear. In telling the story of his formative years, he reminds us that The Hundreds was started by outsiders; and this is truly the story of streetwear culture. This is the tale of Bobby’s commitment to his creative vision and to building a real community.

Diary of a Drag Queen by Crystal Rasmussen with Tom Rasmussen

When you peel off the sequins and lashes, wipe away the lipstick and mascara, what does the life of a drag queen really look like? Crystal (and Tom) Rasmussen tell all in this outrageous, raunchy, moving, naked (in more ways than one) memoir about life on and off the stage. Born into a working-class family in northern England, Crystal finds her way to London, to a coveted, soul-crushing job in New York fashion, and back again. Searching for good sex, good stories, and “the one,” she shags men of all kinds, sells cider to tourists, learns about true love from her mum, and falls in love with her best friend. Charting her day-to-day adventures over the course of a year, the book is a full-disclosure portrayal of the queer experience.

Dare Not Linger by Nelson Mandela

Dare Not Linger is the story of Mandela’s presidential years, drawing heavily on the memoir he began to write as he prepared to leave office, but was unable to finish. Acclaimed South African writer Mandla Langa has completed the task—using Mandela’s unfinished draft, detailed notes that Mandela made as events were unfolding, and a wealth of unseen archival material. With a prologue by Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, the result is a vivid and inspirational account of Mandela’s presidency and the creation of a new democracy. It tells the story of a country in transition and the challenges Mandela faced as he strove to make his vision for a liberated South Africa a reality.