The Best Biographies and Memoirs of June

Hunger225Here are a few of our favorite biographies and memoirs for June. See more of our picks, and all of the Best Books of the Month.

If you’re a woman in America, chances are, no matter your size, you probably have a somewhat fetishistic relationship with food. We obsess over having too much, too little (to a lesser degree); we use terms like stealing a bite and guilty pleasure--things that evoke shame, and are meant to keep our bodies in line. For those that fit that (ever narrowing) bill, congratulations! Clothes are designed to fit you, kale growers love you, and so does society. You bask in its glow. The rest risk being in shadow, which is exactly where Roxane Gay wanted to be. In her brutally honest and brave memoir Hunger, Gay recounts a childhood sexual assault that led her to purposely gain weight in order to be unseen and therefore “safe.” Gay warns at the beginning of the book that if you’re looking for a triumphant weight loss memoir, this is not it. But Hunger is a triumph nonetheless. It’s a story not easily told, but the telling set her free. And through Gay’s experience we learn one of lessons she eventually did, that “all of us have to be more considerate of the realities of the bodies of others,” and more accepting of our own. --Erin Kodicek


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Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon's Relentless Madre de Dios by Holly FitzGerald
If you built a survival-adventure book in a laboratory, you'd end up with Ruthless River. During a year-long delayed honeymoon - a backpack around the world - Holly and Fitz FitzGerald's plane crashes near a Peruvian penal colony in the middle of the jungle. Their only way out is down a river in the Amazon basin aboard a rickety raft made of four logs, and even that path leads them to a slack water dead end teeming with piranhas and caimans, leaving them one choice: swim to safety. Add starvation, overwhelming fear, and a little bit of a love story, and you get a completely unexpected real-life thriller.

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The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
The poet Nina Riggs was 38 years old and living with her young family in Greensboro, North Carolina when doctors discovered a small spot of cancer in her breast. The Bright Hour, she [is] determined to see what is lovely in the landscape: her sweet, expressive little boys, her husband, who is honest and funny whenever possible, and her circle of family and friends, some of whom are also going through treatment for cancer. Riggs’s great-great-great grandfather was the poet-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Riggs herself displays a formidable gift for language and a light but honest touch with the often -- but not always -- dark emotions evoked by her situation. To call a book so lovely and sad this year’s When Breath Becomes Air, would not be inaccurate, but would not do it justice. --Sarah Harrison Smith

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You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
Alexie's memoir is an extraordinary look at the complicated relationship between a remarkable mother and an equally remarkable son, set, mostly, in the Spokane Indian Reservation where Alexie spent his childhood. His whip-smart, sometimes cruel mother saved the family when she stopped drinking, but was inexplicably tough on her kids – something Alexie traces back to mental illness, sexual assault, and the Indian experience of violence and oppression. Family memoirs often seem like an opportunity for score settling, but Alexie is so aware of his own fallible memory and his own imperfections that this one won’t make you bristle. His style is idiosyncratic – passages of verse lead to passages of prose -- but it’s readable, unpretentious, funny and deeply compassionate. --Sarah Harrison Smith


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