Nonfiction: Biography and Memoir

Set aside some time to examine the lives of Octavia E. Butler, Cary Grant, and others.

holiday books, nonfiction, biography
Alta

Enjoy a selection of nine biographies and memoirs written by contributors to Alta Journal, as well as a spotlight on Lynell George’s latest work. This category includes titles by Emily Rapp Black and Gina Frangello—all pulled from a special guide of 83 titles that appears in our Fall 2021 issue.

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SANCTUARY, BY EMILY RAPP BLACK
sanctuary, by emily rapp black
Random House

Sanctuary is Emily Rapp Black’s third memoir, following Poster Child and The Still Point of the Turning World. Still Point focused on her young son’s terminal diagnosis of Tay-Sachs disease; Sanctuary begins shortly before his death. Black turns to psychology to understand and relate her experiences of motherhood, confronting the myth of resilience and the idea that one can rebuild one’s own life. It’s a heartbreaking account of a family torn apart—but also of how a mother can find safety and peace after loss. Random House, January 2021, 240 pages, $27 hardcover

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CARY GRANT: A BRILLIANT DISGUISE, BY SCOTT EYMAN
cary grant a brilliant disguise, scott eyman
Simon & Schuster

Scott Eyman, author of multiple books about the Golden Age of Hollywood, presents Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise, a comprehensive biography of the acting legend. Eyman charts Grant’s incredible career as well as his tumultuous childhood—his father was an alcoholic, and his mother was committed to an asylum—in this lucid portrait of a man who struggled to comprehend the meaning of his past against the startling backdrop of his success. Simon & Schuster, October 2020, 576 pages, $35 hardcover

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BLOW YOUR HOUSE DOWN: A STORY OF FAMILY, FEMINISM, AND TREASON, BY GINA FRANGELLO
blow your house down, a story of family, feminism, and treason, by gina frangello
Counterpoint Press

Novelist Gina Frangello has long examined the trials and desires of women. This memoir—which contends with the messiness of a turbulent affair and the collapse of a marriage—delves into the more vulnerable aspects of the writer’s life. Tracing Frangello’s journey as a wife and mother trying to reclaim her own path, Blow Your House Down is about an individual’s turning point and speaks to the frustrating limitations placed on women by society. Counterpoint Press, April 2021, 336 pages, $27 hardcover

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YOU’RE LEAVING WHEN? ADVENTURES IN DOWNWARD MOBILITY, BY ANNABELLE GURWITCH
you’re leaving when, annabelle gurwitch
Counterpoint Press

Whether in a pandemic or not, life’s challenges don’t often leave much to laugh about, yet Annabelle Gurwitch recognizes the comedy in her attempts to retry dating after a divorce and her efforts to bond with her nonbinary college-age child. Through each setback and obstacle, including an episode in which she rents out a room in her home to strangers, Gurwitch remains resilient, ultimately making You’re Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility a story about hope. Counterpoint Press, March 2021, 224 pages, $26 hardcover

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RECOLLECTIONS OF MY NONEXISTENCE, BY REBECCA SOLNIT
recollections of my nonexistence, rebecca solnit
Penguin Books

Rebecca Solnit describes her coming-of-age in San Francisco in the 1980s, examining the influences and social movements that allowed her to develop into a prolific writer. Among them were the gay community, literature, the American West, and a lifetime of gender-based harassment and violence. Solnit—whose A Paradise Built in Hell was selected by Alta Journal’s California Book Club—argues in Recollections of My Nonexistence that her experiences in a hostile world inspired her to create a voice that would counteract the societal silencing of women. Penguin Books, March 2021, 256 pages, $16 paperback

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DEEP CREEK: FINDING HOPE IN THE HIGH COUNTRY, BY PAM HOUSTON
deep creek, finding hope in the high country, pam houston
W.W. Norton & Company

Deep Creek is Pam Houston’s first memoir and a love letter to land, especially the land she ranches, which houses her sheep, horses, and donkeys. Houston bought her ranch in the Colorado Rockies when she was in her early 30s, and she’s lived there almost half her life, enduring freezing temperatures and wildfires. Her book is a testament to the healing power of the earth, whether one is at home or just traveling through. W.W. Norton & Company, January 2020, 320 pages, $15.95 paperback

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ALWAYS CRASHING IN THE SAME CAR: ON ART, CRISIS, AND LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, BY MATTHEW SPECKTOR
always crashing in the same car, on art, crisis, and los angeles, california, matthew specktor
Tin House

Matthew Specktor’s memoir, Always Crashing in the Same Car, concerns itself with a low point in his life, just before his 40th birthday, when his marriage had failed and his career was in shambles—as well as with the lives of multiple artists who seem to have experienced failure more often than success. Filling this book with their stories alongside his musings on film history, Los Angeles, and America’s idea of an artist, Specktor fashions a work that is part autobiography, part criticism, and part philosophy. Tin House, July 2021, 300 pages, $17.95 paperback

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IN THE COUNTRY OF WOMEN, BY SUSAN STRAIGHT
in the country of women, susan straight
Catapult

Susan Straight pens a multigenerational tale that focuses on resilient women from both her and her husband’s families. Dedicated to her three grown daughters, Straight’s book uncovers histories of violence, murder, and heartbreaking setbacks, from rural Tennessee to the Swiss Alps, to reveal the strength of her female ancestors who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to raise their families in safety and peace. The overarching theme of In the Country of Women is love, which Straight shows cannot be confined by borders, political institutions, or bloodlines. Catapult, August 2019, 384 pages, $16.95 paperback

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BEESWING: LOSING MY WAY AND FINDING MY VOICE 1967–1975, BY RICHARD THOMPSON WITH SCOTT TIMBERG
beeswing, richard thompson, scott timberg
Algonquin Books

The late Scott Timberg lent his narrative voice to this autobiography by Richard Thompson, a folk rock singer and guitarist best known for the song “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.” Beeswing brushes through Thompson’s childhood in London before focusing on his time with the group Fairport Convention and his subsequent music duo with his wife, Linda. Thompson and Timberg cap the story when Thompson is 26, reveling in the musician’s early years rather than fixating on his divorce and later career. Algonquin Books, April 2021, 304 pages, $27.95 hardcover

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