Everyone has different ideas about what makes a good beach read. For some, only a classic trashy paperback will do; others prefer to get their teeth into a gripping psychological thriller.
But there’s something that just feels right about sinking into a delicious memoir by the pool. Much like traveling itself, a good true-life story helps us to better understand the world around us – and if throwaway fiction isn’t your thing, a brilliant memoir is unlikely to make you feel like you’re putting your brain on pause.
Looking for a good book to pack in your beach bag? Read on for our pick of five stunning new memoirs out this summer.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is a force of nature. The American feminist writer and academic is as gloriously raw in her books as she is on Twitter: she swings between thoughtful introspection, pop culture musings and righteous fury, all delivered with a characteristic mix of defiance and insecurity.
Hunger, Gay’s latest work, addresses her relationship with food and body image. This is a nuanced and thoughtful take on what it means to be overweight in 2017: Gay is unafraid to explore the roots of her “wildly undisciplined” relationship with her own body, while also critiquing the ways in which fat women are scorned and erased. It’s a painful and joyous examination of weight and Western womanhood.
Corsair, RRP £13.99, buy it here
My Lovely Wife by Mark Lukach
Mark Lukach met and fell in love with Giulia when they were both in their first year of university. At 24, the couple were happily married and living their dream lives in San Francisco, with a lovely flat, jobs they enjoyed, and an English bulldog named Goose.
But at 27, Giulia suffered a terrifying – and completely unforeseen – psychotic breakdown. Committed to a psychiatric unit after becoming delusional and suicidal, Lukach’s beautiful, outgoing, ambitious wife was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. The word, he writes, “dislocated my heart… With one word, I had lost my wife and gained a lifelong patient.”
If all this sounds a bit depressing for the beach, worry not. Lukach is a clear-eyed and likeable narrator, and there are moments of life-affirming joy here. Within pages, we guarantee you’ll be desperate to know whether everything works out for Giulia in the end.
Bluebird, RRP £16.99, buy it here
Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif
Since the Arab Spring of 2011, Manal Al-Sharif has been at the forefront of the ‘women to drive’ movement in Saudi Arabia. This, the 38-year-old’s first memoir, is a quietly powerful account of her journey into political activism – from her organisation of driving protests to her time in prison.
However, it’s also an evocative and dignified mediation on what it means to be a modern Muslim woman in the Middle East, as well as offering fascinating insights into Saudi Arabian history and politics. Gripping and inspiring.
Simon & Schuster, RRP £16.99, buy it here
Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose
Brooklyn-based writer Durga Chew-Bose has been characterised as a shining light of the ‘millennial intelligentsia’. This tart, complex and lyrical book takes its title from one of Virginia Woolf’s 1931 diary entries, and is less a traditional memoir, more an essay collection exploring “what it means to be a brown girl in a white world”.
Over the course of 14 heady, atmospheric pieces, Chew-Bose takes us on a guided tour throughout her life, from her childhood growing up in Montreal as the daughter of Indian immigrants to her 20s in New York. Like Lena Dunham and Roxane Gay, she uses her own experiences as points from which to push off into deeper, wider subjects, touching on everything from pop culture and feminism to love and family along the way. Highly recommended.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, RRP £11.68, buy it here
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell
Maggie O’Farrell is a long-time Stylist favourite. This, her seventh book, is her first memoir: her previous works, including 2010’s Costa award-winning The Hand That First Held Mine, have all been works of fiction.
In I Am, O’Farrell reveals that her life has been studded with shocking near-death experiences – from a devastating childhood illness to a dangerous labour in an understaffed hospital. We join her at 17 different points throughout her life, as she examines how she responded to her life being threatened at different ages and why she believes she did so.
Ultimately, O’Farrell concludes, brushes with death can teach us an awful lot about what it means to be alive. A dark but inspiring memoir in the vein of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
Tinder Press, RRP £18.99, buy it here (available 22 August)
Main image: iStock