Summer days are long, and sometimes you want to get out of your head and into someone else’s. Whether you’re after broadening your mind, questioning the status quo, or reflecting on life’s journey, the best indie memoirs and nonfiction titles of summer 2023 can help you do that. With everything from love, trauma, confronting grief, social inequality, and transformative adventures, there’s sure to be something that has your eyes watering, your spirits lifting, or you mind turning.
In Vitro by Isabel Zapata, Trans. by Robin Myers (5/9)
The complexities of conception and motherhood are rarely discussed in public. But in an honest and moving voice, Isabel Zapata dives into the strange experiences and events following pregnancy. From discussing the misogyny she experienced during fertility treatments to exploring her grief while imagining possible futures, Zapata confronts societal expectations about maternity.
Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City by Jane Wong (5/16)
Jane Wong tells a new story about Atlantic City in her debut memoir. A story where she grows up in a Chinese restaurant, napping on bags of rice and plotting pranks against her brother. All the while watching as her family’s stake at the American dream crumbles due to her father’s gambling addiction. Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City resists a single identity. It’s about making do with what you have and don’t have and finding beauty in unexpected places. It’s a loving portrait of the Asian American working class.
The Male Gazed by Manuel Betancourt (5/30)
Do I want him, or do I want to be him? Manuel Betancourt asked himself this question growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, where boys were taught to be strong, manly, and straight. Yet, in the films and television, he watched as a kid, Betancourt saw the potential for new approaches to masculinity. The Male Gazed wrestles with the power masculinity holds over men and talks about how the concept is ready for deconstruction. In his memoir, Betancourt dives into thirst traps, drag queens, Antonio Banderas, and telenovelas in service of helping reframe how we talk about (desiring) men.
Lesbian Love Story by Amelia Possanza (5/30)
Seven loves stories for the ages. Amelia Possanza dives into the nearly destroyed personal histories of lesbians in the 20th century. Yet, their memories whisper and live on, and Possanza’s journey to track them down takes readers from a drag show in Bushwick to Hadrian’s Library in Greece, where she looks for Sappho. In writing this memoir in archives, Possanza discovers her own love of swimming, community, and New York City. Throughout the collected histories, she wonders what the world could learn from lesbian love and what we could apply to community and care. What would the world look like if we learned from lesbian romances and role models?
The Twenty by Marianne Bohr (6/6)
Marianne Bohr explores what it means to be an aging woman in a youth-focused culture. Growing up as a chubby, unathletic child, Bohr worked hard to become the fit and athletic person she is today. Now, about to turn 60, Bohr and her husband decide to hike across the French island of Corsica on the GR20. It’s Europe’s toughest long-distance footpath, and even the physically fit has their limitations. The trail will push her and her husband and challenge what it means to age. The Twenty is more than a hiking tale. It’s a touching story about accepting aging and the joys and reality of a long-term marriage, set against the rugged beauty of Corsica.
She Rides by Alenka Vrecek (6/13)
Alone, Alenka Vrecek got on her bike and set off on a 2,500-mile journey from Lake Tahoe to the base of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The ride came after Vrecek realized she was running out of time to fulfill the dreams she wrote down after her first marriage ended. After she rebuilt her life with her second husband, things began to spiral out of control, and she decided to take action. Riding her bike was the only way she knew how to heal and connect with herself. Not wanting a life of regrets, she faced her fear and the risk and set out on a journey of love, hope, courage, and resilience.
The Loved Ones: Essays to Bury the Dead by Madison Davis (6/13)
Left behind and still living. In The Loved Ones, Madison Davis investigates how we say goodbye to those we love by looking into death within and outside of her family. In a series of essays, she writes about the deaths of four family members. From an unexplainable double murder to a fatal car crash, a natural death brought on by disease, and a conscripted soldier killed in action, she pieces together the reality of grief.
Memories of a Tuskegee Airmen Nurse and Her Military Sisters by Pia Marie Winters Jordan
Scrapbooks can tell a story, even when the person who made it doesn’t want to talk about what happened. Pia Marie Winters Jordan’s mother, former first lieutenant Louise Lomax, spent ten years as a military nurse at the Tuskegee Army Flying School. Jordan grew up looking at her mother’s scrapbook of those ten years but didn’t look closer until her mother got sick and had to be cared for in a nursing home. As she looked, she realized that the Tuskegee Airmen weren’t the only ones making history. The nurses, fighting both racial discrimination and gender, were military officers, saluted by pilot cadets. Jordan thought it was time their story was told.
Reconfigured by Barbara Terao (7/18)
Douglas fir forests, the Salish Sea, and community changed Barbara Terao from within. After moving 2,000 miles away from her husband in Illinois to a cottage on Whidbey Island, Washington, Terao was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her husband, who she didn’t know she would live with again, and her adult children rallied around her. On the island, they came to help her through the treatments and surgeries. All the while, Barbara was learning to listen to her heart and intuition. She realized that her journey was not about leaving her husband. It was about finding herself, reconfigured in body, mind, and spirit.
Walking the Ojibwe Path by Richard Wagamese (7/18)
In this new entry to the Seedbank series, Richard Wagamese shares intimate letters to his six-year-old son he was estranged to. In the letters, he describes his life’s path. He details everything from his separation from his family, drug abuse, incarceration, and his discovery of books and writing. Wagamese letters allow him to fulfill the Ojibwe tradition that calls fathers to walk their children through the world. Beyond his own story, he also shares the ancient understanding that everything, animate and inanimate, lives on the pure breath the Creator gave the Universe. Walking the Ojibwe Path is one man’s incredible journey that is both a moving memoir and a captivating lesson in indigenous cosmology.
Head Above Water by Shahd Alshammari (7/18)
At 18, Shahd Alshammari was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and told she would not live past 30. Despite her doctor’s grim prognosis, by 30, she was a professor of literature, inspiring students in Kuwait and the United Kingdom’s education systems. Head Above Water is a gripping and intimate portrait of chronic illness, culture, gender, and race. Told in part through personal journal entries that map Alshammari’s journey, she explores disability, displacement, and belonging, imparting wisdom throughout. Through it all, she argues that people and stories keep us alive.
A Smoke and a Song by Sherry Sidoti (8/1)
Is freedom found in letting go? It’s the question that has haunted Sherry Sidoti since she was a child. Now, ten months into the global pandemic, Sidoti has to grapple with that question. She was looking forward to starting a new life with her fiancé Jevon when her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. While visiting her mother in Manhattan, her search to make meaning from her memories begins. With determination and tenderness, Sidoti leans into her wounds and pushes forward to self-actualization and spiritual awakening.
Unfinished Business by Melanie Smith (8/8)
Melanie Smith knows grief and trauma. Using her own experiences to fuel her research into trauma, loss, and finding happiness, she created the eight-step process, Unfinished Business. The process started as one-on-one and group coaching sessions in Smith’s methodology. Now it’s been transferred to the page for everyone to access and start their healing journey. Whether you are dealing with heartbreak, trauma, or grief, Smith will help you to make space for joy, hope, and possibility.
The Quickening by Elizabeth Rush (8/15)
Take the journey on a ground-breaking expedition to learn as much as possible about a glacier before it disappears. In this new Antarctica story, Elizabeth Rush and 57 other scientists and crew set out to Thwaites Glacier. It’s a mysterious place never before visited by humans and thought to be rapidly deteriorating. The Quickening documents the voyage, and Rush captures the dreamy landscapes of the glaciers and nightmarish waves of the Drake Passage. However, she offers another side of the expedition as well, letting readers in on the ping-pong tournaments and the hours spent doing lab work. She fills the pages with the voices of her crewmates, many of whom are women and people of color who were historically excluded from Arctic voyages. The memoir offers an imagining of a better future and a better understanding of the continent where humans have only been present for the past two centuries.