The best mixed-genre and/or deliciously out-of-the-box memoirs by women

Who am I?

I’m a cultural anthropologist with a passion for exploring how we humans make meaning of the wonderful, terrible, startling, often-absurd existence in which we find ourselves. My research has taken me from NYC’s underground occult scene to the conflict-resolution strategies of Central Peru; from circus performers in Portland, Maine, grappling with their physical potential, to a comedy club in Berlin where I set out to discover the secret sauce for evoking “collective joy” amongst strangers. I am drawn to artistic works that mix genres and defy categorization… and thus have a penchant for alienating editors, librarians, and bookstore owners who struggle to identify on which shelf my books belong. 

I wrote...

The Friendliest Place in the Universe: Love, Laughter, and Stand-Up Comedy in Berlin

By Hillary S. Webb,

Book cover of The Friendliest Place in the Universe: Love, Laughter, and Stand-Up Comedy in Berlin

What is my book about?

In this “anthropological memoir,” Hillary S. Webb turns an anthropologist's eye to the existential search for meaning through the microcosm of a multicultural comedy club in the age of Trump. Told with her signature mix of humor and emotional candor, Webb’s journey offers lessons for all of us grappling with the divisiveness of contemporary life. Come for the free pizza and schnapps—stay for the characters, their stories, and the community.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries

Why did I love this book?

The Dead Ladies Project follows Crispin’s inner and outer journey across Europe following her suicide attempt. As a way of trying to make sense of her own fragile condition, Crispin researches the lives of other artists who also fled abroad in order to find themselves. 

I first read The Dead Ladies Project while researching my own hybrid memoir. It was a revelation and an inspiration, this elegant weaving of Crispin’s personal story with the stories of those she imagines traveled a similar path as herself, both geographically and emotionally. 

At this time of overly curated, highly sanitized social media depictions of our lives, Crispin’s unflinching humanity is not just brave, but like water poured on arid soil.

By Jessa Crispin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dead Ladies Project as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she's still on the road, in search not so much of a home as of understanding, a way of being in the world that demands neither constant struggle nor complete surrender. The Dead Ladies Project is an account of that journey-but it's also much, much more. Fascinated by exile, Crispin travels an itinerary of key locations in its literary map, of places that have drawn writers who…

Book cover of Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir

Why did I love this book?

Love it or hate it, this is a truly unique book. Slater presents herself as the ultimate unreliable narrator, describing her life-long struggles with epilepsy, only to reveal that her diagnosis is a lie. (Or is it? Apparently, even she is not sure.) Which makes the experience of reading Lying a slippery head trip. One becomes easily absorbed in Slater’s evocative prose and haunting descriptions, only to be reminded a sentence later that it may all be complete BS. 

Some readers might be turned off by what is, admittedly, a bit of a mind fuck. Me, I’m fascinated by it. Lying offers the opportunity to vicariously inhabit a mind not quite tethered to truth… thus forcing readers to contemplate our own relationship to Truth.

By Lauren Slater,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lying as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this powerful and provocative new memoir, award-winning author Lauren Slater forces readers to redraw the boundary between what we know as fact and what we believe through the creation of our own personal fictions. Mixing memoir with mendacity, Slater examines memories of her youth, when after being diagnosed with a strange illness she developed seizures and neurological disturbances-and the compulsion to lie. Openly questioning the reliability of memoir itself, Slater presents the mesmerizing story of a young woman who discovers not only what plagues her but also what cures her-the birth of her sensuality, her creativity as an artist,…

Book cover of The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

Why did I love this book?

Having been abandoned in New York City by her new lover, Laing works through her grief by contemplating the nature of loneliness

“Amidst the glossiness of late capitalism,” she writes, “we are fed the notion that all difficult feeling—depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage—are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to… doing time… in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails.” 

Yes. That. So very much that. With its combination of personal story and existential analysis, The Lonely City is a delicious meal for our hungry human yearnings and is one of these “hybrid memoirs” that continues to inspire my work. 

By Olivia Laing,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lonely City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism

#1 Book of the Year from Brain Pickings

Named a best book of the year by NPR, Newsweek, Slate, Pop Sugar, Marie Claire, Elle, Publishers Weekly, and Lit Hub

A dazzling work of biography, memoir, and cultural criticism on the subject of loneliness, told through the lives of iconic artists, by the acclaimed author of The Trip to Echo Spring.

When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by the most shameful of experiences, she began…

The Argonauts

By Maggie Nelson,

Book cover of The Argonauts

Why did I love this book?

Described as a “genre-bending memoir,” The Argonauts is a beautiful, life-affirming meditation on the nature of desire, intimacy, self-identity, love, and the way in which our inevitable blind spots make the confronting of these themes fraught with confusion and contradiction. Nelson allows us to be a fly on the wall of her mind as she works through her concerns in a stream-of-consciousness manner. The New Yorker called The Argonauts, “An exceptional portrait… of the collaboration between Nelson’s mind and heart.” Indeed, The Argonauts is a much-needed reminder for us (both as writers and as human beings) not to shy away from the complex, often contradictory, nature of human experience. That’s where the good stuff lives.

By Maggie Nelson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Argonauts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An intrepid voyage out to the frontiers of the latest thinking about love, language, and family

Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of "autotheory" offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. It binds an account of Nelson's relationship with her partner and a journey to and through a pregnancy to a rigorous exploration of sexuality, gender, and "family." An insistence on radical individual freedom and the value of caretaking becomes the rallying cry for this thoughtful, unabashed, uncompromising book.

The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1934

By Anaïs Nin, Gunther Stuhlmann (editor),

Book cover of The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1934

Why did I love this book?

Volume 1 of Nin’s series is my rainy day read when I don’t want to leave the house but still want to feel connected to humanity. It’s sleepy. There’s no real plot. What drama occurs takes place primarily within the author’s mind as she reflects upon what it is to be an ambitious writer (specifically, an ambitious female writer) in 1930s bohemian Paris. There is plenty of Eros in it—most famously her relationship with Henry and June Miller. But, again, this remains primarily within the author’s mind, acting as further fodder in her quest to uncover her truest emotional core. 

**What exactly is the difference between a “memoir” and a “diary”? Please write to me via my website if you have thoughts on this.

By Anaïs Nin, Gunther Stuhlmann (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1934 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The acclaimed author details her bohemian life in 1930s Paris—including her famous affair with Henry Miller—in the classic first volume of her diaries.

Born in France to Cuban parents, Anais Nin began keeping a diary at the age of eleven and continued the practice for the rest of her life. Confessional, scandalous, and thoroughly absorbing, her diaries became one of the most celebrated literary projects of the twentieth century. Writing candidly of her marriages and affairs—including those with psychoanalyst Otto Rank and author Henry Miller—Nin presents a passionate and detailed record of a modern woman’s journey of self-discovery.

Edited and…

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