Let Me Tell You
The Best Memoirs of 2014
The Daily Beast rounds up the cream of a very good year for the first person singular, ranging from a former secretary of defense to a crematory worker.
Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at WarRobert Gates (Knopf)
In one of the best political memoirs in years—which is a bit like being the skinniest kid at a fat camp—Gates unloads in clear, concise prose about what he really thought about his time as Secretary of Defense.
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”Lena Dunham (Random House)
Virginity, rape, TV nudity—Dunham leaves few personal topics in her life untouched. However, the book, says Kevin Fallon, is “proof that she is not, as she is so often conflated, the Hannah Horvath she has created” on Girls.
Outpost: Life on the Frontlines of American DiplomacyChristopher Hill (Simon & Schuster)
Hill was a Foreign Service officer who rose to become ambassador to Iraq, Poland, and South Korea, and would negotiate with North Korea in the second Bush administration. The book details his confrontations with neoconservatives, and his alliance with Condoleezza Rice. A rare look into a world usually only experienced by a few individuals.
Love, Nina; A Nanny Writes HomeNina Stibbe (Little, Brown and Company)
The memoir from Stibbe is a riotous collection of letters that she sent home while nannying in London for the children of Stephen Frears and Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review of Books. A modern-day Mary Poppins with a grin.
Not My Father’s SonAlan Cumming (Dey Street Books)
A gut-wrenching book about the actor’s relationship with his father—who Cumming deems abusive and terrifying. It also recounts the amazing story of his journey to find out if he was actually his father’s son.
Diary of a Mad DivaJoan Rivers (Berkley)
This would be the last of the one-of-a-kind comedienne’s numerous books. True to form, Rivers takes a whack at everybody—Kanye West, Gayle King, Wolf Blitzer, and skinny actresses all get taken down a peg.
Glow: The Autobiography of Rick JamesRick James & David Ritz (Atria Books)
Where to begin? In his posthumously published memoir, James talks about everything from waking up to see Jim Morrison watching blood drip from his wrists, swimming with a Dali portrait in his pocket, and his descent into bestiality after his mother died.
The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami ChildhoodRichard Blanco (Ecco)
Blanco is now famous as the first openly gay Cuban-American to read a poem at a presidential inauguration. In his sentimental, elegantly written memoir, he recounts how his childhood as a Cuban immigrant in Florida was a far cry from his eventual success.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons From the CrematoryCaitlin Doughty (Norton)
Sometimes it takes somebody working in a crematorium to remind us about the details of death. Caitlin Doughty’s moving and funny memoir does just that, and argues for changes in the industry.
Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the WestBryce Andrews (Atria Books)
Andrews has written a beautiful memoir about his year on the Sun Ranch in southwest Montana. He paints a picture of Montana’s majestic, harsh beauty, and his struggle to balance concerns for wolves with a rancher’s need to protect his stock is a powerful one.