Aside from being the year of the female memoir (Viola Davis, Selma Blair, Jennifer Grey, Minnie Driver, Jennette McCurdy, Geena Davis, and countless more — I haven’t even gotten to them all yet), 2022 has had lots going for it reading-wise, with some standout new essay collections, fiction, and you guessed it, memoirs. I’ve never been one who describes himself as just one genre of anything, especially when it comes to books: I’m just a sucker for anything that will keep me reading past my bedtime. On that note, these are 10 of the books that did that for me this year.
How Do I Un-Remember This?: Unfortunately True Stories by Danny Pellegrino
Growing up in small-town Ohio isn’t easy, particularly when you’re a closeted gay kid surrounded by… no one openly gay. Luckily, Danny Pellegrino grew up in the ‘90s, coming of age when the Internet opened up a whole new world for a curious kid itching for life outside of Midwest suburbia. Pellegrino escaped the pains of growing up by submerging himself in a sea of pop culture — bingeing The Nanny until he had the confidence of Fran Fine, belting out Brandy songs until his heartaches were healed, or watching every semi-clothed Ryan Phillippe scene known to man. Now, as a successful podcaster interviewing the same iconic personalities that he idolized as a kid, his life has only become more entertaining and delightfully chaotic. Heartfelt and hilarious, How Do I Un-Remember This? is a collection of real-life stories exploring Danny’s journey from feeling like the only gay kid in Ohio to becoming a big-time podcaster in Los Angeles, and all the amusing moments life threw at him in between.
I had the chance to read an early copy of How Do I Un-Remember This? last December courtesy of Sourcebooks, and it did not disappoint. Be sure to also check out my dream-come-true 20 Questions interview with the author.
Girls Can Kiss Now by Jill Gutowitz
Jill Gutowitz’s life—for better and worse — has always been on a collision course with pop culture. There’s the time the FBI showed up at her door because of something she tweeted about Game of Thrones. The pop songs that have been the soundtrack to the worst moments of her life. And of course, the pivotal day when Orange Is the New Black hit the airwaves and broke down the door to Jill’s own sexuality. In these honest examinations of identity, desire, and self-worth, Gutowitz explores perhaps the most monumental cultural shift of our lifetimes: the mainstreaming of lesbian culture. Dusting off her own personal traumas and artifacts of her not-so-distant youth she examines how pop culture acts as a fun house mirror reflecting and refracting our values — always teaching, distracting, disappointing, and revealing us. Girls Can Kiss Now is a fresh and intoxicating blend of personal stories, sharp observations, and laugh-out-loud humor. This timely collection of essays helps us make sense of our collective pop-culture past even as it points the way toward a joyous, uproarious, near — and very queer — future.
Into Every Generation a Slayer is Born: How Buffy Slayed Our Hearts by Evan Ross Katz
Over the course of its seven-year run, Buffy the Vampire Slayer cultivated a loyal fandom and featured a strong, complex female lead, at a time when such a character was a rarity. Evan Ross Katz explores the show’s cultural relevance through a book that is part oral history, part celebration, and part memoir of a personal fandom that has universal resonance still, decades later. Katz — with the help of the show’s cast, creators, and crew — reveals that although Buffy contributed to important conversations about gender, sexuality, and feminism, it was not free of internal strife, controversy, and shortcomings. Men — both on screen and off — would taint the show’s reputation as a feminist masterpiece, and changing networks, amongst other factors, would drastically alter the show’s tone. Into Every Generation a Slayer Is Born engages with the very notion of fandom, and the ways a show like Buffy can influence not only how we see the world but how we exist within it.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for gifting me a copy!
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain
Bittersweetness is a tendency to states of longing, poignancy, and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy when beholding beauty. It recognizes that light and dark, birth and death — bitter and sweet — are forever paired. A song in a minor key, an elegiac poem, or even a touching television commercial all can bring us to this sublime, even holy, state of mind — and, ultimately, to greater kinship with our fellow humans. But bittersweetness is not, as we tend to think, just a momentary feeling or event. It’s also a way of being, a storied heritage. Our artistic and spiritual traditions — amplified by recent scientific and management research — teach us its power. Susan Cain shows how a bittersweet state of mind is the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain. If we don’t acknowledge our own sorrows and longings, she says, we can end up inflicting them on others via abuse, domination, or neglect. But if we realize that all humans know — or will know — loss and suffering, we can turn toward each other. And we can learn to transform our own pain into creativity, transcendence, and connection.
Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives by Mary Laura Philpott
A lifelong worrier, Mary Laura Philpott always kept an eye out for danger, a habit that only intensified when she became a parent. But she looked on the bright side, too, believing that as long as she cared enough, she could keep her loved ones safe. Then, in the dark of one quiet, pre-dawn morning, she woke abruptly to a terrible sound — and found her teenage son unconscious on the floor. In the aftermath of a crisis that darkened her signature sunny spirit, she wondered: If this happened, what else could happen? And how do any of us keep going when we can’t know for sure what’s coming next?
When You Call My Name by Tucker Shaw
Film fanatic Adam is 17 and being asked out on his first date — and the guy is cute. Heart racing, Adam accepts, quickly falling in love with Callum like the movies always promised. Fashion-obsessed Ben is eighteen and has just left his home upstate after his mother discovers his hidden stash of gay magazines. When he comes to New York City, Ben’s sexuality begins to feel less like a secret and more like a badge of honor. Then Callum disappears, leaving Adam heartbroken, and Ben finds out his new world is more closed-minded than he thought. When Adam finally tracks Callum down, he learns the guy he loves is extremely ill. And in a chance meeting near the hospital where Callum is being treated, Ben and Adam meet, forever changing each other’s lives. As both begin to open their eyes to the possibilities of queer love and life, they realize sometimes the only people who can help you are the people who can really see you — in all your messy glory. A love letter to New York and the liberating power of queer friendship, When You Call My Name is a hopeful novel about the pivotal moments of our youth that break our hearts and the people who help us put them back together. Be sure to also check out my 20 Questions interview with Tucker Shaw!
Miss Memory Lane by Colton Haynes
A brutally honest and moving memoir of lust, abuse, addiction, stardom, and redemption from the Arrow and Teen Wolf actor. Four years ago, Colton Haynes woke up in a hospital. He’d had two seizures, lost the sight in one eye, almost ruptured a kidney, and been put on an involuntary psychiatry hold. Not yet 30, he knew he had to take stock of his life and make some serious changes if he wanted to see his next birthday. As he worked towards sobriety, Haynes allowed himself to become vulnerable for the first time in years and with that, discovered profound self-awareness. He had millions of social media followers who constantly told him they loved him. But what would they think if they knew his true story? If they knew where he came from and the things he had done? A lyrical and intimate confession, apology, and cautionary tale, Miss Memory Lane is an unforgettable story of dreams deferred and dreams fulfilled; of a family torn apart and rebuilt; and of a man stepping into the light as no one but himself.
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. In I’m Glad My Mom Died, McCurdy recounts all this in unflinching detail — just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), McCurdy is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants. Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.
Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell has won fans all over the world by writing about love and life in a way that feels true. In her first story collection, she gives us nine beautifully crafted love stories. Girl meets boy camping outside a movie theater. Best friends debate the merits of high school dances. A prince romances a troll. A girl romances an imaginary boy. And Simon Snow himself returns for a holiday adventure. It’s a feast of irresistible characters, hilarious dialogue, and masterful storytelling — in short, everything you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell book.
Have I Told You This Already? by Lauren Graham
With her signature sense of humor and down-to-earth storytelling, Lauren Graham opens up about her years working in the entertainment business — from the sublime to the ridiculous —and shares personal stories about everything from family and friendship to the challenges of aging gracefully in Hollywood. In “RIP Barneys New York,” she writes about an early job as a salesperson at the legendary department store, and the time she inadvertently shoplifted; in “Ne Oublie,” she warns us about the perils of coming from an extremely forgetful family; and in “Actor-y Factory,” she recounts what a day in the life of an actor looks like (unless you’re Brad Pitt). Filled with surprising anecdotes, sage advice, and laugh-out-loud observations, Graham’s latest collection of all-new, original essays highlights the winning charm and wit that she’s known for.
If we aren’t already, let’s be friends on Goodreads! Which were your favorite books from this year?