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Books We Love: Memoir recommendations from 2022

EMILY FENG, HOST:

A lot of us take stock of our lives on New Year's Day. And a lot of us are like, nah, I'm good. I want to hear about someone else's life. Well, NPR's Books We Love has reviews from our staff for biographies and memoirs released last year. Here are just a few.

CANDICE LIM, BYLINE: I'm Candice Lim. I am a producer for Pop Culture Happy Hour. And the book I'm recommending today is "The World's Worst Assistant" by Sona Movsesian. If you are a fan of Conan O'Brien, you know his right-hand person, Sona Movsesian. She has been his assistant for years. She's the co-host of his podcast. But she has always been a star. Her extremely funny memoir starts with her childhood growing up in Southern California. And it travels through the highs and lows of her very comedy-adjacent career. Her observations are so spunky and sweet. And they're really undercut with this very incisive humor that made me laugh out loud so many times. And I think Sona does a really good job of writing with a lot of honesty, relatability, humility. And altogether, she is just so lovable. And this was a book I could not get enough of.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi. I'm Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic. And I wrote about "Scenes From My Life: A Memoir" by the actor Michael K. Williams working with writer Jon Sternfeld. He specialized in playing Black male characters that subverted the ideas that we normally have about Black masculinity. So he played a Black gay male robber of drug dealers in "The Wire." And he played a closeted Black man in "Lovecraft Country" who traveled back in time to the Tulsa race massacre to relive a moment with a lover that he was always ashamed about. But in the book, he talks a lot about struggling with addiction. And what makes the book especially poignant is that Michael died of a drug overdose about five months before the manuscript was supposed to be due. And you read it. You read his optimism about life and about overcoming his background and living the life he was living. And there's an extra poignancy because you know that his story ends differently than perhaps he would have imagined.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: I'm Karen Grigsby Bates. And I'm the senior correspondent for Code Switch, NPR's podcast on race, identity and culture. The book I chose is "Solito" by Javier Zamora. "Solito" - Spanish for alone - is the memoir of Javier's 3,000-mile journey in 1999, from his home in El Salvador to join his parents who'd been living in the U.S. for several years. They finally saved enough to pay a coyote - a smuggler - to bring Javier from his small village where he lives with his loving extended family to reunite with them in the western U.S. Javier is 9 and alone. He is solito. But along the way, he's aided by adults who watch over and guide him, sometimes at significant personal cost. "Solito" is written from the perspective of Javier's 9-year-old self, so the language is a child's, simple, direct, even poetic. No matter how you feel about immigration, this wrenching, gorgeously told story is a must.

ISABELLA GOMEZ SARMIENTO, BYLINE: My name is Isabella Gomez Sarmiento. I'm a producer with the Culture Desk and NPR's "Book Of The Day" podcast. My recommendation for this year's Books We Love is "The Man Who Could Move Clouds," which is a memoir by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. So partially, it's a story about how Rojas Contreras lost her memory in a bike accident in her 20s, except there's this weird coincidence that her mom also lost her memory when she was a kid. And both of these accidents seemed to open up the author and her mother to receiving her grandfather Nono's gifts. He's the man who can move clouds. He was a Colombian curandero with secret powers. The book jumps across time and across generations to tell all of these stories - but also about the history of colonialism and of spiritual magic. And then Rojas Contreras and her mother feel this urge to return to Colombia and take care of the late Nono's unfinished business. I mean, it's such a rich and compelling story about gender, memory and culture that it just - it almost doesn't feel real, except every bit of it is.

FENG: You heard about "The Man Who Could Move Clouds," "Solito," "Scenes From My Life" and "The World's Worst Assistant." For more great suggestions, check out NPR's Books We Love at npr.org/bestbooks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.