By Khizr Khan (Random House)
It took about two minutes for Khan to become a celebrity and a national symbol: At the Democratic National Convention, the grieving Gold Star father whipped out a pocket-size U.S. Constitution and defiantly invited Donald Trump to read it. In “American Family,” Khan tells his story. A Harvard-educated lawyer, Khan was born in 1950 and came to the United States from Pakistan in 1979. He writes with grace and clarity about his new American life, especially about his son Humayun, an Army captain killed in Iraq.
By Nina Riggs (Simon & Schuster)
Riggs completed “The Bright Hour” just months before she died of breast cancer at 39. A chronicle of the final years of her life, this book is more joyful than its subject suggests. Riggs — a poet, former teacher and mother of two — records the happy moments of everyday experience, celebrating nature, family and the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Michel de Montaigne. A heart-rending meditation on life and its end, “The Bright Hour” is this year’s “When Breath Becomes Air.”
By Fred Hersch (Crown Archetype)
Hersch, a jazz musician and composer, writes affectingly of how jazz captivated him as a teenager growing up in Cincinnati and of how he struggled to be honest with himself and others about his homosexuality. When he was diagnosed as HIV positive, he sought to compose, perform and record as much music as he could and, in the process, he became recognized as one of the finest pianists of his generation. There were setbacks along the way, including harrowing health problems that led to psychotic episodes and left him in a coma for two months in 2008. Now 62, Hersch is thriving, with multiple Grammy nominations and, with this book, one of the most honest and moving memoirs written by a jazz musician.
By Roxane Gay (Harper)
This searing account of Gay’s lifelong struggle with her weight offers no tidy resolution. There’s no willowy woman on the book jacket holding the waistband of her old pants an arm’s reach from her new body. Rather, the best-selling author of “Bad Feminist” delivers a portrait of resilience after she was gang-raped at age 12. The book also offers a pointed retort to the smug strangers who shoot Gay sidelong glances at the gym or gawk as she settles into an airplane seat. Here is everything you could possibly want to know about why and how someone comes to live in their body.
By Patricia Lockwood (Riverhead)
Yes, Lockwood’s father is indeed a Catholic priest. But don’t be creeped out by her provocative book title. Lockwood’s father was a married Lutheran pastor when he converted to Catholicism (he was granted special dispensation to keep his wife and children). Lockwood’s darkly witty memoir centers on an extended visit with her eccentric family in Kansas. The experience gives Lockwood, a poet, the chance to consider the complexity of feelings about her father and the church. The result is a book that showcases Lockwood’s verbal inventiveness while exploring the question so many wonder: Can you ever really go home again?