1. Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
In a wildly kaleidoscopic view, British satirist Craig Brown channels the essence of charming, cruel, and free-spirited Princess Margaret Rose, the late younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II. In this fascinating approach to the life of a celebrity, Brown artfully arranges these slivers of the royal princess to reveal a life in full, from promise and privilege to disappointment and public embarrassment. Abandoning the narrative restraints of biography, Brown works in dramatic flashes, illuminating not only Margaret but royal-watchers as well, and covers the sweep of history from her birth in 1930, though the “mix of egalitarianism and snobbery” of 1960s London, on to today when these royal sisters are capturing the imaginations of avid fans of The Crown on Netflix.
2. The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast by Michael Scott Moore (Harper)
Kidnapped by a pirate gang of Somali gunmen, journalist Moore spent two years and eight months as a hostage in huts and hijacked tuna fishing boats, some of this time in solitary confinement. A California native and a longtime resident of Berlin, Moore brings both a personal and global perspective to his experience, writing about religious extremism and foreign policy as well as the dark humor necessary to survive until he was eventually freed after a “filthy compromise” in the form of a $1.6 million ransom. His account of his travails, including his relationships with his captors and fellow hostages, is harrowing and captivating.
3. South Toward Home: Adventures and Misadventures in My Native Land by Julia Reed with a foreword by Jon Meacham (St. Martin’s)
Reed, a Mississippi native, has won a large following of readers enamored of her gimlet-eyed perspective on life in Dixie. In South Toward Home, the Garden & Gun contributing editor gathers her magazine essays on everything from food and fashion to politics, throws in assorted playlists, recipes, and cultural wisdom, and melds it all into a portrait of the South today, complete with what she calls its “jarring contradictions.” In her conversational tone, Reed recalls influences such as Willie Morris (author of the classic memoir North Toward Home) and writes with her characteristically irreverent charm in subject such as “God, Gators, and Gumbo” — her foray into Louisiana. Despite her evident affection for the South, she doesn’t shy away from problems like the proliferation of guns, diabetes, and cigarettes in the land that created Honey Boo Boo.
4. Long Players: A Love Story in Eighteen Songs by Peter Coviello (Penguin)
Heartbreak is the stuff of which memoirs are made, but with lyrical originality, literature professor Coviello chronicles how his love of music lifted him out of despair after his divorce. The author of Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America, Coviello finds consolation, inspiration, and rejuvenation in his passion for 1990s indie music by artists like the Wedding Present and Carly Rae Jepsen. This music he had once fallen in love with reassured him, but it also enabled him to keep climbing out of his self-pity toward a fuller understanding of himself.
5. Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar (Alfred A. Knopf)
Kumar takes a corkscrew to the traditional American immigration assimilation story, and with a pop delivers a smart and beguiling novel of a young Indian graduate student, marveling over his new life, and his evolution from the perspective of his older self. “This is my own, personal Origin of Species,” declares the narrator in the opening pages. With a style bearing some similarity to W.G. Sebald, Kumar introduces old journals, footnotes, sidebars, telegrams, and photographs that blend with his lovely language to extend Immigrant, Montana into associations with colonialism, global disconnection, self-identification, and storytelling.