Heather Havrilesky recommends 6 memorable books

The advice columnist recommends books by Kiese Laymon, Leslie Jamison, and more.

Heather Havrilesky.
(Image credit: Courtesy Image)

Heather Havrilesky, who writes the popular Ask Polly and Ask Molly newsletters on Substack, is the author of four books. Her latest, Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage, explores the disappointments and satisfactions of long-term monogamy.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon (2018).

"I wanted to write a lie." This is the second line of Laymon's memoir, a brutally honest treasure mined from the heartbreaks and victories of childhood. The prose is like nothing I've read before — lyrical, passionate, propulsive. But it's his mother's ferocious love, wisdom, and bewilderment that steal the show. Buy it here.

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough (2021).

Reading Hough feels like hearing a friend recount adventures over the phone. But halfway through this hilarious, gut-wrenching book, the casually graceful storytelling yields to a philosophy of how to survive this age: Forgive the hard ground for blessing your face with scars, absolve the cold sky for laughing as you fell, reach out for love in spite of everything. Buy it here.

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The Recovering by Leslie Jamison (2018).

The author of The Empathy Exams puts her unmatched skill as a writer on breathtaking display in this memoir about her struggle with alcoholism. The book weaves insightful analysis of recovery culture with vivid tales of youthful self-destruction and a slow, harrowing crawl toward peace. Buy it here.

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young (2019).

So this is what it's like to be utterly in love with the world while also being exhausted and enraged by it. In each chapter of his courageous, witty memoir, Young breaks the rules, laughs out loud, dishes out some wisdom, then drops a devastating detail. "'Don't break yourself trying to appease white people,' Dad told me. 'Martin Luther King was killed in a suit.'" Buy it here.

Please Miss by Grace Lavery (2022).

Imagine a graduate lit theory seminar interrupted every few minutes by a back-row prankster who has a knack for making the whole room blush. Lavery's ideas float high out of reach at times, but if you grab one, it might just rearrange your thinking around sexuality, freedom, and what it takes to mine joy from this broken world. Buy it here.

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas (2022).

Jonas' debut novel has an unguarded vulnerability and emotional velocity that make it feel like the ultimate memoir. Tracking a professor's delayed midlife crisis, Jonas explores the intersection of desire and humiliation, failure and longing, with prose that's funny, frank, and unfailingly intimate. Buy it here.

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