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Books we love: NPR's top picks for 2021 memoirs


Books - what a great way to escape your own life for a few hours, dive into somebody else's life story. Books We Love, NPR's list of best reads from 2021, has hundreds of recommendations for novels and nonfiction. Want a memoir? Well, four of our colleagues have suggestions for ones that you might want to try.


ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: I'm Elissa Nadworny, a correspondent covering higher education. And the book I'm recommending is called "Pregnant Girl: A Story Of Teen Motherhood, College, And Creating A Better Future For Young Families."

So the author is Nicole Lewis, who went to college at William & Mary in Virginia. And as a college student there, there was just something different about her because she had been a teen mom. And most days on campus, she had her young daughter, named Nerissa, with her. And she writes about feeling alone, struggling with child care and money at the same time as doing papers and finals and, like, all the other college stuff.

The thing that's so amazing about her story is that even though Lewis felt alone, the reality is that 5 million college students today are also parents. And Lewis now, today, runs a nonprofit that helps teen moms make it through college. So I think the book helps us as a society kind of redefine who actually goes to college. And it also offers some really clear solutions for how colleges and society can help student parents.


MILTON GUEVARA, BYLINE: My name is Milton Guevara. I'm a producer with NPR's Morning Edition and Up First. A book that I loved reading this year is "The Most Fun Thing" by Kyle Beachy.


GUEVARA: It's about skateboarding. You see, skateboarding is magic. And like all magic, it's shrouded in mystery. And Beachy tries to uncover the mystery of skateboarding. It's a memoir compiled in essays he's written over the years. And what I like about it is it's really about life.


GUEVARA: Beachy writes about how skating has shaped his outlook on things like aging, marriage and life in America.


GUEVARA: I mean, look; skateboards are just toys. They're inherently childish. But they can also be so much more than that, and Beachy does a really great job illustrating why.


ISABELLA GOMEZ SARMIENTO, BYLINE: My name's Isabella Gomez Sarmiento. I am an assistant producer with Weekend Edition. I am recommending the memoir "Want Me: A Sex Writer's Journey Into The Heart Of Desire" by Tracy Clark-Flory.


GOMEZ SARMIENTO: Having previously been a writer for Salon, Jezebel and a number of feminist outlets, the book kind of weaves Tracy Clark-Flory's personal sexual experiences with her reporting on the adult entertainment industry and with feminist theory that she has read throughout her life and kind of comes to this conclusion that, for women who date men, our understanding of our own sexuality is completely based off of the male gaze. She writes that, you know, we're taught to be passive objects of lust rather than active participants in sex. And in a way, that can be infuriating to understand but also sad but also funny.

"Want Me" kind of decodes what it means to reclaim desire for yourself and to take agency over your sexual experiences and your sexual expression in a way that is ultimately rewarding for you with or without a partner. And I think it's really a must-read this year.


MARISSA LORUSSO, BYLINE: Hi, my name is Marissa Lorusso. I'm an associate editor for NPR Music. And the book I'm recommending is "Pop Song: Adventures In Art & Intimacy" by Larissa Pham. Larissa Pham is a cultural critic and visual artist. And "Pop Song" is her memoir in essays. In it, she tells her own story, writing beautifully about travel and romance and trauma. But she intersperses her reflections with the stories of other artists and writers she admires. She actually started out as a painter, and I think you can really notice her attention to detail when she writes about other painters she loves, like Agnes Martin and Georgia O'Keeffe.


LORUSSO: But in "Pop Song," she also finds wisdom and inspiration in musicians like Frank Ocean, poets like Sylvia Plath, and more. Overall, the book is a really touching and personal collection that shows how all of these artists have helped her understand herself and the world around her.


SIMON: That was Marissa Lorusso recommending "Pop Song," Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, who suggested "Want Me," Milton Guevara with "The Most Fun Thing," and Elissa Nadworny, who recommended "Pregnant Girl." For more ideas on what to read, you can find the full list of Books We Love at npr.org/bestbooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Isabella Gomez Sarmiento is a production assistant with Weekend Edition.
Milton Guevara
Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.

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