Ben Yagoda, author of the forthcoming Memoir: A History, notes that the literary memoir, once a career capstone, has lately become a novelist’s third or fourth book—a good excuse for a breather or a chance to put his magazine work between hard covers. This season is rife with novelists’ digressions, most of them a little self-conscious—even defensive—about cheating on their novels. They promise riches as wonderful and offbeat as fiction, and they run the gamut from solipsism to (almost) literature.
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|Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer (Little, Brown; November 2).||Our quirky author’s investigations into the meat industry, prompted by his own on-and-off vegetarianism.||Fathering a child forced the Park Sloper to confront the issue: “I suddenly felt an urgency because I would have to make decisions on his behalf,” Foer said recently.||Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma; Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation.|
|Manhood for Amateurs, by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; October 6)||“The pleasures and regrets of a husband, father, and son,,” per the subtitle—but mostly the father part—agonizing over circumcision and other haute-bourgeois quandaries.||To show himself—and us—how humble he is about his shortcomings as a parent: “A father is a man who fails every day.”||Bad Mother, by his own wife, Ayelet Waldman; Neal Pollack’s Alternadad.|
|Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, by Zadie Smith (The Penguin Press; November 16)||Chapters read like personality-test results, with essays divided into “Reading,” “Being,” “Seeing,” “Feeling,” and “Remembering”—the last section on David Foster Wallace.||“This book was written without my knowledge,” writes Smith. “I had thought I was writing a novel. Then I thought I was writing a solemn, theoretical book about writing.” Failing to meet those deadlines, she submitted a ton of magazine articles.||Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone; Jonathan Lethem’s The Disappointment Artist.|
|The Education of a British-Protected Child, by Chinua Achebe (Alfred A. Knopf; October 8)||The experience of growing up in Nigeria at the crossroads of Christianity, tribal tradition, and the British Empire, via essays collected from the last two decades.||“I wanted very much to shine the torch of variety and of difference on the experiences my life has served up to me,” he writes, making this a more-traditional career-capping memoir for the 78-year-old.||The Education of Henry Adams; Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place.|
|The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History With Jigsaws, by Margaret Drabble (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; September 16)||“This book is not a memoir, although parts of it may look like a memoir,” begins novelist Margaret Drabble. “Nor is it a history of the jigsaw puzzle, although it was once meant to be. It is a hybrid.”||“Doing jigsaws and writing about them has been one of my strategies to defeat melancholy and avoid laments,” Drabble writes. It was also a way to talk about her childhood without offending anyone too much.||Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past; Stefan Fatsis’s Word Freak.|
|The Adderall Diaries, by Stephen Elliott (Graywolf; September 1)||The trial of a murderer leads Elliott back to his nights in San Francisco’s S&M clubs, and helps break a bad case of writer’s block and an epic spree of self-destructive behavior.||“This book begins with a suicidal urge. If I was going to kill myself anyway, I could write whatever I wanted. And that’s what I started to do.”||James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces; Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; the Marquis de Sade.|