Celebrity memoirs are a dime a dozen — and many of them are filled with tidbits you’ve already heard from the tabloids. But there are good celebrity memoirs out there. The ones that rise above the rest are the dishiest of the bunch, sparing no nitty-gritty details and occasionally, offering some truly transformative insight. So to find the best of the best, we asked for recommendations from a panel of 16 experts, including celebrity memoir and pop-culture podcasters, professors, book critics, and more. Following the tradition of our reading lists, we included all of the memoirs recommended by at least two experts. You’ll see we also included a few that were emphatically spoken about by one expert as honorable mentions, too, in case you’re looking to dig in even deeper.
The Best Overall Celebrity Memoirs
Three experts we spoke to raved about comedian and actress Ali Wong’s memoir Dear Girls. All mention that it “delivers laughs and insights in equal measure.” While plenty of other comics have written memoirs, what stood out to book critic Jordan Snowden is how “unabashedly filthy” Wong is, despite it being “a trait that women in our society are not supposed to possess.” Structured as letters to Wong’s daughters, the book also reads as “an awesome self-help book in disguise,” according to Sharon Marcus, professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and author of The Drama of Celebrity. “Celebrity memoirs by women are often stealth accounts of the challenges of being a working mother, or a straight woman who earns more than her male partner,” Marcus says. “Dear Girls offers plenty of insights on both fronts.” And, there’s a sweet story between Wong and her husband that left host of the podcast Celebrity Book Club Chelsea Devantez “weeping for her and her husband’s love … and pretty pissed off that the internet has zero pictures of their wedding.”
Another book recommended by three experts was Michelle Zauner’s recently released memoir. “Crying in H Mart was, in one word, healing,” says Snowden, who took her time with the book to “slowly absorb and reflect on its content.” When Zauner was 25 years old, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer “just as Michelle was starting to form a new relationship with her mother — the mother-daughter ‘adult’ relationship you have after those angry know-it-all teenage years,” which forced a reckoning with her own identity. Lynn Lobash, associate director of reader services at the New York Public Library, appreciated the “clever structure” of the book, which is “grounded in” food found at the Korean grocery store, and the way it depicts “how connected food is to community, particularly for people who are not first-generation Americans.” It also resonated with chair and professor of gender and sexuality studies at USC Dornsife and author of Why Karen Carpenter Matters Karen Tongson “on many levels,” including “her relationship between food, life, and mourning, but also in terms of the music.”
This memoir, by actress, singer, and dancer Jenifer Lewis, was recommended by both BookMatch Librarian at Brooklyn Public Library Maria McGrath and Lily Marotta and Steven Phillips-Horst, hosts of the podcast Celebrity Book Club with Steven & Lily. While Lewis may be most widely known for her role in the show Black-ish, “her life story contains so much more,” says McGrath, who adds that Lewis’s “bold, no apologies attitude shines through” in her writing. The Mother of Black Hollywood recounts everything from Lewis’s rise to fame through Broadway and Hollywood to her struggles with mental illness and sex addiction — all told with “no-nonsense radical honesty,” according to McGrath. “She never neglects to tell you how big a guy’s penis is,” Marotta and Phillips-Horst say, “And with the funniest descriptors (one is as big as a ‘garden gnome’).”
Patti Smith’s National Book Award–winning memoir, Just Kids, was brought up by both Lobash and Karen Hornick, a clinical associate professor at NYU Gallatin. “Patti Smith was a famous punk singer in the ’70s and an amazing lyricist, but nobody knew she could write the way she wrote,” says Hornick. “This book blew people away.” Just Kids not only tells Smith’s story, but also focuses on the relationship between her and the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. “The friendship was so seminal in both their lives and it comes out so clearly. It’s a love note to him from her and it’s just gorgeous. It’ll totally make you cry,” says Lobash, who almost started crying while describing the book. Set in New York City in the ’70s, Just Kids is a “modern classic,” according to Hornick, who teaches it in her class at NYU. “Basically anyone who thinks about American culture should read this book, in my opinion,” she says.
Recommended by Clair Parker, co-host of the podcast Celebrity Memoir Book Club, Marotta and Phillips-Horst is supermodel Janice Dickonson’s tell-all memoir. No Lifeguard on Duty starts out with “enough childhood stories for you to play armchair psychologist, then follows it up with sex stories with some of the biggest names in Hollywood — Liam Neeson, Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson to name a few,” says Parker, adding that Dickinson had “lived enough life before 35 for three books if she wanted.” Marotta and Phillips-Horst call is “the high-water mark for celeb memoirs,” since it’s “packed with drugs, sex, hordes of dirt on other celebs she’s banged, and iconic quotes.’” And if these endorsements aren’t enough, Parker notes that “Tyra Banks hired Janice after reading her wild ride in the world of fashion.”
Andre Agassi’s memoir Open was recommended by experts who aren’t particularly interested in sports at all. “It’s the only sports book I’ve ever read in my life, but it’s so good,” says Hornick, adding that it “set a standard for the first-person sports memoir.” The memoir does an effective job at capturing “the ‘90s glam-cheesy resurgence of American tennis moment: chicken Alfredo hotel pasta, Oakley sponsorships, hot pink short shorts, [and] Brooke Shields,” while also including a “good amount of dirt,” according to Marotta and Phillips-Horst. And, it’s also “really well-written,” according to Hornick, who calls it a “classic of its kind.”
The only other sports-adjacent memoir mentioned on this list is the joint memoir Incomparable by the WWE star wrestlers Brie and Nikki Bella. Hosts of the pop culture podcast Who? Weekly Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger say they “went into the book expecting a somewhat breezy read,” but were surprised that it “managed to leave us with a newfound respect for the sisters, not to mention the feeling that we’d just taken a crash course on professional wrestling.” For them, Incomparable was a “perfect encapsulation of what makes learning about Wholebrities so much fun.”
Sharifah Williams, executive director of content at Book Riot, recommended the memoir by Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness. “I turned to one of my favorite fun celebs for an uplifting, lighthearted read and got that plus some raw, heartbreaking moments of real talk,” says Williams. Over the Top recounts the “bumpy but beautiful journey” Van Ness took to fame and uncovers the “wild and uncertain” parts of himself that aren’t shown on screen, according to Williams. “I was fully in awe of the optimistic power and irrepressible boldness that makes JVN someone for everyone to look up to,” she says.
A memoir that’s equally “wildly funny and uplifting” as it is harrowing is Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, according to Devantez, who calls this “one of my favorite memoirs of all time.” The collection of essays tackles a range of subjects, from race and gender to the sexual assault Union faced as a young woman. “I am a sexual-assault and domestic-violence survivor myself, and when you’ve been through those kinds of things it can be hard to read about and revisit but not when it’s in a memoir like this one,” says Devantez. “I bought ten copies and just handed them out to women in my life.”
“I was so dismissive of Jessica Simpson in the 2000s when she was all over the tabloids,” says Lobash, who up until she picked up Open Book was convinced that it was written by a ghostwriter. Surprisingly, it’s made up of Simpson’s journal entries that recount her childhood stardom, her family, her time as a reality television star, and more, according to Lobash, who says “she really proved me wrong.” Along with some “good gossip,” there are also some appearances by other stars that “you would not expect to see in a Jessica Simpson book” — namely Beyoncé, Chuck Norris, and others.
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