Not for Everyday Use: A Memoir

By Elizabeth Nunez
256 pages; Akashic Books

In this swiftly moving memoir, Elizabeth Nunez returns to Trinidad after the death of her mother. While helping her sister and father arrange the burial, Nunez reflects on everything from her admiration of her parents' loving, 65-year-long marriage (and the failure of her own) and her early, isolated years as an immigrant in New York, to the strange, unshakable grip colonialism has on her homeland today. The book reads casually, with a narrative that feels like a close friend talking about her past over tea. But ready yourself for unexpected emotional wallops, such as in the scene where Nunez finds her 93-year-old father rearranging all the pillows on his bed into a wall, "building a barrier between his side of the bed and his wife's" so as to keep himself from facing the empty place she's left behind. An insightful, generous story about the most painful of losses.
— Leigh Newman

By Maria Mutch
224 pages; Simon & Schuster

For two very long years, Maria Mutch's son Gabriel—who suffers from both Down syndrome and autism—does not sleep at night. Because she has another child, and a husband who has to wake up in the morning, and has to support them both, Mutch and Gabriel hit the road, spending the dark hours until dawn at jazz clubs, where the music calms Gabriel, at least for a while (he falls into "shrieking episodes" that last for whole days). Though Mutch's tenderness for her son never wavers, she does confront her own loneliness and isolation from the rest of world—as well as her exhaustion—by reading the diaries of Richard Byrd, who journeyed solo to Antarctica in the late 1920s, including a nine-month-long stint where he never saw the sun rise. There are moments of heartrending grief, such as when Gabriel says his last words—an eerily prescient "bye," at age 6, and "all done," at age 7. But it's Mutch herself, revealing her struggle to survive as a person, that leaves you astonished, including a moment after cleaning up her son when she admits, "I go to write I am his mother except that what I write is I am his other."
— Leigh Newman

By Jessica Hendry Nelson
256 pages; Counterpoint

A quirkily mesmerizing debut memoir about a dysfunctional family wracked by alcoholism and drug addiction. Bittersweet and wryly funny.
— Abbe Wright

By Scott Stossel
416 pages; Knopf

By some estimates, more than 25 percent of Americans can expect to suffer from clinically diagnosed anxiety, which is why My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind, Scott Stossel's erudite, heartfelt and occasionally darkly funny meld of memoir, cultural history and science, feels excruciatingly relevant. Stossel aims to better understand his own stressed-out state of mind while also tracing the condition's history from Hippocrates (who saw it primarily as medical in nature) to Freud (who viewed it as psychological, with its roots in sexual inhibition) to modern times.

Whether in its most severe form, as in the author's crippling version that is "woven into my soul and hardwired into my body and...makes my life a misery," or in the less debilitating manifestation many of us have known from time to time, anxiety is now an omnipresent, extensively medicated syndrome that may be a result of a brain malfunction or a product of our environment—no one knows for sure. But Stossel's harrowing account of his own experience with phobias—among them claustrophobia, acrophobia (fear of heights), asthenophobia (fear of fainting), bacillophobia (fear of germs) and aerophobia (fear of flying)—strongly suggests that this is a disease without a cure.

Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic, is a wry, if distressed, chronicler of his own history and that of psychopharmacology. It's been a long and in many ways frightening journey for him. Still, near the end of the book, in a chapter titled "Redemption," Stossel attempts to see the upside of anxiety—the links between it and creativity, productivity, morality. His therapist advises him to give himself more credit for being resilient, and it seems he does. He concludes with the hope that "admitting my shame and fear to the world" will ultimately be "empowering and anxiety reducing."

We hope so, too.
— Amy Bloom

By Su Meck with Daniel de Visé
288 pages; Simon & Schuster

The author recounts her grueling climb back to normalcy after an accident robs her of her memory and sense of self in this heart-wrenching true story.
— Abbe Wright

By Eileen Cronin
352 pages; W. W. Norton & Company

It's not until the author is 3 years old that she comprehends she was born with no lower legs, and that this makes her different. Cronin is extraordinarily courageous; she chronicles her journey to fit in and thrive with bravery and wit.
— Abbe Wright

By Lynn Darling
288 pages; Harper

After sending her daughter off to college, grieving widow Darling trades Manhattan for a bare-bones cottage in Vermont, where, in learning to fend for herself, she begins to heal.
— Abbe Wright