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Gift Guide: Essays and Memoirs of 2020

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that 2020 has been tough on everyone. And with the holidays just around the corner, we’re hoping to make the added stress of choosing that perfect gift for a special someone a little bit easier with a series of gift guides.

Here at the Portobello Bookshop we love a good collection of essays and a memoir or three so here are our favourites from 2020. The beauty of the genre is that it can encompass all kinds of topics within a paragraph or two and that’s demonstrated by the variety of our list.

Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror is a thought-provoking collection of essays that’s been well-received by Zadie Smith amongst other critics, covering wide-ranging topics like pop culture, social media, religion, drugs and feminism. Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing collects the acclaimed writer and critic’s profiles, essays and articles on the topic of what art can do for the world.

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In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

A truly original and innovative memoir, it deals with the difficult subject matter of abuse in queer relationships in a nuanced way. Intense but worthwhile.

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Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

From the writer and podcast host of the Dear Prudence advice column, this is a fast-paced collection of personal essays that explores Ortberg’s transition through the lens of both pop culture and religion.

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So Hormonal: A Collection of Essays on Hormones, edited by Emily Horgan and Zach Dickson

Perfect for anyone who has a body, this collection of essays explores the various roles that hormones play in our everyday lives. From periods to chronic illness, to transitioning and menopause, each contributor writes with refreshing honesty.

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The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

Ever since 2011, Noelle Stevenson has been publishing a year in review article. Part comic, part musing, they reflect on the victories and defeats of their year, sometimes with brutal honesty. This book collects 9 consecutive years on paper for the first time. A must for fans of Nimona, She-Ra or Lumberjanes.

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Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Irby’s writing is consistently funny and in this newest collection of essays, she covers topics like anxiety, body image, marriage, small-town America, pop culture, and stepchildren to name just a few, in her classically self-deprecating, witty style. 

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Approaching Eye Level by Vivian Gornick

Reissued since its first publication in 1997, this is an intimate collection of personal essays on topics like loneliness, connection and New York City by critic and memoirist Gornick.

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Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman by Rebecca Tamás

A wide-ranging collection of essays focusing on the connection between humans and the ecological world, but drawing on varied inspirations from folklore to politics, to planets and fairgrounds.

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A Man’s Place by Annie Ernaux

Fitzcarraldo Editions publish beautiful minimalist editions of literary works and this reissue of A Man’s Place, translated from its original French, is an unsentimental yet poignant portrait of the author’s father.

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Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

The follow-up to Hyperbole and a Half, Brosh’s hilarious first book, this graphic memoir includes funny childhood stories, essays on grief, and dwellings on the eccentricities of modern life, all in the author’s classic absurdist style.

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Staff Recommendations