Must-Read Memoirs

Roz Chast cartoon from the August 13 & 20, 2012 issue of The New Yorker

Having just finished Cheryl Strayed’s excellent memoir Wild (Knopf 2012), I’ve been thinking about all the great memoirs I’ve read in the past five years, since I started reading personal narrative accounts in earnest. It’s not news that in the past ten years or so memoirs have made a huge surge in popularity. What was once a genre of dry, summarized accounts of the lives of famous people or family members has become a juicy canon of life stories that often follow novel-style trajectories. Memoirs have become so ubiquitous it’s impossible not to wonder why we’re drawn to these personal accounts, most with intimate details we once might have blushed to read about. Is this another sign of our penchant for oversharing (via Facebook, Twitter, etc.)? Maybe. But I’m less cynical about it: I think we love memoirs because our understanding of humanity is enhanced by personal accounts of hardship, failure, tragedy, love, and success. Maybe true stories hold the most weight and teach us the most about who we are.

I know that’s true for me. Since a writing teacher a few years back suggested I start reading as many memoirs as I could, I’ve had one on my shelf at all times. Here are a few of the ones that stayed with me the most, my list of “must-reads” (in no particular order).

1. Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt. Maybe someone has done a better job writing about coming of age in extreme poverty in Ireland in the mid 1900s, but not that I’m aware of. A beautiful, beautiful book.

2. Lucky, by Alice Sebold. Once you read Lucky you learn the source of all of Sebold’s demons. A graphic violent event in the first few pages might hold you to your chair; I believe I started to sob, threw the book across the floor, then went and picked it up and finished reading.

3. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Hugely best-selling, this memoir has of course also been raked over the coals by many (Eat, Pray, Shit I heard someone call it the other day). I put this book on my list because I think Gilbert manages to capture the very real societal pressures that thirty-something American women feel to conform to marriage, child-rearing, and a certain life path. I think of it as a quiet memoir of rebellion?and she’s funny, too.

4. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. Just great. It details a childhood so shocking, at times you just have to shake your head.

5. This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff. Wolff may be the most controlled prose writer I have read. This is an example of a memoir that’s nothing but the facts. And the facts are intense.

6. The Burn Journals, by Brent Runyon. I loved this memoir about a troubled kid trying to clown his way through a disfiguring depression. I first heard part of this memoir on This American Life.

7.Truth & Beauty, by Ann Patchett. An interesting memoir because it isn?t about the author as much as it is about her dear friendship with the late writer Lucy Grealy. Incidentally, Grealy?s own memoir, Autobiography of a Face, is on my to-read list.

Some memoirs I have known

8. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. Inimitably Didion, this memoir is one of the quintessential memoirs of grief and death. Her sequel, Blue Nights, was for me (and for many critics) much less successful.

And if you get through those, you might try Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer; Made for You and Me, by Caitlin Shetterly; Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic, by Martha Beck; The Only Girl in the Car, by Kathy Dobie; Stop-Time, by Frank Conroy; and The Bill from My Father, by Bernard Cooper.

Does anyone else read memoir? If so, what are your favorites?

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152 Comments

  1. The Creative Muse

    Wonderful! Thank you. I have only read Eat Pray Love from your list. I will check out the others. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  2. Kimberly

    I have devoted the last three years to reading memoirs, memoirs and oh, did I mention memoirs? I began writing a memoir, but realized that in order for it to be great, I needed to “find my story”, so it’s a work in progress. I cannot decide whether to focus on a pivotal event, segment of time, or life as a whole, so I keep writing.

    Just a few favorites to date include: Just As I Am (Rev. Billy Graham), Please Stop Laughing at Me (Jodee Blanco), and Running with Scissors (Augusten Burroughs).

    Sorry, but I was not crazy about Eat, Pray, Love and am puzzled what all the fuss was about. Your comment makes me guess it’s generational, but I welcome your thoughts.

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Great recommendations, thanks. As I said, I think EPL _is_ generational–and maybe that’s a problem. Still, I decided to include it because lately it seems very popular to hate and I thought I’d admit that it really worked for me when I read it. Running with Scissors is a great addition to the list. You might especially like The Burn Journals…

      Reply
      • Kimberly

        I’ll have to check them out. Thanks.

        Reply
        • Shaggygirl

          If nothing else EPL made me want to go to Italy and eat pasta and gelato.

          Reply
  3. Nicolle

    I love reading memoirs as well.
    Some of my favorites are: Finding Ma?ana by Mirta Ojito, In the Shadow of Freedom by Tchicaya Missamou, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren, and A Mighty Long Way by Carlotta Walls LaNier.

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Thank you for the recommendations, Nicolle!

      Reply
  4. broadsideblog

    I’ve only read numbers 3 and 4 on your list and enjoyed them both.

    My favorite memoir of all is “Don’t Lets Go To The Dogs Tonight”, a NYT best-seller by Alexandra Fuller, about her African childhood and slightly mad (still alive) mother. She has written a sequel to what her mother called “that awful book” called Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. LOVE this book. I also highly recommend another recent African memoir (written by a Caucasian), When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, by Peter Godwin.

    Very selfishly, I’d like to recommend my own memoir (as I did that for Caitlin Shetterly’s book on my blog), which has been compared to Nickeled and Dimed, about my recent 27 months working retail. It is an inside look at the rough world of low-wage American labor through my eyes and many others’.

    http://malledthebook.com/

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Absolutely recommend your own memoir. If mine ever gets published, you’ll be the first to know. Would you be interested in a my-poetry-chapbook-for-your-memoir-trade?

      Reply
  5. edgeledge

    I have read the first three memoirs and the only one I really liked was Alice Sebold’s. I do like memoirs Anthony Keidis’s Scar Tissue and Stephen King’s On Writing are two that I have read recently and enjoyed. Scar Tissue is not really enjoyable but it is a matter of fact style journey through a wild life, that began very early. On Writing is not technically a memoir, though the first part of the book is set out that way to give a sense of where King came from and that there were really no evil or demonic events in his upbringing that gave him the inspiration for his writing.

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      You are not the first person to recommend On Writing to me. Thanks.

      Reply
  6. Rachel Louise Jones

    In recent years I’ve come to read almost entirely memoirs / autobiographies / biographies. Life stories in general, I can get enough of them! Although I must say even I have my limits. I can’t handle anything that’s too depressing (there’s at least got to be some hope at the end), and I don’t read those by any old Z-list celebrity. I think for everyone, they’ve got to be life stories told by or about people, famous or not, who we can come to care about.

    My favourites include the autobiography of my favourite actress, Marlene Dietrich, simply entitled “My Life”, and the book “The Importance Of Music To Girls” by Lavinia Greenlaw. Both of them I just keep coming back to!

    Reply
  7. Lu

    Reading Bronnie Wares book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” and I am loving it. I love reading memoirs. Great blog. Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

    Reply
  8. Kathryn W

    This may be the first list of ‘Must-Read Memoirs’ I’ve stumbled across where ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ hasn’t made the cut. Have you read it?
    You have me intrigued to read Alice Sebold’s memoir; I read ‘The Lovely Bones’ and was taken by her style of writing, so will make sure to check out ‘Lucky’.

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      The Lovely Bones will make more sense, perhaps, once you read Lucky. Also, I have not read Tuesdays with Morrie, but others have recommended it too. Thanks.

      Reply
  9. sheenaeastonwannabe

    I DO love memoirs, for many of the reasons you listed. While I don’t ever intend to write one of my own, I do often think about what I would write about should the mood strike me. I think the cartoon at the beginning of your post sums it up though…..my life would be the middle door – and no one wants to read about that:-)!
    Congrats on being FP. Well deserved……

    Reply
  10. A Gracious Life

    That’s a good list. Eat, Pray, Love…the book experience is really heartwarming. Hey, I like that red box behind the books! =>

    Reply
  11. Palm Trees & Bare Feet

    I’m a die-hard non-fiction fan. I prefer that over fiction, especially memoirs. Some of my favorite memoirs are Babylon’s Ark by Lawrence Anthony, all of Jane Goodall memoirs, and if you want some laughs, then definitely read A.J. Jacobs’ books!

    Great post!

    πŸ™‚

    Reply
  12. mollyxoxo

    Interesting. considering i have never hadtime to read. wait thats an excuse forgot how great it was to read and get lost in books:( great post !!!

    Reply
  13. middleagebutch

    I am a memoir junkie (along with self-help book addict (currently in recovery)). I’ve read most of the memoirs that you’ve listed. Eat, Pray, Love and Glass Castle are favorites. Joan Didion is terrific. I love Augusten Burroughs and anything by Carrie Fisher (Postcards from the Edge was based on her early days in recovery). Steve Martin is another favorite author. His memoir Born Standing Up is really good. I have yet to read Tina Fey’s memoir. As you can tell, I have a thing for comedians. I would also recommend Lit by Mary Karr, which takes at look at her struggles with alcoholism. (Apparently, I also like tales about addiction.) Haven Kimmel is great and so is Samantha Bee. Another Bulllshit Night in Suck City is a recent read. I could go on and on about all of my favorites. I think what appeals to me about the genre is connecting with others through their life stories. Something so redemptive about reading about someone else’s struggles and triumphs. One last book … I’m currently reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson who blogs as the Bloggess. Laugh-out-loud funny.

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Thank you for these recommendations and thoughts. I just read Bossypants myself–very, very funny! You just reminded me of another one–Jerry Stahl’s memoir Permanent Midnight.

      Reply
  14. sueannm66

    Thanks for your recommendations! I am about to read “Wild” and just finished “Why be happy when you can be normal” by Jeanette Winterson. She tells of her life living with (crazy) adoptive parents in Northern England.

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      I’d bet Jeanette Winterson writes a fantastic memoir. I will check it out.

      Reply
  15. yourbrainonbooks

    I have read both Lucky and Eat, Pray, Love, and I found it hard to put either down. I’m glad to see them getting a shout-out here!

    Reply
  16. Siobhan Curious

    I teach a course on personal narrative and am always looking for new books to teach! I have read most of these, but I will be getting a hold of The Burn Journals post haste, as I think it might go over well w/ my students. Thanks, and congrats on the FP!

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Siobhan Curious,

      Thanks! I’d love to hear what other books you teach in your personal narrative course.

      Susie

      Reply
  17. bodhisattvaintraining

    I think everyone’s story is interesting and should be celebrated – enjoyed reading this and got some tips, thanks. Found you thanks to freshly pressed πŸ™‚

    Reply
  18. The Grown Up Princess

    I love your list, and I’d add “Signs of Life” by Natalie Taylor. Her account of grief, and how it changed her understanding of great literature, is heart breaking and incredibly moving.

    Reply
  19. luceat0lux0vestra

    Bossypants is my top celeb recommendation. Very light reading but it will help lift your spirits and teach you to laugh at yourself! For the record, I’m not an Elizabeth Gilbert fan, but I think there is a huge audience for the I’m-in-a-horrible-rut-and-now-I’m-just-going-to-go-have-an-adventure genre. It seems so exotic to the person who never leaves the town they were born in (even just for a short spell).

    Reply
  20. librarybliss

    I have to throw out some love for “Slow Love” by Dominique Browning!! I love the list, some of my favorites and some to add to my must read list.

    Reply
  21. magdalene2012

    Nice article. I love reading memoirs but I often just stumble across them. Reading your article and otehr readers comments have given me a new reading list for the fall. Thank you! Congrats on benig freshly pressed!

    Reply
  22. ASuburbanLife

    I am of the group who could not stand Eat, Pray, Love, but I really liked some of the other books on your list. I also really enjoyed 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life by Kristen McGuiness.

    Reply
  23. Jess Witkins

    Love me some memoirs! One of my favorite genres. I would include Eat, Pray, Love on my list, and The Glass Castle. I also really enjoyed Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter. Her language is something truly beautiful and thought provoking. Have you ever read any Michael Perry? He writes memoirs and is a stand out author in my opinion. He has an ability to write about a gut-wrenching, honest scene and then make you laugh as he dissects the character’s traits and back stories.

    And, one of my all time favorite funny ones is A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. I think she and I could have been twins! HILARIOUSLY gullible and good times!

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      I have not read Michael Perry–thanks for the recommendation (and of A Girl Named Zippy). Your comment about Sue Monk Kidd made me think of another to-read of mine: Anne Lamott’s Some Assembly Required (with her son Sam). Have you read?

      Reply
      • Jess Witkins

        Haven’t heard of that one. Off to Goodreads it!

        Reply
  24. rosewithoutthorns

    I completely loved Eat Pray Love. Have read it at least 5 times, and everytime I read it, I find another phrase or paragraph that never struck me before. It’s beautiful and Gilbert is just so honest and down-to-earth, you feel like you were there on her trip with her.

    Reply
  25. Nisha

    I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love but not the others. I definitely have to check them out. Lucky sounds interesting.

    Reply
  26. Michelle

    Thanks for sharing your list! I’ve been looking for some new non-fiction to add to my “to read” list. I’ve added a few of your suggestions to my to read list. Thanks again πŸ™‚

    Reply
  27. meromusings

    I love reading memoirs as well, will try some from your list too, thanks for sharing!!

    Reply
  28. amelie88

    I did not like Eat, Pray, Love. The author frustrated me so much but I think it’s because I am 98% sure the woman lived in my area before she got divorced. I couldn’t empathize with her or relate to her at all. For me, the entire book was her whining about her luck with men when she was getting paid to travel around the world and write a book. I just felt like I was being talked down to the entire time and almost didn’t finish it!

    You should read Autobiography of a Face. Sadly, the author accidentally ODed on heroin at the age of 39. But it was an incredible book.

    Another memoir I really enjoyed was Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. She used to be a restaurant critic for the New York Times and I think is editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. It’s all about how her life always revolved around food and how she became so entrenched in the food world. I read that one and her sequel Comfort Me With Apples.

    Reply
    • Jane

      I didn’t know the “Autobiography of a Face” author died. That is very sad, indeed.

      Reply
      • fireandair

        She was quite a fascinating person — there’s a Charlie Rose interview with her that’s worth checking out.

        Reply
    • l0ve0utl0ud

      I agree with Amelie – I did not enjoy Eat, Pray, Love at all, but I have heard great reviews about Wild, so will be reading it soon.

      Reply
  29. MysticalKitty

    Sometimes the lives of some is beyond fiction.

    “I think we love memoirs because our understanding of humanity is enhanced by personal accounts of hardship, failure, tragedy, love, and success.”

    I grew up ravenously devouring books. And the first (auto)biogrphy I have layed my eyes on was of Mircea Eliade, whose writings on religions and spirituality demanded a more in depth understanding of this extraordinary historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher. I wanted to know where he got his inspiration, his drive, his motivation.

    Then I made it my delight to search for the writers’ I loved point of view on their lives…

    Agatha Christie’s An Autobiography;
    Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter and The Second Sex;
    Mircea Eliade’s autobiography, just a few to mention.

    Reply
  30. Adnan Kakazai

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed
    What will be the particular order if there is any
    Have gone through one of because may be a movie is based on it, will see others also

    Reply
  31. Marie Campbell (Olga's Daughter)

    My first book is a memoir about my Jamaican mother written after I researched her past and family in Jamaica. I was looking for answers to my questions that she had refused to answer and what I found out filled me with such admiration for her I wrote ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’ because I wanted future generations of my family to know about my Mum ………and then I wanted everyone to know about her:-) so I published it myself. It’s had some really great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and I’m very proud of it.

    Reply
  32. Tom

    Thanks for sharing the list!

    Reply
  33. megschae

    I am on Love of “Eat, Pray, Love” and it’s been a pretty good thus far. I find her bravery extremely refreshing and her humor has made it such an easy read.

    I would recommend reading Diana Athill’s “Somewhere Toward the End”. It was one of the most original pieces of writing I’ve read so far. I’ve never been drawn to memoirs but this book definitely made me able to take a second glance at the genre.

    Reply
  34. harri8here

    I have just got into memoir. Thanks for a great post, and for sharing your list. I recently finished Juliane Koepcke’s ‘When I Fell From The Sky’ which i found to be fascinating on so many levels.

    Reply
  35. shyle lu

    Just read Eat, Pray, love but would love to check the rest of your list. Thanks for sharing. =)

    Reply
  36. maddy

    Great post! Thank you for posting this. So far, I have only read Eat, Pray, Love.. I will surely check out your suggestions.. again, wonderful post! πŸ™‚

    Reply
  37. littlenavyfish

    I really enjoyed Angela’s Ashes when I read it earlier this year. If you can, try and find the website for BBC Radio 4’s Bookclub programme – they’ve got all the programmes ever broadcast on their to listen to, and Frank McCourt is on one of the very earliest programmes talking about Angela’s Ashes, and I really enjoyed listening to it.

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      I’d love to hear that–thank you for the tip.

      Reply
  38. SighYuki

    I’ve got to say the only memoir I’ve read in that list is Eat, Pray, Love. I absolutely loved it. It is definitely one of my most favourite books. One i really do want to read, however, is “Geisha, a Life/Geisha of Gion” (it’s sold under two different titles depending on where you are in the world) by Mineko Iwasaki, who was the geisha informant for Memoirs of a Geisha. Being pissed off at how Arthur Golden twisted reality and the fact that her anonymity wasn’t kept, she wrote an autobiography about how it really was. I liked Memoirs so when I found out that Golden had been a bit of a bastard, I was horrified and I’ve wanted to buy this ever since. I never got around to it though.

    Reply
  39. jessicamittens

    I haven’t read any of these yet, despite the fact that Eat Pray Love is on my bookshelf, so I think I had best check it out!
    The best memoir / autobiography I’ve read was “Scar Tissue” by Anthony Kiedis – lovers of music, gritty L.A. and memoirs with open honesty will love it too, I think.

    Reply
  40. Imprecise Motif

    I have read EPL and it’s good. But i think Memoirs of a Geisha is the best for me. The author used ingenious words in there, I almost feel like he’s hypnotizing me. It’s my favorite book at this time. Congrats on Freshly Pressed! πŸ™‚

    Reply
  41. sharm

    what a great post! i’m definitely sharing – and have put in my requests to the library! i agree about ‘don’t lets go to the dogs’ – wonderful. and then you have all the graphic novel memoirs, like ‘fun home’, ‘persepolis’, ‘epileptic’… so much good stuff out there. i’m looking forward to my autumn reading!

    Reply
  42. mindfulacting

    Great post! Thanks for sharing this list of memoirs with us. I read memoirs too. As a single, childless 30-something, I thought “Eat, Pray, Love” was a wonderful book (although I thought the movie version was pretty rubbish). Elizabeth Gilbert helped me realise that being single in your 30s is actually a great opportunity to grow as a person and discover your true self. And it has inspired me to write my own story too, which has been a very positive experience so far.

    My favourite book is Nelson Mandela’s autobiography (Long Walk to Freedom). I have learnt so much from it. It’s definitely a must-read.

    Reply
  43. altheasarah

    Hi Susie! I saw Alice Sebold’s Lucky in a bookstore a month ago & I got hesitant in getting it because I thought it must be too violent &/or depressing to read πŸ™ Was it?

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      My mom asked me that too. It’s a tough read for sure. But I think all the memoirs on my list are strong because there’s uplift and hope for moving forward by the end.

      Reply
      • altheasarah

        ‘Will include this in my wishlist ! πŸ™‚ Thanks

        Reply
  44. cortezsharkman

    Don’t forget Liar’s Club and Cherry by Mary Karr-must reads for memoir junkies! RE: Eat, Pray Love; I don’t agree that it’s generational because my daughter read it after I did when she was 19 and loved it.
    I’ve read most on your list except the male authors (shame on me) and so plan to read them soon, thanks for the great post.
    Marisa
    http://www.steppingintothewater.wordpress.com

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Liar’s Club is also on my to-read list. It’s mentioned so frequently I feel a bit remiss for not having read it yet. Thanks!

      Reply
  45. Renny

    Great post, thanks! I must admit that I didn’t enjoy Eat, pray, love, it was hyped up so much so my expectations were high and the book didn’t deliver. There were nice bits but overall I found the book bland. Anyways, I recently read Piece of Cake by Cupcake Brown and loved it! I felt really inspired and grateful for my little life after reading it so I can definitely recommend it.

    Renny
    http://thebookinstinct.com

    Reply
  46. riainthecity

    These are all on my to read list! I am currently reading a memoir by Nahlah Ayed – It’s called a Thousand Farewells! it’s SOOOO good but not for the faint hearted!

    Reply
  47. Jane

    If you loved “Angela’s Ashes,” you’ll love McCourt’s follow-up book, ” ‘Tis.” I also adored “A Three Dog Life” by Abigail Thomas and recommend it whenever I can. πŸ™‚ Jane

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Yes! Though that’s diary, which I suppose is another genre altogether…

      Reply
  48. Paula Turner

    I have read many on this list as well and now have some others to check out. A book i really loved was My Maasai Life by Robin Wiszowaty. It is not so much her writing style, which is fairly conversational, but rather the content. She helps explain the concept of going halfway around the world to find yourself, a feeling many people, especially youth, experience. My daughter brought me back the book after she met Robin in Kenya and it allowed me to help my daughter re-enter her life here and go forward with her new perspective. Another amazing book is The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown a beautifully written book about his son who has a severe mental disability and what that means to Brown and his family. Amazingly, wonderfully honest.

    Reply
  49. Red Toenails

    Angela’s Ashes definitely! The Color of Water by James McBride is another one too. Good post.

    Reply
  50. wordsforworms

    I love memoirs! I’m going to have to add some of these to my ever expanding reading list!

    Reply
  51. Elizabeth Kay

    In college classes, I read many shorter memoir pieces (including a short piece by Joan Didion, who is one of only a couple names I recognize on your list), but never a full-length memoir book. Sadly, my class that dealt with reading and writing memoir was only half a semester–I would have loved to get more into them. You’ve inspired me to dig out my old copies of the shorter works, look up the authors of my favorite pieces, and maybe check out some of the books you’ve recommended here. Thanks for the recommendations!

    Reply
  52. Eagle-Eyed Editor

    I was glad to see “Eat, Pray, Love” on your list. I enjoyed both the movie and the book. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    Reply
  53. Nicole

    A wonderful list here, thank you for sharing. I’ve only read a couple of these so I’m going to add others to my reading list. Eat,Pray,Love is one of my favorite books and the movie, I thought, was done quite well. Of course, I’m a big Julia Roberts fan so my opinion might be biased.

    Just for kicks and grins, have you read Gilbert’s “Committed”? The follow-up to Eat,Pray,Love? Personally, I did not enjoy it whatsoever. I thought her views on marriage were awkward and, as a very happily married woman under the age of 30, she kind of gave it a bad name. In fact, it was a struggle for me to even finish that book. Which was disappointing since I thoroughly enjoyed Eat,Pray,Love.

    Blessings to you and thanks again for sharing these memoir titles. I’ll be busy reading!
    Nicole @ Three 31

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Nicole, I haven’t read Committed, but of course it too made a stir. I may well check it out. Thanks!

      Reply
      • jessicamjonas

        Ha, I enjoyed Committed easily as much as EPL, and possibly a bit more. EPL was enjoyable, but a bit self-indulgent for my tastes. I felt that in Committed, Gilbert has a stronger awareness of her own privilege. She definitely approaches marriage from a very skeptical place, but I thought the questions she raised are good ones to consider.

        For my standpoint, I am 25 and getting married in 6 weeks (and absolutely thrilled about it!). I read it (and a few other books–check out The Secret Lives of Wives!) as a way of sparking discussion with my fiance of how different marriages can work and what we want ours to be.

        Reply
  54. text me, love mom

    I have to read these comments with my iphone in hand to make a list. I love memoirs – but true, they have been given a bad name. I’ve been blogging excerpts from my,
    hopefully soon to be available book – ‘Text Me Love Mom – Lessons from an Empty Nest’, but have to admit I was fearful of calling it a memoir. Thinking of Changing the title to F**king Text Me Love Mom … to help with that. What do you think?

    Reply
  55. becomingcliche

    Ever since the whole Frey scandal, I have been less interested in reading memoirs. It’s a pride thing. I don’t want to get sucked into a story only to find out it was primarily fiction. I did read “Expecting Adam.” I didn’t enjoy it a much as I had hoped to, but I just need to remind myself that memoirs aren’t my cup of tea. Or Three Cups of Tea.

    Reply
  56. creativebetty

    Love some of these books, will have to take a look at the ones I haven’t read. Thanks!

    Reply
  57. The Smile Scavenger

    #4) The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. ————YES. One of the best I’ve read.

    Reply
  58. ciaobellamiastory

    I’m currently reading Carol Burnett’s memoir. Only a few pages in, so no review as yet.

    Reply
  59. ameliael

    I really enjoyed this, thank you so much! I get so excited about memoirs and its lovely to have a little direction as to where to begin looking!

    Reply
  60. Debbie

    Angela’s Ashes is one of the best I’ve ever read. I keep looking for books that would measure up to it so, your list is much appreciated! Thank you!

    Reply
  61. notquiteold

    Yes, yes for “Truth and Beauty” and “Autobiography of a Face” – Patchett’s was the better written, but they both need to be read.

    Reply
  62. stephsoul

    “THE WHITE MASAI”!!! πŸ™‚

    Reply
  63. amw

    “My Lobotomy” was a good one that i recently read.

    Reply
  64. madhaus7

    Thank you for the suggested reads! I’d always wanted to read Sebold’s Lucky. I read Lovely Bones years and years ago and was captivated by her writing style. I kind of forgot about it until now though. Thank you for posting!

    Reply
  65. onesmallvegan

    I love memoirs and almost always have one on the go! I’ve read Angela’s Ashes, Lucky, Eat Pray Love, and This Boy’s Life and will definitely check out the other titles on your list. Two I’ve read recently and really loved are Between A Rock and A Hard Place by Aron Ralston (what the movie 127 Hours was based on) and Life, On The Line: A Chef?s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonas (I’ve been obsessed with all food/cooking related memoirs lately and this was the best I’ve read).
    I think Angela’s Ashes is fantastic and have read it a few times. Have you read McCourt’s other memoirs? ‘Tis and Teacher Man (in that order). Not as great as Angela’s Ashes, I thought, but I did really enjoy them.
    Its really great to see Eat Pray Love on your list. I’ve heard so many nasty opinions about it that I actually avoided it for a while, but I when I finally read it I loved it!

    Reply
  66. Along A Path

    My reaction to Alice Sebold’s Lucky was almost the same. I dropped it from where I was sitting, put on my running shoes and went out for a hard run, trying to clear out the demons and sort through her words. I came back to re-read it from the beginning and carry on through. Thanks for the other great recommendations and congratulations on being FP!

    Reply
  67. Feng Shui By Fishgirl

    I’ve been toying with writing mine. My 30-something aged nieces tell me now is the time and that they need to live vicariously through their single childless wild artist auntie. Hmmmm…..

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Sounds like a memoir I’d like to read!

      Reply
  68. People Like Food

    I would add “White Heat” by Marco Pierre White and “The Rings of Saturn” by W.G. Sebald πŸ™‚

    Reply
  69. Fay

    Great post and Congratulations on the FP. I have to agree social networking has taken the ‘personal’ parts of life to that omnipresent stage!

    Your list of books is fabulous! Blue Nights (which i saw standing behind EPL) and The Year of Magical Thinking have been on my list to read for a long time – I just need to get my hands on a copy!

    I have heard a lot of controversial comments regarding Gilberts’ book but I think it was great! I look forward to your future posts and Congrats once again! πŸ˜€

    Reply
  70. valeriedavies

    Not just memoirs, but diaries. I have shelves of ’em, not just Pepys and Evelyn and Anne Frank, but Frances Partridge, the last of the Bloomsberries,,Alan Clark, philandering British MP, Klemperer in Nazi Germany, and so many other irresistible windows into real lives as they happen…..

    Reply
  71. Worldly Girl turned Mom

    Thanks for the post! I’m always looking for a good memoir to read. I’ve read 1-4 on your list so I’ll make sure to check out the others on your list as well as some of the recommendations from the comments. I would also recommend “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother” by James McBride. Not many books make me cry but that one had me bawling like my 1-1/2 year old.

    Reply
  72. cutecuteysao

    i love eat pray love, it is a very inspiring memoir of a lady who has been pressured to live on the idea of an ideal american woman!! hahaha!!

    Reply
  73. hopeforheather

    I just picked up “Eat, Pray, Love” on a recent trip to Oregon. I forgot how much I love to read (as I’ve been sucked up into other things…) – thanks for the reminder that reading is IMPORTANT!

    Reply
  74. michaellangford2012

    Like your taste in books. Have you read West With the Night by Beryl Markham?

    Reply
  75. theotherwomanblog

    Hi!
    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your topic and all the comments about memoirs! Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, but in the spirit of ‘being honest’ as memoirists are meant to be-I will admit to be really, really jealous…
    I have been trying to write a memoir for a year(no luck on this front) but have succeeded in reading all of the ones you mentioned and many more! Instead I am writing a… BLOGMOIR…a memoir/blog called theotherwomanblog on WordPress!
    I think my favourite memoir is Let’s Take the Long Way Home:A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell. I laughed, learned and wept! I also enjoyed Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird:Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
    And then a plug for the author, Elizabeth J Andrew, who wrote Swinging on the Garden Gate. Check out her website http://www.spiritualmemoir.com She has been a real inspiration to me, as she fully understands the impact of writing one’s truth.
    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts!
    My green pallor is abating!
    Yours in Transformation,
    theotherwomanblogger

    Reply
  76. RSjewelrydesigns

    I must say, one of my favorite memoirs was ‘A Stolen Life’ by Jaycee Lee Dugard (the girl who was abducted at age 11 and held captive for 18 years, and bore 2 children to her rapist). The book was amazing. I admit the writing was very simplistic in ways; but, it was accurate of the fact that she only had about a 6th grade education. It offers a lot of insight both into the mind of someone who is abducted and how they survive, and both into the minds of kidnappers and sexual predators. The book is heart wrenching, but it does have a great ending, and talks a lot about the reunion with her family.

    Reply
  77. lsurrett2

    Night (Weisel) and The Sunflower

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Thank you for reminding me of Night, which I read as an adolescent. Such a powerful and incredible book.

      Reply
  78. Overwhelmed By Joy

    That is a great list! You have recommended several I have not yet read, so I will be sure to add them to my reading list. Love your blog!

    Reply
  79. Invisible Mikey

    I like your list, and memoir as a genre, but my favorites always seem to have come from the greatest writers. The earliest I remember loving were Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast” and Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia”, and the various Diaries by Anais Nin. (Yes, diaries count as memoir, especially from writers – she re-wrote them over and over.) And later, in Lit’ courses I loved Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Mary Karr’s “The Liar’s Club” was terrific too!

    My favorite on your list is “Angela’s Ashes”. Now that the Twain project FINALLY (2010) began publishing his autobiography in the whimsical, non-chronological form he wrote it, that’s next on my reading schedule.

    Reply
  80. Clearly Kristal

    Am taking notes on the memoir favs st-thank you! I I I enjoyed reading Cynthia Kaplan’s Why I’m Like This.” Hilarious, honest and sometimes crude memoir.

    Reply
  81. onetenthblog

    Not memoir but a collection of letters of Robertson Davies– that Canadian writer deserving of more readers. Beautiful πŸ™‚

    Reply
  82. lipstickandplaydates

    I am, perhaps, one of the few people who could finish Eat Pray Love for more reasons than I care to explain But loved the Glass Castle.

    Reply
  83. publicbibliophile

    Very good list, of which I have read the majority of. One of my favorite things to do at work, aside from not letting patrons ask for “Fifty Shades” books in a whisper, is giving angst filled teenagers “The Glass Castle” when they are assigned to read a biography/memoir so they can see how great they have it. I have had parents thank me for that! πŸ™‚

    Reply
  84. earwaxdissertation

    I did read and enjoy a few of the memoirs on your list (Angela’s Ashes, Eat, Pray, Love). Im going to step out of left field on this one. Ive read quite a few rock n roll memoirs. I think Eric Clapton’s was the most dull. But hands down, Ozzy Osborne’s autobiography that came out just a few years ago was the most detailed and hilarious (and surprisingly informative)…GOd knows how he recalled so much after years of being wasted. Joan Baez wrote a couple “ok” ones. Bob Dylan’s own memoir “Chronicles” was more interesting. If you are into the Doors, Ray Mazerek (the keyboard player) gives a fascinating peak into the evolution and inspiration of a band in “Light My Fire”. Don’t read “Riders on the Storm”…by the drummer. He just gripes and vents the whole way through the Doors memoir.
    Some of my absolute favorite memoirs are ones that absolutely changed my way of thinking about life and about my country. They are dangerous because they make us acknowledge the Native American experience. One is “Lakota Woman” by Mary Crow Dog. The other “dangerous” book is “Where White Men Fear to Tread” by Russell Means. The most fascinating of the Lakota’s is by Wallace Black Elk called “Black Elk: Sacred Ways of a Lakota” which details the life of a medicine man through his own words.
    IF you are into Hollywood autobios, I enjoyed “Songs My Mother Taught Me” by Marlon Brando.

    If you are into poets, read Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”.

    If you are into comedians, George Lopez’s memoir is heartfelt, witty, and worthy. Joan RIvers writes some good books exposing the difficult rise of a female in the comedy world (“Enter Talking”), but they are more of a serious tone that humorous.

    Hope these help! THANKS FOR A GREAT POST!

    Reply
  85. jillianinboots

    For people who want to read about growing up in a strict, fundamentalist faith, try Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen or Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson. Both stories are sensitive, funny, and careful to depict the life of a girl in church in a way that shows respect and understanding. After reading them, I figured I no longer had to write a book about my life (which was very similar). I’m a librarian and I’ve read all but one of your pics – nice list!

    Reply
  86. zoetic * epics

    THE GLASS CASTLE is one of the FEW reads that I will read more than once! Truly amazing that this is based on the author’s childhood life! Very inspiring ending …

    LUCKY sounds fascinating, although I don’t know if I can stomach graphic violence…

    EAT PREY LOVE speaks to my heart – as a rebellious woman who’s biggest passion is travel, who is anti-conventional, who is married, and trying to find a balanced life with it all!

    Thanks for sharing the list!

    Reply
  87. Jaclyn

    I am currently running through a pretty intense memoir obsession myself. I started with ‘Running With Scissors’ and immediately read everything by Augusten Burroughs, definitely recommend. I absolutely loved ‘The Glass Castle,’ but hate to admit that’s the only one on your list that I’ve read. Though now I’ve just added several to my “to-read” list so thanks!!

    Reply
  88. emekatalks

    glad i found this post. memoirs are great. i think everyone has a unique story worth reading about. thanks for this

    Reply
  89. di @ life of di.

    This is a great list. I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed right now πŸ™‚ Loving it so far!

    Reply
  90. Washington, DC

    This was certainly a great read and very insightful. I’ve read a few memoirs. Definitely need to check out Eat, Pray, Love … I haven’t seen the movie so I will have nothing but fresh eyes and fresh mind for the book.

    Reply
  91. rachelocal

    I love a good memoir and have read the first four on your list. I’m so excited to read the one you mentioned by Ann Patchett. She’s one of my favorite authors. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  92. littlecitybot

    wow! this brings back such great memories haha! i’ve read almost all the books on your list. definitely, DEFINITELY angela’s ashes is an amazing choice. as is lucky. the glass castle was phenomenal as well. thanks for sharing your thoughts! x

    Reply
  93. becauseijustdo

    “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris and though it may be marketed for a younger audience “Boy” by Roald Dahl. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver too. I also loved Tania Aebi’s memoir “Maiden Voyage” about her circumnavigation of the globe at a young age.
    Thanks for your post!

    Reply
  94. onceamonth4

    Love the Glass Castle. Read it in a Memoir class during college and kept the book – love love love it! Thanks for sharing! xo

    Reply
  95. Katie

    The Glass Castle is one of the better books I’ve read in a long time- thanks for sharing your list!

    Reply
  96. anvita1a

    Angela’s Ashes is definitely on my to-read list. Thanks for sharing these with us. I’m going to carry this list with me when I go shopping next.

    But memoirs that I particularly enjoyed were Shame by Jasvinder Sanghera and Orphan of Islam by Alexander Khan. I highly recommend these books.

    Reply
  97. Olivia

    I have read a couple of these which were great reads, I didn’t think there would be many people out there that have read The Burn Journals. That was such an upsetting but amazing book. I’d like to suggest one called “(Don’t Ever Tell) Kathy’s Story: The True Story of a Childhood Hell Inside Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries”…if you haven’t read it already. There have been allegations to say this story is false, but nevertheless, if anything along those lines actually happened in Ireland many years ago…it’s so heartbreaking.

    Reply
  98. roweeee

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I enjoyed your post too. I have been working on my own memoir for several years now and keep approaching it from different angles. Mine is also hopefully a motivational we’ll call it a book even though it is still in its very rudimentary stages. I write about living with adversity. Things that aren’t going to go away and how you keep dealing with them. My aim to is help others feel less alone. I have just written a post about the Love of A Stranger based on a very amazing encounter I had with a hospital volunteer. I love you to check it out please.
    I did a workshop on writing memoir with Alice Pung at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. She asked us all to write about our birth. That was a fascinating exercise because we were there but not there and are dependent on others accounts. This exercise prompted much discussion with my parents and my father produced the empty magnum of champagne they had opened to celebrate my birth. He keeps nothing so I was quite stoked that he still had it and it is now sitting on top of my piano.
    In terms of my favourite memoirs, I love Tuesdays with Morrie, Letter to Sam, Angela’s Ashes, Never Tell Me Never by Australian Janine Shepherd. I did like Eat Pray Love but found her quite self-absorbed.
    Good luck with writing your memoir.

    Reply
  99. fewreflections

    great post πŸ™‚
    I do share your point of view concerning memoirs…what I love the most about those is how easily you can identify yourself with other people’s stories; that your life doesn’t need to be extraordinary or full of big exploitations… you need only write it with your feelings, ideas and expectations!
    Elizabeth Gilbert’s is a great one πŸ™‚
    good luck

    Reply
  100. daniel

    Sarah’s key is a wonderful read

    Reply
  101. Lonely Daffodil

    Thank you for reminding me of Angela’s Ashes. Now I remembered that the book is in my shelf, unread. I happened to “encounter” the book at a flea market. How lucky I am! But stupid me….I didn’t know it was memoir until today.

    Reply
  102. nadya

    I like The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier. Whenever someone tries to define me, I remember this strong memoir and it makes me strong as well. I also like memoirs by Maya Angelou such as The Heart of a Woman, and I love Letters Home, a collection of letters written by Sylvia Plath to her mother.

    Reply
  103. Kim (klling) @ Tranquil Dreams

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
    I’ve only read Eat Pray Love from your list but I have on my to-read Lucky, Angela’s Ashes and Glass Castle. I’m intrigued by some of the other ones too. Burn Journals and The Year of Magical Thinking sounds interesting.

    Reply
  104. mrsmwp

    Born Standing Up by Steve Martin is great
    and though it’s not packaged as a memoir, it essentially is –> A heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers. Just fantastic.

    Reply
  105. Melissa

    I suggest My Life in France by Julia Child, truly a joy to read.

    Reply
  106. Jane Y. Lopez

    I have read and enjoyed the following memoirs:
    – “Lit”- Mary Karr
    – “The Lairs Club” Mary Karr
    – “The Color of Water” James Mc Bride
    – ” A peice of Cake” Cupcake Brown

    Reply
  107. monk-monk

    Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure is a fun one to add to your already awesome list.

    and not quite traditional as far as memoirs go, but I do love anything by Anne Lamott

    Reply
  108. Books, Tea & Me

    I completely agree with all your suggestions, but I must admit that I’ve only read Eat, Pray, Love from your list. However, I do believe you missed one very important book that shaped who I am today and gave me chills by merely reading the words on the pages: Night by Elie Wiesel. It’s a haunting memoir of the Holocaust. If you haven’t read it yet, definitely put it on your to-read list!

    Reply
    • Susie Meserve

      Hi there,

      Another reader reminded me of Night, which I read when I was in junior high. You’re right–it’s an incredibly powerful book. After I read it I read a number of his other memoirs. If you look on my next post, Readers’ Picks Memoirs, you’ll see Night was included there.

      Thanks for your comments, and for reading!

      Susie

      Reply
  109. julesagray

    I read a great one recently: Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Also, Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, and one from a few years ago called Breakup by Catherine Texier. All are moving and so well-written.
    I’ve never understood the fascination with Eat, Pray, Love but I guess I get why chicks dig it.

    Reply
  110. sveltehealthy

    I completely LOVED “Eat, Pray, Love”. The perfect novel for any woman, at any age, who is trying to reinvent or find herself. Read this one while studying abroad in China–beautiful.

    Reply
  111. El

    Here are some great memoirs:
    Open by Andre Agassi
    Catch me if you can Frank Abagnale
    Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Chuck Barris
    Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America Firoozeh Dumas
    Prairie Tale Melissa Gilbert
    Identical Stangers Elyse Schein, Paula Bernstein
    Camryn Manheim Wake up I’m fat!
    Andrew X. Pham Catfish and Mandala
    Rhoda Janzen Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

    If this message goes through and you want me to I will send more. They are all I read.

    John Dufresne: Love Warps The Mid A Little

    Stacy Horn: Waiting For My cats to Die – an insightful and delicious memoir

    Linda Phillips Ashour: Sweet Remedy

    Ann Packer: The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

    Merrill Markoe: It’s My F—Ing Birthday

    Elizabeth Benedict: Always

    OK I am sneaking one work of fiction in here by Caprice Crane: Stupid and Contagious This is one of the funniest books you
    will ever read

    Reply
    • El

      Sorry, these four are fiction and I didn’t mean to add them:

      John Dufresne: Love Warps The Mid A Little

      Linda Phillips Ashour: Sweet Remedy

      Ann Packer: The Dive from Clausen?s Pier

      Elizabeth Benedict: Always

      Reply
  112. El

    Tell me when you have read them all and are ready for more : )

    Reply
  113. solopress11

    Thank you for your list, I have already read a few and will continue with your list. We recently published my mothers memoirs of her years in Texas as a child, “Always Going” by Gwen E Campbell. You might find this as heartwarming as we did. Enjoy!

    Reply

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