Roundup of Best Memoirs

It is within the stories of others that we discover both, how to live, as well as ourselves.  Within the experiences of others, we learn empathy, new ways of thinking and novel ways of being, we find inspiration, alternate approaches to life, as well as how to walk in the shoes of another.

Memoir is crucial to humanity.  It is through learning the stories of others the our minds widen and our hearts grow.

Here is my personal list of favorites falling under the “memoir” category:

Ready for a book that will change the way you look at both life and people?  Well worth a few hours of your life (and really, what isn’t awesome about curling up under a cozy blanket with a huge mug of steaming tea or coffee and a gripping story).

Jeannette Walls delivers the retelling of a childhood, her own, packing a wallop you wont soon forget.

For a full review (without spoilers), here you go.


While initially hesitant about this story, as I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the subject matter, I was astonished to find myself gripped, moved, even enamored by this one.  Where Heather Harpham excels is her prose, which is poetic, lyrical, even beautiful.

A story about two people who fall in love, seeming well matched in numerous ways, and with a poignant connection.  However, one wants children, the other does not.  She remains convinced he will eventually change his mind- a dangerous wish and assumption, to be sure.  Yet, when she becomes pregnant, they must decide what to do in the midst of this crossroads, and further, how they will get through it when their child falls extremely ill.

Click here for a longer synopsis (without spoilers).


While the dilemma and heartbreak in this story arent especially unique, nor shocking (the death of a parent and the author, Cheryl Strayed, experiencing emotional upheaval and chaos because of such), what is riveting and compelling in “Wild” is how Strayed writes about the contradictions of human emotion and experience.  She is a poetic, raw, honest writer of the human soul.

Strayed writes with poignancy about the nuances of her and her mothers relationship, on the event of losing her mother.  This moment, unhinging her heart.  Strayed spirals into depression, even dancing on the edge of drug addiction, lurching within a grasping wildness amidst the shadowy aftermath of losing this person she so loved.  Hollowed out inside, empty and desperate in her aching, Strayed seeks the filling of this hole in her heart in all the wrong places.  In the very ones that in fact, will simply widen its chasm.  And then finally, she turns in the direction of light and movs toward healing and self discovery.

For a more in depth review, click here.


This book is mind blowing.  About a girl who grows up, entirely uneducated in any official or traditional way, within a survivalist and even delusional family, who goes on to then get her PhD at Harvard.  Even further though, its a story of growth, personal discovery, of the coming to painful realizations about those we love, and of breaking free.  The writing/prose is phenomenal.  The story, utterly gripping.


An inspiring, thought-provoking, much needed book on the topic of how women are spoken of, perceived, and treated, still today in our culture.  Lindy West is a compelling, articulate, and empowering voice.  Bravely saying so many things which have been needed to be voiced for far too long.  Loved this book.  Blew through it in like 3 days.  Underlined and highlighted something close to half of it.  Read aloud numerous passages to my boyfriend, who too agreed it was thought-provoking and inspiring.


Man, is Mary Karr a bad ass writer and distinct voice.  Her memoir about the descent into and recovery from alcoholism is compelling, but more so, told with a voice which is memorable, witty, poetic and unique, just the bomb.

Here is a short review of her book “The Art of Memoir,” which I cannot recommend enough.


Though semi similar in theme to “Educated,” with the down and out child ending up at Harvard, the stories are different.  This one, taking place largely on the streets, her being child to drug addicted and largely absent parents.  Several gritty and heartbreaking scenes of such, permeating the book.  When her mother dies of AIDS, Lizzie is left even further alone.  Determined to succeed, she squeezes four years of high school into two, while homeless, often sleeping in subway stations.  It is also though and ultimately a story of how in the end, its the love of healthier others, those who believe in her with both action and word, that save her.


One of my favorite books ever.

“Patti Smith has graced us with a poetic masterpiece, a rare and privileged invitation to unlatch a treasure chest never before breached.”- Johnny Depp

This story can teach us so many deeply relevant and invaluable life lessons.  “Just Kids” begins as a love story and ends as a breathtaking conclusion of two people who were soul mates in the truest sense of the word.  It also serves as an incredibly visual and fascinating salute to New York City, during the late sixties and seventies.  This book is wonderfully written, its poetic and honest, its gripping, deeply inspiring, and fascinating.

For a full review, click here.


This is a book that will change the way in which you look at both love and relationships.  Whether you personally identify with her mindsets or relational model(s) or not, its a worthwhile, eye opening, and meaningful story to read.  Just because we do not choose a particular life style or value set for ourselves doesn’t mean it isn’t one worth knowing about or being curious towards.  On the contrary, the more open and inquisitive one is, the likely a richer life you will lead.

For a full review of this one (no spoilers), here you go.


This is a powerful story, a necessary one, told by a young woman whom many attempted silencing and dismissing.  Instead, she spoke out, both for herself and for the millions of other women (as well as men) who have been silenced, not believed, dismissed, or treated as though their being harmed with a trivial thing, and/or something for which they are to be blamed.  This one takes place at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, so it hit quite close to home (with my having grown up in Concord).


This is an empathy inducing, thought provoking, research laden book.  Following the trajectory of one woman’s inner battle with body image, eating disorders, and ultimately, her emerge into self love.  As well as an exploration in how our culture handles and views attractiveness and our bodies in general.  A fascinating and engaging read.  One I am sure that many women will be able to identify with (I did), as well as even some men.


As a teen, this was a favorite of mine.  A memoir told via the outlet of an anonymous dairy of sorts.  A young girl who is desperate for feeling accepted, for being a part of the in-crowd, finds her way into experimenting with drugs, which ultimately leads to her death.  Its a dark, sad, though important read, as I imagine many young adults can identify with both her emotional experience and teen year choices.


Part memoir, part how-to on writing, Natalie Goldberg has a way with words.  She is able to take the ordinary, the daily details, the minute of our lives and make it rich, nuanced, compelling, even romantic.  The way in which she writes about, say, a woman in a blue dress, or a man waiting for his lover to arrive, the candles burned down to a waxy pile in their sticks.  Dew scattered among the grass, or the scent of sweetly burning wood in the wind.  She writes about such things in a way that moves and engages us, in a way that makes us care.


On the event of this young woman’s death, an impassioned, hopeful, would-be writer, her family took essays and manuscripts she had been working on and stowed away, then published them.  The result is a beautifully written, whimsical, wonderful read of non-fiction essays and short stories.


Part exploration of the history and purpose of marriage, part memoir of her love affair with the man she met on her adventure (from Eat, Pray, Love), I found this to be an interesting delving into how marriage is perceived in other cultures, as well as one person coming to terms with what marriage might mean for her (both, inside and out of the box).  (As a woman who was generally against such and had vowed never getting married again).


This is a harrowing, powerful book of the authors account of his time spent in a concentration camp.  Though what makes it pack such a poignant punch is his writing is coupled with a lens of thinking stemming from his degrees including a Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy.  What he came to understand and found during his three years spent in concentration camps was that when we have a sense of meaning in our lives, a beacon towards which we strive, something for which we are living, this was what made the difference (often times) between those who survived and didnt.  When man or woman has meaning and purpose in their life, are living for something and striving toward such, they tend to be survivors.


Part memoir, part writing how-to, this is an engaging, witty, easy to read, excellent book.  Both, for impassioned writers, and for those who just want to read a great memoir.  Fascinating, gripping, as well as inspiring, its a great read.


Boy, did Keith live a rollicking life, as one might expect from the guitarist of the Rolling Stones.  Told in his own voice, this is a gravelly, poetic, wild ride of a read.


Incredibly powerful, in terms of a memoir detailing someones experiences during World War 2 and being imprisoned in a concentration camp, this is the best one I’ve ever read.  Riveting, incredibly moving, dark, and powerful.  This is a must read for all.

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