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Books: Over 100 Must Read Memoirs To Whet Your Appetite…

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“A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.” Gore Vidal

Books: Over 100 Must Read Memoirs To Whet Your Appetite…

Books: Over 100 Must Read Memoirs Before You Kick The Bucket…
When I set out to put together a reading list of memoirs that have captured my heart over the years, I was quite happy to just gather the book titles and their authors and let you follow the trail and select what you wish to read. But as I researched the subject, I found that while a Memoir or reminiscence of a life as told by the individual who lived it is a literary genre that fits, as a subclass, under the umbrella of the Autobiography,(some say they are interchangeable words), it includes a range of options, formulas or styles of writing that an author can choose to use.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
Eat, Pray, Love Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Sex Death Enlightenment: A True Story by Mark Matousek
Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
With All My Might by Gabriella van Rij
Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks
Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Lucky by Alice Sebold
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison
A Child Called “It” (Dave Pelzer, #1) by Dave Pelzer
On Writing by Stephen King

“I believe that the memoir is the novel of the 21st century; it’s an amazing form that we haven’t even begun to tap… we’re just getting started figuring out what the rules are.” Susan Cheever

If you decide to write a memoir your approach could be one or more of the following: The Victim Memoir; trauma, tragedy, a harrowing experience like The Child Called It by Dave Pelser. The Survivor Memoir; heroism, feats of strength, sacrifice and overcoming stories fit this one like Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The Celebrity Memoir; whatever fits your claim to fame, Guinness Book material or other unique stuff, can fit this mold not just the lives of the rich and famous. The Insider Memoir; Do you have a unique perspective or firsthand experience of a special time/ group/ scene then this approach is your mode. The Love Story Memoir; Have a great love story with obstacles? Sweeping drama? This is you. Additionally, Creative nonfiction, Diary records, and Fake memoirs provide a writer with a few more ways to share their story…

Bossypants by Tina Fey
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Boy He Left Behind: A Man’s Search for His Father by Mark Matousek
Me Talk Pretty One Day Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Night by Elie Wiesel
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
My Life in France by Julia Child
Dry by Augusten Burroughs
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Nigger at Eton by Dillibe Onyeama
Keep On Dancing – An Autobiography by Sarah Churchill
The Kitchen Sink Papers: My Life As A HouseHusband by Mike McGrady
Journey by Robert and Suzanne Massie
Footprints of a Pilgrim by Ruth Bell Graham
Hard Times in Paradise by David Colfax
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black by Gregory Howard Williams

“I gather together the dreams, fantasies, experiences that preoccupied me as a girl, that stay with me and appear and reappear in different shapes and forms in all my work. Without telling everything that happened, they document all that remains most vivid.” bell hooks

Books: Over 100 Must Read Memoirs To Whet Your Appetite…

I’ve always loved the idea of having a fly on the wall glimpse into the lives of others and when a writer is bold enough to include cringe worthy material, painful moments or emotionally charged moments of brutal honesty, things we normally prefer not to share, it adds something more to the storyline. I have gathered some of the most engaging personal narratives for your perusal. This list is not exhaustive and I’ll gladly add others you suggest so we can update and grow the reading list. I’ve read many of them and even own a copy of Dillibe Onyeama’s out of print book Nigger at Eton. Read, write and exchange ideas… Isn’t that what the writing life is about anyway?  More below!

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I Love Yous Are for White People: A by Lac Su
Reading Lolita in Tehran Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Naked by David
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
A Million Little Pieces A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog by John
Stop-Time: A Memoir by Frank Conroy
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.
I Should Have Seen It Coming When the Rabbit Died by Teresa Bloomingdale
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
Eric by Doris Herold Lund
Dove by Robin Lee Graham
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in The Other America by Alex Kotlowitz

“With my own memoirs, they are truthful, and I write everything fully expecting to someday end up televised on Court TV, and I’m fully prepared to be challenged legally on it.” Augusten Burroughs

Books: Over 100 Must Read Memoirs To Whet Your Appetite… Esmeralda Santiago

Question: What’s the most interesting biography or memoir you’ve read?
I’ve read far too many to list but a few that stand out are:
Esmeralda Santiago‘s memorable memoir in three parts, When I was Puerto Rican: A Memoir, Almost a Woman, and The Turkish Lover: A Memoir, kept me laughing and wanting more. She has a strong, lyrical voice and her unvarnished stories will make you both cringe and applaud her courage.
Buchi Emecheta’s memoir; a haunting trilogy namely Second Class Citizen, In the Ditch, and Head Above Water, would make you laugh, cry, and rail against those who thrive on abusing others. She shares how she survived the scars of domestic violence by channeling her energy into writing and eventually confronting her abuser.
Teju Cole’s Open City, a fictional piece on a Nigerian doctor in NYC and his personal struggles, while not officially a biography or memoir, could easily be the autobiography of any dislocated immigrant trying to make sense of his/her surroundings in a new world.
Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a meditation on Murakami’s journey as a writer and the impact running has had on that journey. It is a brilliant quick read, and one of my daughters, who is into all things Japanese, shared her copy with me and I enjoyed every word; the ups and downs of an observant life well lived. Runner’s World has a great interview with him. Read it.  I’ll definitely add them to the list here. More below! ;-)

Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia’s City of Steel by John Scott
A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
Nella Last’s War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49 by Nella Last
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier by Alexandra Fuller
Don’t Call me Mother, by Linda Joy Myers
The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden
Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven
Tongs and the Bones by Earl of George Henry Hubert Lascelles Harewood
A King’s Story: The Memoirs of H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor K.G. by Duke of Edward Windsor
The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955 by John Rupert Colville
Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther
One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School by Scott Turow
If Wishes Were Horses: The Education of a Veterinarian by Loretta Gage
Boot by Daniel Da Cruz
Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir by Carol D. O’Dell
An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
Look Me in the Eye by John Robison
Mistress’s Daughter by A.M. Homes
Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro
Losing Jonathan Robert Waxler
Expecting Adam by Martha Beck
Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields
Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas
Colored People by Henry Louis Gates

” “Our stories about our own lives are a form of fiction, I began to see and become more insistent as we grow older, even as we try to make them come out in some other way.” Roger Angell

Books: Over 100 Must Read Memoirs To Whet Your Appetite… Haruki Murakami

Good Morning, Merry Sunshine by Bob Greene
Ten Points, by Bill Strickland
Sleeping Arrangements by Laura Shaine Cunningham
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
Name All the Animals by Alison Smith
Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes Courter
The Water Is Wide by Pat Conroy
Lonely Girls With Burning Eyes: A Wife Recalls Her Husband’s Journey Home from Vietnam by Marian Faye Novak
Love & Duty by Ben Purcell
The Village of Waiting by George Packer
Gringo Brought His Mother by Geneva Sanders
Be True to Your School by Bob Green
Pinstripes & Pearls: The Women of the Harvard Law Class of ’64 Who Forged an Old Girl Network and Paved the Way for Future Generations by Judith Hope
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
Nun: A Memoir by Mary Gilligan Wong
No Disrespect by Sister Souljah
Life in a Bottle by Susan Cheever
Beautiful Boy, a Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff
Tweak, Growing up on Amphetamines by Nic Sheff
Beautiful Boy by David Sheff.
“In Pharoah’s Army,” Tobias Wolff
“Three Cups of Tea” by Gregg Mortenson
“The Pact” by Sampson Davis, et al
“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
“Sound of No Hands Clapping” by Toby Young

The truth is that, at last count, we have over 160 books to list and I intend to add more. So if you have any titles that you don’t see listed here, do leave them in a comment below and I’ll update the list. Meanwhile, pick what you haven’t read and spend some time with the readings… Enjoy!

What are your thoughts? Do you have a list of favorite Memoirs? Have you read any on my list? Would you love to write one someday? What option/formula would you choose and stops you? Do share! Thank you. 😉

This post was inspired by two prompts from WP Plinky: What’s the most interesting biography or memoir you’ve read? and Name your top five favorite writers.

*Please bear with me as I continue to catch up on your blogs and commenting… Thank you all for your patience! 🙂

Positive Motivation Tip: In a memoir, the writer boldly shares aspects of his/her life that could be illuminating to the rest of us. Read. Write. Enjoy!

PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: All photos, Belly Band Book,   Esmeralda Santiago, Haruki Murakami, via Wikipedia and/or via Flickr.

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank
Mirth and Motivation
Positive Kismet

21 Comments leave one →
  1. 19/07/2012 6:30 am

    Oh, I read most Haruki’s novel including ノルウェイの森
    I heard that his novels are popular all the world and glad to know that.
    His novels are very impressive and make me thinking a lot.

  2. 19/07/2012 7:32 am

    My goodness, you are thorough – what a brilliant list! I used to teach my students about memoir writing and its conundrums. Great post and great list!!!

  3. 19/07/2012 12:10 pm

    Great List! I marked this page on my favorites. Thank You for all the recomendations! Hope your feeling better. Last time I was over here you had a bad cold if I remember correctly. :+) This post is Freshly Press Worthy.

  4. 19/07/2012 1:10 pm

    Oh my!…I’m quite overwelmed…but, I put this page on favorites too…like “starlaschat”…for reference…Quite impressive I dare say!

  5. 19/07/2012 2:12 pm

    I don’t read memoirs much. My aunt’s wartime diaries are more interesting to me, because I knew her. But one very powerful one is “What is the What” by Valentino Achak Deng with Dave Eggers – it moved me to tears…

  6. 19/07/2012 3:38 pm

    Amazing job. Some of the most powerful books that I’ve read have been memoirs, thanks for reminding me. I’ve read many of these memoirs, but have many to add to my list, thanks to you! 🙂

  7. 19/07/2012 9:26 pm

    Stellar list, Eliz! I’ve not read many memoirs…but I do love them. Your suggestions should keep me going for quite a while. 🙂

  8. 20/07/2012 1:10 am

    Many decades ago a memoir was actually a biography or an autobiography. Now sixteen year olds like Justin Bieber and others are publishing memoirs, causing me to lose interest in the genre.

  9. 20/07/2012 3:31 am

    I dunno – spend too much time reading about other people’s lives and we won’t have time to live our own 😉

  10. 20/07/2012 1:34 pm

    OMG I could barely get through the list! There are definitely many I want to read. One I would add is Jenny Lawson’s (the Bloggess) new memoir: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir). I’ve never laughed out loud so much while reading a book, but there are moments of heartbreak as well. Highly recommend.

  11. 20/07/2012 1:40 pm

    Love this memoir list! Thank you, dear friend!

  12. Jack permalink
    20/07/2012 4:45 pm

    Great list indeed! I agree that LOSING JONATHAN is especially moving on losing a son–and the menacing nightmare of heroin.

  13. 20/07/2012 10:20 pm

    Honestly, I have not thought much about memoirs lately, or perhaps, ever. I did read, “A Child Called It.”
    (er, the Miss Esmeralda Santiago’s photo is a bit scary…sorry, it hit me like that when I first saw it…)
    I wish more time could be added to our days so we could spend it just reading and blogging. *sigh*

  14. 23/07/2012 2:54 pm

    What a great list. I have read a few of them. Losing Jonathon moved me to tears as did some of the others.

  15. 03/08/2012 12:41 pm

    A great list, indeed. I’d better get started 🙂

  16. 04/08/2012 8:08 am

    I’ve read several of these; a few more are on my book shelf to be read. I get so little pleasurable reading done these days. Most of my free time is spent writing and reading blogs. But I’m reading a little memoir now that’s quite fascinating, Jamaica Farewell by Morris Cargill. Jamaica from the perspective of a white Jamaican. It’s just over 200 pages and it’s taking me over a week to finish!

    • 04/08/2012 8:48 pm

      That’s amazing! I am from Jamaica and I have an old battered copy of that little book. Dear Mr. Cargill passed away about ten years ago I think. He used to write a great column in the Sunday paper – very witty. I think the book may be out of print now. I found it quite sad (he did come back to live in Jamaica again for a number of years, actually).

      • 04/08/2012 8:58 pm

        Well Emma meet Marsha! Marsha is back home now but visits us in NY from time to time. 🙂


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