In Search of a Good Memoir {UPDATED}

Jun 20, 2014

I love a good memoir.

mem·oir
ˈmemˌwär,-ˌwôr/
noun
(1) a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources.
(2) An essay on a learned subject.

Well-written, page-turning stories of real people doing real life. I’ve always been a fiction reader. Novels comprise 75% of my reading material. But memoir (when done well) is NON-FICTION fiction. Compelling slivers of honest life written in the form and shape of a gripping novel. A story delivered via the medium of truth. Powerful.

Often—especially during the summer months— I hear from readers who want book recommends. So, in the event you might be a memoir-lover too, I compiled this list in 2012 and updated it this week. Many I’ve already read (I *starred* those). Other still occupy my lengthy to-be-read list. Although I can’t vouch for each one, and memoir style and taste can vary as much as an individual’s dinner palate, I can say each came at the recommend of someone I know and respect.

Thought of one I missed? Leave the title it in the comments. I’ll keep the list growing.

Happy reading!

Untitled design (1)

  1. *A Child Called “It”, by Dave Pelzer
  2. *A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah
  4. *A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller
  5. Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt
  6. *Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
  7. *A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance, by Marlena de Blasi
  8. *Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas (more biography than memoir, but I included it since much of Bonhoeffer’s writings were included)
  9. *Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
  10. Cherry, by Mary Karr
  11. *Chosen by a Horse: a Memoir, by Susan Richards
  12. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris
  13. *Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert
  14. *Evidence Not Seen, by Darlene Diebler Rose
  15. *Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  16. *Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life, by Lauren F. Winner
  17. Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
  18. Half Broke Horses, by Jeanette Walls
  19. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  20. It Worked for Me: In Life & Leadership, by Colin Powell
  21. *Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir … of Sorts, by Ian Morgan Cron
  22. *Keeping the Feast, by Paula Butturini
  23. Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor
  24. Leaving the Saints, by Martha Beck
  25. *Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza
  26. Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr
  27. *Life, On the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat, by Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonus
  28. *Lit, by Mary Karr
  29. *On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Steven King
  30. Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
  31. *Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent
  32. *Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis, by Lauren F. Winner
  33. *Surprised by Oxford, by Carolyn Weber
  34. Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion, by Father Gregory Boyle
  35. *The Artist’s Daughter, by Alexandra Kuykendall
  36. *The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
  37. *The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom
  38. *The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, by Gretchen Rubin
  39. *The In-between, by Jeff Goins
  40. *The Long Awakening, by Lindsey O’Connor
  41. The Longest Trip Home, by John Grogan
  42. The Reluctant Tuscan, by Phil Doran
  43. The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister, by Denise George, Carolyn Ross Tomlin, Nonna Bannister
  44. The Tender Bar, by J.R. Moehringer
  45. *Thin Places, by Mary DeMuth
  46. To Hell and Back, by Audie Murphy
  47. Too Small To Ignore, by Wess Stafford
  48. *Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott
  49. Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson, by Mitch Album
  50. *Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand
  51. *We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, by Becky Johnson & Rachel Randolph
  52. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

Have you read an excellent memoir that’s not included on this list? Leave it in the comments. 

41 Comments

  1. Jon Stolpe

    The Longest Road Home – John Grogan author of Marley and Me

    Reply
    • Michele

      Ah, good one. Marley and Me, too! Thanks, Jon.

      Reply
  2. Paula

    What a great collection you’ve put together! Thanks for sharing. I’ve read several and have now added many to the “to read” list. Which of the one’s that you read exemplified the ideal memoir to you?

    Reply
    • Michele

      Glad you enjoyed the list, Paula. I’ve been told by a friend that “Leaving the Saints” (Martha Beck) is a great one to study for writing purposes. If you want a good book on the memoir craft, I recommend “Your Life As Story” by Tristine Rainer. Hope this helps!

      Reply
  3. Cris Ferreira

    Michele, I too love to read memoirs. Thank you for this list.
    The one that came to my mind, although it is not completely a memoir, is “The hole in our Gospel” by Rich Stearns. I say it is not completely because he tells about his life, how he became the CEO of World Vision, and in some chapters he talks specifically about poverty and famine in the world. It is a great read, however. It changed my life.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Interesting that you would mention that book, Cris. I just looked at it on my shelf yesterday as I compiled this list. Great recommend — thank you!

      Reply
  4. Marilyn

    Three of my favorites:

    Surprised by Oxford, Carolyn Weber
    Surviving the Island of Grace: A Memoir of Alaska, Leslie Leyland Fields
    Evolving in Monkeytown, Rachel Held Evans

    All are by strong conservative Christian women who are wives and/or mothers, but are not solely defined by those roles; rather they emphasize the importance of knowing God.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Good suggestions, Marilyn. I’ve been meaning to read “Evolving in Monkey Town.” Thanks!

      Reply
  5. addie

    Anne Frank

    Reply
    • Michele

      Yes! Another good one. Thanks, Addie.

      Reply
  6. Barbara

    Honestly, I don’t read as much as I hope to in my not-too-far-away retirement. 😉 But I have read the first one below about 5 times.

    My American Journey by Colin Powell

    A Memoir by Barbara Bush – I’m actually reading this now.

    Both books are filling-in some ‘history’ for me, as in a deeper context for what I heard on the news as a child and young adult in the ’60s and ’70s.

    Reply
    • Michele

      What a great idea, Barbara — to read other people’s stories as it gives context to your own, primarily those significant participants in history. Thanks for sharing those two titles!

      Reply
  7. Philip Verghese 'Ariel'

    Hi Michele,
    Good to be here.
    Great list here.
    Need more time to
    check all,
    Anyways thanks for
    the great list.
    Keep inform
    Best regards
    Phil

    Reply
  8. Sharon MacLeod

    I love memoirs and have enjoyed reading them for years. I’ve read some on your list. Here are some others that I’ve enjoyed:
    – My Life So Far by Jane Fonda
    – Lessons in Becoming Myself by Ellen Burstyn
    – Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World by Mary Pipher
    – Copy This by Paul Orfalea
    – Not Fade Away: A short life well lived by Laurence Shames

    I have most (maybe all) of them, so let me know if you want to borrow any Michele!

    Some that are on my “to read list” are below. I’d love to hear if anyone has read any.
    – Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
    – The Center Cannot Hold: My journey through madness by Elyn R Saks
    – Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
    – Stitches by David Small

    Reply
    • Michele

      I haven’t read ANY of these, which I can’t believe. I can always count on you to expand my library, Sharon. Thank you! (and yes, I will probably borrow one or two!)

      Reply
  9. Coming Out of the Ice

    just read it, trust me

    Reply
  10. ER

    Coming Out of the Ice (apologies if duplicate comment, I filled out form wrong) . Anyways, the book is not in publication anymore (which is insane, best memoir ever according to everyone I know who’s read the book, incl myself), but if u can find used copy (good luck w/ that), it’s worth it.

    Reply
  11. Kaarin

    Scream Quietly by Elizabeth Carlson

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you for the suggestion, Kaarin. I appreciate it!

      Reply
    • Rodney Price

      Kaarin is right. “Scream Quietly” by Elizabeth Carlson is a book by one of our church members of her experience as a very young girl in Poland during WWII. It is a breathtaking true account of danger, faith and miraculous deliverance. 5 stars, available at Amazon (no I don’t get a commission!)

      Reply
  12. Jon Stolpe

    The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Ack! How did I miss this one … AGAIN?! Thanks, Jon.

      Reply
  13. Bethany Turner

    I love this list, Michelle! Eat, Pray, Love is one my absolute favorite books. Elizabeth made me want to eat my way through Italy as well!

    Another one I would add to the list is A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Child Soldier by Ishmael Beah.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Glad you like it, Bethany! As for A Long Way Gone, it’s #3. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Sundi Jo

    You forgot to put mine in there. 🙂

    Reply
  15. Ellen

    Here’s a few more for your list!
    Keeping the Feast -One couple’s story of food, love, and healing – Paula Butturini
    Don’t Sing at the Table-life lessons from my grandmothers – Adriani Trigiani
    An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison

    I’ve read many on your list and now have a few more to search for at the library!
    And I’ll be in your neck of the woods this weekend as we visit our CO kids and see a Rockies
    game on Monday night!
    Ellen

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      How could I forget about “Keeping the Feast?!” Thanks for the additions, Ellen! (have fun in CO! I’ll be waving!)

      Reply
  16. Jennifer

    Thank you for adding to my reading list!

    A couple others I would recommend:

    “It Doesn’t Take a Hero” – Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf
    “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint” – Nadia Bolz-Weber
    “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated” – Alison Arngrim
    “Home: A Memoir of My Early Years” – Julie Andrews
    “The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust” – Edith H. Beer and Susan Dworkin

    I know I have more….but these are ones I easily remembered because they made such an impact on me.

    Reply
  17. Mary DeMuth

    So very humbled to be on that list, Michele. Thank you.

    Reply
  18. Becky Johnson

    Love this list and so honored to be listed among the greats here. Lovely to have friends who put you in high places! Hugs and thank you!

    Reply
  19. Rodney Price

    Michele,

    What a great idea! Memoir has become my favorite genre. Here are three that I recommend highly.

    “Rough Road to Freedom” by Neil T. Anderson (almost 4.6 out of 5 stars on the big book website) is a transparent account of most of his life to date. If you have been positively impacted by his writings and ministry like I have, then you will enjoy this behind the scenes view of how it came about and the opposition that had to be overcome.

    “East Wind” – the story of Maria Zeitner Linke by Ruth Hunt (4.7 out of 5 stars on the big book website). This is a moving and triumphant story. Maria’s story has helped to bring a better understanding and a better attitude in me toward unjust suffering. I am humbled and encouraged by her life.

    “Blood and Honor” by Reinhold Kerstan (4.8 out of 5 stars on the big book website). Reinhold was a Hitler Youth who eventually became the translator for Billy Graham when he spoke behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany in 1982. Among numerous life lessons, this book highlights some of the inherent dangers of nationalism (a good reminder during World Cup? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) as well as the benefits of “training up a child in the way he should go”.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Great recommends, Rodney. I’ve heard about “Blood and Honor.” Will definitely check that one out. Thanks!

      Reply
  20. Lindsey O'Connor

    Thank you dear one for adding my memoir to the list. I’m honored to be in such great company! You’ve made The Long Awakening happy.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      No thanks needed, my friend. It’s an EXCELLENT book. Definitely worthy of being on this list.

      Reply
  21. Deb

    When I Lay My Issac Down by Carol Kent. Awesome book!!

    Reply
  22. diane olson

    I highly recommend by Karen Spears Zacharis, After The Flag Has Been Foldedhttp://www.amazon.com/After-Flag-Has-Been-Folded-ebook/dp/B002IPZDS4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1403660393&sr=8-2&keywords=karen+spears+zacharias

    I also loved John Groban, Carol Kent and Jeanette Walls.

    Reply
  23. Melissa Kaiserman {A Time for Everything}

    I’ve really grown to love memoirs as well over the past few years and have enjoyed many of the ones on your list. I’m so glad to have this resource for more! I have a couple to add:

    The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother (James McBride)
    The Family Nobody Wanted (Helen Doss)

    Reply

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