I love a good memoir.
mem·oirˈmemˌwär,-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.
- *A Child Called “It”, by Dave Pelzer
- *A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle
- A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah
- *A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller
- Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt
- *Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
- *A Thousand Days in Venice: An Unexpected Romance, by Marlena de Blasi
- *Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas (more biography than memoir, but I included it since much of Bonhoeffer’s writings were included)
- *Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin
- Cherry, by Mary Karr
- *Chosen by a Horse: a Memoir, by Susan Richards
- Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris
- *Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, by Elizabeth Gilbert
- *Evidence Not Seen, by Darlene Diebler Rose
- *Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
- *Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life, by Lauren F. Winner
- Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
- Half Broke Horses, by Jeanette Walls
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
- It Worked for Me: In Life & Leadership, by Colin Powell
- *Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir … of Sorts, by Ian Morgan Cron
- *Keeping the Feast, by Paula Butturini
- Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, by Barbara Brown Taylor
- Leaving the Saints, by Martha Beck
- *Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza
- Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr
- *Life, On the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat, by Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonus
- *Lit, by Mary Karr
- *On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Steven King
- Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
- *Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Lynn Vincent
- *Still: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis, by Lauren F. Winner
- *Surprised by Oxford, by Carolyn Weber
- Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion, by Father Gregory Boyle
- *The Artist’s Daughter, by Alexandra Kuykendall
- *The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
- *The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom
- *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
- *The In-between, by Jeff Goins
- *The Long Awakening, by Lindsey O’Connor
- The Longest Trip Home, by John Grogan
- The Reluctant Tuscan, by Phil Doran
- The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister, by Denise George, Carolyn Ross Tomlin, Nonna Bannister
- The Tender Bar, by J.R. Moehringer
- *Thin Places, by Mary DeMuth
- To Hell and Back, by Audie Murphy
- Too Small To Ignore, by Wess Stafford
- *Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott
- Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson, by Mitch Album
- *Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand
- *We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, by Becky Johnson & Rachel Randolph
- 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.
The Longest Road Home – John Grogan author of Marley and Me
Ah, good one. Marley and Me, too! Thanks, Jon.
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?
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!
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.
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!
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.
Good suggestions, Marilyn. I’ve been meaning to read “Evolving in Monkey Town.” Thanks!
Yes! Another good one. Thanks, Addie.
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.
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!
Good to be here.
Great list here.
Need more time to
Anyways thanks for
the great list.
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
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!)
just read it, trust me
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.
Scream Quietly by Elizabeth Carlson
Thank you for the suggestion, Kaarin. I appreciate it!
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!)
Wow. A double recommend! Way to go, Elizabeth.
The Longest Trip Home by John Grogan
Ack! How did I miss this one … AGAIN?! Thanks, Jon.
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.
Glad you like it, Bethany! As for A Long Way Gone, it’s #3. 🙂
You forgot to put mine in there. 🙂
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!
How could I forget about “Keeping the Feast?!” Thanks for the additions, Ellen! (have fun in CO! I’ll be waving!)
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.
So very humbled to be on that list, Michele. Thank you.
Well deserved, M.
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!
You are a true talent, Becky.
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”.
Great recommends, Rodney. I’ve heard about “Blood and Honor.” Will definitely check that one out. Thanks!
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.
No thanks needed, my friend. It’s an EXCELLENT book. Definitely worthy of being on this list.
When I Lay My Issac Down by Carol Kent. Awesome book!!
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.
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)