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25 Memorable and Must-Read Memoirs

Books provide an escape for many readers, but it also gives us the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes just for a little.  While memoirs tell the story of someone’s life, the best ones are so powerful.  They can transcend experiences and give us something to relate to, laugh about, think about, force us to reflect, and sometimes examine our own lives.  While this list is just a dent in the amazing memoirs that have been written over the years, these stories are so memorable; you will be thinking about them long after you’ve turned the last page.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward (Salvage the Bones, Sing, Unburied, Sing) contends with the deaths of five young men dear to her, and the risk of being a black man in the rural South.

Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel

Giving Up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel

New York Times bestselling author Hilary Mantel, two-time winner of the Man Booker Prize, is one of the world’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers. Giving Up the Ghost, is her dazzling memoir of a career blighted by physical pain in which her singular imagination supplied compensation for the life her body was denied.

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

A ruthlessly honest, emotionally charged, and utterly original exploration of Asian American consciousness.

Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig

Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig

A memoir-in-essays from disability advocate and creator of the Instagram account @sitting_pretty Rebekah Taussig, processing a lifetime of memories to paint a beautiful, nuanced portrait of a body that looks and moves differently than most.

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Hunger by Roxane Gay

From the New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist: a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis.

Sissy by Jacob Tobia

Sissy by Jacob Tobia

As a young child in North Carolina, Jacob Tobia wasn’t the wrong gender, they just had too much of the stuff. Barbies? Yes. Playing with bugs? Absolutely. Getting muddy? Please. Princess dresses? You betcha. Jacob wanted it all, but because they were a boy, they were told they could only have the masculine half. Acting feminine labelled them a sissy and brought social isolation.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion that explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

Heavy by Kiese Laymon

In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Father Greg Lockwood is unlike any Catholic priest you have ever met–a man who lounges in boxer shorts, loves action movies, and whose constant jamming on the guitar reverberates “like a whole band dying in a plane crash in 1972.” His daughter is an irreverent poet who long ago left the Church’s country. When an unexpected crisis leads her and her husband to move back into her parents’ rectory, their two worlds collide.

A vivid, heartbreakingly funny memoir about balancing identity with family and tradition.

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.

The Color of Water by James McBride

The Color of Water by James McBride

Who is Ruth McBride Jordan? A self-declared light-skinned woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut, The Color Of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

A brilliant, haunting and unforgettable memoir from a stunning new talent about the inexorable pull of home and family, set in a shotgun house in New Orleans East.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became.

Just as I Am by Cicely Tyson

Just as I Am by Cicely Tyson

Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” –Cicely Tyson

Patrimony by Philip Roth

Patrimony by Philip Roth

Patrimony, a true story, touches the emotions as strongly as anything Philip Roth has ever written. Roth watches as his eighty-six-year-old father–famous for his vigor, charm, and his repertoire of Newark recollections–battles with the brain tumor that will kill him. The son, full of love, anxiety, and dread, accompanies his father through each fearful stage of his final ordeal, and, as he does so, discloses the survivalist tenacity that has distinguished his father’s long, stubborn engagement with life.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.

A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk

A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk

As relevant now as when it was first published, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South skilfully weaves a compelling love story into a clash between the pursuit of profit and humanitarian ideals.

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

I Should Have Honor by Khalida Brohi

I Should Have Honor by Khalida Brohi

A fearless memoir about tribal life in Pakistan–and the act of violence that inspired one ambitious young woman to pursue a life of activism and female empowerment.

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Helen Macdonald’s story of adopting and raising one of nature’s most vicious predators has soared into the hearts of millions of readers worldwide.

What do you think about the books on this list?

Have you read any of the books on this list?  What are some of your favorite memoirs?  What books would you add to the list?

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