A list of some great memoirs to read right now. These nonfiction books will show you new perspectives, teach you about other cultures, and show you the resilience of the human spirit. Some are funny and entertaining while others are tragic and inspiring. All of them will educate you in some way.
This list is presented in alphabetical order and will be expanded as more books are read and reviewed.
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This is a memoir you’re likely already aware of. It was an instant bestseller and received nothing but positive reviews (at least by reviewers who aren’t republican or racist). Essentially, it’s a memoir must read.
Michelle Obama tells her unique story of her path to becoming First Lady of the United States. But it’s not really about politics or how to get ahead. Instead, the bulk of the book is her growing up and going to law school, meeting her husband Barack, and maintaining her cool under extreme pressure. Her book exudes the same elegance that she does and is both entertaining and enlightening.
Bedtime Stories for the Living
Jay Armstrong’s touching memoir is a love letter to his family. He started writing it after his diagnosis of a rare degenerative brain disorder that is certain to take him away from his kids much sooner than anyone would prefer. He discusses his life stories in the format of lessons for his children.
He is also honest about wanting this book to sell well so that he can cover his medical expenses and leave something behind when he’s gone. Unfortunately, we Americans live in a society that has to rely on charity to just pay for a hospital stay. Buy Armstrong’s memoir to support him on his journey but also because it is a lovely nonfiction read.
Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness
Fast Girl is a remarkable memoir by a woman who suffers from bipolar disorder. She tells the story of how mania drove her to quit her job and essentially everything about her life to move to Vegas to become the top escort in the city. She is fortunate enough to have kept a lot of the pieces of her life intact throughout her episodes and diagnosis but any reader can clearly see how destructive this disorder can be.
Popular but harmful trends on social media have painted mania as a sort of “superpower.” Advanced levels of energy, lowered inhibitions, and less of a need for sleep certainly can lead to some great achievements, but uninformed Tik Tokers don’t understand the crash and burn that comes soon after. This great memoir honestly lays it all out on the table.
Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking Life From Scratch
Many of the books on this list of memoirs are by incredible women who became very successful in their fields. Erin French went from a home of abuse and poverty to a top chef with a highly regarded restaurant. She is ambitious and brave with a strong respect for the magic that food can have.
She cooks and writes with love as she tells her story of becoming a self taught cook. She owns and operates the Lost Kitchen restaurant in rural Maine that can only be visited through lottery. You actually have to luck into eating her food because she is so popular. Although she has become a fairly intimidating figure on paper she writes with honesty and relatability. Yes, she works extremely hard but she’s faced challenges just like the rest of us. She just came out on top.
Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest
Finding the Mother Tree serves as both memoir and educational nonfiction. Suzanne Simard grew up in a logging community in Canada, a verifiable boy’s club if there ever was one. She fell in love with trees, dirt, and mushrooms. Fascinated by how entire ecosystems can communicate with each other she set down her career journey to become an expert in her field.
Her memoir describes her challenges as a woman in the workforce who also wants to “have it all” with a family and hobbies. She also goes into detail about the hidden world within forests. You will certainly learn a lot with this one, I know many of us are unfamiliar with the complexities of this aspect of nature.
GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet
Memoirs thrive with different perspectives. Although many of us are either part of or allies to the LGBTQ community there are likely plenty of us who don’t know much about the “Q” part of the acronym. Personally, I’m the B, my best friend is an L, her roommate is a G, and I’ve met my fair share of Ts. But I don’t actually know anyone who identifies as Queer. Even to those of us with strong LGBTQ ties might still be mystified by these individuals.
Allan D Hunter catalogues his experiences with being GenderQueer, specifically a self identified sissy male. His experience is invaluable for opening up a conversation about the forgotten letter. Everyone can benefit from reading as many stories as possible from all colors of the rainbow.
I’m Glad My Mom Died
This great memoir was another instant bestseller. Jennette McCurdy was the costar of the Nickelodeon show iCarly. I used to watch that show all the time but I never knew of her struggles off camera. In her controversially titled memoir she openly lays out her childhood of abuse, mental health problems, eating disorders, and all of the pressure that was put on her to become enough of a success for her mother to feel fulfilled.
This book is at times very difficult to read. Her experiences are likely very disturbing to most readers. But she handles it with a bravery and transparency that we all can respect. Her story is likely just one of many that could be told from those who were forced into the Hollywood system against their will. It’s important to see the harm that these children can be subjected to.
I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying
This memoir is also about a woman who suffers with bipolar disorder. However, Ikpi has been diagnosed with bipolar 2 so her story is less about mania and more about depression. She tells her story with a unique writing strategy in that she alternates from first person to second person when she doesn’t feel like she was herself. This also helps the reader really place themselves in her shoes for added empathy.
Additionally, this memoir is told with a distorted memory lens. She does not try to recreate her experiences with a fact checker. Instead, she tells them as she remembers them, even when she knows she might not be recalling accurately. Memory is not photographic, it can change and grow with different experiences and hindsight. Her book takes all of this into account.
The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles
Rana Bitar is a Syrian American woman who immigrated to the US in order to become a doctor. She fell in love with learning and medicine at a young age and defied odds to become a well educated female in the Middle East. She then continued her education with her residency in America while simultaneously learning english as fast as possible.
Her story is inspiring but also extremely touching. She doesn’t only focus on herself, she also tells the stories of her many patients from the oncology ward. She clearly loves her job and has nothing but respect for those fighting the battle against cancer. Her story is built by every life she’s touched and is ultimately worth reading and recommending.
Mankind: Have a Nice Day!
This is one of the most entertaining memoirs on this list. WWE superstar Mankind, aka Mick Foley, is a born entertainer. He started as a class clown and worked his way up to a wrestling legend, also known for some clowning. He discusses the hard road of living out of his car eating peanut butter sandwiches, to performing at Wrestlemania with the likes of The Undertaker.
He is intelligent and humorous but also honest. He names names and ruffles a few feathers but is ultimately very aware of how blessed he has been to live his dream. Of course, this is a must read for any wrestling fans but even those unfamiliar with the sport will be entertained and informed by this bestselling memoir.
My Epidemic: An AIDS Memoir of One Man’s Struggle as Doctor, Patient and Survivor
Memoirs allow readers to experience whole new worlds. They are an effective way to learn about aspects of society and history that we may not have personally experienced. Andrew M Faulk MD lived through the AIDS epidemic as a gay man. He saw many of his personal friends and even some lovers succumb to the disease while most of America ignored the problem, or worse, encouraged it.
Determined to help in the biggest way possible he became a doctor specializing in the treatment of AIDS. He lived to treat countless members of his community as well as see the epidemic slow to a near stop and treatment become more advanced than he ever dreamed. His story is sad, touching, empathetic, and hopeful. It show us how much one person can make a difference and how a community can rise together.
They Called Us Enemy
They Called Us Enemy is another LGBTQ memoir but it goes beyond that one identity. Many people don’t know that America had internment camps (yes like the holocaust) right here on our own soil. The corruptness of selective history lessons have buried that fact pretty well. We had some in my home state and I didn’t learn about it until adulthood! Shameful!
George Takai, of Star Trek fame, grew up in a Japanese internment camp with his family. He was too young to fully grasp the circumstances. He just knew this is where they lived. As he grew older he started to understand the gravity of being Japanese in a country that did not (does not) value foreigners. On top of being a foreign outcast he is also gay. Although his childhood was not ideal he has managed to become a beloved actor, public figure, and LGBTQ spokesperson. His great graphic novel memoir tells a forgotten history and ties it to the hope of a better future.
Another very high profile bestseller is Troublemaker, Leah Remini’s story of growing up in and then freeing herself from Scientology. She lays out her experiences with this cult with a narrative that few have and are brave enough to tell. Unlike many celebrities, she was raised by Scientology, she did not voluntarily join as an adult. Her story brings to light the abuse that members are subjected to and the way she was kept as a financial hostage to them after her success as an actress.
Scientology as a whole is happily dying out. They are recruiting fewer members than ever before and it is thanks to courageous ex-members like Remini. Read her memoir to see her plight but also to recognize that anyone can fall trap to a cult, learn the signs, and stay safe.
Walk Through Walls
Walk Through Walls is one of my favorite memoirs of all time. I’ve been fascinated by Marina Abramovic for some time now. Her art is some of the boldest and groundbreaking that has ever been seen. She will be remembered by history for shattering any sense of normality in the art world. She’s an absolute legend.
Her memoir feeds on pain. Her art is fuelled by discontent and hardships. She channels the negative and bizarre, the uncomfortable, to make the audience feel everything right along with her. She suffers and has been injured for her art but she has also touched many lives with her passion. Her life story is unusual but fascinating and even if you don’t understand her art or her lifestyle you’ll be engaged reading about it.
What Happens in the Family: A Story of Survival
The last entry on this list of great memoirs is one of the hardest to read. We know that there are abusive families out there in the world. Many of us are lucky enough to have never been part of one or witness to one. A. M. Young puts herself out there to cathartically tell the story of her harrowing childhood and breaking the cycle of abuse.
I could apply many trigger warnings to this memoir such as violence, abuse, sexual abuse, and incest. If you can get past the triggers I suggest you read this book to celebrate with the author how she escaped it all. She is a true role model for anyone who feels there is no way out.
Please share this list with anyone looking for a great way to expand their horizons