All Women's Talk

11 Great Memoirs ...

By Jennifer

While I admit I do love a good trashyfiction novelfrom time to time, most of what I read is non-fiction. And while biographies are interesting, I prefer memoirs, hearing what happened and why and how from the person that was actually there, living it first-hand. There are so many fascinating, sad, or uplifting memoirs out there, it can be daunting if you don’t know where to start. No worries! You can start with these, my list of ten great memoirs…

1 “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt

“Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourtPrice: $11.52 at search.barnesandnoble.com
This book tells the story of Frank McCourt’s childhood, which began in New York, and ended in Ireland. It’s written in a heart-wrenching, lyrical prose, and if you haven’t laughed, cried, and cried some more by the end of the book, you’re heartless indeed. The first line of the book warns you of the peril ahead, and you read anyway — “My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother, Malachy, three, the twins Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister, Margaret, dead and gone.”

2 “Candy Girl” by Diablo Cody

“Candy Girl” by Diablo CodyPrice: $12.99 at search.barnesandnoble.com
You may already know Diablo Cody as the way genius who wrote the screenplay for “Juno,” and won an Oscarfor it. But before she was an acclaimed writer, she was a copy typist by day and a stripper by night. Her memoir of that one year as a dancer is hilarious, raunchy, and fantastic. The first nine months were miserable, but then Cody had an epiphany, and success as a stripper-goddess followed, in her words, “I felt like I’d graduated, only instead of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the band played Warrant.”

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3 “Cooking for Mr. Latte” by Amanda Hesser

“Cooking for Mr. Latte” by Amanda HesserPrice: $10.76 at search.barnesandnoble.com
Part cookbook, part memoir, this book tells the story of Hesser’s courtship and marriage to fellow writer Tad Friend. It’s sweet, funny, charming, and the recipes are divine. Granted, you may have to search for some of the exotic ingredients, but it’s well worth it. This food memoir would make a fantastic gift for a newly-married friend, too…

4 “Lucky” by Alice Seibold

“Lucky” by Alice SeiboldPrice: $9.35 at search.barnesandnoble.com
“Lucky” opens with a brutal, graphic rape, after which the investigating officer tells young Siebold she’s “lucky” because the rapist could have killed her. Seibold takes us on a journey for justice with her, from the rape itself to the unlikely capture of her rapist, to the trial and aftermath. She’s a brilliant writer, and be warned — once you start reading this memoir, you won’t be able to put it down. This one is a must read.

5 “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris

“Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David SedarisPrice: $10.79 at search.barnesandnoble.com
Sedaris is wickedly funny, and this book of essays tells the story of his childhood, teenaged years, and early adult life in easily-digestible chunks. We learn about his parents and siblings, the family pets, and all of their quirks. One of my favorite essays is about and IQ test he and his boyfriend take, “It turns out I’m really stupid, practically an idiot… were my number to be translated into dollars, it would buy you about three buckets of fried chicken. The fact that this surprises me only bespeaks the depths of my ignorance.”

6 “My Lobotomy” by Howard Dully

“My Lobotomy” by Howard DullyPrice: $10.04 at search.barnesandnoble.com
I first learned of this story on an episode of “This American Life.” When Dully was 12, his stepmother had him lobotomized, for no other reason that she simply didn’t like him. This memoir tells the story of Dully’s childhood, his surgery, and its aftermath. It’s beautifully written, straight-forward, and though it lags in some spots, the tragedy of his stepmother’s brutal, undeserved hatred is the stuff of “Snow White” and “Cinderella.”

7 “Autobiography of a Face” by Lucy Grealy

“Autobiography of a Face” by Lucy GrealyPrice: $9.35 at search.barnesandnoble.com
When Grealy was a child, she was diagnosed with a rare, most often deadly form of cancer that attacked her face. This searing memoir tells the story of her life after the surgery and treatment, and the cruelty and kindness of those around her. The cruelty is jarring, the kindnesses so rare they’re a pathetic, inadequate balm. Grealy’s book is even more tragic than it would have been if she’d lived — she killed herself in 2002.

8 “the Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls

“the Glass Castle” by Jeanette WallsPrice: $10.80 at search.barnesandnoble.com
Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to look at a gorgeous celebrity and know their background. We assume that they’ve come from a moneyed, successful family, but of course, that’s not always the case. In this memoir, newsperson Jeanette Walls tells the story of her childhood, and much like that of Frank McCourt’s, it was so troubled it’s a wonder she survived, not to mention thrived. The book is wonderful, heart-breaking, both at the same time.

9 “a Widow’s Walk” by Marian Fontana

“a Widow’s Walk” by Marian FontanaPrice: $12.82 at search.barnesandnoble.com
There have been dozens of touching memoirs written by widows of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but this one was written by a woman who was already a writer. It tells the story of the attack and the first year after it from the perspective of a wife and mother who ought to have been celebrating her wedding anniversary on that day, but instead lost her husband and best friend, a firefighter who was supposed to meet her for lunch, and went to the World Trade Center because that’s where he felt he belonged that day.

10 “into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer

“into Thin Air” by Jon KrakauerPrice: $10.80 at search.barnesandnoble.com
This book is hands-down one of the most harrowing, touching, eye-opening memoirs I’ve read, telling the story of the disaster on Mount Everest in May 1997. Krakauer was there, and survived, and he tells the story from his perspective, but he also includes the stories of other survivors, and of those who died. Others have told their own stories from that fateful climb, including Beck Weathers, who was left for dead on the slope but managed to live. Again, be careful of starting this book, as you will not be able to put it down until you’ve read it all.

11 “the Year of Living Biblically” by a.J. Jacobs

“the Year of Living Biblically” by a.J. JacobsPrice: $10.80 at search.barnesandnoble.com
We all try our best to live by the Ten Commandments, but do any of us actually take the rest of the Bible’s rules and guidelines seriously? A.J. Jacobs wondered just that, and for one year, attempted to live just as described in the Bible — literally. His memoir is informative, interesting, andfunny as… hell!

Reading back through this list, I see that most of them are sad stories, but all of them are actually uplifting in a way — they almost all tell a story of survival, of living. And of course, a few are very, very funny… and those are also my favorites! Have you read any of these already? What did you think of them? Or is there another memoir you can recommend? Please share!

Top Photo Credit: JennKstep

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