My opinion of memoirs explained

Yesterday in my post about reading snobs, I said that I didn’t like memoirs. I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that. In fact, Lab Girl is one of my top all-time favorite books! Look at all these memoirs that I’ve enjoyed! What I really meant was that I didn’t like celebrity memoirs. (I’ve since added “celebrity” to the comment.) That’s what I get for not thinking things through and writing a quick post! Today I’m sharing some of the excellent memoirs that I’ve read.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – a remarkable and amusing record of Franklin’s life in America during the mid- to late 1700s.

Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover – Westover’s account of breaking out of an isolated and abusive childhood, with a violent sibling, a controlling and paranoid father and a mother who deferred to her husband.

Helen Keller – The Story of My Life – the story of an American girl from Alabama who lost her sight and hearing as a baby and determinedly overcame these obstacles to become a writer, a social activist and an advocate for the blind and deaf.

Honor Girl – A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash – a graphic memoir about the author’s coming-out experience at a summer camp in the mountains of Kentucky.

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery – the more Sy Montgomery studies animals and nature, the more she knows that humans have a lot to learn about the creatures that share our world. In this book, she describes her unique relationships with 13 animals and what they have taught her.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – I avoided Lab Girl at first because I am not a science person. But this memoir is for all readers. Jahren writes beautifully about her lonely childhood in Minnesota, college life and early years trying to make it as a scientist.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – a great story about being different and making it anyway. In some ways, it is a classic success story about perseverance, but mostly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who’s not mainstream.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – Using notes stored away for nearly thirty years, Hemingway began working on a memoir of his days in Paris, where he was part of the expatriate community of writers, artists and creative minds, known now as the “Lost Generation.” He died leaving the book unfinished, but his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, edited the manuscript and the first edition was published in 1964.

Night by Elie Wiesel – Elie Wiesel’s memoir about being sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland during World War II. The New York Times calls it “a slim volume of terrifying power” and I couldn’t agree more.

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore – an in-depth look at the lives of two young men with the same name, who grew up on the same streets in Baltimore, Maryland and took two divergent paths.

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman – a young woman from West Virginia dreams of becoming a concert violinist and gets a job playing in a prestigious touring orchestra, only to discover that the microphones are turned off. Listeners instead hear music that sounds suspiciously like the score of the popular 1997 film, Titanic.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – a young doctor at the crest of a brilliant career as a neurosurgeon and scientist, Kalanithi was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. During the short time he had left, he was determined to live a life with personal meaning, so he continued working, fathered a baby girl and wrote this book.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler – Poehler is down-to-earth and it was fun to relive some SNL moments. Of course Poehler is a celebrity but I thought she was genuine in this book. I’m pretty hypocritical here aren’t I?

Here are some excellent memoirs I’ve read by haven’t reviewed:

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

What memoirs do you recommend? Leave a comment!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

44 thoughts on “My opinion of memoirs explained

  1. I am not particularly drawn to memoirs, although I have 25 of them shelved under “Memoirs,” on Goodreads.

    A Girl Named Zippy
    Just Mercy
    Late Migrations
    Brown Girl Dreaming
    and books by Anne Lamott and Tove Ditlevsen are a few I gave high ratings.

    1. Hi Sherrey – thank you – I’ll have to look up Dani Shapiro’s memoirs. I see she also writes fiction. Thank you for adding to the list!

  2. Ah, I bet you got a few agitated comments with your unedited remark. I don’t read celebrity memoirs either. I don’t find celebrities interesting. I have read several about the Bronte family which I loved and others about Shakespeare and other famous authors. I read a review of The moveable feast last week and added it to my TBR.

    1. Hi Robbie – I’ve been worried I offended self-published and indie authors. I definitely meant celebrity. My fault for doing things too fast. Thank you for commenting 🙂

  3. Good list. I should plead with you to read the one I wrote about my mother and see where it sits, but you’d rightly explode at another book, like Mr Creosote in The Meaning of Life!!

    1. Hi Geoff – thanks for the recommendation. I’m not sure I remembered that you wrote one about your mother. I hope I didn’t offend you with my earlier comment about memoirs. I truly did not mean these types – I only meant the flashy celebrity type memoirs. Totally my fault for writing too fast and not letting it sit…

  4. I read the Helen Keller book as a child and loved it. I also enjoyed A Moveable Feast. I read and loved all six of the books you listed at the end. Memoirs can be very good as truth is often more amazing than fiction.

    1. Hi Darlene – you’re so right. Now that I’ve eaten crow about memoirs, I’m going to have to get a couple new ones on my list. I’ve seen some good recommendations in the comments. Thank you for stopping by!

  5. I liked “Yes Please” but haven’t read the others you show here, Barbara. My last book I published was a memoir, so I’m relieved that I’m not a celebrity. 🙂 I’m not big into celebrity memoirs either, but I’ve read a few.

    1. Hi Lauren – thank you so much for your gracious comment. I’ve been worried I offended indie and self-published authors. Definitely not my intention! In fact, my father wrote a memoir and I helped him publish it! Celebrity memoirs are a different type of book. I think memoirs that share a journey or a struggle are very compelling.

  6. I think the most memorable memoir I’ve read is Ice Bound by Jerri Neilssen. I don’t tend to read a lot of celebrity memoirs, but two I’ve loved have been Life by Keith Richards and As You Wish by Cary Elwes. There are a couple on your list that I’ve either read or want to read, and I should probably expand my reading horizons a bit to include more non-fiction and memoirs!

    1. Hi Lisa, I don’t know Ice Bound. I’ll have to look into that one. I had to look up who Cary Elwes was – he’s had some tough times in his life. I can see how a memoir would be one to read. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  7. I’ve enjoyed some memoirs written by athletes – they can be uplifting – but most celebrity memoirs are a lot about nothing – like cotton candy!

  8. I also enjoy reading memoirs. I’ve just finished reading the memoir “The Girl from Lamaha Street: A Guyanese girl at a 1960s English boarding school and her search for belonging” by Sharon Maas, one of my favorite Guyanese authors.

  9. I enjoyed that Sy Montgomery book very much. Maybe I learned about it from you? I also enjoyed two of Jenny Lawson’s books, but the one you have mentioned here is better. I like Amy Poehler. I may need to check that out. 🙂

    1. Of course Amy is a celebrity but she’s down the earth and that’s why I liked it. I’m all over the place with memoirs it seems. My fault for expressing and undeveloped opinion!

  10. Hi, Barb – Thank you for clarifying. Since I regularly follow your blog, I was a bit confused about you not liking memoirs. Not loving most Celebrity Memoirs makes perfect sense!

  11. I’m totally with you on this. I’m not a fan of celebrity memoirs (or even documentaries) too. There are definitely some fantastic memoirs out there and I’m glad you clarified and shared some of your favourites.

  12. I’ve read many of the titles you showcase here. One that stands out is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Anne Lamott, Dani Shapiro, and Tara Westover are among my favorites. I hadn’t thought of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes in a while because I read it so long ago, but I remember the anguish I felt at the deprivation the family experienced.

    My view on celebrity memoirs. The authors want to leave a legacy and make money. The publishers know they have a sure-fire best-seller. It’s about the money, I think. I might make an exception with Kathie Lee Gifford, whose motives seem a little different, to me at least.

    As you know, I’ve written one memoir, and now working on a second, with selected blog posts as anchor points.

    Thanks for the clarification, Barb, I understand! 😀

    1. Hi Marian – yes I read Angela’s Ashes about 20 years ago – it was very moving. I think we think alike regarding celebrity memoirs 🙂 Thanks for the visit!

  13. I agree, celebrity memoirs are rarely worth the time it takes to read them, but there are some excellent memoirs out there. I’ve read Angela’s Ashes, Night, and The Glass Castle from your list, and have also enjoyed All Over But the Shouting and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

Comments are closed.