Share 11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

Wendy Sheanin is a lifelong reader and writer. She began her career in books as events manager at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco. While her heart remains in San Francisco, she moved to New York in 2007 and is now Vice President, Director of Marketing at Simon & Schuster. When she falls in love with a book, she’s relentless about sharing it with other readers—but in a good way.

Last year I shared a list of some of my favorite novels that I’ve read during my fifteen years in the book business.

As much as I love falling into a great novel, I’ve also always been drawn to powerful personal stories from ordinary people. I read them for their piercing loss and the match-lit path they illuminate to move past it. Here are eleven personal stories that brought me to tears, kept me up at night, and stayed with me after. Some are straight memoirs, some are less conventional in form, some are broader in scope, but all are rich and satisfying.


Perfection
by Julie Metz

When Julie Metz’s husband died unexpectedly, she found herself a sudden widow with a six-year-old daughter. She then discovered that her husband had been unfaithful to her throughout their marriage. This is a candid and moving story of loss, grief, betrayal, and reinvention.

Perfection
Julie Metz

When Julie Metz’s husband died unexpectedly, she found herself a sudden widow with a six-year-old daughter. She then discovered that her husband had been unfaithful to her throughout their marriage. This is a candid and moving story of loss, grief, betrayal, and reinvention.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

By Wendy Sheanin | March 10, 2016

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Ava's Man
by Rick Bragg

AVA'S MAN chronicles the life of Rick Bragg’s grandfather, Charlie Bundrum, who died before he was born. Bragg takes us to the backwoods hamlets of the Deep South during the Great Depression when the roads were still dirt and real men never cussed in front of ladies. I am not ashamed to say that I cried my eyes out on an airplane reading this one.

Ava's Man
Rick Bragg

AVA'S MAN chronicles the life of Rick Bragg’s grandfather, Charlie Bundrum, who died before he was born. Bragg takes us to the backwoods hamlets of the Deep South during the Great Depression when the roads were still dirt and real men never cussed in front of ladies. I am not ashamed to say that I cried my eyes out on an airplane reading this one.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

By Wendy Sheanin | March 10, 2016

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Tiny Beautiful Things
by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed, author of WILD, is as candid and compassionate as ever as “Sugar,” the formerly anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus. TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is a striking collection of “Dear Sugar” columns, the gentlest tough-love advice you’ll ever need to hear.

Tiny Beautiful Things
Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed, author of WILD, is as candid and compassionate as ever as “Sugar,” the formerly anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus. TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is a striking collection of “Dear Sugar” columns, the gentlest tough-love advice you’ll ever need to hear.

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11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

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Stuffed
by Patricia Volk

The subtitle of Patricia Volk’s delightful memoir is “Adventures of a Restaurant Family.” Her great-grandfather introduced pastrami to America in 1888, and her big, loving family fed New York City for the next hundred years until her father closed his garment center restaurant in 1988. Each chapter showcases another relative you’ll want to invite over for dinner.

Stuffed
Patricia Volk

The subtitle of Patricia Volk’s delightful memoir is “Adventures of a Restaurant Family.” Her great-grandfather introduced pastrami to America in 1888, and her big, loving family fed New York City for the next hundred years until her father closed his garment center restaurant in 1988. Each chapter showcases another relative you’ll want to invite over for dinner.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

By Wendy Sheanin | March 10, 2016

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The Light of the World
by Elizabeth Alexander

The poet Elizabeth Alexander (she read her original poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration) was married to the Eritrean painter Ficre Ghebreyesus when he died suddenly, leaving her a widow with two adolescent boys. Deeply moving but not sentimental, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is their transcendent love story. If you’re a fan of Joan Didion’s THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, pick this one up. And a box of Kleenex, too.

The Light of the World
Elizabeth Alexander

The poet Elizabeth Alexander (she read her original poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration) was married to the Eritrean painter Ficre Ghebreyesus when he died suddenly, leaving her a widow with two adolescent boys. Deeply moving but not sentimental, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is their transcendent love story. If you’re a fan of Joan Didion’s THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, pick this one up. And a box of Kleenex, too.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

By Wendy Sheanin | March 10, 2016

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The Lost
by Daniel Mendelsohn
In this powerful, riveting book, Daniel Mendelsohn searches out the truth of what happened to six of his Polish relatives who perished in the Holocaust. This quest to learn the fates of “six of the six million” is part memoir, part mystery, and part scholarly detective work.
The Lost
Daniel Mendelsohn

Having grown up in a family haunted by the disappearance of six relatives during the Holocaust, Daniel Mendelsohn set out to discover his relatives’ fates. Spanning across dozens of countries on four continents, this riveting memoir follows a journey that finally leads back to the small Ukrainian town where his family’s story began.

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Here If You Need Me
by Kate Braestrup

Kate Braestrup was left to parent her four children when her state trooper husband was killed in a car accident. He had been training to become a minister, and after he passed away, she chose to become a minister herself. Ultimately she found her calling as a chaplain for search-and-rescue workers. HERE IF YOU NEED ME is her remarkable journey from grief to faith to happiness.

Here If You Need Me
Kate Braestrup

Kate Braestrup was left to parent her four children when her state trooper husband was killed in a car accident. He had been training to become a minister, and after he passed away, she chose to become a minister herself. Ultimately she found her calling as a chaplain for search-and-rescue workers. HERE IF YOU NEED ME is her remarkable journey from grief to faith to happiness.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

By Wendy Sheanin | March 10, 2016

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The Tiger in the Grass
by Harriet Doerr

National Book Award–winner Harriet Doerr only published three books in her lifetime. THE TIGER IN THE GRASS is a hybrid of short stories and personal essays that take us back to her Southern California childhood where we meet her beloved housekeeper, Edie, who helped raise her; to Mexico where her two novels are set; and to her reflections on aging and watching her children age. Wise and eloquent, it reads like poetry.

The Tiger in the Grass
Harriet Doerr

National Book Award–winner Harriet Doerr only published three books in her lifetime. THE TIGER IN THE GRASS is a hybrid of short stories and personal essays that take us back to her Southern California childhood where we meet her beloved housekeeper, Edie, who helped raise her; to Mexico where her two novels are set; and to her reflections on aging and watching her children age. Wise and eloquent, it reads like poetry.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

By Wendy Sheanin | March 10, 2016

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This I Believe
by Jay Allison

Perhaps you listen to the NPR segment “This I Believe,” where people (some famous, most not) share their personal philosophies and credos in brief essays. I was so moved by these glimpses into people’s lives that I submitted an essay myself. While it didn’t get selected, this book collects ones that did into a textured quilt that reveals what really matters to us as people.

This I Believe
Jay Allison

Perhaps you listen to the NPR segment “This I Believe,” where people (some famous, most not) share their personal philosophies and credos in brief essays. I was so moved by these glimpses into people’s lives that I submitted an essay myself. While it didn’t get selected, this book collects ones that did into a textured quilt that reveals what really matters to us as people.

MENTIONED IN:

11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

By Wendy Sheanin | March 10, 2016

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Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler
by Trudi Kanter
In 1938, Trudi Kanter was a stunningly beautiful, young Jewish hat designer for the best-dressed women in Vienna, but as Hitler’s tanks rolled into Austria, the world she knew collapsed. This slim, enchanting memoir is the story of how she and her husband fled from Vienna to Prague to London during the Blitz (think “Casablanca,” not “Schindler’s List”).
Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler
Trudi Kanter

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What Comes Next and How to Like It
by Abigail Thomas

New from the bestselling author of A Three Dog Life comes this exhilarating and superbly written memoir about aging, family, creativity, tragedy, friendship, and the richness of life. Wise and witty, it is a beautiful examination of Abigail Thomas’s life today.

What Comes Next and How to Like It
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New from the bestselling author of A Three Dog Life comes this exhilarating and superbly written memoir about aging, family, creativity, tragedy, friendship, and the richness of life. Wise and witty, it is a beautiful examination of Abigail Thomas’s life today.

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11 Favorite Memoirs from a Longtime Industry Insider

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