There’s no one who understands a reader better than a fellow reader. Whether it’s the mindset, the emotional experience, or our general love of character, plot, and getting lost in sentences, loving books binds people together (no pun intended), no matter where we come from. And telling one another about the stories that have changed our lives gives us great insight into who we are, and what we have in common. Here’s a list of 13 of our favorite bookworm memoirs, old and new.
Sure, she’s now the editor of the New York Times Book Review, but Pamela Paul has been a reader her entire life, tracking her reads through Bob—her “Book of Books.” In this charming and insightful memoir, she reflects on the books that shaped her (for better and worse), the important life moments they coincided with, and the powerful relationship between a reader and the written word.
In this hilarious, honest, and touching manifesto of sorts, Joe Queenan explores the effects of being a lifelong reader on personality and approach to live. In it, he asks hard-hitting bibliophile questions like, “What does it mean if someone doesn’t have books in their living room?” “Do covers matter?” and, most importantly: “Is it disrespectful to read books in the bathroom?” It’s a must-read for anyone who loves books, period.
How many of us wish we could just sit and read all day? Though tragic circumstances propelled her to do so, Nina Sankovitch achieved that goal, vowing to savor one great book each day (with some rules) for a year, covering a wide range of authors and subjects, from Thomas Pynchon to Nora Ephron. In this beautiful memoir, she documents those reads, weaving in reflections, memories, and the stages of grief and life.
33,000 pages; 44 million words; 10 billion years of history. Never one to shy away from a challenge, A.J. Jacobs conquered them all when he set out to read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, despite his friends’ and family’s confusion and concern. With self-deprecating wit and remarkable insight, Jacobs not only recounts what he learns from the books themselves, but from the experience of desiring knowledge, whatever it takes.
Part memoir and part education (or lack thereof), THE KNOW-IT-ALL chronicles NPR contributor A. J. Jacobs’s hilarious, enlightening, and seemingly impossible quest to read the ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA from A to Z.
Known for his affecting memoir, THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB, Will Schwalbe returns with a new investigation into the best books for living in our modern world. From classics to contemporary thrillers, he works his way through a list of titles that relate to questions and concerns we all share, and ask the important question, How does reading help us become better people?
An acclaimed author, Larry McMurtry has always been passionate about books. But what some don’t know is that he’s also a prolific collector of antiquarian titles. In this charming, diary-like memoir, he recalls his favorite stories, sharing amazing characters, juicy gossip, sweet anecdotes, and profound observations along the way.
We all have them: those books that sit on our shelves, that we bought or borrowed or received years ago, but never got to. One early autumn afternoon, Susan Hill dared to face them down, deciding to spend one year reading only the titles she already owned. The result is an eye-opening and thought-provoking journey about rediscovery and challenging oneself that any bibliophile will enjoy.
This one is technically a memoir of work, but when a job involves reading, it counts on our list. Robert Gottlieb is one of the most influential and celebrated book editors of all time, working with authors from Toni Morrison and Joseph Heller to Nora Ephron and Bill Clinton. In AVID READER, he recounts his time in the book business, revealing intimate and surprising details about not only himself but the literary icons he helped to create.
Nearing his fortieth birthday, Andy Miller realized he wasn’t as well-read as he wanted to be. So, he embarked on a literary odyssey, making his way through the books he’d never finished, the ones had been told to read, the ones people expected him to have studied—and the ones he had lied about getting through. A combination of memoir and literary criticism, this is a heartfelt, humorous, and honest examination of a person’s relationship to books.
Most of us read for life, but Maureen Corrigan reads for a living. As the book critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air,” she has interviewed and reviewed everything, from memoirs and novels to thrillers and biographies. Here, she tells her own story through the pages of the books she was encountered along the way—it’s a true love letter that shouldn’t be missed.
As a longtime book critic and “the best-read person in America,” (according to the Paris Review), Michael Dirda has obviously spent his fair share of time lost between the covers of a book. In this authoritative and passionate memoir, he reflects on the books and authors that have shaped him most, from Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Foster Wallace to M. F. K. Fisher and Marilynne Robinson. And a bonus? He includes annotated reading lists.
The absolute classic. Pat Conroy, a beloved and bestselling storyteller, revisits the books and reading moments that shaped his life, from treks to his childhood library to a decades-long relationship with an English teacher who helped him become a writer. It’s a moving and wise book that truly demonstrates the power of reading.
A subtle, sweet, and striking journey between the covers. What began as a simple experiment—one book a week for one year—quickly collapsed into a realization on the part of publishing correspondent (now editor) Sara Nelson that a reader doesn’t choose books; books choose the reader. The result is a witty and insightful look at the role they play in our lives, short and long-term.