Our reading lists are stacked sky-high with swashbuckling historical fantasy, page-turning mysteries and suspense novels, and captivating literary fiction. But every so often, it’s someone’s lived experiences that will make us pause and inspire true self-reflection. Whether we see our selves reflected in its pages or it allows us to walk in the shoes of someone halfway around the world, a memoir offers unique perspective grounded in truths familiar and unknown—making the memoir such an important part of a reader’s literary diet. If you’re looking for one to dig into this summer, here are just a few of our favorites.
There are some books you will remember forever. You’ll remember where you opened them up for the first time, you’ll remember how you felt when you finished them. THE CHOICE is one of those books for me.
At first glance,THE CHOICE seems like a Holocaust memoir. Edith Eger was only 16 when the Nazis took her and her family to Auschwitz—when she saw her parents led into the gas chambers, when she had to dance in front of Mengele to prove her worth. She suffered through unspeakable tragedy, even after being liberated from her third concentration camp. She found love and had to sacrifice everything else to keep love in her life, and it was only when she landed in Georgia that she was allowed to feel any sort of safety.
I have read very few books in my life that compelled me to laugh so loudly in public that it made the people around me visibly uncomfortable. Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF is one of them. Inspired by her award-winning blog of the same name, the subtitle—Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened—sums up what this hysterical graphic memoir is about. Consisting of illustrated personal essays, the book recounts a wide range of anecdotes, from an unfortunate childhood misunderstanding involving hot sauce to an incident where a goose found its way into the author’s house and savagely attacked her unsuspecting boyfriend. All are illustrated with her signature quirky and expressive stick figures.
“I have read very few books in my life that compelled me to laugh so loudly in public that it made the people around me visibly uncomfortable. Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF is one of them.”
As is her style, Amy offers this bitter truth and chases it with some encouraging words. “Through good therapy and friends and self-love,” she says, “you can practice treating the demon like a hacky, annoying cousin.” I love this tidbit because Amy doesn’t offer up a solution to end self-doubt all decked out in pretty wrapping paper and ribbons. Rather, she offers a new perspective and a humorous look at a deeply human struggle.
A comedic genius, actress, media darling, and all-around-awesome lady, Amy Poehler is beloved by her peers and fans for her realness, her integrity, and her intelligence. Her memoir is powered by the charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice that has made her the celebrity best friend that most people dream of.
Once every several years I get hit in the face and heart and soul with a book that overrides the electrical circuiting in my brain. HEAVY: AN AMERICAN MEMOIR by Kiese Laymon is that cerebrum hijacker. It is one of the most vital pieces of nonfiction I’ve encountered, full of the productive personal and political truth telling we seek out in stories. Whenever I think of the bravery, sincerity, and honesty living in these pages, my heart walls swell and cave under the pressure as my mind yells Now you! I will preface this review by saying that reading HEAVY is not easy. It is hard work dealing with hard subjects and hard truths. It is a challenging exercise in confrontation and discomfort, but rewarding in its goodness. It leaves you happy/sad, all-around tender, and wanting to hug your loved ones.
I’d been hearing about THE BRIGHT HOUR for a while before I read it. All I knew was that it was a memoir written by a 37-year-old woman dying of breast cancer. No way, I thought. I’m not emotionally or mentally prepared for that reading experience, of confronting that fear.
But after listening to multiple people rave about this memoir for months, I decided to try the first chapter. Turns out I didn’t need a whole chapter. I felt my life shift from the very first sentence.
“ ‘Dying isn’t the end of the world,’ my mother liked to joke after she was diagnosed as terminal,” Nina Riggs writes. “There are so many things worse than death: old grudges, a lack of self-awareness, severe constipation, no sense of humor, the grimace on your husband’s face as he empties your surgical drain into the measuring cup.”
THE PRINCESS DIARIST is ultimately about self-acceptance. It’s about being able to laugh at the sorrows and indiscretions of youth. It’s about not being ashamed of your past and being strong enough to construct your own identity.
Her third memoir, THE PRINCESS DIARIST, published shortly before she died, serves as one of the final pieces of Carrie’s legacy. Carrie consulted the journals she kept during the filming of “Star Wars” to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the beloved franchise from the point of view of a woman looking back at her naïve and vulnerable teenage self.
My father used to say his dream was to be a hermit in the woods. No cell phone, no emails, no text messages fluttering through the ether demanding his attention and response. Just a cabin and quiet. Howard Axelrod’s 2015 memoir, THE POINT OF VANISHING, captures my father’s idyllic dream.
After a freak accident in college permanently blinds Axelrod in his right eye, he needs a drastic change in order to process his new perspective. To do so, he moves into a ramshackle cabin miles off any beaten track and spends the next two years alone, without any substantive contact with the outside world.
Issa Rae’s memoir leaves no stone unturned, equipping readers with a glossary of African American personality types, positing a call to action for girls to embrace their natural hair, find love, and follow their passions; there’s even a guide for maneuvering workplace characters that anyone can find useful. I couldn’t wait to share this memoir with my friends, knowing they would be inspired by it. What’s perhaps most satisfying about this memoir is that its hilarity and heart transcends race and gender.
Read the full review of THE MISADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL.
For fans of “Insecure”
Issa Rae is awkward . . . and black, which is, in the opinion of her peers, a very unfortunate combination. This is made plain in her new TV show “Insecure ” and her New York Times bestseller THE MISADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL. In this memoir-guide hybrid, Issa humorously illuminates what it’s like to be unabashedly awkward in a world that regards introverts as hapless misfits and black as cool.
I have two confessions to make. First, my greatest aspiration is to someday be a novelist. Second, Stephen King is my favorite writer—but this is not really a confession, as I’m proud of it and everyone who knows me knows this (and probably wishes I would stop talking about him already). Given these facts, it is nonsensical that I had not read Stephen King’s ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT until now. I dove into the book and when I finished, I wiped a couple tears from my eyes and started again from the beginning, hoping to soak in every word. That is not exaggeration or melodrama; that is how affecting this book is
“Nothing I have ever read about the writing life has moved or inspired me more. Whether or not you are a King fan, whether you are a professional writer or have never written a word, this is essential reading on the art of writing and the art of life.”