The writer Graham Greene was recovering from an appendicostomy in Westminster Hospital when a ten-year-old boy on his ward suddenly died. The boy’s mother was inconsolable, and all the other patients plugged their ears to block out her cries—all except Greene, who watched, and listened, and almost certainly made detailed notes.
“There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer,” he writes in his memoir, A Sort of Life. “This was something which one day I might need.”
It’s a chilling scene. But as I discovered when working on my own memoir—Featherhood, a story about fathers and birds—writing can often feel like a crime. What sort of monster, after all, publicly dissects life’s most intimate moments—the death of a father, the birth of a child—for the pleasure of an unknown reader? A storytelling monster. A writer. Below are some of my favorite line-crossing, boundary-challenging memoirs, which expand the territory of the written word—and thereby our minds.