Six Fascinating Memoirs to Explore
More Memoirs I've Loved
I find a good memoir irresistible, whether it's made up of key moments from the life of someone unknown to me or it's the background of a famous person's journey.
For more more MORE memoirs I've loved that you might want to try, check out the Greedy Reading Lists Six Illuminating Memoirs to Dive Into, Six Illuminating Memoirs I've Read This Year, Six More Illuminating Memoirs to Lose Yourself In, Six Foodie Memoirs to Whet Your Appetite, and Six Powerful Memoirs about Facing Mortality.
How many memoirs is too many memoirs, you may ask? Dear reader, the limit does not exist!
Have you read any of these books? I'd love to hear what you thought. Which other books should I add to my memoir to-read list?
01 The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
The Princess Diarist is based upon the diaries Carrie Fisher kept while she was a young woman stumbling into her iconic lifetime role as Princess Leia.
Fisher is candid, funny, charmingly offbeat, and she's mastered the art of honest self-examination. I loved listening to her fantastically raspy voice as she read her memoir in audiobook form--and she relates her youthful affair with the gruff and married Harrison Ford for the first time here.
I felt like a little too much time was spent on youthful poetry and fanciful teenaged musings, yet the young Carrie seemed frequently and charmingly self-possessed even as she questioned her own motives, feelings, and life path.
I laughed out loud repeatedly at Fisher's good-natured, self-deprecating, and confidently oddball views and contemplations.
For my full review of this book, check out The Princess Diarist.
If you love Carrie Fisher, you might also like A Star is Bored, a fictionalized celebrity-focused book written by Carrie Fisher's former personal assistant, Byron Lane. It was fun but also poignant, and I loved it.
02 Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith
“...the linear, beginning-middle-end form doesn’t fit the lives of any women I know. For life has turned out to be wild and various, full of the unexpected, and it’s a monstrous big river out here.”
Lee Smith has written numerous fictional stories about the Appalachian South, including Fair and Tender Ladies, On Agate Hill, and Oral History.
Here she traces her beginnings in the Appalachian coal-mining town of Grundy, Virginia, where the background of her life was filled with tent revivals, mountain music, and her daddy's dime store and the community that flocked to it.
What could have been an interesting and charming memoir about growing up in Appalachia and the incredible changes in rural Virginia from the time of Smith's childhood to now surprised me with its depth and darkness.
I was taken with Smith's open exploration of the good, bad, and ugly in her life, and I adored reading mentions of University of North Carolina English professors, other Chapel Hill figures, and the hidden gems of places that I love.
03 Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story by Jewel
I'm a fan of Alaska: The Last Frontier, which is about the Kilcher family--of which Jewel is a part. She only occasionally appears on the show, but she comes on to yodel (her grandparents came to Alaska from Switzerland around World War II) with her extended family from time to time, which I love to see.
Anyhoo, in her memoir Never Broken, the singer-songwriter traces her Alaskan origins, her first singing performances (at age 3 alongside her parents), how she began to write songs to express herself, and the now-famous story of a DJ airing her bootleg song and beginning her rise to fame when she was 18 and homeless, living out of her car.
In Never Broken, Jewel shows really lovely extensive introspection and a detailed account of the fascinating-disturbing story of her youth.
She shares her ongoing, active commitment to personal and emotional growth, bettering the world, being true to herself, and evolving through hardships. She seems like a good egg, and I really liked spending time with her through this memoir.
04 The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
“The story seems to begin with catastrophe but in fact began earlier and is not a tragedy but rather a love story. Perhaps tragedies are only tragedies in the presence of love, which confers meaning to loss. Loss is not felt in the absence of love.”
Alexander writes gorgeously about the husband she lost suddenly, the elements that made him irreplaceable to her and to the world, and the impossibility and inevitability of adjusting to life without him. She shares the trauma surrounding this loss and her personal journey toward finding peace.
The author explores the beauty of companionship and like a poet, she lays out her unique love story.
I didn't know I'd care so much about a person I'd never heard of or met by reading his widow's account of life with him, but this was exquisitely beautiful.
05 I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short
Martin Short has recently had excellent TV roles on The Morning Show and Only Murders in the Building, and each one has reminded me of how much I love his performances.
In I Must Say, Martin Short shares stories of his Canadian childhood dreaming of making it big in show business in the United States, his years of hard work and tenacity, and the magical roles that marked his success.
“We arranged to spend the next day, a Sunday, looking at apartments together, followed by a round of tennis, since we both played. Before Nancy left the Pilot that night, I said to her lasciviously— I don’t know what possessed me—“Have you ever tried a comedian before?” Which was either very sexy or very creepy, depending on your opinion of me. She just stared at me, betraying no emotion, and said, “I hope you have a racket. I’m pretty good.”
I Must Say is naturally full of famous names and encounters, but it doesn't feel as though Short is gratuitously name dropping.
I burst out laughing at some of the transcripts and asides in Short's book. His voice in this memoir is honest, funny, and poignant, and he and his many stories are just irresistible. Short comes across as charming, nutty, grounded, and really endearing in this fun, funny memoir.
06 It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Okay Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
“He will die, I know it, and I go there, though I have no business doing so. Our human imaginations are woefully unprepared for predicting actual pain, but I hack away at it anyway, trying to form a scar before I m even wounded.”
Twentysomethings Nora and Aaron fell in love. They were romantic and silly and young. Then Aaron was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer, but the couple doubled down, becoming engaged in the hospital, marrying after Aaron's first surgery, and having a baby while Aaron was undergoing chemotherapy.
It's Okay to Laugh is a darkly humorous account of the author's numerous and condensed life-altering tragedies. The brief life-lesson interludes that break up her story felt jarring to me, but her account was honest, raw, sad, and sometimes very funny.