Six Illuminating Memoirs to Dive Into
Do you love memoirs like I do?
I love digging into the story of someone's life--notable because of chance, circumstance, or choice--and escaping into an eye-opening and fascinating memoir.
If you love memoirs, you might also like the books I listed on the Greedy Reading List Six Illuminating Memoirs I've Read This Year (last year).
A few other recent-ish memoirs on my to-read list that I'm particularly excited about are: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (author of The Midnight Library), Raising a Rare Girl by Heather Lanier, What Doesn't Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness--Lessons from a Body in Revolt by Tessa Miller, Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade and Author of Harriet the Spy by Leslie Brody, and The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande.
I'd love to hear: What are your favorite memoirs?
01 Here For It by R. Eric Thomas
In Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America, R. Eric Thomas, the creator of Elle's sassy and smart daily column "Eric Reads the News," shares his thoughts, experiences, and reflections about life and the world around us with honesty and humor.
In essays that are sometimes heartbreaking, often inspiring, and that frequently made me laugh out loud, Thomas explores his sheltered youth, his growing realizations that he was different than most of the people he knew, his shame and fear about living as his authentic self, and his meandering path toward his current satisfying life circumstances.
I listened to this as an audiobook, and I adored hearing Thomas's voice take me through his essays. His voice and delivery are fabulous. Here For It is refreshing and playful yet thoughtful. I loved spending time with the uproariously funny Thomas as he recounts how he's navigated situations large and small in his life.
Thomas is also a host of The Moth storytelling podcast in D.C. and Philadelphia--and he certainly knows how to craft a compelling and full story out of a momentous moment.
For my full review of this book, see Here For It.
02 Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford
Crawford thought the trauma of her assault at St. Paul's boarding school decades earlier was behind her. It had shaped who she was in many senses, but now she was a grown woman with a full life, and she was not regularly reliving the crushing weight of it as a vivid horror any longer.
But when evidence of extensive sexual assault and new allegations at St. Paul's School came to light, she added her voice to the throng of the attacked and abused, opening her own long-closed (and hitherto unknown to her) file and seeing for the first time the brutal facts of her own attack, as well as the ensuing, elaborate efforts to keep secret the events surrounding her situation.
Crawford's memoir lays bare systemic lies, gross injustices, horrifying abuses of privilege and power, and longstanding patterns of unprosecuted assaults at elite St. Paul's boarding school--as well as the persistent tragic, infuriating, shaming treatment of assault victims.
The topic is crushing, but Crawford's writing is wonderful in its honest and unflinching reflections on society, her own experiences, the horrifying power of privilege, and the abhorrent treatment of assault victims. She tries to imagine the points of view of everyone involved, and she treats her young self with empathy.
For my full review of this book, see Notes on a Silencing.
03 In Pieces by Sally Field
Here's the list's celebrity memoir!
I found Sally Field's discussion of her "craft" and how she grew and changed as an actor to be the most compelling aspect of the book--along with the politics of getting roles and how she finally began listening to her inner voice in all aspects of her life.
Therapy (and acting, which also served as a sort of therapy) eventually allowed Field to come into her fully realized adult self, and this journey is satisfying to watch after living through the page time of her languishing and struggling for so long. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I loved hearing Field tell her story.
I appreciate when a celebrity provides brutal honesty, and I also admit to sometimes becoming impatient with the navel-gazing necessary to create a memoir. Aaaand I realize that this is unfair since I chose to read this person's life story.
For my full review of this book, see In Pieces.
04 Blood by Allison Moorer
"I'm still trying not to be the daughter of a murderer. I'm still trying to redeem [my parents]. I carry the structure of their bones around my insides...and try to tell the world, '...They were more than that.'"
Allison Moorer is a Grammy- and Academy Award-nominated singer-songwriter whose father killed her mother when Allison and her sister were young. A longtime musical storyteller, Moorer examines her parents, her youth, and that pivotal tragedy, considering how it has shaped her into her adult self and how much of her identity is separate from that horrifying event and its endless repercussions.
There's a lot of pain here. But Blood doesn't read as though Moorer is flogging her significant sorrow and anger or highlighting dramatic events for memoir or record sales. I felt like I was following her on her honest, zigzagging, messy journey toward gaining more of an understanding of the people her parents were and the forces that shaped their lives (and their daughters' lives)--as though I was witnessing her step-by-step movement toward something that more closely resembles peace.
The foreword was written by Allison's sister, singer and songwriter Shelby Lynne. Regarding their talking through their past together, Moorer says:
"So many memories we share and purposely keep well-oiled. We keep them alive even if they hurt us and suck up all the air in the room. They are all we have of our folks and the family we were."
For my full review of this book, please see Blood.
05 Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan
Jessica Pan was an introvert out of a job. Her closest friends had moved away, and she found herself lonely, living in another country, and feeling too reliant on her husband for her entire social life.
Pan decided to deliberately put herself into extremely uncomfortable social situations for a year, and she fully commits. She does improv, approaches strangers on the Tube, goes on friend dates, attends networking events, takes a vacation alone (to a destination she doesn't learn until she's at the airport), and more. She regrets her one-year plan almost instantly but feels compelled to continue her terrifying exercises.
Her interviews and experiences with others who mentor her journey in different ways could have felt disruptive or jarring but didn't; they added a layer to her story that I found interesting and often revelatory.
Pan is wonderfully honest, appealingly thoughtful, and often so so funny. I was so happy spending time in her point of view throughout this book. I loved it and I'd read another book by her in a second.
For my full review of this book, please see Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come.
06 Wild Life by Keena Roberts
Keena Roberts grew up splitting her time between a primate research camp in Botswana, where she felt at home, and an elite Philadelphia girls' school, where she did not.
Wild Life's subtitle, Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs, felt whimsical and light. But Roberts's memoir doesn't merely explore her culture shock, as interesting as that is. She reflects upon her identity in a raw and genuine way that I found gripping. Her disparate life experiences ultimately led her to think deeply about her place in the world, her responsibility to humans and animals, and how she might better the lives of others.
This memoir was more than I'd hoped for. I love a peek at wildlife and living in the wild, and I adored reading Roberts's account of her journey, from acting in a supporting role for her parents' research to discovering her own challenging, meaningful, and important career and calling.
For my full review of this book, please see Wild Life.