Six More Fascinating Memoirs to Explore
More Memoirs I've Loved
I find a good memoir irresistible, as evidenced by the bajillions of memoirs I seem to read. Here are six I thought were just lovely--more about each of them below.
For more more more memoirs I've loved that you might want to try, check out these Greedy Reading Lists:
How many memoirs is too many memoirs, you may ask? 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 Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
“Mom couldn’t teach me that because she didn’t know herself. She couldn’t show me how to be happy, only how to barely survive.”
Ruth Wariner was the thirty-ninth of her father's forty-two children, and she grew up on a farm in rural Mexico without electricity or running water. The family lived where they did because of the convenient lack of attention paid by local authorities to the polygamous community's practices.
Ruth's father, the founder of the colony, preached that men should marry as many women and have as many children as possible in order to earn God's approval. Unsurprisingly, this practice led to poverty, hunger, sexual predation, and numerous other problems for the religious sect.
After Ruth's father was killed by his brother in a grab for power, Ruth's mother married another member of the congregation, and Ruth's life, along with those of her siblings, became centered around travel between the United States and Mexico in search of steady shelter and sustenance.
“As I pulled the covers up and let Micah settle in next to me, I heard Mom’s voice in my ears: Children need to get used to being in the dark. She’d repeated that countless times throughout my childhood. No, I thought, they don’t.”
Wariner candidly shares her life story in The Sound of Gravel, and it's one of brutally limited resources, often-transient life, primitive and dangerous living conditions, caring for many siblings--some mentally and physically challenged--general deprivation, frequent tragedies and death due to carelessness and ineptitude, and sexual abuse as the child in a polygamist culture.
Her story doesn’t feel overdramatized, but it is shocking.
02 Forty Autumns by Nina Willner
Forty Autumns offers fascinating, wonderfully detailed perspectives in a rich, layered family memoir that reads like fiction.
The subtitle of Willner's Forty Autumns is A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall, and her memoir details the former American intelligence officer's true story of her family during the Cold War.
The book's stories are largely set within an increasingly isolated East Germany that relentlessly persecutes its citizens behind the Wall, but they also follow Nina in the United States and as she spies for the United States government in West Berlin.
The book's many moving parts and family characters are fluidly shaped into compelling reading by Willner, and the pacing and tone are wonderful. I thought it read like fiction. Forty Autumns offers fascinating, wonderfully detailed perspectives in this rich, layered family memoir.
For more nonfiction spy stories about the Cold War, check out two great books by Ben McIntyre, the gripping Agent Sonya and a book I loved even more, The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War.
For historical fiction about female spies, you might want to check out the Greedy Reading List Six Books about Brave Female Spies.
Click here for my full review of Forty Autumns.
03 Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
I would have liked more introspection, but I loved spending time in Kendrick's funny, honest, often wonderfully wacky point of view.
In the early chapters of Scrappy Little Nobody, Kendrick does a great job of positioning herself outside Hollywood in the naive mindset of her youth. She wasn’t savvy to how show business worked, nor did she (nor her parents) particularly aspire to become members of an in-the-know stage family. She knew she wanted to act and sing and dance, and she knew these activities felt necessary to her. In Scrappy Little Nobody, she retraces her missteps and successes as well as her humble beginnings.
I can’t get over the story of young Anna taking the bus from Maine to New York City with her brother and all that ensued.
Her own confusion and astonishment is endearing as she explains how she figured out the way various aspects of show business really work. There's an appealing "Can you believe this? Me either! I'm down to earth and just like you!" tone that she carried through the first stories in the book, especially.
I loved all of this. For my full review, see Scrappy Little Nobody.
04 Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
Ford shares how she navigated an unforgiving childhood and complicated relationships with her volatile mother and her incarcerated father, all the while figuring out her place in the world.
As Ford examines her anxiety, her sometimes unhealthy relationships, and the circumstances of her childhood and upbringing, she considers her ties to the man who is her father and how significantly she may have been shaped by the people who made her and the people who raised her.
“Despite everything my father had done, I was still so eager to be claimed by him. To be protected by him. To the world he was a bad man. To me, he was my dad who did a bad thing...."
Ford feels an intense desire to be her own person, someone both of and separate from her challenging beginnings. Somebody's Daughter is beautifully straightforward and honest as the author follows the fits and starts (and, sometimes, roadblocks) on her path to self-discovery.
For my full review, please see Somebody's Daughter.
05 Here For It by R. Eric Thomas
Here For It is refreshing and playful yet thoughtful. I loved spending time with the uproariously funny 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.
This is officially a book of essays, but they're personal and are all drawn from Thomas's life, and the feeling to me is that of a memoir. 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's stories are sometimes heartbreaking, often inspiring, and they frequently made me laugh out loud. For my full review, please see Here For It.
06 Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile
In Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile shares a beautifully open, poignant, tough, rich, gorgeous account of her life and career so far. The audiobook includes over thirty songs, and I highly recommend it.
I can't imagine feeling the full emotion and immersive experience of this book without hearing Carlile's voice tell it--or without hearing all of the music Carlile offers here. She weaves more than thirty songs into her stories and personal history, and the placement of the music feels seamless and illustrative.
In Broken Horses, Brandi Carlile shares a beautifully open, poignant, tough, rich, gorgeous account of her life and career so far. She is thoughtful, humble, and so gracefully fluid and curious, I treasured each moment she shared here.
Carlile intersperses songs with stories about their impact on her or the influences that led her to write and create them. The songs are all included again at the very end of the book, by which point the listener understands their import. They felt incredibly powerful as a closure to her story.
If you like books about music, you might like the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Rockin' Stories about Bands and Music.
For my full review of this book, please see Broken Horses.