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Addiction, Insanity & Polygamy: The 10 Best Memoirs

Updated on November 27, 2010

The 10 Best Memoirs I've Ever Read

I'm an avid reader, and one of my favourite genres is memoirs and biographies. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love fiction, and most of my favourite books are fiction, but there is just something about reading someone's personal story, and knowing that it is true. It is just different than reading a work of fiction, no matter how well written it is, that makes memoirs so great.

I have read more memoirs than I could ever count; on everything from drug and alcohol addiction, to mental illness, to victims of crimes, abuse, neglect, and loss. Unfortunately, most memoirs have an undercurrent of sadness, but reading about a person overcoming their struggle can be really amazing.

I had a hard time choosing ten to include, because I have read so many on such a range of subjects. I tried to include a variety of different life stories, about very different things. One thing that is true of all of these stories; they were well written, engaging, and they touched my heart in some way.

I included some "Honourable Mentions" at the end, for the reasons listed there, I did not feel they belonged in the list, but they are great just the same, and I can't recommend them enough either. Remember, this is my opinion, and I haven't read every memoir ever written, so feel free to disagree! Let me know what your favourites are!  So, in no particular order;

Right: Cover of Love is a Mixtape Left: Author Rob Sheffield
Right: Cover of Love is a Mixtape Left: Author Rob Sheffield | Source

Buy "Love is a Mix Tape" by Rob Sheffield

Love is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield

I am a music lover, and in my opinion, one of the best things about music is its power to invoke memories. This is one of the reasons I loved this memoir; Rob Sheffield was able to weave the music of his memories into his powerful story of loss. Rob tells the story of how he met a girl, how they fell in love, and how he held her in his arms while she was dying. He shares his happiness and details his grief with remarkable originality. This memoir is a compelling and emotional tale of love and loss.

Love is a Mix Tape was Rob Sheffield's first book. He has since written another memoir, detailing his life as an adolescent, again weaving music into the storyline. I have yet to read his second book, but have it on my to-read list! For more information on Rob, and both his books, please visit http://www.robsheffield.com.


Left: Cover of Lucky Right: Author Alice Sebold
Left: Cover of Lucky Right: Author Alice Sebold | Source

Buy "Lucky" by Alice Sebold

Lucky
Lucky

Paperback

 

Lucky: A Memoir by Alice Sebold

Though probably most well know for her novel, "The Lovely Bones", Alice Sebold boldly opens up about her rape, and the tragic aftermath in her memoir "Lucky".  With candor, Alice discusses the event that forever changed her life; how when she was just 18, and in her first year of college, she was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted near campus. Alice documents how she struggled to understand and come to terms with what happened, and how it has forever changed her in the eyes of others. It is an incredibly well written peak into a traumatic experience that would forever haunt her life, told with wit, honesty, and heart.

As well as "Lucky", Alice Sebold has also written two novels, "The Lovely Bones" as mentioned above, as well as "The Almost Moon". Alice Sebold does not have an official website.

Left: Author Elizabeth Wurtzel Right: Cover of Prozac Nation
Left: Author Elizabeth Wurtzel Right: Cover of Prozac Nation | Source

Buy "Prozac Nation" by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Elizabeth Wurtzel is quite a prolific writer, but she is probably best known for her memoir, "Prozac Nation", which was even made into a movie starring Christina Ricci as Elizabeth. It is a very honest and stark look at the depths of depression, and the affects it can have. Elizabeth shares her struggles with depression, her attempts at suicide, and the train wreck her life became during that time. At the same time, Elizabeth also examines depression treatment, and society's "prozac" solution to the problem.

After "Prozac Nation", Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote 5 books, including a follow-up memoir, "More, Now, Again" which focused on her drug addiction. Her other books are "Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women", "The Secret Life: Commonsense Advice for the Uncommon Woman", "Radical Sanity", and "The Bitch Wars". Elizabeth does not have an official website.

Right: Author Dave Eggers Left: Cover of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis
Right: Author Dave Eggers Left: Cover of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis | Source

Buy "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis" by Dave Eggers

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers is another prolific writer who first started out with his memoir, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis".  As you can tell by the title, Dave uses humour and sardonic wit in his attempt to write a very difficult story about dealing with the death of his parents.  He chronicles his sudden responsibility for his younger brother, after watching his parents fight and lose their battles with cancer, with raw and authentic emotion.  The book can go in odd directions at times, but overall, it is a heartfelt, witty memoir with a lot of funny and touching moments.

Dave Eggers has written 5 novels in addition to "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"; "You Shall Know Our Velocity", "What is the What", "The Wild Things", "Zeitoun", and "How We Are Hungry".  He has no official website.

Left: Cover of Sickened Right: Author Julie Gregory
Left: Cover of Sickened Right: Author Julie Gregory | Source

Buy "Sickened" by Julie Gregory

Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood by Julie Gregory

Julie Gregory's memoir was unlike any I have ever read before. I had heard of Munchausen by Proxy before, but had never heard a detailed account from a child of what they were put through by their perpetrator before. Munchausen by Proxy, or MBP, what happened to Julie Gregory, is when a caretaker, usually a child's mother will purposefully make their child physically or emotionally ill, in order to gain the attention of doctors and other people for themselves. Sometimes even going as far as to cause their child's death.

Julie Gregory's mother tortured Julie; she was fed drugs by her mother, medicated, prodded and operated on by doctor's, and forced to lie to them in an effort to win her mother's love. Her mother pushed doctors to perform more tests, suggesting and going through with open heart surgery as a way to "get to the bottom" of it all. She somehow managed to survive, but struggled with the truth of what really happened until she was an adult. It's an amazing story of a little girl, and her desperation for love and affection from her mentally ill mother.

Julie Gregory has since written another memoir, "My Father's Keeper", based on her childhood experiences and struggles with her paranoid schizophrenic father, which I have not yet read, but am looking forward to it! For more information on Julie Gregory, and her two books, visit her website at http://www.juliegregory.com.

Left: Author Kerry Cohen Right: Cover of Loose Girl
Left: Author Kerry Cohen Right: Cover of Loose Girl | Source

Buy "Loose Girl" by Kerry Cohen

Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen

Kerry Cohen opens up in this captivating memoir about a subject that is a little taboo: promiscuity, and the confusion between love and sex that many young girls struggle with. Unfortunately, it is a story that is much too common, but not often shared; who wants to admit to being what society perceives as a slut, even if the act of sharing and discussing the reasons behind it might be necessary? Kerry shares some details and truths that many woman would never admit to; sleeping with so many men that she had forgotten a lot of their names, the truth and the pain behind her actions, the self-destruction that was left in the wake of it all. It is a novel all women should read; whether you identify with Kerry, you have wondered about "those girls", or ever written another woman off as simply "a slut", this memoir is an eye opening read about women and their sexuality.

Kerry Cohen Hoffman has also written three novels, "Easy", "It's Not You, It's Me", and "The Good Girls". You can learn more about Kerry Cohen Hoffman and her books at her official website, http://www.kerry-cohen.com.


Left: Cover of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City Right: Author Nick Flynn
Left: Cover of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City Right: Author Nick Flynn | Source

Buy "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City" by Nick Flynn

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn has a fairly unique perspective from which to write his memoir; Nick's father abused drugs and alcohol, went to prison, and eventually ended up on the streets, homeless.  In "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City", Nick talks about his time working in a homeless shelter, where he crosses paths with his father.  Nick shares the details of his life at that time, his own struggle with addiction, and the strange and troubling relationship he has with his father.  It is a memoir that is both hopeful and hopeless, vivid and poetic.  It is just one of those books that is hard to put down.

Nick Flynn continued his story in his 2nd memoir "The Ticking is the Bomb", where he further delves into his addiction, and the continuing battle against his demons.  He is also the author of several poetry books, and a play.  He does not have an official website.

Left: Author Irene Spencer Right: Cover of Shattered Dreams
Left: Author Irene Spencer Right: Cover of Shattered Dreams | Source

Buy "Shattered Dreams" by Irene Spencer

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife by Irene Spencer

Irene Spencer was born into Polygamy. From birth, she was raised to believe that polygamy was the only way to get into heaven, and that to question it was forbidden. She spent 28 years in a polygamous marriage as the 2nd of 10 wives, and bore 14 children for her husband. In "Shattered Dreams", you are given an intimate glimpse into Irene's daily life and struggles in a plural marriage. Following Irene through the families flight from Utah to Mexico, to a life with no electricity or running water, and multiple children to take care of in dire circumstances, Irene shares the tragic details of her life as a polygamist, and her eventual escape from the lifestyle.

Irene Spencer wrote a 2nd memoir, "Cult Insanity", chronicling the story of her brother-in-law, a self-proclaimed prophet, as her terrorized and murdered those who apposed him. You can learn more about Irene Spencer & her books at her official website, http://www.irenespencerbooks.com.

Left: Cover of Smashed.  Right: Author Koren Zailckas
Left: Cover of Smashed. Right: Author Koren Zailckas | Source

Buy "Smashed" by Koren Zailckas

Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas

The general idea behind Smashed, a memoir on alcoholism, is an already widely-explored topic, with a wide range of authors having already their stories. Memoirs on addiction are nothing new. What makes Smashed different is that it tackles the subject of alcoholism in the social context of a girl growing up, and following the socially acceptable path of drinking & partying with friends. It examines the idea of the college-agedparty girl being seen as the norm, and the problem of excessive consumption of alcohol, with society not only accepting but also encouraging this type of behaviour. It is a look at the stark realization of a young girl who gave in to the allure of booze, and only after many blackouts, alcohol poisoning, and nights of excess, faced that she had a problem, and needed to stop drinking.

"Smashed" was Koren Zailckas first book. She has since written another memoir, "Fury", which discusses the underlying issues with rage and anger that Koren has, and how her alcoholism was a way of dealing with it, which she now has to face since she's become sober. For more information on Koren & both of her books, please visit http://korenzailckas.com.

Left: Author Dr. Richard Baer Right: Cover of Switching Time
Left: Author Dr. Richard Baer Right: Cover of Switching Time | Source

Switching Time: A Doctors Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman With 17 Personalities by Richard Baer

In "Switching Time", we are given a fascinating glimpse inside the world of a woman with multiple personalities. Multiple Personality Disorder, more recently referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder, is a remarkable condition where the sufferer has suffered severe trauma at some point, and their brain created different personalities within one body in an attempt to cope with the trauma. Dr. Baer, who treated the woman portrayed in the memoir whom had 17 different personalities, gives unique insight into the life of someone with MPD, and the difficult obstacles involved in successfully treating them. Through many sessions and revelations, Dr. Baer realizes she is suffering from MPD, and learns the horrific details of what happened to his patient, and what traumatized her so deeply. As the tragic details emerge, and the journey turns towards reintegrating the personalities, Dr. Baer has to try to maintain the trust of his patient, while also distancing himself from personal involvement and attachment.

Read more about Richard Baer, and "Switching Time" at his official website, http://www.switchingtime.com.

Will There Really be a Morning?
Will There Really be a Morning?

Will There Really Be a Morning? by Frances Farmer. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print, but is available used from amazon.com sellers, but is quite expensive as you will see.

 

Honourable Mentions

In this section, I have three books that I really recommend reading, but that I did not include in the list above for various reasons.

Will There Really Be a Morning? by Frances Farmer

I did not include this book simply because it is out of print, and it's fairly difficult to find a copy that is not quite expensive. I happened to get a second-hand copy of this book, and it is a really fantastic memoir about Frances Farmer's relationship with her mother, her rise to fame, her breakdown and experience with mental illness, her time spent in a state mental hospital, and the horrific sites and conditions she witnessed and endured during her time there. It really is a fantastic autobiography.

Sweet Charlotte's 7th Mistake by Cori Crooks

The reason I did not include this book is because, though technically it is a memoir, it does not follow the usual memoir protocol. The book is laid out like a scrapbook, filled with photos, and telling the story of Cori Crooks dysfunctional relationship with her former exotic-dancer mother, and her search for the true identity of her father. Word wise, it is quite short, and that is why I did not feel it really belonged in my list. I appreciate the unique way the story was told, and what was there was well-written and engaging, but I don't think it quite fits in with the traditional memoir. You can read more about Cori Crooks & Sweet Charlotte's 7th Mistake at http://www.coricrooks.com.

The PostSecret Series by Frank Warren

I am a loyal follower of the PostSecret website, and look forward to seeing new secrets posted every Sunday. If you are unfamiliar with it, PostSecret is a website that started out years ago as an art project for Frank Warren. People were invited to send him a secret written on a postcard, anonymously. The postcards, which are each their own work of art, containing secrets poured in and continue to pour in, and Frank has been sharing them on his website ever since. Frank took the project one step further, and has released 5 books filled with pictures of hundreds of secrets that he has received over the years. The secrets are eye-opening, shocking, sad, hopeful, humourous, tragic, and triumphant. The PostSecret blog is updated every Sunday with new secrets at http://www.postsecret.com.

Comments

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    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      UndercoverAgent19 

      3 years ago

      This is a fantastic list! I admire the time you took to include memoirs dealing with a variety of topics and written by very different and unique authors. Although I haven't read any of the memoirs that are mentioned in your hub, many are already on my to-read list. And now I have several more to check out!

    • profile image

      Serenity 

      6 years ago

      "FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary" by Angela Hartlin is a great memoir about her daily account living with Dermatillomania, the unknown skin picking disorder that plagues millions in North America. She goes through depression, thoughts of suicide, frustration, isolation, and emotional growth as she fights through the negative feelings holding her back from life.

      A 12 page preview can be read here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/forever-mark...

    • Ivona Poyntz profile image

      Ivona Poyntz 

      6 years ago from UK

      Great list, have marked out a few for future reads

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