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Top 10 Memoirs

Updated on August 7, 2013

Riveting Autobiographies by Talented Writers

These top 10 memoirs are my favorite autobiographies. Many of them are written by writers (of course they are, you say).

But what I mean is, many of the writers also have written novels or other nonfiction books or are journalists. That is to say, you won't find a celebrity memoir in the bunch.*

I love peeking in at other people's lives. Memoirs let us do that. These memoirs are listed in no particular order. I love them all!

(And if you're counting, yes, there are 11, plus a few. I didn't know where to stop!)

This photo is of Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle, a memoir, and the novel Half-Broke Horses, both excellent books.

Photo Credit: © 2009 Larry D. Moore.

*Well, I do include a few celebrity memoirs below that I really loved.

Townie: A Memoir - by Andre Dubus III

From the stories in Townie of his tough childhood in a mill town in Massachusetts, I would never have guessed that Andre Dubus III could have written such lyrical books.

His best seller, House of Sand and Fog, is one of the best novels I've ever read. His memoir is probably the best I've ever read.

Date of Publication: 2011

Other Books by Andre Dubus III: The Cage Keeper and Other Stories (1989), Bluesman (1993), House of Sand and Fog (1999), The Garden of Last Day (2008)

The Glass Castle: A Memoir - by Jeannette Walls

This 2005 memoir by journalist Jeannette Walls, who writes for MSNBC.com, is so amazing you think you're reading fiction.

Her parents, well educated and intelligent people, choose to live a vagabond life with three kids in tow. You just have to read it to believe it. For years, as an adult, Walls hid her background while living in New York City and writing for national newspapers and magazines.

At the end of this fabulous book, Walls emphasizes that she felt lucky that on her birthday one year as a child her father took her out and picked out a star just for her. She felt lucky to have this weird upbringing and wrote that her sister saw their impoverished upbringing basically as child abuse.

I know I would have sided with the sister.

Publication Date: 2005

Other Books by Jeannette Walls: Half Broke Horses (2009)

Places Jeannette Walls' Family Lived - They've Been Everywhere, Man

The places Jeannette Walls and her family lived while she was growing up.
The places Jeannette Walls and her family lived while she was growing up.

This map shows many of the places where the Walls family lived while the three children were growing up. Cities include Phoenix, Arizona, where Jeannette was born in 1960, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Welch, West Virginia. At 17 Jeannette followed her sister to New York City to live to escape the poverty of their life in West Virginia.

Photo Credit: Seth Monroe.

When We Were the Kennedys - by Monica Wood

This memoir, When We Were the Kennedys, is subtitled A Memoir from Mexico, Maine, and the town and place is surely another character in this heartfelt autobiography.

President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but earlier that year, in April, Monica Wood's father died of a sudden heart attack. After Kennedy's death, the family could relate to the president's widow and children left behind, because they were those people, too.

Major themes of this book include Catholicism, the Oxford paper mill, dealing with a spouse/father's death, and growing up in a tiny, sheltered world.

Year of Publication: 2012

Other Books by Monica Wood: Elements of Fiction Writing - Description (1999), My Only Story (2001), Secret Language (2002), The Pocket Muse (2004), Ernies' Ark: Stories (2004), Any Bitter Thing (2006), and several other books

A Girl from Yamhill - by Beverly Cleary

I loved reading children's author Beverly Cleary's two memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. I love the Ramona books but loved these autobiographies even more.

She explains how her mother's strange behavior made her childhood as an only child first in Yamhill, Oregon then in Portland a challenge.

Date of Publication: 1996

Other Books by Beverly Cleary: My Own Two Feet (1996), numerous children's books

Breaking Clean - by Judy Blunt

I found this strong story by a strong woman fascinating. Judy Blunt was born and raised in desolate Montana where the rules for men and women were set in stone and unyielding.

Year of Publication: 2003

Other Books by Judy Blunt: Not Quite Stone (1992) and Bridging the gap, permanency planning with drug affected families: A project of the National Resource Center for Foster Care & Permanency Planning, ... PM, Hunter College School of Social Work (1999)

Do You Love to Read Memoirs?

Do You Love to Read Memoirs?

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Lucky: A Memoir - by Alice Sebold

You probably know Alice Sebold as the author of The Lovely Bones. Before she wrote that fabulous novel, she wrote this memoir.

While in college she was raped and beaten. The ensuing ordeal--her recovery and identifying the rapist--is told with candor. She writes: "You save yourself or you remain unsaved."

Publication Date: 2002

Other Books by Alice Sebold: The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination - by Elizabeth McCracken

Elizabeth McCracken and her husband were living in France when she was expecting her first child. Then a few days before he was due, she learned that her child, Pudding, which is what they called him throughout her pregnancy, had died. She had to wait 36 hours to deliver him, and she subsequently wrote this memoir of loss of an infant.

In an interview with NPR, "McCracken said the 'exact replica' may be the book itself: She wrote the memoir in an effort to capture every single detail of a child whose face she never looked at while he was alive."

Publication Date: 2008

Other Books by Elizabeth McCracken: The Giant's House (1997), Here's Your Hat, What's Your Hurry (1997), Niagara Falls All Over Again (2002)

Autobiography of a Face - by Lucy Grealy

Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with cancer (Ewing's sarcoma) at age 9 and had one third of her jaw removed. Her subsequent fight with cancer and dealing with the stares and trauma of having ongoing pain and medical problems is revealed in her Autobiography of a Face.

At the Iowa Writer's Workshop, she lived with fellow student and writer Ann Patchett who after Grealy's death wrote the story of their friendship, Truth and Beauty.

Date of Publication: 1994

Other Books by Lucy Grealy: In the Mind's Eye (1995), As Seen on TV: Provocations (2001)

Truth and Beauty: A Friendship - by Ann Patchett

After her friend Lucy Grealy's death, Ann Patchett wrote a memoir of their friendship in Truth and Beauty. This book is party a memoir of Ann Patchett herself and partly about her friendship with Lucy Grealy who she met and shared an apartment with at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Her writing is so beautiful that it's like she's sitting next to you telling you her story.

Date of Publication: 2004

Other Books by Ann Patchett: The Patron Saint of Liars (1992), Taft (1994), The Magician's Assistant (1997), Bel Canto (2001), Run (2007), What Now (2008), State of Wonder (2011), The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life (2011)

A Girl Named Zippy - by Haven Kimmel

Haven Kimmel has captured the voice of her childhood so well in her 2002 memoir A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana. This book is funny, heart breaking, and so true (as in "you can't make this stuff up").

Year of Publication: 2002

Other Books by Haven Kimmel: The Solace of Leaving Early (2003), Something Rising (Light and Swift) (2005), She Got Up Off the Couch (2007), The Used World (2008), Iodine (2009)

Running with Scissors: A Memoir - by Augusten Burroughs

The phrase "truth is stranger than fiction" could have been coined from the contents of this book. A few words to describe Burroughs's childhood: bizarre, cruel, whacky, strange, unbelievable. And it's told with such humor that if you don't laugh, you're probably sedated or dead. Read it yourself.

Year of Publication: 2003

Other Books by Augusten Burroughs: Dry (2004) , Magical Thinking (2005), Possible Side Effects (2007), This is How: Help for the Self, Overcoming More (2012)

Of these memoirs, which is your favorite?

Of these memoirs, which is your favorite?

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More Great Memoirs - I can recommend all of these great memoirs.

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel
Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel

This book by Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle, is based on her grandmother's life but is fictionalized to fill in details.

 

Celebrity Memoirs I've Read and Loved - Okay, I Wasn't Going to Include Memoirs by Celebrities But These Are Great

Affiliate Disclosure

This author, Peggy Hazelwood, participates in Amazon, eBay, All Posters, and other affiliate advertising programs. When you click an advertising link on this page and make a purchase, I receive a small percent of the sale. Thank you for reading this far!

Do you love reading memoirs? - If so, do you have a favorite?

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    • TerriCarr profile image

      TerriCarr 3 years ago

      I am currently reading "Love in a Time of Homeschooling" which may not technically be a memoir but it is close. :-) It is the story of a mom who spends a year homeschooling her 10 yr old daughter.

    • KateFeredayEshete profile image

      Kate Fereday Eshete 4 years ago from Ethiopia

      I haven't read Andre Dubus III's 'House of Land and Fog' but I saw the film and it impressed me, so I'd be interested in reading his 'Townie: A Memoir'. I've been reading a lot of memoirs and autobiographies over the past year because I felt it would help me in writing my own memoirs. I've recently published a lens about one of my favourites - Finlay J Macdonald's autobiography - because I think he's one of Scotland's finest writers, yet little known (I'm English but I spent my childhood in Scotland, and I now live in the Ethiopian Highlands!). I'm currently reading Stephen King's 'On Writing' but most of the other books you write about are unknown to me, although I'm a great fan of Ann Patchett, so I'd be tempted to buy her 'Truth and Beauty: A Friendship'. Anyway, your lens gives me plenty of food for thought, so many thanks for that.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @gottaloveit2: I have it in the sidebar. Wild really is a great book.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 4 years ago

      I'm moving back into reading autobiographies and this list is the best I've seen. I bought the one you recommended by Cheryl Strayed - Wild. Loved it! You should add it here. Blessed!

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 5 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      Yes, I love memoirs. Thanks for your list of favorites! I recommend "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed - it is hard to put down.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @Belaynesh01: Just get busy and make a list, write the article. Update it, add to it. Make it fun! Good luck.

    • profile image

      Belaynesh01 5 years ago

      Hello Scarlettohairy,

      I love reading books. I love most of your listing here; great lens. Thanks you very much. I just joined Squidoo and I would love to make a lens with non-fiction books, like you did here. Any tips and feedback you may give me would be very much appreciated. Thanks again.

    • profile image

      kathryn-gillespie 5 years ago

      Well I think I need to read memoirs! Great lens!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @Ruthi: Thanks for the recommendation of Growing Up in Boom Times.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image
      Author

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @MaggiePowell: I'll have to check out L'Engle's memoirs. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • profile image

      MaggiePowell 5 years ago

      A Girl Named Zippy is one of my favorite books of all times.... I really enjoyed Janette Wells books...

      Have you read any of Madeline L'Engle's memoirs? A Two-Part Invention is wonderful.

    • profile image

      Ruthi 5 years ago

      Yes! I do love reading memoirs and autobiographies. I am delighted to see A Girl from Yamhill by Beverly Cleary on your list! (It's a reminder for me to order and read the book!) One of my favorite memoirs books is Growing Up In Boom Times. (And yes, I have published a lens for this book.)

    • kislanyk profile image

      Marika 5 years ago from Cyprus

      Some interesting memoirs, I don't think I've read any of them so far.

    • JordanWalker LM profile image

      JordanWalker LM 5 years ago

      This is a great lens. I enjoyed looking over this list. Thank you for writing it.