A Few Favorite Memoirs

Some well-known, some not, the following are a few of my favorite memoirs for both content and presentation.



A memoir - or any book, really - doesn't have to be on the New York Times Best Sellers List, or any other list for that matter, in order to entertain us, inform us, and move us deeply. Some of my favorite thought-provoking, funny, poignant, and instructive memoirs, in no particular order, include the following:

Looking for Mary, by Beverly Donofrio

The author's name may be familiar to some, as the author of Riding in Cars with Boys, her first memoir, that was turned into a movie starring Drew Barrymore. This, a sequel of sorts to Riding, is the story of how an urbane, unconventional, irreverent writer found faith and forgiveness, and healed her relationship with her estranged adult son. I read this book once or twice a year. It never gets old for me.

The Eden Express, by Mark Vonnegut

An account of Vonnegut's (yes, he's Kurt's son) experience of mental illness while a young man living on a commune in rural British Columbia in the 1960s and '70s. I first read it when I was in college. It was one of the first memoirs I remember reading, and I was taken with the author's candor, and his sensitivity to the effects his unpredictable - and mystifying - behavior had on the people around him.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson

This is the first memoir by Lawson (a.k.a.The Bloggess). Never mind, I can't even describe it. Just be prepared to laugh until your eyes are burning and you have bigger, better abs than Thor.

Drinking: a Love Story, by Caroline Knapp

A near-perfect example of a thematic memoir, Knapp recounts her torrid love affair with alcohol and with the act of drinking. I'd never before received such an intimate look into the mind, the reasoning, the experience, and the chaos of an alcoholic and her life. With vivid descriptions, and ruthless self-examination, Knapp takes us on the quintessential journey from alcoholism to recovery.

A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas

While coping with her husband's traumatic brain injury, Thomas finds comfort in her growing four-legged family, and the unadorned life. The memoir is an exercise in simplicity. The narrative has a lot of holes in terms of continuity, but the included scenes, dialogue, and insights have the effect of a collage, or even a kaleidoscope, rife with beauty. (Heads-up: There are a couple of disturbing passages concerning animals.)

Raising My Rainbow, by Lori Duron

When Lori Duron's little boy starts showing more interest in tutus than trucks, she and her husband are faced with parenting challenges they hadn't anticipated, not only from their son, but also from friends, neighbors, school staff, and strangers.

No Time to Say Goodbye, by Carla Fine

As much about her fellow members in a bereavement group as about her own healing journey, Fine's memoir explores the questions, emotions, and internal conflicts that arise, and must be navigated, following a loved one's suicide. Honest, vulnerable, clear-sighted, this is an excellent resource for survivors.

Love, Ellen, by Betty DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres' mother discusses her journey from Christian Science devotee to spokesperson for LGBT rights after her struggle to accept Ellen's announcement that she's gay. An open-eyed self-assessment of one woman's loves, beliefs, priorities, and place in the world.


Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon

This one is a well-known classic, and I love it for its low-key tone and variety of local color. Least Heat-Moon is a powerful observer of details. These days, Jack Kerouac's On the Road is often cited as the ultimate travel memoir, but to me, Blue Highways is just as good. It's less action-packed than Road, but is more generous in its inclusion of the characters, fauna, and flora that Heat-Moon encounters on his back road travels.


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard

Another classic, this poetic narrative captures the raw, savage beauty of the natural world just as much as the author's experience of it, through all of her finely-honed senses. Her delight is our delight, but be prepared. Raw, savage beauty is not designed for human comfort.


Perfection, by Julie Metz

After her husband dies suddenly, Metz discovers that he'd been having an affair. Part grief memoir, part detective story, Perfection is a journey of discovery and healing in small town U.S.A., where everyone knows everyone else, along with their business. I initially picked up this book because of the bereavement angle, but Metz held my curiosity as she brought me along with her on the trail of her husband's mistress.

What are some of your favorites?

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