Memoirs usually focus on a specific time period in someone’s life, but even during this short window an author can go through transformational, life-changing events. The common denominator of these memorable memoirs is that you can imagine yourself in their story.
10. The Horse Boy
The Horse Boy is about a father who takes his severely autistic son to Mongolia to find the ancient culture and shamans who believes in the healing effects of horses. The reader not only identifies with the physical journey, but this coming of age memoir offers a snapshot into this misunderstood condition that affects millions worldwide by having his son narrate parts of his own story. It also became a documentary, as the father took a film crew with him.
9.Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
When Cheryl Strayed wrote about her experiences trekking the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 in the bestselling memoir Wild, Strayed was penniless and in debt. Now she’s one of the highest paying celebrity memoir writers out there, in part thanks to a spot in Oprah’s Book Club.
Thanks to Strayed, there’s a global movement of readers seeking redemption as they walk alongside Strayed and her backpack jokingly named “Monster” on the trail into one of the most wild and isolated placed in the United States. Just when we think Strayed has revealed her most vulnerable core by coping with wild animals, we realize what Strayed’s journey is really about: an intimate look into the world of suffering and empowerment following the unforeseen death of her mother. Reese Witherspoon will be portraying Strayed in a film adaption.
8. Unstill Life
Unstill Life is a coming of age memoir by author Gabrielle Selz. As the daughter of Peter Selz, an artist and curator of the Museum of Modern Art in the 1950s, Gabrielle was always fascinated by the world of modern art. Growing up with a “larger-than-life father” in New York City, Selz tries to find her place in the art world, one that isn’t defined by Selz’s vibrant and freewheeling father whose enthusiasm for both women and art changed Selz emotionally.In a recent interview she said, “wanting is central to narrative.” Clearly her desire to tell her version of the truth is part of her transformational journey.
7. Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run 7 Marathons on 7 Continents
Cami Ostman, author of Second Wind, acknowledges at the beginning of her book that she’s an unlikely athlete. Running low on time in her life, her goal was to question her values and upbringings that led to an emotionally repressed life in the hopes of bringing her closer to emotional freedom. Her solution was to run seven marathons on seven continents (yes, including Antartica) and the insights and discoveries she reveals about the endurance of the human spirit are revealing, and might even inspire you to run your own marathon.
6. Losing Amma, Finding Home: A Memoir about Love, Loss and Life’s Detours
Losing Amma, Finding Home is the transformational journey of finding the gifts in grief after the author, Uma Girish, loses her mother to breast cancer. Practically alone as an immigrant to the United States from India and without a safety net of family or friends, she struggles to overcome so many challenges all at once while tangled up in a web of emotional isolation and grief. Each step Uma takes brings her closer to unfolding the universal concept of “home” and what that means no matter what side of the Atlantic Ocean one comes from.
5. The Year of Magical Thinking
Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking is a classic memoir of understanding the emotional and painfully human experience of grief and loss. Joan lost her husband and fellow writer, John Gregory Dunne, to a heart attack in 2003 while the couple’s only daughter, Quintana, lay unconscious in a nearby hospital suffering from pneumonia and septic shock.
Her “magical year” becomes a universal story of marriage and what it was like to work and write side by side for nearly 40 years. There’s no advice, just very raw personal experience, including the inevitable vulnerability and unexpected moments when she thought she could turn back the face of time and recount every last detail up until her husband’s death. Grief was also the subject of her next memoir, Blue Nights, an emotional nightmare that pieced together the literary snapshots of her daughter’s life and subsequent death in 2005.
4. My Father’s Gardens
There are many ways to view the theme of straddling two different countries, mentalities, languages and histories. When it comes to the experience of relocating to another culture, immigrants are subject to the loss of their home. In Karen Levy’s memoir My Father’s Gardens, the American-Israeli shares the struggle of divided loyalties and of finding her American and Israeli home on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. How will she know when she’s American and when she’s Israeli? Immigrants whose cultures and languages are constantly in transition can relate to this experience — it can take years to lay down roots on foreign soil.
3. Unremarried Widow
Artis Henderson’s Unremarried Widow talks about the emotionally difficult process of losing her husband, a pilot for the United States army, in Afghanistan. During a candid interview, Henderson talked about how she managed to voice the grief of her husband Miles and his memory. Writing her memoir was a big part of the grieving and healing process and now she can talk about him and what happened without falling apart. She said, “I would trade everything to have Miles back in a second. But that’s not an option. It took me a long time to realize that. I kept thinking, ‘if I did everything right, he would come back.’ But once I realized he wasn’t coming back for good, I realized I had a huge responsibility to turn his death into something good.”
2. The Liar’s Club
Mary Karr is perhaps the queen of memoir writing — her critically acclaimed The Liar’s Club spent an entire year on the New York Times bestsellers list. Thanks to Karr, the genre is now one of the fasting growing in the publishing world. Karr weaved together memories of child abuse, emotional turmoil and divorce, all leading up to a conversation with her mother to try to reconcile with the truth, a stand-alone moment that brings us closer to Karr when she discovers the missing link to her mother’s past and the key to Karr’s family history. We love her a little bit more for her determination in uncovering her family mystery, and are forgiving to what may appear as a dysfunctional family.
1. Searching for Mercy Street
Linda Gray Sexton, daughter of Pulitzer prize winning poet Anne Sexton and author of the memoir Searching for Mercy Street, is a big believer in the power of telling one’s true story. She does this as she recounts what it was like to live in an emotionally unpredictable life. Yet she doesn’t hold back, especially when it comes to forgiving her mother. She says, “If I can forgive my mother, then the reader can forgive his/her mother.”
Linda Gray Sexton’s writing speaks for voiceless people, especially daughters trying to navigate the troubled waters of a parent’s suicide. In Half in Love, she recounts her own experience with contemplating suicide, while in Bespotted: My Family’s Love Affair with Thirty-Eight Dalmatians, she explores a brighter side to her writing.