After reading my post on 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Memoir, a colleague asked me to name some of my favorites memoirs/memoirists. Here’s my list. It’s worth noting that few of these writers’ memoirs are about freaky, strange life events. Rather, most of these memoirs are about growing up, having children, being married, working, and other fairly universal, seldom tragic or odd, experiences. More proof that what makes a great memoir isn’t an unusual or fraught story, but great writing. These are listed in no particular order. I didn’t realize until I made this list that nearly all of my favorites are by women.
Lucy Grealy – Autobiography of a Face
Ann Patchett – Truth & Beauty; This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (a collection of autobiographical essays rather than a straight memoir)
Anne Lamott – Operating Instructions; Traveling Mercies and Plan B (autobiographical essays)
Haven Kimmel – A Girl Named Zippy
Kelly Corrigan – The Middle Place
Lauren Winner – Girl Meets God; Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis
Jeannette Walls – The Glass Castle
Kate Braestrup – Here if You Need Me
Andrew Solomon – The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression; Far from the Tree. I hesitated before adding these, because they are not technically memoirs. They are masterworks of journalism, exploring depression and difference by telling many people’s stories. However, in both books, Solomon includes his own story (of having depression in The Noonday Demon, and of being a gay man exploring his identity in relation to his family and embarking on parenthood in Far from the Tree). He is such a skilled, thoughtful writer, and so expertly tells his own story alongside other people’s stories, that I had to include him on my list.
What are some of your favorite memoirs and memoirists? What do you love about them?