Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My 12 Favorite Memoirs

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is about the best of the best: our favorite books in the genre of our choosing -- and what a tough thing to narrow down! After much debate and list-making, I veered toward non-fiction, and from there I decided to go with memoirs.

These books are all wonderfully written accounts of personal experience. Some are funny, some are serious. Some are written by well-known people, some aren't. But they are all fantastic reads and I highly recommend them! (These books are all great in their own way, and they're in no particular order.)

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
This is not only one of my favorite memoirs, it's one of the most memorable books I've ever read. It's full of quirky, hilarious adventures and anecdotes, and I still don't think I've yet to laugh out loud reading a book as much as I did this one. Lawson's second book, "Furiously Happy," was wonderful too. (review)
Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him by Luis Carlos Montalvan
As a dog lover and military spouse, I knew I had to read this book the moment I saw it -- but it's a great memoir for every kind of reader. It's well-written and heartwarming, and it has a lot to teach about both the brilliance of service dogs (and the mechanics of linking up a service dog with a human) and the horrors of PTSD. (review)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
This book, which details Doughty's surprising decision to take a job in the funeral industry in her twenties, has completely stuck with me in the years since I read it. It answers all your morbid curiosity questions about dead bodies, but Doughty brings up more serious issues too, like the history of the death industry, how different cultures deal with death differently, how our society has become so distanced from death, and the emerging trend of natural burials. (review)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Well, I didn't mean to put two books about death next to each other, but here we are. "When Breath Becomes Air" couldn't be more different from "Smoke." It's a very poignant, elegant memoir written by a brilliant neurosurgeon/neuroscientist who, at just 36, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It's about what makes life meaningful, and about dying with grace, but it's also an interesting look at Paul's quest to become the best physician he could be. One of the best books I've read this year. (review)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson has a talent for educating his readers while making them chuckle, and I'm gradually working my way through his work. So far "A Walk in the Woods" has been my favorite. I love the mountains and hiking, and I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's humorous account of his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with an overweight and somewhat bumbling pal. (P.S. The book is way better than the movie.) (review)
The Daily Coyote: A Story of Love, Survival and Trust in the Wilds of Wyoming by Shreve Stockton
"The Daily Coyote" is about a twentysomething city girl who winds up in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming, seeking a change and some direction for her life. She gets all that and more when she adopts an orphaned coyote pup. The book, a chronicle of Charlie the coyote's first year of life and the author's first year in Wyoming, is worth reading for the amazing photographs of Charlie alone!

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Written in the form of a letter to his teenage son, Coates's book deals with the issue of race in America through the lenses of current events, history, and his own experiences as a black boy growing up in Baltimore and a student at Howard University. It's a quick, fascinating and important read -- and it couldn't be more timely.
My Life in France by Julia Child
Julia Child's memoir is one favorite books of all time. I didn't know anything more about Julia than what I learned watching the movie "Julie and Julia" when I picked up her book on a total whim years ago when Borders was going out of business. What an amazing surprise -- it's about food, it's about travel, it's about France, it's about love. This is a must-read for any Francophile or foodie. (review)

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
This book is about Josh's struggle with Tourette's -- as well as his adventures as a reference librarian and a strongman. It's a funny, heartfelt, honest look at a fascinating person finding his way in life. (review)
Poor Your Soul by Mira Ptacin
Ptacin's memoir is a brutally raw, honest look at an unexpected pregnancy that turned into an unimaginably difficult decision when Mira and her husband learned their baby wouldn't survive outside the womb. Mira's story is interspersed with glimpses of her childhood and her mother, who also had to deal with the loss of a child. It's about grief, love, family and moving on -- but what I liked most was how open Mira was in her lovely writing. I felt like I had known her for years after I closed the back cover. (review)

The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
I just read this book a few weeks ago, but I know it'll stay with me for a while. It's an inside look at what it was like to grow up (in horrible conditions) in a Mormon polygamist colony, where Ruth was just one of over 40 full- and half-siblings. At 15, she escaped with her three younger sisters. It was written from the perspective of Ruth as child, a technique that definitely works here as Ruth gradually comes to observe the world around her. (review)
A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
I thought it was incredibly brave of Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold, to write this book; I can't even imagine how difficult it would be to rehash the worst time of your life -- the day your son and his friend murdered 14 people and the horrific years that followed -- and serve it up to the public. But Sue had a purpose in writing down her story, and that's to promote mental health and suicide awareness. This was an intriguing read with an important message. (review)


  1. I've only read a couple of memoirs, but I'm always looking for recommendations. I'm writing some of these down. Great list!
    My Top Ten

  2. I don't read a lot of memoirs, but I've heard so many good things about Jenny Lawson, so I should really give it a try :)

  3. From the list I have read and enjoyed Let's Pretend This Never Happened, When Breath Becomes Air and Between the World and Me. I am really interested in A Mother's Reckoning. Great list!!

  4. I also love Let's Pretend This Never Happened and still have her second book sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. I'm going to have to look into Until Tuesday - it looks great. Nice list.

  5. Thank you for recommendations! I am so inadequate with the modern literature (still preferring Hemingway and Tolstoy to anything else :) ), that I am definitely in need of recommendations!!

  6. Great Top Ten! I want to start reading more Memoirs, so I will be sure to check these books out! :D My Top Ten Tuesday!

  7. Let's Pretend This Never Happened is one of my favorites too. So funny, an at times sad. I really enjoyed Lawson's book. Have you read her second one? I haven't yet.

    I am really curious about Sue Klebold's book and will likely read it at some point. I have Columbine on my to read shelf, but haven't gotten to it.

    Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is also one that appeals to me that I have heard good things about.

    Great list, Lindsay!

  8. I love reading The Blogess, so I can't wait to read Jenny's books! I've also got my hands on a copy of My Life In France and have heard so many great things about it!

  9. I don't read a lot of memoirs, so thanks for the recommends!
    My ttt

  10. I still have to read A Walk in the Woods! I've had a copy sitting on my bookshelf for over a year now.

  11. What a fantastic list! I loved Let's Pretend This Never Happened and A Walk in the Woods. I've been hearing a lot of When Breath Becomes Air and I don't know how I've avoided reading My Life in France but I need to fix that. :)


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