Top Memoir Lists

If you found this blog by searching for a list of excellent memoirs, you have come to the right place! There are three ways to find a good list on this blog:

  1. Use the search box to the right and search on a particular memoir. If I have reviewed it here, you will find it via this method.
  2. You can also search on “lists” and find numerous posts that include lists of excellent memoirs.
  3. The two most popular lists of best memoirs I have shared some from other people. Mary Karr was asked for her models and gave this answer. Sue Silverman has compiled a list of more than 100 good memoirs, divided into categories. After I found this list, I decided that there was no need to create another one so complete. However, people kept asking what my own favorites are, so I created my personal top ten list.

Below, just to make things easier, I have copied and pasted the lists mentioned above:

Shirley’s Top Ten

Having now read at least 100 memoirs, I am ready to offer my own top ten list for your inspection. The ten books fall into three categories:

Memoirs written before the current trend–books that first drew me to the genre:

  1.   I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.
  2.   One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty
  3.   Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Girls who Dream Big and Get Out of Dodge

  1. The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
  2.   An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
  3.   A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
  4.   Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish

Spiritual Awakenings

  1.   Dakota by Kathleen Norris
  2.   Learning to Die in Miami by Carlos Eires
  3.   Lit by Mary Karr

What do I look for in memoir? A voice that sings even through desperate times, a transcendent voice, a voice at once unique and yet connected to a community and a place.


Top Ten Memoir List from Mary Karr

As you know, the goal of this blog is self-education in public. I am trying to learn about memoir by reading and reviewing great examples of the genre, books about the genre, and offering some mini-memoir on the way. When readers search for good memoir reading lists, I want them to find this blog. What better way to create that list than to construct it from the best memoir writers themselves! Here are the ones Mary Karr mentioned as her own models for memoir when she talked with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett on a podcast I highly recommend.

I created a simple list first out of the books Mary Karr mentioned in the podcast. Then below the list you will find direct links to so that you can explore reviews or order them just by clicking.

  1.   Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
  2.   Richard Wright, Black Boy
  3.   Hilary Mantel, Giving Up the Ghost
  4.   Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That.
  5.   Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  6.   John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me
  7.   Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
  8.   Michael Herr, Dispatches
  9.   Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  10. Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes
  11. Nabokov, Speak, Memory.

100 Top Memoirs: Sue Silverman’s List Will Give You Even More!

Posted on June 6, 2010

I had the great good fortune this weekend to attend the Bear River Writers’ Conference, about which I will say more later. Sue Silverman, author of two bestselling memoirs, led an excellent workshop on memoir. I purchased and will review her craft book Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir at a later time.

In that book you will find a marvelous list, which Sue kindly shares on her own website. She uses this list in her courses on creative nonfiction at Vermont College of the Arts.

Here is the list itself, copied from Sue’s website. Note that she has divided memoir into nine separate categories and at the bottom includes a list of journals. So helpful! Thanks, Sue, for sharing yourself and your knowledge so generously with your students and for compiling this wonderful list. You can also click on links on the right hand column that will allow you to get more acquainted with Sue and her work.


Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir
This is a guidebook about how to craft compelling art out of personal experience. “Fearless Confessions” is for beginning and experienced writers alike, who want to write their own life stories. Please click title to see the Table of Contents.
Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey Through Sexual Addiction (now available in paperback)
“A deeply personal story of a woman’s addiction to and recovery from the high of dangerous encounters. This utterly candid account is the only memoir by a woman to examine sexual addiction. It is a powerful, often lyrical book with strong resonance for other addictions, whether to food, drugs, alcohol, or work–for anyone whose only satisfaction is now.” (Click on title, above, to read excerpt.)
Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You
Winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award Series in Creative Nonfiction
“A harrowing memoir of the mute language of incest and the powerful words of survival.”(Click on title, above, to read excerpt.)
Hieroglyphics in Neon
Please click on title to read selected poems.“Silverman’s collection is a bracing debut–rangy, restless, giddy with lush particulars.” ~~ David Wojahn
“The Meandering River: An Overview of the Subgenres of Creative Nonfiction”
This short article, first published in “The Writer’s Chronicle,” is included in the Appendix of Sue’s book, “Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.”
Sue’s Reading List

Quick Links

Find Authors

Reading List

Illness, Accident, Grief, Addiction

Isabel Allende, Paula
A. Manette Ansay, Limbo: A Memoir
Charles Barber, Songs from the Black Chair: A Memoir of Mental Interiors
Karen Brennan, Being with Rachel: A Story of Memory and Survival
Harold Brodkey, This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death
Anatole Broyard, Intoxicated by My Illness
Susan Cheever, Note Found in a Bottle
Linda Katherine Cutting, Memory Slips
Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey through Depression
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
Mark Doty, Heaven’s Coast
Andre Dubus, Broken Vessels; Meditations from a Moving Chair
Hope Edelman, Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss
Richard Farrell, What’s Left Of Us
Mary Felstiner, Out of Joint: A Private and Public Story of Arthritis
Kenny Fries, Body, Remember
Barbara Gordon, I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can
Emily Fox Gordon, The Mockingbird Years: A Life in and Out of Therapy
Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism
Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face
Evan Handler, Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors
Ann Hood, Do Not Go Gentle: The Search for Miracles in a Cynical Time
Portia Iverson, Strange Son: Two Mothers, Two Sons, and the Quest to Unlock the Hidden World of Autism
Kay Jamison, An Unquiet Mind
Roger Kamenetz, Terra Infirma
Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted
Jamaica Kincaid, My Brother
Natalie Kusz, Road Song
Stephen Kuusisto, Planet of the Blind
Mindy Lewis, Life Inside
Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journal
Nancy Mairs, Carnal Acts; Waist-High in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled
Paul Monette, Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir
Donald M. Murray, The Lively Shadow: Living with the Death of a Child
Christopher Noel, In the Unlikely Event of a Water Landing: A Geography of Grief
Gary Presley, Seven Wheelchairs: A Life Beyond Polio
Reynolds Price, A Whole New Life
Alice Sebold, Lucky
Allen Shawn, Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life
Jay and Sue Shotel, It’s Good to Know a Miracle: Dani’s Story, One Family’s Struggle with Leukemia
Sue William Silverman, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey Through Sexual Addiction
Floyd Skloot, In the Shadow of Memory
Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor
Patricia Stacey, The Boy Who Loved Windows
Mary Swander, Out of This World: A Journey of Healing
Daniel Tammet, Born on a Blue Day
Melanie Thernstrom, The Dead Girl
Mark Vonnegut, The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity
Darcy Wakefield, I Remember Running: The Year I Got Everything I Wanted—and ALS
Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

Family, Relationships, Friendships, Identity

Laurie Alberts, Fault Line
Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude
Peter Balakian, Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past
Amy Benson, The Sparkling-Eyed Boy: A Memoir of Love, Grown Up
Jane Bernstein, Loving Rachel
Mary Clearman Blew, All But the Waltz: Five Generations in the Life of a Montana Family
Greg Bottoms, Angelhead: My Brother’s Descent into Madness
Rick Bragg, All Over but the Shoutin’; Prince of Frogtown
John Burnside, A Lie About My Father
Mary Cappello, Night Bloom; Awkward: A Detour
Joy Castro, The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses
Susan Cheever, Home Before Dark
Kerry Cohen, Loose Girl, A Memoir of Promiscuity
Joan Connor, The World Before Mirrors
Bernard Cooper, The Bill From My Father; Truth Serum
Francine Cournos, City of One
Laura Cunningham, Sleeping Arrangements
John Daniel, Looking After: A Son’s Memoir
Patty Dann, The Baby Boat: A Memoir of Adoption
Cathy Day, Comeback Season
Debra Dickerson, An American Story
John Dickerson, On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News’ First Woman Star
Francine du Plessix Gray, Them: A Memoir of Parents
Tony Earley, Somehow Form a Family: Stories That are Mostly True
Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Nora Eisenberg, The War at Home
Sascha Feinstein, Black Pearls: Improvisations of a Lost Year
Kathleen Finneran, The Tender Land
Nick Flynn, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
Patricia Foster, All the Lost Girls: Confessions of a Southern Daughter
Paula Fox, Borrowed Finery
Martha Frankel, Hats & Eyeglasses: A Family Love Affair with Gambling
Dorothy Gallagher, How I Came into My Inheritance
Gail Hosking Gilberg, Snake’s Daughter: The Roads In and Out of War
Rigoberto Gonzalez, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa
Mary Gordon, The Shadow Man: A Daughter’s Search for her Father
Vivian Gornick, Fierce Attachments
Jessica Handler, Invisible Sisters
Kathryn Harrison, The Kiss
Melissa Hart, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood
Carol Hebald, The Heart Too Long Suppressed
Michelle Herman, The Middle of Everything: Memoirs of Motherhood
Adam Hochschild, Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son
Richard Hoffman, Half the House
Sonya Huber, Opa Nobody
Susan Jacoby, Half-Jew
Brian Jennings, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: Growing up, Coming Out, and Changing America
Kaylie Jones, Lies My Mother Never Told Me
Dinah Lenney, Bigger Than Life: A Murder, A Memoir
Aaron Raz Link & Hilda Raz, What Becomes You
Sonja Livingston, Ghostbread
Bret Lott, Fathers, Sons, Brothers: The Men in My Family
Lee Martin, From Our House
James McBride, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother
Nathan McCall, Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America
Rebecca McClanahan, The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings
Karen McElmurray, Surrendered Child: A Birth Mother’s Journey
Valerie Miner, The Low Road: A Scottish Family Memoir
Sharona Ben-Tov Muir, Tracing the Secrets of My Father’s Lives
Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family
Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty
Molly Peacock, Paradise, Piece by Piece
Brandon R. Schrand, The Enders Hotel
Sandra Scofield, Occasions of Sin
Dani Shapiro, Slow Motion
Sue William Silverman, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You
Deborah Tall, A Family of Strangers
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Bruce Weigl, The Circle of Hanh
John Edgar Wideman, Brothers and Keepers
Gregory Williams, Life on the Color Line:The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black
Sean Wilsey, Oh the Glory of it All
Edwin John Wintle, Breakfast With Tiffany: An Uncle’s Memoir
Geoffrey Wolff, The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father
Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
Mort Zachter, Dough

Childhood and Coming of Age

Marvin V. Arnett, Pieces from Life’s Crazy Quilt
Julene Bair, One Degree West: Reflections of a Plainsdaughter
Phyllis Barber, How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir
Jo Ann Beard, The Boys of My Youth
David Carkeet, Campus Sexpot: A Memoir
Jerome Charyn, The Dark Lady of Belorusse
J. M. Coetzee, Boyhood
Judith Ortiz Cofer, Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood
Frank Conroy, Stop-Time
Faith Edise, Nina Sichel, Eds., Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global
James Ellroy, My Dark Places
Lucy Ferriss, Unveiling the Prophet: The Misadventures of a Reluctant Debutante
Alexandra Fuller: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
Helena Ganor, Four Letters to the Witnesses of My Childhood: One Woman’s Childhood in Nazi Occupation
Henry Louis Gates, Colored People
Patricia Hampl, A Romantic Education
Heidi Hart, Grace Notes: The Waking of a Woman’s Voice
Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation
June Jordan, Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood
Lisa Knopp, Flight Dreams: A Life in the Midwestern Landscape
Jennifer Lauck, Blackbird: A Childhood Lost and Found
Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of my Name
Debra Marquart, Growing up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere
Mary McCarthy, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood
Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
Paul Monette, Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story
Vladimir Nabokov, Speak Memory
Bich Minh Nguyen, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner
Elaine Orr, Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life
Gayle Pemberton, The Hottest Water in Chicago: Notes of a Native Daughter
Nahid Rachlin, Persian Girls
Alberto Rios, Capirotadas: A Nogales Memoir
Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez
Moses Rosenkranz, Childhood: An Autobiographical Fragment
Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican
Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books
Brenda Serotte, The Fortune Teller’s Kiss
Kate Simon, Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood
Lori Soderlind, Chasing Montana: A Love Story
Ilan Stavans, On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language
Richard Wright, Black Boy

Place, Nature, Science, Travel

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
Susanne Antonetta, Body Toxic; A Mind Apart
Kim Barnes, Hungry for theWorld
Rick Bass, Winter
Charles Bergman, Red Delta: Fighting for Life at the End of the Colorado River
Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays, 1965-1980
Jennifer Brice, The Last Settlers
Jane Brox, Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and its Family
Joanna Burger, The Parrot Who Owns Me
Franklin Burroughs, Billy Watson’s Croker Sack
Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer: A Story of Survival
Jerry Dennis, A Place on the Water: An Angler’s Reflections on Home
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Teaching a Stone to Talk
Ivan Doig, This House of Sky
Ariel Dorfman, Heading South, Looking North
Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Space
J. H. Fabre, Social Life in the Insect World
Jill Fredston, Roving to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic’s Edge
James Galvin, The Meadow
Merrill Joan Gerber, Botticelli Blue Skies: An Amearican in Florence
Edward Hoagland, The Courage of Turtles
Marybeth Holleman, The Heart of the Sound: An Alaskan Paradise Found and Nearly Lost
Garrett Hongo, Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai’i
Marcy Houle, Prairie Keepers
Cynthia Huntington, The Salt House: A Summer on the Dunes of Cape Cod
Barbara Hurd, Entering the Stones: On Caves and Feeling Through the Dark
Kathleen Jamie, Findings: Essays on the Natural and Unnatural World
Theresa Jordan, Riding the White Horse Home: A Western Family Album
William Kittredge, Hole in the Sky
Verlyn Klinkenborg, The Last Fine Time
Ted Kooser, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps
David Lazar, The Body of Brooklyn
William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways
Gretchen Legler, On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in Northern Landscape
Nancy Lord, Beluga Days
Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It
Gregory Martin, Mountain City
Michael Martone, The Flatness and Other Landscapes
Peter Mayle, A Year in Provence
John McPhee, Coming into the Country
Kent Meyers, The Witness of Combines
Harry Middleton, The Earth is Enough
Lawrence Millman, Our Like Will Not Be There Again: Notes from the West of Ireland
Kathleen Dean Moore, Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water
Michele Morano, Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain
Susan Brind Morrow, The Names of Things
Christopher Norment, Return to Warden’s Grove: Science, Desire, and the Lives of Sparrows
Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
Leila Philip, A Family Place: A Hudson Valley Farm, Three Centuries, Five Wars, One Family
Martin Prechtel, Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: Memoirs from the Living Heart of a Mayan Village
John Price, Not Just Any Land: A Personal & Literary Journey into the American Grasslands; Man
Killed by Pheasant: And Other Kinships
Jonathan Raban, Bad Land
Catherine Reid, Coyote: Seeking the Hunter in our Midst
Robert Reid, Arctic Circle: Birth & Rebirth in the Land of Caribou
Bill Roorbach, Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey
Dana Sachs, The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam
Alix Kates Shulman, Drinking the Rain
Mark Spragg, When the River Changes Direction
Robert Stepto, Blue as the Lake: A Personal Geography
Celia Thaxter, An Island Garden
Paul Theroux, Old Patagonian Express
Jim Toner, Serendib
Sharon White, Vanished Gardens: Finding Nature in Philadelphia
Joy Williams, Ill Nature
Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place
Charles Wohlforth, The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change
Baron Wormser, The Road Washes Out in Spring
Paul Zimmer, After the Fire: A Writer Finds His Place

New Journalism, Immersion, History, Social Issues, War, Political Issues, Religion, Spirituality, Feminism

Faith Adiele, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun
Ricardo Ainslie, Long Dark Road (about the James Byrd racially inspired murder)
Steve Almond, Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
Mark Curtis Anderson, Jesus Sound Explosion
Victoria Armour-Hileman, Singing to the Dead: A Missioner’s Life Among Refugees from Burma
Bill Ayers, Fugitive Days
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone
Samira Bellil (trans. Lucy R. McNair), To Hell and Back
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project
John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos
Ilana M. Blumberg, Houses of Study: A Jewish Woman Among Books
Barrie Jean Borich, My Lesbian Husband: Landscapes of a Marriage
Lady Borton, Sensing the Enemy: An American Woman Among the Boat People of Vietnam
Charles Bowden, Down by the River: Drugs, Money, Murder, and Family
C.D.B. Bryan, Friendly Fire
Scott Cairns, Short Trip to the Edge: A Spiritual Memoir
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
Jung Chang, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
Dalton Conley, Honky
Rosemary Daniell, Confessions of a (Female) Chauvinist
Tracy Daugherty, Five Shades of Shadow
Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Beverly Donofrio, Looking for Mary (Or, The Blessed Mother and Me)
Brian Doyle, The Wet Engine: Exporing the Mad Wild Miracle of the Heart
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America
Gretel Ehrlich, Questions of Heaven: The Chinese Journey of an American Buddhist
Janet Mason Ellerby, Following the Tambourine Man: A Birthmother’s Memoir
Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow
William Gass, On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry
Mikal Gilmore, Shot in the Heart
Melissa Fay Greene, Praying for Sheetrock
David Griffith, A Good War is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America
Lee Gutkind: Almost Human: Making Robots Think
Sebastian Haffner, Defying Hitler
Jim Harrison, Off to the Side
Tom Hayden, Irish on the Inside: In Search of the Soul of Irish America
Ernestine Hayes, Blonde Indian
Robin Hemley, Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday; Do-Over!
John Hersey, Hiroshima
Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Amy Hoffman, An Army of Ex-Lovers: My Life at the Gay Community News
Eva Hoffman, After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust
Samuel Hynes, Flights of Passage: The Soldiers’ Tale
Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir
Sebastian Junger, A Perfect Storm
Robbie Pfeufer Kahn, Milk Teeth: A Memoir of a Woman and her Dog
Garrison Keillor, Homegrown Democrat
Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s List
Tracy Kidder, Among Schoolchildren and House
Woody Kipp, Viet Cong at Wounded Knee: The Trial of a Blackfeet Activist
Arthur Kopecky, New Buffalo: Journals of a Taos Commune
Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
Kazuko Kuramoto, Manchurian Legacy: Memoirs of a Japanese Colonialist
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Bernard Lefkowitz, Our Boys
Beverly Lowry, Crossed Over
Howard Lyman, Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat
Joe Mackall, Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish
Norman Mailer, The Executioner’s Song
Nancy Mairs, Ordinary Time: Cycles in Marriage, Faith, and Renewal
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
Gabriel García Márquez, News of a Kidnapping
Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
Pablo Neruda, Memoirs
Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk
Dan O’Brien, Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch
Tillie Olsen, Silences
Mary Rose O’Reilley, Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd
Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief
Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness
Caryl Phillips, The Atlantic Sound
Wang Ping, Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China
Jeff Porter, Oppenheimer Is Watching Me
Roberta Price, Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture
Slavomir Rawicz, The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom
Ishmael Reed, Blues City: A Walk in Oakland
Cheri Register, Packinghouse Daughter: A Memoir
Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Mimi Schwartz, Good Neighbors, Bad Times: Echoes of My Father’s German Village
Bob Shacochis, The Immaculate Invasion
Susan Sheehan, Is There No Place on Earth for Me?
Fan Shen, Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard
Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic
Natalia Rachel Singer, Scraping by in the Big Eighties
Eugene Sledge, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
John Sorenson, Ed., The Grace Abbott Reader
Brent Staples, Parallel Times: Growing Up in Black and White
Leny Mendoza Strobel, A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor the Babylan
Mary Swander, The Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles
Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Joyce Thompson, Sailing the Shoe to Timbuktu: A Woman’s Adventurous Search for Family, Spirituality, & Love
Susan Tiberghien, Circling to the Center: One Woman’s Encounter with Silent Prayer
Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number
Studs Terkel, Working
Patricia Vidgerman, The Memory Palace of Isabella Stewart Gardner
Elie Wiesel, Night
Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff; The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Experimental, Montage, Lyric, Hybrid Forms

David B., Epileptic
Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragiccomic
Sven Birkerts, My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time
Eula Biss, The Balloonists
Jenny Boully, The Body: An Essay
Italo Calvino, The Road to San Giovanni
Elias Canetti, The Agony of Files: Notes and Notations
E. M. Cioran, All Gall is Divided: Aphorisms
Inga Clendinnen, Tiger’s Eye
Richard Cohen, Sweet and Low
Dennis and Vicki Covington, Cleaving: The Story of a Marriage
John D’Agata, Halls of Fame
Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark
Ivan Doig, Heart Earth
Albert Goldbarth, Griffin
Carla Harryman, Adorno’s Noise
Robin Hemley, Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness
Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
Brian Lennon, City: An Essay
Primo Levi, The Periodic Table
Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million
Ander Monson, Neck Deep and Other Predicaments
Dinty Moore, Between Panic and Desire: Notes from a Series Projectionist
Pat Mora, House of Houses
Donald Morrill, The Untouched Minutes
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
Anna Cypra Oliver, Assembling My Father: A Daughter’s Detective Story
Michelle Otero, Malinche’s Daughter
Kristin Prevallet, I, Afterlife: Essay in Mourning Time
James Richardson, Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays
Richard Rodriguez, Days of Obligation
Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood; Embroideries
W. G. Sebald, The Emigrants; The Rings of Saturn
Bob Shacochis, Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love
David Shields, Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography
Peggy Shumaker, Just Breathe Normally
Art Spiegelman, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale:
And Here My Troubles Began
Lawrence Sutin, A Postcard Memoir
Natasha Tarpley, Girl in the Mirror: Three Generations of Black Women in Motion
Peter Trachtenberg, 7 Tattoos: A Memoir in the Flesh
Xu Xi, Overleaf Hong Kong: Stories & Essays of the Chinese, Overseas

Personal Essay, Journal, Anthologies

Faith Adiele, Coming of Age Around the World
James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
Jill Bialofsky and Helen Schulman, eds., Wanting a Child
Becky Bradway, ed., In the Middle of the Middle West: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland
Janet Burroway, Embalming Mom: Essays in Life
Joshua Casteel, Letters from Abu Ghraib
Bernard Cooper, Maps to Anywhere
John D’Agata, ed., The Next American Essay
Charles D’Ambrosio, Orphans
Toi Dericotte, The Black Notesbooks: An Interior Journey
Mark Doty, ed., Open House: Writers Redefine Home
Isabelle Eberhardt, The Nomad: Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt
M.F.K. Fisher, Among Friends
Patricia Foster, Just Beneath My Skin: Autobiography & Self-Discovery
Daniel Francis, ed., Imagining Ourselves: Classics of Canadian Non-Fiction
Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
Ian Frazier, On the Rez; Gone to New York: Adventures in the City
Kenny Fries (ed.), Staring Back: The Disability Experience from the Inside Out
Albert Goldbarth, Many Circles
Vivian Gornick, Approaching Eye Level
Lee Gutkind, Karen Wolk Feinstein, eds., Silence Kills: Speaking Out and Saving Lives
Trudier Harris, Summer Snow: Reflections from a Black Daughter of the South
Steve Harvey, Bound for Shady Grove
Lillian Hellman, Pentimento
Emily Hiestand, Angela the Upside-down Girl & Other Domestic Travels
Pico Iyer, Falling off the Map
Genevieve Jurgensen, The Disappearance: A Primer of Loss
Judith Kitchen, Distance and Direction; Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction
Carl H. Klaus, My Vegetable Love: A Journal of a Growing Season
Ted Kooser, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps
David Lazar, The Body of Brooklyn
Phillip Lopate, Against Joie de Vivre; Portrait of My Body
John Loughery, ed., The Eloquent Essay: An Anthology of Classic and Creative Nonfiction
Rasunah Marsden, Crisp Blue Edges: Indigenous Creative Non-fiction
Michael Martone, Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins
James McKean, Home Stand
James Alan McPherson, A Region Not Home: Reflections from Exile
Molly McQuade, The Art of the Word
Brenda Miller, Season of the Body
Tom Montgomery-Fate, Beyond the White Noise
Kyoko Mori, Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures
Naomi Shihab Nye, Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places
Cynthia Ozick, Fame & Folly, Quarrel & Quandry, and Metaphor & Memory
Molly Peacock, ed., The Private I
Scott Russel Sanders, Staying Put
Marjorie Sandor, The Night Gardener
May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
Mimi Schwartz, Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed
David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day
Rebecca Shannonhouse, ed., Under the Influence: The Literature of Addiction
David Shields, Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity
Floyd Skloot, A World of Light
Tom Sleigh, Interview With a Ghost
Larry Smith, ed., Not Quite What I Was Planning: six-word memoirs by writers famous and obscure
Ilan Stavans, Dictionary Days: A Defining Passion
Michael Steinberg, Still Pitching
Gerald Stern, What I Can’t Bear Losing
Ira Sukrungruang, Scoot Over Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology
Abigail Thomas, Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life
Anne Truitt, Prospect: The Journal of an Artist
Robert Vivian, Cold Snap as Yearning
Lawrence Weschler, Vermeer in Bosnia
E. B. White, One Man’s Meat
Edmund White, My Lives
S. L. Wisenberg, Holocaust Girls: History, Memory & Other Obsessions
Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being; The Death of the Moth and Other Essays
Xu Xi, Evanescent Isles: From My City-Village


Stephen Akey, College
Max Apple, Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story; I Love Gootie: My Grandmother’s Story
Robert Benchley, Benchley Beside Himself
Bill Bryson, Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Dinty Moore, The Accidental Buddhist
S. J. Perelman, Most of the Most of S. J. Perelman
Daniel Asa Rose, Larry’s Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant–and Save His Life
David Sedaris, Naked; When You are Engulfed in Flames
James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times
Rachel Toor, The Pig and I: How I Learned to Love Men Almost as Much as I Love My Pets

Occupational Memoirs

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, Teacher
Gesine Bullock-Prado, Confections of a Closet Master Baker
Lewis Buzbee, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
Ted Conover, Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing
Pat Conroy, The Water is Wide
Robert Cowser, Dream Season: A Professor Joins America’s Oldest Semi-Pro Football Team
Huston Diehl, Dream Not of Other Worlds: Teaching in a Segregated Elementary School, 1970
Atul Gawande, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on An Imperfect Science; Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance
Gail Griffin, Calling: Essays on Teaching in the Mother Tongue
Brendan Halpin, Losing My Faculties: A Teacher’s Story
Ben Hamper, Rivethead
Jean Harper, Rose City: A Memoir of Work
Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking:Life Studies from the Dismal Trades
Frank McCourt, Teacher Man
Ann McCutchan, The Muse that Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process
Susan Neville, Iconography: A Writer’s Meditation
Don Metz, Confessions of a Country Architect
Danielle Ofri, Singular Intimacies: Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue
Louise Rafkin, Other People’s Dirt: A Housecleaner’s Curious Adventures
Ruth Reichl, Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table
Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Richard Seltzer, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery; Confessions of a Knife
Frank Vertosick, Why We Hurt; The Natural History of Pain

Literary Journals specifically for Nonfiction

Brevity: A Journal of concise Literary Nonfiction (750 words or less per piece, an online journal)​brevity/​brevity.html)
Creative Nonfiction
Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction
Memoir (and)
River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative
Seneca Review (lyric essays)
Smith Magazine (http:/​/​​, an on-line experimental nonfiction “journal” mixing
graphics with text
Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Essay (
Under the Sun

Another Top Memoir List! Dinty Moore Picks Top Six to Illustrate Variety

I love when friends send me memoir lists, because they are helping to build a community of readers and writers. This time, my friend Susan Blackwell Ramsey award-winning poet and literary cheerleader, sent me the link. Others are welcome to do the same!

Dinty Moore, the author of many nonfiction books, editor of Brevity, and faculty member at Ohio University, found it hard to pick the top six memoirs for Amy McDaniel’s post on the Author’s Spotlight blog until he decided to pick his favorites as a way to emphasize six different approaches to the genre.

Here is a teaser to the whole post. I recommend you follow the link so that you can read about all six. You’ll have a pro to guide you–Dinty Moore.

“Narrowing my list of representative memoirs down to six was an agonizing task, because there are so many solid examples. To keep the undertaking manageable (barely), I’ve limited myself to the last twenty years or so, and instead of a ‘favorites’ list, I’ve chosen six examples that I think show the range of what memoir can do.

My concise description of memoir is “the truth, artfully arranged.” Now we can argue about the meaning of the word truth for weeks, but I’d rather not. I think – despite all of the weakness of memory (and for that matter, observation) – that sophisticated readers understand that the truth they are given in memoir is the author’s subjective truth. There is no hope of objective accuracy, nor would that be as interesting to read. But you go after your truth, with honest intent. That means that an author who is willingly, consciously subverting what he remembers is not writing memoir, by my definition. Cross that line, and you are writing fiction. Which is fine, but it is another project entirely.

So I’ve pulled these six memoirs down from my shelves to illustrate how a life can be presented artfully. Starting with:

This Boy’s Life, Tobias Wolff (1989): Wolff’s memoir is the first that I remember reading. I had read autobiography, of course, and long-form journalism, but Wolff’s brutally-honest, cinematic childhood memoir was the first to give me what previously I had only found in novels: the ability to escape into someone else’s life and another world, another time. Wolff wasn’t the first to write memoir in this way, but This Boy’s Life remains a touchstone to me and many other writers. I love the opening note to the reader: “I have been corrected on some points, mostly of chronology. Also my mother thinks that a dog I describe as ugly was actually quite handsome. I’ve allowed some of these points to stand, because this is a book of memory, and memory has its own story to tell.”

Read the whole post


Memoir expert Marion Roach Smith has compiled a list she’s used in teaching memoir over the years. here. Her book, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-standardized Text for Writing and Life is one of the most interesting, fun, and challenging writing books available. It lives up to its title!

More Memoir Lists! Take Some of These to the Beach this Summer!

Posted on May 25, 2011

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that we collect lists of top memoirs from people who write or study memoir. Now that summer is breathing down our necks, we are beginning to see summer reading lists popping up like dandelions.

The LA Times list was circulating on Twitter, and you might enjoy another list of beach books divided into categories.

And here is a special list–one from a reader, Carol Brown, who has made her own annotated list for students called 30 Moving Memoirs Every Student Should Read.

I especially encourage you to find this latter link if you are a teacher at any level who wants students to enjoy reading life stories well told as much as you do.