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. Sorry that the layout is a little confusing–still learning how to insert images correctly!

  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.

Shirley Showalter


  1. shirleyhs on January 11, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Actually, I forgot to mention an important one Mary referred to twice–Nabokov, Speak, Memory.

  2. richardgilbert on January 23, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you for this, and for your useful blog, which I just discovered and have been enjoying. The idea of reading 100 memoirs to write your own is a great one. My own blog amounts to a case study in correcting the mistakes I've made over the last 4.5 years in writing my own!

  3. shirleyhs on January 24, 2010 at 4:06 am

    You know, Richard, the more I am learning through reading and blogging, the less eager I am to rush into memoir writing or to seek trade book-level publishing. It seems one can get a lot of things wrong. I'd love to know more about your blog. Can you share the URL here so that I (and other readers) can visit you? Thanks!

  4. richardgilbert on January 25, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Hi, My blog Narrative is at: good book on writing memoir is Judith Barrington's Writing the Memoir. Her own memoir Lifesaving looks very good from the excerpts I've read.Good to read and plan and brood, but the only way to learn to write a memoir is finally to write one! And rewrite endlessly, noticing all the advice you were too overwhelmed or clueless to take in at first . . .

  5. shirleyhs on January 25, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Thank you, Richard. I love your blog and left a message on one of your posts. I notice your publication in Memoir/and, a magazine I have blogged about. And, as a professor of narrative nonfiction, you might have some syllabi to share? I posted my first syllabus two weeks ago from Melanie Springer Mock, professor at GFU. Would love to offer the service of posting lots of these. Let's stay in touch. I like what you are doing. I will be writing some short memoir pieces this month for the local literary awards contest–the thing that launched me on this path. I find that I can do only a little “creative” writing, plus my complex day job, plus this enjoyable but time-consuming blog. One of the real pleasures of blogging, however, is meeting people like you. I've been at this 1.5 years and feel as though I am just starting in many ways. I will have to check out Judith Barrington. She has been recommended by more than one person.

  6. Walker on February 22, 2010 at 12:14 am

    I've made a commitment to read 100 books in 2010, with the idea that many of them should be memoir. This is inspirational, to say the least.

  7. shirleyhs on February 22, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Hi, Walker, so glad to welcome you to 100Memoirs! I purchased all the books on this list and plan to read/review them. Would love to have you share your thoughts here if you do the same. Good luck with your worthy goal of reading 100 books (2 per week!).

  8. shirleyhs on February 22, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Hi, Walker, so glad to welcome you to 100Memoirs! I purchased all the books on this list and plan to read/review them. Would love to have you share your thoughts here if you do the same. Good luck with your worthy goal of reading 100 books (2 per week!).

  9. shirleyhs on February 22, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Hi, Walker, so glad to welcome you to 100Memoirs! I purchased all the books on this list and plan to read/review them. Would love to have you share your thoughts here if you do the same. Good luck with your worthy goal of reading 100 books (2 per week!).

  10. Walker on February 22, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    yes, 2 per week!!! Yikes! As if I needed that reminder-smile I'm reading Tales of a Female Nomad right now by Rita Gelman..Interesting, easy read and a memoir of a midlife woman! next I'll pick up Woman Warrior as I already have it.

  11. lindajoymyers on March 4, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    This is a terrific list, and I'm pleased to have read most of them, though some are so long ago I need to read them again. We can learn so much from other writers–concepts, style, word choice, tone, structure, and something ineffable that's hard to pin down–the way the book gets inside you and changes you.

  12. Mary Lynn Archibald on March 17, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    I like Tobias Wolff, I LOVE Rick Bragg. All Over But the Shoutin' is a book I still remember after ten years, fondly.

  13. Mary Lynn Archibald on March 17, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    BTW, I'll also never forget The Liar's Club. Fabulous! I told my daughter that once she reads that, she'll never think of her own family as dysfunctional again. A fascinating, frustrating woman, Mary Karr's mother.

  14. Walker on March 19, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Shirley,I just started Mary Karr's The Liar's Club.. a book I've had for ages but danced around due to the subject matter. She's a wonderful writer, so glad your posting on her gave me the nudge.The 100 books challenge is going to be… a challenge! I've put up the list on my blog and my progress is slow! Oh well, I'm more interested in the reading than the challenge so no problems

  15. shirleyhs on March 21, 2010 at 1:31 am

    I know what you mean! I have read more than 100 memoirs by now, but I have only reviewed about 34 of them, and I need to reread many of them, now that I am focused on the genre itself. Glad you have decided to risk Mary Karr despite her subject matter. She is one of the very best memoirists writing today, in my opinion. She gets the tone just right and knows how to tell a story.

  16. shirleyhs on March 21, 2010 at 1:34 am

    I agree completely, Linda Joy. I especially like your last comment. Some books I enjoy as I read them but completely forget the characters and plot within weeks. Others hang around my head and my heart forever. I try to pay attention to the words and characters that stay. They help me form my own identity and shape my destiny.

  17. shirleyhs on March 21, 2010 at 1:37 am

    In case you missed it, here's a previous review of AOBTS:

  18. shirleyhs on March 21, 2010 at 1:40 am

    You know, Mary Lynn, one reason a lot of people read memoir is that they either feel better about their own lot in life or they feel inspired to be better–as strong, funny, persistent, or ethical as the people they admire who write their own stories. Not a bad reason to read memoir.

  19. […] Increasingly, memoirists are being asked about their own favorite memoirs. I try to take note when this happens and share the suggestions here.  Right now one of the most frequently checked posts at 100memoirs is Mary Karr’s Top Ten List. […]

  20. […] we meet. She asked for a great list of memoirs suitable for high school students. I shared the list Mary Karr suggested and picked out Black Like Me and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for special commendation to that […]

  21. […] of the most frequently visited posts among the 215 archived here is the Top Ten List (it’s really eleven) from another interview Mary gave on NPR. My review of her latest memoir […]

  22. […] Top Ten Memoir List from Mary Karr January 2010 21 comments 3 […]

  23. Sean Giorgianni on January 4, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I just found your blog while researching Best Of lists for memoirs. I didn’t plan on it, but it turns out I read 11 memoirs last year while, like you, trying to read 100 books. I’m dying to find out if you met your goal? Looking forward to a great conversation with you. Thanks for making your quest public!

    • shirleyhs on January 5, 2011 at 2:39 am

      Hi, Sean!

      Welcome to I have definitely read 100 memoirs, though I didn’t do it within one year. I had a two-year time period in mind from the beginning. What I did not do was review all 100 of them here. However, I did review more than 40 of them over the last two years of blogging.

      If you love lists, I hope you saw my post of Sue Silverman’s list, which has more than 100 memoirs divided into different categories–a monumental undertaking! Here’s the post:

      Yes, let’s keep the conversation going. You might note above that several other people above in these comments share your goal. Sorry about the double comments. I had to migrate the blog to a new platform, and those little extras slipped in there.

  24. Memoiramania « Slow Muse on February 1, 2011 at 9:36 pm

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  26. Dawn Cerf on April 24, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Inspired by tales of my tai chi teacher’s upbringing in China as a professional athlete, I co-authored her heartfelt memoir of courage, determination and integrity. Yes, it is self-published, but we consider ourselves successful. If nothing else, I hope you will watch our short book promotional video at for Awakening the Sleeping Tiger by Liu Yu and Dawn Cerf. The first ten pages are on our website at Women over 35 who are interested in other cultures are our target audience, but men and even high school students love our book. I love reading other memoirs, too. Thanks for your list.

    • shirleyhs on April 25, 2012 at 7:24 am

      Hello, Dawn,

      So good to see you here and to watch the video Awakening the Sleeping Tiger. I hope others will find this comment and perhaps buy your book. It sounds interesting. I suggest that you check out Sonia Marsh and her website Gutsy Living. She runs a contest that would be perfect for the integrity story. She also features foreign cultures. Tell Sonia I sent you! And please return to this blog also. Next Monday I’ll feature a story on how writers can use Twitter to get the word out.


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