Fifteen Great Memoirs to Read


View of Earth during a moon walk

View of Earth during a moon walk

Empathy relies on a willingness to step into the shoes of another person and leave our own world behind. We do this when we read memoir. When we understand what moves another, we are taking a giant step towards felling barricades. Barricades of racism, poverty, mental illness, zenophobia and all the other phobias. Indeed, what a ‘giant step for mankind’, as Neil Armstrong said when he walked the moon, if we could all do this.

Read, read, read! If you want to write well, reading a lot is more important than writing a lot. In the bibliography of my book The Gift of Memoir I list sixty memoirs that I refer to in examples throughout the book. Most of these fifteen titles come from there, although a few I have read more recently, or decades ago. It was excruciating to select only fifteen.

Dare to be a moon walker! Read memoir, and enjoy the new view.

Small Wonder: Essays by Barbara Kingsolver

Ru, by Kim Thuy

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey by Izzeldin Abuelaish

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism by Kristine Barnett

They Left Us Everything by Plum Johnson

In My Mother’s House by Kim Chernin

Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy by Carlos Eire

One Native Life by Richard Wagamese

Walden or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

A Good Home by Cynthia Reyes

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: A True Story by Elizabeth Bailey

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Night by Elie Wiesel

The White Masai by Corinne Hofmann

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

by Conor Grennan

And I can’t resist adding one more, part memoir, part essay, part you tell me when

you read it. The Truth About Stories by Thomas King.


Memoirs bring light into the world.

            What’s the best memoir you have read recently?

Written by Diane Taylor, author of The Gift of Memoir – a guide book for memoir writers.

10 comments on “Fifteen Great Memoirs to Read

  1. It was enlightening to hear one of the authors you list reading from her memoir and sharing her experiences on Sunday.


  2. Hi Di, Thanks for all you do on your Blog. It enriches my life and others who I pass it on to. I have read three of your list so I will have some good winter reading I know. Ru. The sound of a wild snail eating. Time was soft there. Love, Lynda


  3. Lynda, you were the one who turned me on to Time Was Soft There. Thank you!!! Wasn’t Ru beautiful.


  4. This is a really great list Diane. And then, just as I was thinking this, I saw my book included. Thanks for the honour. What a wonderful list to be part of.
    Now, I just have to figure out how to get notified of your posts once more. While my computer and I were missing in action, I somehow stopped getting notifications from the blogs I follow.


  5. Diane:

    I think of you often. Certainly around Thanksgiving as I always use your cornbread recipe for my stuffing – well, who I am I kidding – I no longer cook Thanksgiving dinners but remember your recipe each year. I turned 60 this past August but feel 85. I am out of pace with most of my peers who are all working, have not lost spouses but are going through the kids all away at university thing. I always think of you losing your son which I would imagine was the worst thing that has ever happened to you. I mourn for you. To love someone and lose them is so horrible and a knife cutting through me would be easier than the emotional toll. I have gone through grief counselling etc. and now realize that you never get over losing someone you love, you just have to somehow fit the searing ache into your daily life. People say to me how lucky I am to be retired and I just think – yeah, except for the tragedy and heart-ache. I know, I am very fortunate to live in a city that is so unbelievably expensive and own my own townhouse which in this area start at 1 million plus. It is all so ridiculous. I know there are so many people trying to just get through each day and I live within a 20 minute walk from the downtown eastside where you have to step over bodies. Life is sure not fair. I feel like I am just taking up space and want to fix the world but I can’t. I hope you are doing well and find moments of happiness.



  6. Dear Catherine,
    Wonderful to hear from you, even though the difficulties of ‘widow hood’ are hitting you with wrenching reality. I understand that need to fix the world. I’ll write you more via regular email but in the mean time, there is an article you can find on line about a woman whose husband was killed in 9/11 that has an interesting perspective. – written ten years after his death. I cut the article out of the paper, still have it, and still occasionally refer to it for the view (or view point, or insight). Her situation was different – it is always different. It comes up if you search “Abigail Carter, Unexpected gift of grief”.
    Thanks for your well wishes, and I do purposefully do things that bring me joy, most recently joining an ESL class as tutor. No lesson planning as there is an amazing young teacher. It’s both fun and useful.
    My heart is full with feeling for you,


  7. I adore memoirs and need some good book recommendations, so I appreciate these. I wanted to start with Thomas King’s ‘The Truth About Stories’ but can not find a Kindle Edition. I will start with Small Wonder

    Liked by 1 person

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