Looking for a memoir to read next?

Read On Life StoriesMy book, Read On…Life Stories: Reading Lists for Every Taste contains brief descriptions of 450 memoirs, from classics like The Autobiography of Malcolm X, to recent bestsellers like John Grogan’s Marley and Me and Julie Andrews’ Home. Titles are grouped together by how they appeal to readers; there’s something for everyone: humorous memoirs, adventure stories, chatty celebrity reminiscences, cathartic dramas of family dysfunction, career retrospectives, and insightful stories of family and personal lives in many eras and places.

With so many memoirs being published, it’s hard to figure out which one to read next. That’s where Read On…Life Stories can help. Here’s a sampling from some of the lists of memoirs and autobiographies in the book. Click on the lists to see titles.

Fractured Families: From Adversity to Insight
Pet Projects: The Animals in Our Lives
A Hard Day’s Night: Life in the Music Business
Growing Up Absurd: Unusual Childhood
Far Out: Travel to Unusual Places
Short and Sweet: Under 200 Pages

Fractured Families: From Adversity to Insight

Grace After Midnight by Felicia “Snoop” Pearson. Grand Central Publishing, 2007.
Grace After MidnightPearson–“Snoop” on the HBO series The Wire–tells how despite growing up in a loving and stable foster family, she gravitated to a life of crime on the Baltimore streets, dealing drugs and serving time for murder. Her street smart voice tells how it all went down, in a punchy, rhythmic, slangy style.

A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill. Little, Brown, 1994.
Drinking LifeJournalist Hamill draws us into his childhood world of Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s, where his father was a demanding and boozy presence and life was lived most fully on the streets. Drinking seemed to be what adult life was about and it provided an escape for Hamill too by the time he was in high school. He is frank about the rewards and punishments of drink and unapologetic about the way it ruined his marriage. He calls it “the tale that has no hero” but his insights will keep readers turning pages.

Falling Through the Earth. Danielle Trussoni. Henry Holt, 2006
Some Vietnam veterans came home with wounds that couldn’t be healed: Trussoni’s swaggering, charismatic father was scarred by his years as a tunnel rat in Vietnam. When her mother Falling Through Earththrew him out, Trussoni went too and spent years sitting next to him at his favorite bar as he became drunk and violent. With an unsparing eye and remarkable descriptive powers, she recounts how she traveled to Vietnam to understand the roots and legacy of that time.
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Pet Projects: The Animals in Our Lives

The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery. Ballantine Books, 2006.
Good pigChristopher Hogwood was a sickly piglet when Montgomery and her husband took him home, nursed him and discovered his special brand of sociability. Montgomery, a nature writer and activist who preferred animals to people, found that Chris’s ability to attract friends brought warmth and community to her life in unexpected and special ways.

Dog Days: Dispatches From Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz. Villard, 2007.
Katz’s warmhearted memoir of the good life in upstate New York, is filled with the adventures and personalities of his animals, insights into the human-animal bond, and how he Dog Daysattempts to live in harmony with nature. His beloved dogs are joined by sheep, cows, donkeys, and chickens in this paean to country life which will enchant those longing to escape from city life and delight fans of his earlier books, including A Dog Year and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Brett Witter. Grand Central Publishing, 2008.
Dewey catMyron, director of the Spencer Public Library in northwestern Iowa, found a shivering kitten in the book drop one cold January morning in 1988. Myron tells how Dewey, with his warm and loving nature, cheered up a town in crisis and helped Myron navigate through her own health and family problems.
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A Hard Days’ Night: Life in the Music Business

Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton. Broadway Books, 2007.Clapton
Clapton’s very candid autobiography starts out slowly, with his childhood and the events that shaped his personality, then shifts into high gear as he becomes a major player on the 1960s music scene. Despite acclaim, he lacked self-confidence and direction and succumbed to the drug, alcohol and sex-fueled 1970s pop music lifestyle with destructive consequences. Clapton knew and jammed with everyone of consequence; readers will enjoy his tales of playing with all the greats, from George Harrison to Muddy Waters.

Extreme: My Autobiography by Sharon Osbourne with Penelope Dening. Atria Books, 2007.
ExtremeFrom the beginning, Osbourne’s life was filled with violence and music. Her memoir takes us on a roller coaster ride from childhood in Brixton, the daughter of the cutthroat rock promoter Don Arden, to wife and manager of shock-rocker Ozzy Osbourne. It’s a raunchy insider’s tale complete with the famous stories of Ozzy’s outrageous behavior, their abusive drug and alcohol-fueled lifestyle, and financial woes. Through it all, Sharon Osbourne floats with humor, tenacity, and burning love for Ozzy.

Society’s Child by Janice Ian. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2008Society Child
Singer-songwriter Ian’s childhood was cut short at age fifteen with the success of her first recorded song, Society’s Child. She quickly became a fixture on the folk music scene of the 1960s, but the pressure of the recording world was overwhelming for a teenager. Her candid memoir tells of years honing her craft while fighting illness, a bad marriage, and the IRS; she also brings to life the era when folk music ruled the airwaves.
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Growing Up Absurd: Unusual Childhoods

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Fun HomeBechdel’s family ran–and lived in–the local funeral home in town, a Victorian mansion obsessively restored by her father, whose inability to express emotion marked her childhood like a curse. In a remarkable marriage of text and pictures, the funny and tragic aspects of life in the “fun home” are revealed with heartbreaking clarity. As she grows up, Alison understands how her father differs from other fathers, and how she is different as well.

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. St. Martin’s Press, 2002.
Burroughs’ memoir may well take the cake for weirdness and squalor. At the age of 12, his mother left him with her psychiatrist while she workedRunning Scissors out her sexual issues. The doctor’s household and family were bizarre, complete with pedophile living in a shed out back and an old electroshock machine in the hall closet. Burroughs portrays all this with comic detachment and lack of sentimentality that is entertaining in the extreme. He has written additional memoirs about his father and his adult life.

Dumbfounded by Matt Rothschild. Crown, 2008.
DumbfoundedMoney was no object in Rothschild’s family, but love was in short supply. His jet-setting mother couldn’t be bothered to raise him and left him with his wildly mismatched, eccentric grandparents. Their casual approach to child-rearing left Rothschild troubled and lonely: he tells a tragicomic story of acting out at school, running away, and verifying his sexual identity with prostitutes in Times Square. Almost unbelievable but very entertaining, Rothschild mines the dysfunctional family genre for laughs.
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Far Out: Travel to Unusual Places

God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre by Richard Grant. Free Press, 2008.God Middle Finger
Grant offers a compulsively readable account of his travels in the scenic mountains of western Mexico where tense encounters with trigger-happy drug runners, bandits, and corrupt police satisfied his craving for adventure. He also met up with more benign locals who filled him in on the area’s long outlaw traditions. Along the way he–and the reader–acquire an extensive vocabulary of Spanish obscenities.

Into the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O’Hanlon. Random House, 1985.
Into BorneoO’Hanlon’s rollicking account of his journey through the jungles of Borneo, into areas not explored since 1926, is a delightful armchair travel experience. Ostensibly motivated by a desire to find the rarely seen Borneo rhino, O’Hanlon and his friend, the poet James Fenton, light out with three native Iban guides into leech- and parasite-infested territory. The humor–and the author–are quintessentially, dryly British.

Walking the Gobi: A 1600 Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair. The Mountaineers Books, 2007.Walking Gobi
At age sixty-three, Thayer fulfilled a childhood dream and trekked fifteen hundred miles across the Gobi Desert in Mongolia accompanied by her seventy-four year old husband and two camels. In furnace-like temperatures they braved sandstorms, stinging scorpions, loss of water, and officious Chinese border guards, reveling in the wild scenery and enjoying the hospitality of Mongolian nomads. Thayer’s descriptions of their experiences are riveting and her determination is inspirational.
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Short and Sweet: Under 200 Pages

Two Three ThingsTwo or Three Things I Know for Sure by Dorothy Allison. Dutton, 1995.
What Allison knows was hard won: how dangerous it is to be beautiful, the legacy of violence in Southern families, and the need to honor our differences. Her bestselling autobiographical novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, preceded this memoir; here she writes about the women of her family and of how transforming the physical and emotional burdens of her abused childhood into writing saved her soul.

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal. Warner Books, 2005.Seven Hundred Sundays
Crystal grew up the youngest of three boys in a happy Long Island home where his hard-working father only had Sundays to share with his sons. Through Commodore Records, the jazz label created by his father and uncle, Crystal knew all the jazz greats of the 1960s and was surrounded by people who encouraged his talent. Crystal’s memoir is based on his popular one-man Broadway show and delivers the same comic punch and heartfelt tribute to his father.

My Detachment by Tracy Kidder. Random House, 2005.
My DetachmentKidder joined ROTC in college in the early 1960s without much thought; by the time he graduated and entered the army, the Vietnam War was in full swing and his heart was with the protesters. He was sent to Vietnam and put in charge of 8 irritable soldiers to report on enemy radio locations. In this relatively safe posting, Kidder struggled with melancholy and a sense of inadequacy. No glory of battle here, just a very candid and thoughtful portrayal of a young man and his demons in turbulent times.
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5 responses to “Looking for a memoir to read next?

  1. Pingback: A place for readers who enjoy memoirs and other great nonfiction « A Reader's Place

  2. Awesome site, Roz! As the author of the up-coming memoir The Road to Myself, I’m looking all over the ‘net to find readers who love passionate, gritty stories of tragedy and hope.

  3. This is a great site! I just read a memoir called “Jane’s Addiction: A memoir of a nursing assistant” and I was amazed at the situation this woman was in. It was definitely a page turner. I just wanted to share this with you all.

  4. I can’t believe I’m just tripping over your gold mine of reviews, a treasure trove… Thanks, Roz, this will inspire me to read more and write better.

  5. Hi Roz, I love the categories and thoughtful reviews, so helpful for reading and writing memoir! Looking forward to more.

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