When it comes to reading, my tastes run the gamut. Fiction will forever be my rid-or-die favorite genre (I could stay up for hours diving deep into a good plot). But the world of books is thankfully infinite—and I’m endlessly grateful for all the options available. Want to experience greater happiness? There are about a million reads on the topic. Love a good book-turned-movie combo? Consider this your definitive list. And if you’re a new parent, don’t worry: these are our favorite guides to support your journey.
Conclusion? If there’s a topic you’re totally new to or want to learn more about, there’s nothing you can’t read up on. But for me, following fiction, memoirs just might be the perfect literary genre. I certainly have my faves, but as a nonfiction junkie who always wants to be learning (sorry, can’t help it), memoirs allow me to immerse myself in a rich narrative while still scratching my personal development itch. And what’s not to love about an intimate view into the life of someone with a fascinating true story to tell?
These are the memoirs that have impacted my mindset the most in recent years. Each of them gave me a new perspective and have subtly permeated the way that I think. So dive in, discover a new-to-you read, and scroll down to the comments—I’d love to hear about your own favorite memoirs!
P.S. Looking for more ways to carve out a few extra minutes of reading each day? Try our nine tips that’ll help you finish that novel that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months. (It’s time!).
Feature image by Kristen Kilpatrick.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
The old adage rings true: Never judge a book by its cover. But when I discovered Ashley C. Ford’s memoir in my favorite bookstore, I’m glad I let the cover art influence my purchase. Ford’s debut is the compelling story of a woman growing up trying to reconcile the absence of her incarcerated father with the need to understand a complicated familial love. What follows is a reflection of the haunting and illuminating journey of a woman piecing together an understanding of her body, her life, and herself.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford, $13.29
Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad
Something I admire most about memoirs is the writer’s ability to reflect upon a story that’s deeply personal while sharing knowledge that feels widely universal. While I could never pretend to understand the journey of a young woman whose life is suddenly upturned by a cancer diagnosis, nor do I want my own experience to minimize the beauty, challenges, and truths shared on each page of this book, there’s transformative knowledge that can be garnered from a woman fighting to survive. If you’ve ever found yourself desperate for an opportunity and the inspiration to start anew, this is the book to read.
Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad, $16.20
Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles
At first, swimming may seem like a singularly-focused topic without much opportunity to extend into anything else. But the pages of Powles’ lyrically-written prose reveal the power of immersing yourself in a body water. This memoir draws upon the intersection of so many elements of storytelling and dives into countless, seemingly-disparate topics. But at the intersection of it all is an exploration of what it means to belong and feel at home in the world.
Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles, $18
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
A talented multi-hyphenate (she also heads up the indie pop band, Japanese Breakfast) Michelle Zauner holds a talent for storytelling that transcends contexts, backgrounds, and cultures. Growing up as one of the only Asian American students at her school in Oregon, Zauner writes about how she found comfort and connection through food. The narrative is not only captivating, but Zauner’s honest and outspoken voice comes alive in every sentence on every page. This is the kind of book that, if it hasn’t already been shared with you, you’ll definitely recommend to everyone you know.
“I can hardly speak Korean, but in H Mart I feel like I’m fluent … I remember the snacks Mom told me she ate when she was a kid and how I tried to imagine her at my age. I wanted to like all the things she did, to embody her completely.”
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, $15.95
It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell
In a world that often tries to define us (particularly women) by our bodies and outward appearance, it can feel like a revolutionary act to unapologetically love food. At times heartbreaking but illuminating throughout, Andie Mitchell’s memoir reflects on the challenges of experiencing life in both smaller and larger bodies—and never feeling like enough. While self-acceptance can read like a hallow buzzword at times, Mitchell’s writing reminds readers that by identifying and consistently connecting with your inner truth, you can build a life that feels perfect to you.
It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell, $14
Shoe Dog, A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
I was actually caught off guard by how much I instantly loved this book. The story behind one of the world’s most iconic brands—and its notoriously private founder—will inspire anyone who wants to be a builder, founder, innovator, or creator. It’s a powerful reminder to stay true to a bold vision, no matter the obstacles.
Shoe Dog, A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight $9.08
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle
My sister gave me this book (one of her all-time faves) for Christmas, so I can’t yet give it a full review since I’m still in process. But I’ve already fallen in love with Doyle’s authenticity and bravery to lay her truest self bare in the ultimate act of vulnerability. So far, the message to just be you has come off the page and straight into my heart.
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle $8.99
Will by Will Smith
Included in our round-up of the best books of the past year, Will Smith’s memoir was unanimously named more than a few editors’ favorite read. If ever there was a celebrity we’ve wanted to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives of, it’s Will Smith’s. His book is full of insightful wisdom, beautiful reflections, and a peek into the inner world of a man who’s done admirable and inspiring amounts of self-work. Don’t want to take our word for it? Know that Oprah’s called it her favorite memoir of all time.
Will by Will Smith, $18.68
Beauty in the Broken Places by Allison Pataki
A heartbreaking memoir about a young woman on the cusp of the life she’d dreamed of—and how it all changed in the blink of an eye. Pataki’s words leave you grateful for your health, your loved ones, and the resiliency to come back from crisis.
Beauty in the Broken Places by Allison Pataki $5.99
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I’ve recommended this book to, oh, probably about 100 people. I still remember finishing it on an airplane, tears streaming down my face but also so moved by the power of love and the brevity of life. It’s the story of a young neurosurgeon diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. In an instant, the future he and his wife had planned all changed, and he invites the reader on his journey toward discovering what truly makes our lives worth living.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, $14.63
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
It’s a classic for a reason; this book will inspire you to move past society’s expectations of who you should be, instead setting off on the journey of discovering your best, truest self. It’s soul-searching at its finest with a backdrop of three very different, and very fun-to-read-about, destinations.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert, $9.99
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Cahalan’s story of her descent from successful newspaper journalist to psychotic patient—in a matter of days—is both chilling and fascinating. The mystery of her diagnosis unfolds through the lens of her tenacious spirit, her family’s love and faith, and the power of survival. I couldn’t put this book down as I followed Cahalan’s journey from hell and back to finding herself again.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, $9.95
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
I’ve yet to meet a single person who’s read this book and not been blown away by Westover’s story. Raised in rural Idaho with a conspiracy-theorist father and religious fanatic upbringing, she set foot in a classroom for the first time at age 17. Her beautiful writing and strong intellect are a testament to the determination it took for her to rise up—and the power that comes from access to education.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover, $13
This post was originally published on January 26, 2020 and has since been updated.
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