The first memoir I read was Lucky Man: A Memoir by Michael J. Fox, and I still remember thinking how much I enjoyed reading a book that felt like a story being told by a friend. It was easy to read, relatable, and appealed to my nosy side.
Earlier this year, I read this article about how readers think they know the authors of the memoirs they read even though they’re only reading a small section of the story (and the part the author chooses to tell at that). And sure enough, when I was reading Anchored by Kayla Aimee last week—the inspiration for this post—I sent her a message to tell her I was pretty sure we’re best friends now. (To be clear, I know and work with her, so it wasn’t quite as creepy as it sounds!)
But despite the murkiness of the line between reader and voyeur and the potential trap of defining someone by a single memoir, I was reminded last week of just how much I enjoy them.
Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order:
A Different Beautiful: Discovering and Celebrating Beauty in Places You Never Expected by Courtney Westlake
I’m actually in the middle of this one right now. I discovered Courtney’s blog several years ago and followed her daughter’s journey with harlequin ichthyosis with interest. When Lucas was diagnosed with a mild form of ichthyosis after birth, I found myself reading her words through new eyes as I learned more about this skin disorder and its many forms.
Courtney’s writing is really phenomenal as she tells both the story of Breanna’s birth and life and the lessons she’s learned over the past few years through and with Breanna. (Truth: I stopped reading to look through her bio to see if she has an English background—it’s in journalism—because each word seemed so precisely chosen, but in a very readable way!)
Anchored: Finding Hope in the Unexpected by Kayla Aimee
As I mentioned, it was Kayla’s book Anchored that reminded me how much I love memoirs. I felt just like we were sitting down over coffee and she was telling me this story. I especially appreciate the way she uses wry humor in the midst of really heartfelt retellings of the difficult days of having a micro-preemie in the NICU because humor tends to be my coping mechanism as well.
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
On a completely different note, I read Orange Is the New Black last year, and I have to admit I really loved it.This gritty memoir shares Piper Kerman’s experience as a white, upperclass woman entering the prison system. I’ve never seen the show, but I’ve always been interested in the justice system and prison culture (my first research paper in high school was about overcrowding in jail).
Coming Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines
Coming Clean was my favorite read of 2015. On the surface, it’s the story of Seth’s journey to sobriety, but it’s so much more. If you’ve ever doubted the existence, presence or interest of God…if you’ve wrestled with your faith and prayers unanswered…if you’ve sought religious rules and systems to simplify your beliefs…you need to read this. It’s a beautiful, vulnerable, authentic story of faith and doubt and pain and prayer. And yes, sobriety too. SO GOOD!
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
I actually listened to this audiobook last winter. I love audiobooks that are narrated by the author, and this one was especially good! It’s a bit irreverent in places and definitely not an audiobook to listen to with kids around, but Mindy Kaling is hysterically funny, self-deprecating, and brutally honest, and this book lived up to the hype!
Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist
Exquisite is the word I used to describe this book after I read it in 2014. A collection of essays on food, community and life, it’s a beautiful picture of what authentic relationships look like and how food can play a healthy role in community. I was inspired by Shauna Niequist’s words to look at the way I approach friendship and community a little differently, and I want to try every recipe she included in between her thoughts!
And the memoir I’m most looking forward to in 2017? At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider!