Summer is a great time to immerse yourself into great stories and some of the best stories are memoirs. Here are 10 well-known memoirs to enjoy this summer. Who knows, maybe they will inspire you to write your story!
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
This somber coming-of-age story describes McCourt’s Irish childhood first in Brooklyn, New York and then in Limerick, Ireland. The main theme is the poverty he and his siblings endure growing up with an alcoholic father and a mother trying to do her best with few resources in the 1930s and 1940s. Angela’s Ashes was published in 1996 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
In this book of collected essays, Sedaris comically recounts episodes from his childhood in North Carolina and later moving to France. This includes going to a speech therapist as a child for a lisp, Sedaris’s family life, his different jobs and trying to learn French as an adult. Published in 2000, Me Talk Pretty One Day went on to win the Thurber Prize for American Humor.
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Published in 1993, Kaysen’s memoir details her experiences in a psychiatric hospital and reflects on issues of mental illness and recovery. After overdosing on pills and denying that she tried to commit suicide, Kaysen was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and confined to a psychiatric hospital from 1967 to 1968. The memoir inspired the 1999 film Girl, Interrupted starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
This colorful memoir chronicles Hemingway’s years in Paris from 1921 to 1926 when he was an expat journalist and married to Hadley Richardson, his first wife. A Moveable Feast describes Hemingway’s life and the places he frequented in Paris as well as the many writers and personalities he knew there like James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though Hemingway had worked on the memoir for years, it was finally published in 1964, three years after his death.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
Published in 2003, Reading Lolita in Tehran narrates the experiences of Iranian professor Azar Nafisi from the time of the Iranian revolution until 1997 when she left the country. This includes her refusal to wear the veil, the Iran-Iraq War and her book club. For two years she and her female students read and discussed classic Western books that are forbidden in Iran. Reading Lolita in Tehran explores the theme of oppression while also celebrating the power of literature.
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
This memoir chronicles Gilbert’s travels around the world as she tries to find herself after a divorce. She spends four months enjoying herself in Italy, three months discovering her spiritual side in India and the rest of the year in Bali, Indonesia as she searches for balance and falls in love with a Brazilian man. Published in 2006, Eat, Pray, Love was adapted into a movie starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Published in 1854, Walden is half memoir and half critique of Western culture’s materialism and distance from nature. For more than two years Thoreau lived alone in a cabin near Walden Pond (a lake in Massachusetts) in his conscious search for a simple life. The book’s themes include self-reliance, simplicity and nature.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This powerful coming-of-age story recounts Angelou’s childhood in Arkansas, Missouri and later California. It describes the racism she endured, being raped at the age of eight years old by her mother’s boyfriend, her discovery and love of literature, and becoming a mother at 16. Published in 1969, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was nominated for a National Book Award.
Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
Published in 1937, Out of Africa describes the 17 years that Blixen, a Danish Baroness, lived on a coffee plantation in Kenya – at the time British East Africa. The memoir talks about the Africans who lived on her farm, European colonists who visited and her life as a white colonist. The book was adapted into a 1985 film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
This memoir recounts Orwell’s experiences with poverty in Paris and London in his 20s. He describes being stolen from, going without food, working in restaurant kitchens and spending time in tramps’ hostels. Published in 1933, Down and Out in Paris and London was the first of Orwell’s full-length works.
Now It’s Your Turn
Have you read any of these well-known memoirs? What did you think of it? Has it helped you with your own plans to write a memoir? Let me know!