What's Your Favorite Memoir?

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What's Your Favorite Memoir?

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1milo_blue Primeira Mensagem
Nov 8, 2007, 7:15 pm

I'm a writer interested in writing my memoirs. I've been devouring any and all memoirs I can find, but still hungry for more- what can you recommend?

Nov 8, 2007, 8:39 pm

Are you interested in someone whose career is similar to yours? Or a well-known"personality?" Sports? Entertainment? someone from your section of the country or someone whose people came from the same part of the world that your family did? Someone who overcame great odds to become famous?Someone active in solving current problems in fields like energy, health, climate change, politics?This may help you narrow your search a bit.

Nov 8, 2007, 9:40 pm

I have 123 autobiographies in my library, many of them by writers (e.g., Edgar Lee Masters, John Updike, Henry Miller, Gay Talese). You might check them out by going to my profile, clicking on "tags" and then "autobiography." If you see any that sound particularly interesting, I'd be glad to give you my take on them.

Nov 9, 2007, 1:51 am

Coming Out of the Ice by Victor Herman, which can be found used, for order if not in the public library.

Nov 9, 2007, 8:51 pm

I've thought of two other books that might be of interest as you prepare to write your memoirs. One is Design and Truth in Autobiography by Roy Pascal. This traces the history of autobiography and explores what the author calls "the structure of truth in autobiography." The other is Good Reading Guide to Biography & Autobiography by Kenneth and Valerie McLeish. This one contains one-paragraph synopses of a great many autobiographies. It might help you decide which ones you'd like to read.

Nov 9, 2007, 9:05 pm

Have you tried Osbert Sitwell's five-volume autobiography? It's old (1945-1952) but an outstanding example of the genre.

Nov 10, 2007, 11:00 am

Some of my favorites, although two of these focus on other people rather than the memoirist.

Borrowed Finery by Paula Fox - a wonderful book and a great example of how to treat a harrowing childhood without sentimentality or self-pity.

Two Lives by Vikram Seth -- one of my all-time favorites; a look at the violent history of the mid-20th century and how it affected people's lives as well as an investigation of the lives of the author's relatives, with whom he lived for a time as a teenager.

Them by Francine du Plessix Gray (who strangely doesn't touchstone, which looks at the adventurous lives of her eccentric and difficult parents, as well as her own.

Editado: Nov 10, 2007, 11:19 am

I loved both Vikram Seth's Two Lives and du Plessix Gray's Them too, both of which are favorites from the last few years. There's been some really outstanding biographys and memoirs so far this year though, espescially Claire Tomalin's wonderful biography of Thomas Hardy, Tim Jeal's unputdownable landmark Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer, Shalom Auslander's angry (and quite hilarious) Foreskin's Lament, and I've been recommending Leslie Garis's family memoir House of Happy Endings to nearly everyone too.

Nov 16, 2007, 1:25 am

I'm mostly interested in the stories belonging to seemingly ordinary people with a heightened sense of awareness in themselves and the world around them. I'm drawn in by vivid details that highlight the beauty in the everyday experience. I like stories that are ironic as well as sentimental, and cynical as well as enlightened. More than anything, I want to feel what it's like the be the person relating the story.

Nov 16, 2007, 1:26 am

By the way, thank you for the recommendations. I will definitely check some of them out.

Editado: Nov 16, 2007, 1:35 pm

I've always liked Robert Graves' Good-bye to all That about his experiences in WWI. Makes you wonder how anybody survived. I still remember the winter they were freezing to death and crawled out into no man's land to steal the coats from their dead Welsh comrades only to find that they were all too small. So, they went out again to steal the winter coats of dead Germans because they were bigger.

Nov 16, 2007, 2:06 pm

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov.

Nov 16, 2007, 2:55 pm

varielle, I just read Goodbye To All That back in February, and it's still one of my favorites so far this year. And yes, his graphic descriptions of trench warfare were stunningly scary, but it's the bicycle trip he and his wife took after the war, when they proceeded to just drop in unannounced on Thomas Hardy, that I found especially charming.

Nov 16, 2007, 3:05 pm

Nabokov, noted above, sets the highest standard. In a wildly different vein but very much worth a look is W.H. Davies)) off-beat account Autobiography of a Super-tramp).

--apologies if I can't get the touchstone brackets to work here; I'm at a cyber-café in Brussels and the keyboard is dodgy--

And for those who speak baseball, Jim Bouton's Ball Four} looms large.

Nov 16, 2007, 3:12 pm

I don't know about "best" but I recently finished Goat by Brad Land and I recommend it.

Nov 18, 2007, 9:59 pm

I just started Unbowed and am enjoying that thus far. Still in the early pages, but getting some semblance of an idea about what Kenya was like.

Nov 21, 2007, 5:53 pm

#16, bfertig, I enjoyed Unbowed because Wangair Maathai is such an admirable and strong woman, but I didn't find it all that well written -- that is, I enjoyed it as straightforward information.

Nov 25, 2007, 11:18 am

Rebeccanyc, I agree - the language and tone is fairly straightforward with few flourishes. Actually, I'm appreciating this tone because I feel like she's letting her remarkable life stand as is.

Jan 8, 2008, 1:39 am

An enduring favorite of mine is Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Jung.

Mar 14, 2008, 4:06 pm

I am reading Benvenuto Cellini's Confessions: a Renaissance artist/writer/craftsman/soldier/hooligan. If you are an artist of any kind looking to write your memoirs, I would definitely check him out. P.S. It's unbelievably funny.

Mar 14, 2008, 6:24 pm

It's been years since I read Cellini, but I still remember the bit about sculpting, getting a shard in his eye and rinsing it out with pigeon blood. It's hard to imagine now how anybody could have thought that it was a good idea. It was truly a great read.

Mar 15, 2008, 8:53 pm

I, too, love Cellini and credit him with starting my life-long love affair with the memoir. When I was in high school, my father pointed to a rather dull-looking book on the bookshelves in his study and suggested I check it out. I must have been fresh out of reading ideas of my own when I took this book on. It was my second lesson that an "old" book could be funny. (The first was Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens).

Editado: Mar 28, 2008, 6:18 pm

Among the Thugs; Blood Red Sunset; Black Spring; Desolation Angels; Shot in the Heart are all excellent. Charles Simic's essays contain various memoirs spread across a few different books.

Mar 31, 2008, 2:23 am

Im about halfway through Mary Karr's The Liars' Club and I think it's fantastic so far. Darkly funny, too, which is right up my alley.

Editado: Out 12, 2008, 3:00 pm

Kind of late to this thread but Elie Wiesel's Night is one of the few books that literally had me weeping throughout. Also, I'll second Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart.

Out 14, 2008, 8:44 am

A. Manette Ansay's Limbo is a beautifully written memoir. It's as touching and poetic as it is candid. Just wonderful!

Out 14, 2008, 10:44 am

My two favorites are Girl Bomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir by Janice Erlbaum (which apparently LT thinks is called Crash: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, but both covers say Girl Bomb) and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Out 14, 2008, 2:21 pm

#26 Limbo was great. All A. Mannette Ansays's books, especially Midnight Champagneare/ good.

I liked Wake me when it's over by Mary Kay Blakeley & Name all the Animals by Alison Smith - a sad book but very real.

Dez 4, 2008, 12:22 am

Fun Home:A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. It is a beautifully crafted book.

Editado: Dez 31, 2008, 2:11 am

I recommend The Memoirs of Baron de Marbot - a two volume autobiography of a French officer, born 7 years before the French revolution through to his service in Napoleon's army right up to the retreat from Moscow. The full text is available on line at http://www.napoleonic-literature.com/... (both volumes are there though ithe link says Book 2) He sure led an exciting life!

Question - how do you post the links to the book as hyperlink?

Editado: Dez 15, 2008, 5:23 pm

To create the touchstone for the hyperlink to a book surround the title with single squared brackets. For an author use double squared brackets for the link.

Editado: Dez 22, 2008, 12:26 am

Here's an excellent memoir -- very readable and very funny:
Monica Dickens, One Pair of Hands


Jan 17, 2009, 7:47 am

Editado: Mar 23, 2009, 5:51 pm

The Way of a Boy by Ernest Hillen. Lyrical and gripping - overused words but spot on in this case.

Editado: Fev 6, 2009, 10:54 am

You wrote , in message 9, you are mostly interested in the stories belonging to seemingly ordinary people with a heightened sense of awarness in themselves and the world around them.
So here go my two cents

Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks who was born and raised in Australia. After moving to the U.S.A. she worked for eleven years on the Wall Street Journal, covering stories from some of the world’s most troubled areas, including Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East.
“Foreign Correspondenece is not about her work but about her childhood and her teen age years in Australia and the way she enlisted pen pals who offered her a window on the world and on other cultures and different history. Of course in the book there are lots of details of ordinary every day life in Australia.


Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight: An Africa Childhood by Alexandra Fuller who was born in England but was raised in Rhodesia by an “absented mind” mother, an “always on the go and work to do” father and with an “I mind my own business and you all can go to hell” older sister.
The book is about her childhood in Africa. There are witty passages and sad ones and a lot about Africa.


My third and latest suggestion is: "An innocent Abroad" by Mark Twain, from which I think everybody can learn how to describe places and people in a really amusing and charming manner


Good luck for your project

Fev 6, 2009, 8:05 am

I like memoirs which give me insight into a bygone era or different culture.

The Autobiography of a Working Man by Somerville 'The Scots Grey' is one such book. It relates to the working life of a man who in early - mid 18th century Britain was for a time a soldier, and who was famously flogged for writing a letter about parliamentary reform.

Somerville writes in a clear matter of fact style about his life, and is just as sanguine in writing about his flogging.

Fev 6, 2009, 10:32 am

Mensagem removida pelo autor.

Fev 6, 2009, 11:16 am

My wicked, wicked ways by Errol Flynn was an eye opener ... he lived a pretty amazing life outside of the movie business.

Fev 7, 2009, 3:05 pm

I forgot to say, you can find "The Innocent Abroad" on the Gutenber Project


Fev 7, 2009, 4:08 pm

I'm a bit maudlin. I'd say The Color of Water.

Fev 11, 2009, 8:33 pm

Does What is the what count? It's biography/autobiography/memoir written as novel. Really fantastically written and wildly vivid and yet readable, given its subject matter. Valentino Achak Deng is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Fev 12, 2009, 1:44 pm

I loved Ghost Light, memoir of Frank Rich, the New York Times columnist.

Editado: Maio 15, 2009, 1:34 pm

Though around awhile, to the point that people think of them as twentieth century classics, Celine's Journey to the End of Night and Death on the Installment Plan are actually memoirs, albeit with the Rabelesian exaggeration that Henry Miller also employed in his own memoirs: The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy and the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

Editado: Dez 29, 2011, 12:40 pm

A Long Walk to Freedom was slow in the beginning, but fantastic once the story reached Nelson Mandela's adult life. Two others that I thought were really good were Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Through the Unknown Remembered Gate: A spiritual journey by Emily Benedek.


Maio 12, 2009, 10:29 pm

i'm reading A long walk to Freedom now, and am finding it really well written and interesting

Editado: Maio 25, 2009, 7:36 pm

Among my favorites: "The Story of My Life" by Helen Keller, I particularly liked reading the letters written by Helen when she was young. "Helen and Teacher" by Joseph P. Lash also very interesting.

Maio 25, 2009, 11:46 am

Back again, I keep coming and going out of this group. I was giving some thought to my love of biographies and autobiographies. I believe it started in high school when I read my first adult memoir. This was in the mid-70s and it was Walter P. Chrysler's autobiography Life of an American Workman. I actually never had any interest in cars, but remember loving this book. It was all but falling apart at the time. It was originally published in 1937 and reprinted in 1950, so it might have even been the early version. Our high school was so strapped for cash they hung on to every book until the pages fell out and then they glued them back in a few more times. There appears to be only one copy on LT.

Jul 1, 2009, 8:52 am

The Boy with no Shoes by William Horwood, also Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama. Both very well written and interesting memoirs.

Editado: Out 30, 2009, 5:17 pm

This is a new one published only recently: 'Detectives Don't Wear Seat Belts' by Clarissa McNair, who goes by Cici McNair. She is a writer and journalist with two books published previously. The best description of her adventures worldwide is as an adventurous Free Spirit, extraordinarily self-reliant and imaginative. She finally found her niche in life with the Private Investigator trade and details that journey of growth in this book. I enjoyed it much more than most of the non-fiction I have read recently. The ISBN is 978-1-59995-187-4.

Out 11, 2011, 10:30 pm

I completely agree with your pick of The Glass Castle. That was a remarkable read.

Out 11, 2011, 10:31 pm

If you liked this you might want to try Left to Tell or Long Way Gone. Both excellent.

Dez 29, 2011, 12:08 pm

Jan 2, 2012, 11:29 pm

#40> Just saw this thread. The Color of Water is the first book I thought of, too. I don't consider that book maudlin, though. Another great memoir I read this past year was War is Beautiful: An American Ambulance Driver in the Spanish Civil War by James Neugass.

Maio 30, 2012, 8:02 pm

I love Swanson on Swanson the autobiography of silent movie legend Gloria Swanson but I'd hardly call it a memoir, it's more like an epic, a huge book but it's really fascinating and very effectively covers almost a century.

Jun 5, 2012, 5:39 pm

Some great recommendations here. I would add Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat

Jun 6, 2012, 11:20 am

As far as recent books…I really enjoyed Sting's Broken Music, Andy Summers's One Train Later and Steve Martin's Born Standing Up.

Ago 2, 2012, 11:16 pm

You know, in addition to The Color of Water I really enjoyed West with the Night.

Apparently, so did Hemmingway.

Ago 10, 2012, 5:59 pm

I'm fairly new to the world of memoirs, but having only read a few my favorite so far is My Losing Season by Pat Conroy.

Editado: Jan 1, 2013, 7:16 pm

>59 Booksloth: Agree that Testament of Youth was one of the best memoirs I've read, and re-read. Written by a woman who volunteered as a nurse in WWI.

>60 lanewillson: Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini are great.

There are so many that are great. I mostly have those of songwriters or authors. As someone else said early on, look up my books and I'd be glad to give my opinion.

Jan 2, 2013, 11:37 am

May you all forgive me if I missed any of these following entries: in my haste to share the love, I may have failed to notice another post citing the same works. OK, it's terribly draining, but magnificent: William Ellery Leonard's THE LOCOMOTIVE-GOD. . . . An important but neglected sub-genre is the memoirs of industrial workers, of which Gilbert Mers' WORKING THE WATERFRONT is right there at the top. Try too John Brophy's A MINER'S LIFE. Likewise Gorki'S three volumes, though of-course they were written long after he had became a polished professional writer. i'll come back with more later unless the thread seems to be breaking under sheer weigh of submissions. Peace to all -- Goddard

Dez 30, 2013, 8:01 am

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If you are wanting something darkly comic, try our Drowning in the Shallow End by Charlie Mellor.

Jan 9, 2014, 1:38 am

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Sigfried Sassoon

The House by the Sea by May Sarton (ignoring recent negativity about the author; the book itself)

A Corner in the Marais: Memoir of a Paris Neighborhood byAlex Karmel