Top 10: Memoirs

I read a great deal more fiction than non-fiction, but I do love a good memoir. These are some of my favourites.

Cheryl Strayed walked about a billion miles on her own carrying a really heavy back pack and she ate terrible food most of the time and it just sounded like the hardest thing ever except for when she got to have really hot sex with a super handsome dude in some kind of special tent. She is awesome and Wild is her story.  

I saw Zack McDermott interviewed about Gorilla & the Bird at Sydney Writers festival this year. He spoke about his bipolar disorder and psychotic episodes with such candour but also an amazing sense of humour. The book was a super page-turner and a brilliant insight into living with a serious mental illness. 

Ann Patchett is one of my favourite writers of all time. How could I resist a book in which she tells the story of her early writing life? Truth & Beauty is also the sad story of her intense friendship with troubled artist Lucy Grealey.  

Drusilla Modjeska’s Poppy is a kind of fictionalised memoir. It is so beautifully written, and a profound exploration of motherhood, which I read first as a young woman and daughter, and later as a mother, with depression, like the title character. It resonated very deeply for me and stood up well to a re-read. Plus it’s Australian! Bonus points!

Lily Brett’s In Full View is actually a book of personal essays, but read as a whole, they form a kind of memoir. My brother bought this for my mum for Christmas one year and when we went on holiday a few days later, me, we all fought over it! 

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. What a title, right? This is the book with which Dave Eggers smashed onto the literary scene and it’s not perfect but it’s quite an amazing story and bloody well told and you’ve got to give him credit for his sheer audacity. 

The Year of Magical Thinking is Joan Didion‘s story of how first her husband, then her daughter died in the same year. I read it on my honeymoon. So uplifting! I know it’s boring to put this on my list because it’s everyone’s go-to memoir but it really is that good. 

This Boy’s Life  by Tobias Wolff has the most killer dedication of all time:

My first stepfather used to say that what i didn’t know would fill a book. Well, here it is.

Sick burn, Tobias! If you think this is clever and amusing and also sort of twisted you will like the book.

After I discovered Michael Ondaatje in the 90s I hoovered up everything he had written including his poetry and this memoir of his childhood in Sri Lanka Running in the Family. His prose and observations about human relationships are second to none.  

Augusten Burroughs had a super messed-up childhood but it did give him a lot of good stories, recounted in horrifying and hilarious detail in Running with Scissors.  

Diversity Accountability

5 books by women, 1 book by a person of colour (could do better), 1 book by a person who identifies as living with mental illness, 1 by an LGBTQI writer.

About Me

Annabel Smith is the author of US bestseller Whiskey & Charlie (published in Australia as Whisky Charlie Foxtrot), digital interactive novel/app The Ark, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the West Australian Premier’s Book Awards. I am currently working on Monkey See, an epic quest with a sci-fi twist featuring a monkey, an evil priestess and the mother of all tsunamis.

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4 thoughts on “Top 10: Memoirs”

  1. I have heard of most of these, but have only read a couple – Truth and beauty, and The year of magical thinking, both of which I liked. I’ve seen the movie, Running with scissors. The one here that I most want to read and haven’t is Modjeska’s Poppy. My reading group read it while I was living overseas and I have regretted missing it ever since (though I don’t regret the overseas experience!)

    I do like a good memoir.

    1. Nothing better than discovering a book you didn’t know about by an author you love! Make sure you let me know what you think of it. What’s your favourite Ann Patchett? I adore Bel Canto, very closely followed by The Magician’s Assistant. Bel Canto is my most re-read book of all time – I think I’ve read it maybe 6 or 7 times.

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