Who doesn’t love a good reading list?

Submissions to “True Stories Well Told” have slowed recently (hint, hint) so perhaps its time for some inspiration. Who doesn’t love a good reading list?  Here’s my suggested reading for memoirists.


diversity-education-book-treeGood books on writing memoirs:

  • Your Life As Story: Writing the New Autobiography, Tristine Rainer, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1997
  • Breathe Life Into Your Life Story, Dawn and Morris Thurston, Signature Books, 2007
  • The Memoir Project: A Throughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life, Marion Roach Smith, Hatchette, 2011
  • You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, Lee Gutkind, Lifelong Books, 2012
  • Braving the Fire, A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss, Jessica Handler, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013

 Good memoirs to enjoy and study:

  • How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran (funny feminist rant)
  • Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Novella Carpenter
  • Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, Gabrielle Hamilton, Random House, 2011

Each of these is worth study because they don’t simply walk through life from childhood forward, but rather, follow themes within a life, demonstrating how memoir can differ from autobiography.

Terrible Childhood tales well told:

  • Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt, Touchstone Books, 1996
  • Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman, Simon and Schuster, 2012 
  • Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood, Kate Simon, Penguin,199
  • Glass Castle: A Memoir, Jeannette Walls, Scribners, 2006
  • The Road from Coorain, Jill Ker Conway, Borzoi Books, 1989

I’ve always been a fan of the Terrible Childhood memoir. Come to find out, my childhood wasn’t that bad.

Great Books to read in pairs:

Rick Bragg:

  • All Over but the Shoutin’, Vintage, 1998,
    Ava’s Man, Vintage, 2002,

The first is a tribute to Bragg’s long-suffering mother, and life in the south in the latter half of the 20th century; the second is the story of Bragg’s maternal grandmother.

Haven Kimmel:

  • A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana, Broadway, 2002
  • She Got Up Off the Couch and Other Heroic Acts from Mooresville, Indiana, (Free Press, 2007)

The first demonstrates you CAN make a boring small town childhood funny and interesting, while the second reveals the awful stuff she didn’t go into in the first book, proving you don’t HAVE to tell all, but people often love it when you do.

Alexandra Fuller:

  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, Random House, 2003
  • Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, Penguin Books, 2012

Fuller’s two books bear a certain resemblance to Haven Kimmel’s two books in that both pairs start with a book written from a child’s point of view followed by a book that covers the same events and people but with an adult’s insights.

Michael Perry:

  • Population: 485, HarperCollins, 2003.
  • Visiting Tom, HarperCollins, 2013,

How to keep writing after you’ve used up all your material. Perry’s first success came with Population: 485’s exploration of sense of place and the age-0ld question of “can you go home again,” further explored in his subsequent books Truck and Coop. With Visiting Tom, Perry recognizes that he’s mined all he can from his own material, and moves on to the neighbors.

This list evolves over time and welcomes suggestions. What are YOU reading?

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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