Favorite Memoirs

A friend and I were talking about memoirs the other day. When done well, memoirs can be amazing and life-changing. Sadly, they can also be rambling and narcissistic. I’ve read quite a few memoirs this year and have come across both. There was a stretch of mediocre reads when I almost gave up the genre.

But, last week I finished A River Runs Through It and my faith in storytelling and memoir was restored. If you love the movie but haven’t yet read Maclean’s semi-autobiographical novella, I’d highly recommend. It is storytelling at its best!

If summer is for light, beach reads, I’d say fall is for inspiring and thought-provoking memoirs. Here are just five of my all-time favorites.

Bringing Up Bebe
This is one of the few parenting books I’d recommend. Beyond good, common-sense advice, though, it’s a fun memoir of parenting in France. Cultural differences, weighing important battles to pursue, acclimating to new ways of doing things, this book goes beyond parenting and is a good look at choosing to live in a new culture.

Traveling Mercies
I’ve read Anne Lamott’s classic several times and each time I feel refreshed and learn something new about my own story. If you haven’t yet read her journey of faith and discovery, it’s one that can resonate with all spiritual walks of life.

My Life in France
Another memoir for Francophiles, Julia Child’s memories of her time in France bring depth and poignancy to Julie and Julia fans. I also loved the look into the world of publishing and self-publishing. It seems as though not much has changed in the last 65 years.

All Creatures Great and Small
James Herriot’s series of stories about a country veterinary practice in 1950’s England. They are quiet, slice of life stories and you have to be ready for many descriptions of birthing cows, but there are also many laugh out loud moments. The dog stories, especially make me laugh and also cry in they way Herriot personifies pets and farm animals. If you’re not much of a reader or just need a new series to add to Netflix, I’d highly recommend the BBC adaptation of Herriot’s books. I grew up watching them and Frank and I rewatched a few when we were first married. They do a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the stories.

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The Upside of Down
I lived with Susan Biggar and her family during my first semester of college. Susan and Darryl were in the midst of a relatively quiet spell with their sons’ battles with Cystic Fibrosis. This memoir is about Susan’s experience with the diagnosis of this life-threatening genetic disorder with her two oldest sons and the subsequent navigation of hospital systems across four countries. Its honesty and questioning remind me of Anne Lamott’s style. Sue does a great job of detailing their journey, giving insightful details, without feeling like she’s told too much about her sons’ personal stories.

There are, of course, more memoirs that are well written and though provoking, but these are the ones that have stood out over the years. I find, too, that memoir reading is all about my own state of mind. Some resonate in ways that are baffling years later and others seem unimpressive yet I come back, read them with new eyes, and am changed.

What about you? What are some of your favorite or most life-changing memoirs?

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