As a literary genre, a memoir is a subset of autobiography. Memoirs are more focused and more flexible than traditional autobiographies and can provide a powerful understanding of how the author views one defined aspect of their life.
Listed below are some of my favorite memoirs:
The color of water : a Black man’s tribute to his white mother by James McBride
The Color of Water tells the remarkable story of Ruth McBride Jordan, born Rachel Shilsky, a Polish Jew who immigrated to America soon after birth. She met and married an African American man in Harlem and raised 12 amazing children. The book is a testament to one woman’s strong heart, solid values and indomitable will. She battled not only racism but also poverty. The book an inspiring tribute written by her son, National Book Award winner, James McBride (The Good Lord Bird).
Truth & beauty : a friendship by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett met her friend Lucy Grealy at the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1981 and began a friendship that would last the rest of their lives. In Grealy’s acclaimed memoir, Autobiography of a Face, she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, years of chemotherapy and radiation, and endless reconstructive surgeries. This memoir is not about Ann Patchett’s life or Lucy Grealey’s life but is about a twenty-year, committed, loving friendship. It is both a tender and brutal book about loving a person we cannot save but also being inspired by someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.
Into thin air : a personal account of the Mount Everest disaster by Jon Krakauer
In May 1996, journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer joined a team to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. This expedition became one of the most deadly in the history of the mountain as a freak storm claimed five lives. Krakauer’s investigation into what went wrong is haunting and deeply personal.
I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou
With the recent death of Maya Angelou, our country has lost a national treasure. In this memoir of her childhood, the author captures the longing of lonely children, the cruel insult of bigotry and the strength of the human spirit to survive. Author James Baldwin is correct when he describes the power of Angelou’s writing. He says she liberates the reader into life as she confronts her own life with “a moving wonder and a luminous dignity”.
Beautiful boy : a father’s journey through his son’s addiction by David Sheff
Beautiful Boy is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond help. Journalist David Sheff describes the wrenching experience of journeying with his son Nic through addiction to crystal meth. Before he became addicted, Nic was a charming boy, a varsity athlete and an honor student adored by his two younger siblings; after meth, he became a liar, a thief and a homeless wraith. This book is heart-breaking, beautiful and full of hard-earned wisdom.
Night by Elie Wiesel
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Wiesel has written about his experiences with his father in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Although not technically a memoir because Night is narrated by Eliezer, a fictional Jewish teenager, Eliezer serves as Elie Wiesel’s representative and experiences all that he underwent. Much has been written about the Holocaust, but Night is able to reawaken the shock of seeing evil at its most absolute.
Beth Pocock is a library assistant at the Sawyer Free Library.