11 juicy memoirs to toss in your beach bag this summer

11 juicy memoirs to toss in your beach bag this summer

Merriam-Webster defines “juicy” as “rewarding or profitable, especially financially.” My favorite definition is “interestingly scandalous.” Pair “juicy” and “memoir,” and what you often get is a book that’s awfully hard to put down.

The fifth category for the 2017 Reading Challenge—for those of you who want to put the “oomph” back in your reading life—is “a juicy memoir.” Why? This is your opportunity to intentionally read a genre you might not typically pick up, and to have fun doing it.

When I think juicy, I think interesting—the kind of stories that, were a friend sharing them over coffee, would make you lean in and lower your voice. Also interesting: if you scan the list of titles I included here, many of these interestingly scandalous stories were also hugely profitable for their authors, because publishers are willing to pay big bucks for the intimate details.

Need ideas for this category? These eleven titles are either personal favorites, or high on my personal TBR list, probably because you recommended them. For the challenge, define “juicy” however you like, but definitely choose a memoir—and make it an interesting one.

What are you reading for this category? What titles would you add to the list?

Series: Juicy memoirs
Yes Please

Yes Please

Author:
The SNL star's first book is packed with juicy behind-the-scenes stories, wise advice, and personal confessions. The reviews on this are decidedly mixed: if you're on the fence, definitely go for the audiobook recording with a full cast including Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart (who reads haikus), and even Amy's parents. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Born to Run

Born to Run

I just finished this audiobook, which I picked up because I kept hearing from other not-rabid fans that this was a great example of a memoir done right. I was a little surprised at the heavy focus on a few personal relationships ... and then I did a little research, and discovered one stipulation of his ten million (!!!) advance was that he dish on the details. I admire his career, but I'm not a devoted fan, and that made the narrative a little slow in places. However, I would have read this just for his insights into music as art: how it's made, what makes it work, that indefinable thing all great musicians have—I could listen to those segments over and over again, and probably will. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House

West Wing fans, listen up. I haven't read this one yet, but I downloaded the audiobook this morning on my husband's recommendation. (Stay tuned!) This is a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of the Obama White House, through the eyes of someone who worked for him for more than ten years, first supporting him as a freshman senator, then as assistant to the president and director of scheduling, and finally as assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff at the White House. Word is this is like your "gossipy older sister" dishing on what really happens behind the political scenes. A good sign: Mindy Kaling bought the rights last month to adapt this for the small screen. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from IndieBound
Why Not Me?

Why Not Me?

Author:
Mindy Kaling's latest essay collection is all about growing up: she covers everything from body image to inner confidence to Hollywood life. When it's good, it's very, very good: my favorite stories were about The Office and Mindy's personal career trajectory, but she also spills on her friendship with B.J. Novak and many more big names in Hollywood. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

Author:
This is still on my TBR, and you all keep telling me I HAVE to read it! And when I do, I'm definitely doing the audio, because the original actors do all the voices as they carry you behind the scenes of the making of the iconic movie. If you're in the mood for warm, light, and funny, this is for you. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

Author:
Interesting and entertaining memoir about Steve Martin's roots and the real story behind his "overnight" success, packed with surprising tidbits about the industry and Martin's personal life. A great show biz biography, especially as read by Martin himself. I was extremely surprised by some of his longstanding personal connections. (Read it and you'll see what I mean!) I featured this title in a round-up of 10 audiobooks that are even better when read by their authors. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
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Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina

Life In Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina

Author:
You may know Misty Copeland from her stint as a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance. (Don't hate me—but I’ve never seen it.) Copeland made history by earning a spot as the only African American soloist at the American Ballet Theater. In this memoir she examines her path to success, from her peripatetic childhood to the incredible opportunities ballet has brought her. (I loved the chapter about dancing with Prince.) More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Author:
The Daily Show star does a masterful job of alternating the deathly serious with the laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes even combining the two, in this collection of coming-of-age essays about his South African childhood. His mischievous childhood and unconventional youth provide wonderful fodder for not-quite-polite (thus the "scandalous" part of this juicy memoir) but always entertaining stories. I highly recommend the audiobook, read by the author. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between)

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between)

Author:
This is another I haven't read yet, but I am a big Gilmore Girls and especially Parenthood fan, so maybe it's inevitable? I keep hearing this is everything you could want from a celebrity memoir, especially if you love her work, and her reflections on love, life, and work are extremely engaging—especially if you hear her tell it in her own voice on the audiobook. (Psst—if you love Lauren Graham, definitely check out her novel Someday, Someday, Maybe. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

Author:
TED-talk-turned-book is not the typical publication path for a juicy memoir, but this one sure is. Amanda Palmer's TED talk about what she learned working as a human statue (I kid you not, and it's fascinating) went viral, and a book deal followed soon thereafter. In her memoir/inspirational book, she discusses how relying on others has led to her success in life and all kinds of work, although she's certainly traveling the road less taken. There's some sensitive content, for sure, but I found her insights into the creative life, stardom, and (especially) life with husband Neil Gaiman fascinating. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
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Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Author:
I listened to this on audio, at the urging of fellow readers who said it was surprisingly good. (I was inclined to believe them after hearing Lowe's fantastic interview on Off Camera with Sam Jones, one of my favorite podcasts.) I knew very little about Lowe's career; I had only seen St Elmo's Fire and The West Wing before reading this, (I didn't even realize that was him in Wayne's World!) , and was constantly surprised by his unusual childhood, his early acting days, the scope of his current work, and how he seems to know everyone. My favorite stories were about JFK Jr and 9/11. This was so easy to listen to I blew through it in a few days. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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57 comments

  1. Dorothy K says:

    Just finished reading “The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy” by the last surviving child of Rose and Joe Kennedy. It wasn’t particularly juicy, but full of interesting and lovely family photos as well as early memories from Jean Kennedy Smith. It was an enjoyable peek into the lives of the famous Kennedy clan. Published in 2016.

  2. Kerri says:

    I would definitely recommend “Talking as Fast as I Can” as an audiobook. Especially if you’re a Lauren Graham fan.

  3. Brandyn says:

    I loved Lauren Graham’s book when I listened to it last year, but hands down my favorite memoir of 2016 was Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody. I’ve listened to it twice so far and I just really love both the content and her performance.
    I’m definitely going to check out Who Thought This was a Good Idea?.

    • Amy says:

      I’ll be interested to know what you think “Who thought this was a good idea?” I abandoned it after 2 chapters. Really disliked it.

  4. Anna says:

    “Talking As Fast As I Can” is on my list to read for this summer. I also have her novel that I’m hoping to get to. I thought they would both be good vacation reads- or when I need a break from some of the more intense stuff. I’m adding Rob Lowe’s bio as a possibility, too.

  5. Ani says:

    I totally recommend “The Rules Do Not Apply” by Ariel Levy. I couldn’t put it down — she is such an engaging writer.

  6. Felicity Haselton says:

    Awww, sadly I am not impressed by this list at all. I prefer memoirs from folks who are NOT in the spotlight…on the whole, I’ve found those to be much more satisfying.
    Half a Life comes to mind…

  7. Susan says:

    Stories I Only Tell My Friends was fantastic. It was engaging and entertaining. Rob Lowe is an interesting person and I came away thinking he is an overcomer. His accounts of meeting famous people before they were famous and the impact they made on his life were provocative.

  8. Crystal Kieloch says:

    I’m disappointed that most all of these memoirs are “celebrity” memoirs. Given the surge in popularity of the memoir, there is a wide variety of memoirs available that meet regular folks where they live rather than where they don’t.
    If I might, here are my eleven plus one. 🙂 Some ones I’ve loved are The Glass Castle: Jeanette Walls, Realizing River City: Melissa Grunow, Refuge & When Women Were Birds: Terry Tempest Williams Wild: Cheryl Strayed, H is for Hawk: Helen McDonald, Townie: Andre Dubus III, Life Among the Savages: Shirley Jackson, All Over But the Shoutin’: Rick Bragg, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: Kim Stafford, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal: Jeanette Winterson, The Autobiography of a Face Lucy Grealy.

    • Katie says:

      Oh, I loved Autobiography of a Face, too! And listening to H is for Hawk was wonderful – the author narrates it, and that always (usually) enhances the experience.

      We share similar tastes it seems, so I recommend to you Beautiful Affliction by Lene Fogelberg. It’s a book that has stayed with me since reading it.

    • Jennifer N. says:

      I got it on Audible months ago and I wasn’t impressed. However, I also listened shortly after I finished Bossypants (which is known to be much better.) I’ll probably try to listen again because I do LOVE Amy Poehler.

    • Grace says:

      I love Amy Poehler (Parks and Rec is my favourite show of all time), but I wasn’t really all that impressed with her book unfortunately.

  9. SoCalLynn says:

    I am getting ready to read “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation”. Sounds really juicy.

    • Dorothy K says:

      Thanks for mentioning this. I LOVE Carole King and reading about the creative process of artistic genius. PBS aired a program about her life and music several years ago.

      • SoCalLynn says:

        I love Carole King, since I was a little girl, and I saw that PBS show, too. Have you seen the Carole King and James Taylor concert at the Troubador that PBS plays now and then? I SO wish I could have seen that concert!

        • Debi Morton says:

          I love that concert Carole King/James Taylor concert! It’s one of my favorites on PBS, and one of the few during which I won’t gritch about all the telethon breaks.

  10. Lindsey Aylward says:

    I don’t think of myself as a nonfiction reader, but I’ve actually read more than half of these! So funny.

  11. Jennifer N. says:

    I’ve had The Princess Diarist on hold from my library’s digital collection for months. I’m still patiently waiting (#13 of 12 copies, now!). I love Star Wars and when I was a little girl, I was Princess Leia, so this is my pick. Although, some of these look pretty interesting and I’ll probably have to check them out, as well.

    • Amy says:

      I was disappointed in The Princess Diarist, but so many people have raved about Carrie’s writing so I’m going to try “Wishful Drinking.” It’s been on hold for quite some time at my library too.

  12. Grace says:

    When I think juicy memoir the first book that comes to my mind is Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness by Suzy Favor Hamilton. While reading it I just kept thinking, “Is this real? I can’t believe this is real.” It’s crazy and yet still has such an important, powerful message.

  13. Debi Morton says:

    Anne, would you recommend “Life in Motion…” for an almost 13 year old? She has a passion for ballet, so I’m always searching for books for her. But it needs to not have language, etc. Her dad, my son, is a pastor; she goes to Christian school, etc. So knowing that, do you thing Misty’s story would be appropriate.

  14. I’m thrilled you listened to Stories I only tell my friends. 🙂 🙂

    I heard from a friend that Born to run is of a similar vein and I’m also not a big fan of Springsteen but can appreciate the genius, so I’m going to give that one a go too.

    I also hear good things about Open – Andre Agassi.

    Anne, have you read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother? I LOVED THIS BOOK. Also recommend the audible version as you get a real sense of the author and her sense of humour which is surprising and endearing.

    • Debi Morton says:

      I read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” years ago, and found it so fascinating. Even in the written book her humor came through. My IRL book club discussed that one, and had great fun with it.
      Don’t tell her, but I think my DIL may have a little bit of the Tiger Mother in her😮😉.

    • Amy says:

      “Stories” is really great especially in audio because Rob narrates it. He has a very charming way of introducing his celebrity friends.

      Born to Run is also good in audio for the same reason, but the focus is much more about what drives him as a musician. I found the first 1/4 a little slow moving.

      Open is amazing. Possibly my favorite memoir ever. So well done.

    • Lauren says:

      I was about to comment recommending Open. Really good and thoughtful, even if you are not a tennis fan. Lots for parents to think about.

  15. Julie says:

    I surprised myself by loving Drew Barrymore’s memoir, Wildflower. She drops the F-bomb a few times, but it honestly didn’t bother me because of her upbeat attitude and love of life! She had such a crazy childhood, I just kept dropping my jaw and shaking my head. Loved Glass Castle too!! Jeanette Walls is amazing.

  16. I always love seeing a list of memoirs to check out! 🙂 I particularly loved Come To The Edge by Christina Haag–it was one of your reader recommendations for you on your podcast. I thought it was riveting, beautifully written and fascinating without being too ‘dishy’. It’s definitely going in the ‘juicy memoirs’ category for me this year! 🙂

  17. Mary H says:

    I second the memoir Open by Andre Agassi. It’s actually ghostwritten by JR Moehringer, journalist and author of The Tender Bar (another great memoir). I don’t follow tennis, but the writing and detail in this story make it an engrossing read. There’s a lot of juicy, and some very funny moments, too. Highly recommend the audio version.

  18. Amy says:

    I’ve read more than half the list and enjoyed all of them. I didn’t think of myself as a memoir reader and definitely not a celebrity memoir reader, but audio books have changed that for me. I really enjoy listening to them tell their stories to me. A few to add:
    On Writing by Stephen King (laugh out loud funny in parts)
    A life in parts by Bryan Cranston

  19. Jenn says:

    Wildflower​ by Drew Barrymore and Boys In the Trees by Carly Simon were definitely interesting and eyebrow raising lol. Carly’s book is especially fantastic on audible!

  20. I recently discovered my affinity for memoirs, and boy do I love them now. I’m SO excited to read this list. I’ve poured through the mainstream ones like Fey, Poehler, Kaling, and so on. Now I want some with a bit more depth to them. Can’t wait!! Thank you for this list!

  21. Susan says:

    Fun list! I heard an interview with Mastromonaco on the podcast Lit Up and I’m so very excited to read her book. Why isn’t it at the library yet?
    Also- rob Lowe is fantastic narrating his book. Loved it!
    That is all!

  22. I love a juicy memoir!
    I loved Born a Crime (it was fantastic on audio…Noah’s accent really makes it, so nice to listen to) and added Who Thought This Was a Good Idea to my audio TBR list! I’ve been hearing lots of great buzz about it.

  23. Casey says:

    I chose Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller as my Juicy Memoir for the 2017 Reading Challenge. It’s about a woman who grew up with parents who were hoarders. It was a pretty good one!
    I just started the Audible version of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty, and it is FASCINATING. Ms. Doughty got a job in a crematory as a way of dealing with her fears of death, after witnessing a falling death as an 8 year old. So far it’s both graphic and incredibly thoughtful. Not for the faint of heart, but juicy for sure.

  24. Erin says:

    Lab Girl was my juicy memoir selection. Perfectly juicy for a science geek. It was so much more than I thought it would be.

  25. I’m almost finished with Alyssa Mastromanaco’s book and while the writing isn’t the strongest, the dishy details are so interesting. You’re right, if you like the West Wing or are fans of anything political, you’ll enjoy hearing these behind the scenes stories. I’m adding a few more of these to my list.

  26. Jenn says:

    These are mostly new, and there are some good ones in there.
    I also like the letters and diaries of Anne Morrow Lindbergh – starting with Bring Me a Unicorn.
    And, I think mentioned in a recent podcast, West With The Night. So good!

  27. Aimee says:

    I read Seth Haine’s memoir, Coming Clean, for this category and LOVED it. The book is a couple years old, I think, but it was new to me. Even though alcoholism hasn’t been a struggle for me, I so resonated with his raw account of wrestling with ones own brokenness and the heartbreaks of parenting. It was beautifully written and I totally recommend it. Especially for those looking for a regular life, non-celebrity memoir.

  28. Kristine says:

    Definitely would recommend Talking As Fast As I Can. Like you said – it is inevitable. I read the physical book but I also did hear it is fantastic to listen to her voice in the audiobook.

    Have you read her first book?

  29. Sara Fairchild says:

    I especially love memoirs on audiobook in the authors’ own voices. Will try some of these! This year I have enjoyed Dick Van Dyke’s “My Lucky Life in and out of Show Business”, Phil Collins’ “Not Dead Yet” (I am a child of the 80’s), and Miranda Hart’s “Is it Just Me?” (normal, hilarious stories of being awkward)

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