Memoirs for your Reading Challenge

A Homemade Life
After her father died, Molly Wizenburg didn’t know what to do with herself. So she went to Paris, and later, she started a blog. No spoilers here, so let’s just say I especially loved hearing about how the internet introduced the author to new, life-changing relationships. This memoir made me laugh, cry, check airfare to Paris, and curse my low carb diet. Completely and utterly charming, accompanied by tasty recipes.
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Austin Channing Brown is one of my favorite follows: I appreciate her perspective so much and have been eager to get her words into my hands in book-length format. The book opens with a story from the library, but it's not a warm and fuzzy one. Austin reveals that her parents named her Austin so that future employers would believe she was a white man, thus opening doors that would typically be closed to a black woman. She writes extensively about how white, middle-class Christians, though well-intentioned, perpetuate racial tensions—and provides guidance on what genuinely effective perspectives and behaviors could actually look like. A great read, important and timely.
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When Ruth Reichl takes the plum job of New York Times food critic, she’s determined to let ordinary diners know what the city’s great restaurants are really like. What's so hard about that? But she soon discovers that the Times food critic is no ordinary diner: her headshot adorns the wall of every kitchen in the city so the staff can spot her—and wow her. Not you. So Reichl goes undercover, enlisting the help of an old theater friend to become a sultry blond, a gregarious redhead, and a tweedy brunette, each with her own backstory. Her mission: to experience the city's great restaurants as just another diner. A fascinating read for any foodie, or student of human nature.
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'I am stockpiling antibiotics for the Apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen,' Anne Lamott admits at the beginning of Almost Everything. From the publisher: "Despair and uncertainty surround us: in the news, in our families, and in ourselves. But even when life is at its bleakest--when we are, as she puts it, 'doomed, stunned, exhausted, and over-caffeinated'--the seeds of rejuvenation are at hand. 'All truth is paradox,' Lamott writes, 'and this turns out to be a reason for hope.' We must pledge not to give up but 'to do what Wendell Berry wrote: 'Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.''"
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Deresiewicz had zero interest in reading Jane Austen—he thought it was chick-lit, fluffy and boring. But then as a young grad student he was forced to read Emma for class, and actually reading Austen shattered his preconceptions. A Jane Austen Education is part memoir, part literary criticism: Deresiewicz reflects on the path of his own life through each of Jane Austen’s novels in turn. It works.
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James McBride is probably best known for his first book, memoir The Color of Water. It won all kinds of awards, was highly praised by the critics (not that that necessarily matters, but we're going to put that as a check in the pro column). The subtitle is A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. McBride's parents had an interracial marriage back in the 1940s in America. Living now, it's almost difficult to fathom until I read something like this, just how extremely difficult that was to live in that kind of family then in that place and time. McBride speaks so well and so poignantly in this book about both his own family and their place in the world. It's really really beautiful. McBride is writing from his own experience as a native New Yorker and a musician (he studied at Oberlin College and Columbia). His writing style is clearly well-crafted and carefully honed and he's written about a wide variety of topics and yet manages to have a body of work that doesn't at all feel scattered. McBride writes about the things he's interested in in new and fascinating ways with a journalist's eye and a journalist's pen. He's written memoir, nonfiction, fiction. (You can listen to me recommend James McBride to Carly Friedman on What Should I Read Next Episode 119 and I was glad to hear McBride is on her TBR list.)
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“Quotidian” means “ordinary,” or “everyday,” and in this slim volume (88 pages!) Norris affirms the inherent worth of the mundane tasks that consume our everyday–the cooking, the cleaning, the dishes, the diapering. “What is it about repetitive acts that makes us feel that we are wasting our time?” Norris asks. Yet she insists that our daily activities are anything but trivial, and have the power to shape our souls, if we let them. A beautiful book worth reading over and over again.
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The haunting story of Angelou's childhood in the American South in the 1930s. If this is one you've been meaning to read, give the audio version a try: Angelou's lilting voice brings her powerful, touching story to life.
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Karr unpacks the key elements of great literary memoir and breaks down her own creative process. It’s not just a book for writers: of the book’s 200 pages, only 35 or so are devoted to “how-to.” Frequent readers will also enjoy a peek behind the curtain of Karr's work and that of dozens of other memoirists: what differentiates good work from mediocre, and why do some stories ring true while others falter? For those who'd like to read more, Karr provides a terrific (and long) reading list in the back of the book. This was a great reading experience.
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This is an exceptional book for book lovers and a must-read for writers, and I'm saying that as someone who has read a grand total of two books by King. (The other is 11/22/63.) I thoroughly enjoyed his descriptions of his fiction writing process (although his descriptions convinced me that I never, ever want to read Carrie.) I especially enjoyed the anecdotes he shared about his marriage, and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough when he explores his devastating car wreck and recovery.
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In Alexander's words: "The story seems to begin with catastrophe but in fact began earlier and is not a tragedy but rather a love story." The author's husband died just four days after his fiftieth birthday. A few years later, Alexander looks back on their life together, their love, and the impact of that loss in her life. The author is a poetry professor at Yale, which is obvious in the story's richness and language. Her source material is fantastic: Alexander is an American, born in Harlem. Her husband was born in Eritrea, in East Africa, and came to New Haven as a refugee from war. Both were artists—that’s his painting on the cover of the book—and their home sounds like this amazing, vibrant, multicultural extravaganza with food and friends and music and art. I could barely put this down, and while sad, it exudes joy. Heads up for audiophiles: Alexander's narration of her own work is magnificent. Published April 15 2015.
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I actually read this before our current Quick Lit window, but I haven't yet given it the attention it deserves here on the blog, and it's such a gem I wanted to make sure it was on your radar for the 2018 Reading Challenge, perhaps as "a book you can read in a day", or "a memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction." These 52 "micro-memoirs" are by turns quirky, witty, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny, and so different from pretty much anything else I've ever read.
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Krakauer climbed Mt. Everest while on assignment for Outside Magazine in 1996, which would become the deadliest year in the history of the mountain. 8 people died on the mountain the day Krakauer himself summited; 15 died that season. Krakauer made it back down to tell the tale of what it was like on the mountain that May. A first-class adventure story.
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