7 underrated memoirs that deserve a place on your TBR list.

Last week I shared 8 favorite memoirs I keep coming back to, as inspired by Mary Karr’s new release The Art of Memoir.

Today I’m sharing 7 more of my favorite memoirs. Here’s what sets these apart: in last week’s list, you’d probably heard of all (or certainly most) of the titles already. But these are memoirs you have to be on the lookout for: you won’t spy them on a bestseller list, or stumble upon them at your local bookstore.

I heard about these wonderful books from fellow readers, word of mouth, who either encouraged me to read a book I’d never seen before, or persuaded me to read a book I would have otherwise overlooked because of the reviews.

That’s my definition of “underrated.” I can’t wait to hear your underrated favorites in comments.

7 underrated memoirs
You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

I was flabbergasted on my first reading by how smart and entertaining Eleanor Roosevelt was. (I should have known better, but I didn't. My mistake.) Roosevelt penned this book—part memoir, part advice manual—in 1960, when she was 76 years old. It’s striking how fresh and wise her insight seems today, over fifty years later. Roosevelt offers an interesting perspective on history, unique insights into her life (which contained a surprising amount of personal tragedy), and a good bit of wisdom you might just apply to your own life. More info →
A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, And The Things That Really Matter

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, And The Things That Really Matter

This is one of my favorite Jane Austen memoirs. (Yep, that's a real genre.) 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. Part memoir, part literary criticism: Deresiewicz reflects on the path of his own life through each of Jane Austen’s novels in turn. You'll want to go back and re-read Jane after finishing this book. A good thing, I think. More info →
Any Day A Beautiful Change: A Story Of Faith And Family

Any Day A Beautiful Change: A Story Of Faith And Family

I adore this 114-page collection of bite-sized essays about marriage, ministry, and motherhood, and have shoved it into the hands of more readers than I can count. Those topics may be dry in other hands, but Willis Pershey writes writes beautifully about the places where those things collide–and sometimes those collisions are pretty bumpy (and hilarious). Genuine, inspirational, and moving, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. More info →
An American Childhood

An American Childhood

When Annie Dillard is discussed these days, it's either for her Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or her cult classic The Writing Life. Nobody talks much any more about her poignant and whimsical memoir about her idyllic childhood in 1950s Pittsburgh. That's a shame. My favorite parts are when Dillard turns her thoughtful, poetic style to the subject of reading: how she "opened books like jars" and fell in love with the written word for keeps. More info →
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis

Of all Winner's books, this one has the lowest rating on Goodreads. I understand why: there are more than a few lackluster chapters breaking up the good parts. But the good parts are so good this book is well worth the effort, especially if you've resonated with Lauren's previous works.

More info →
The Getaway Car

The Getaway Car

Everyone knows Ann Patchett, but readers tend to overlook this e-only mini-memoir. Patchett sketches a path from childhood through the completion of her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. Stops along the way include her college years, a failed marriage, the Iowa writing program, and a waitressing stint at TGIFriday’s. I loved this one enough to include it in the summer reading guide. A great read for any Patchett fan, but an absolute must-read for you writerly types. More info →
When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over

When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over

This spiritual memoir has prompted so many wonderful conversations amongst my friends and family members about growing up evangelical, and I find myself recommending it regularly. Addie’s gift is to make you feel the emotional weight of the seemingly no-big-deal yet simultaneously life-altering events common to a particular brand of Christian adolescence and young adulthood. I'm eagerly anticipating her second book, due out next year. More info →

Do you have a favorite underrated memoir? Give it some word-of-mouth love and us all about it in comments.

7 underrated memoirs that deserve a place on your TBR list.


Leave A Comment
  1. Sarah P says:

    I love “River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze” by Peter Hessler. My Dad gave me the memoir “Hamlet’s Dresser” by Bob Smith. It is one of my favorites.

  2. Janice says:

    I love Addie Zierman. She’s brilliant.

    And I read a Jane Austen Education on your recommendation a long time ago and found it made me love Austen even more. Which is saying something.

  3. Tim says:

    Maggie Thatcher’s 2 volume memoirs were well worth the read, especially The Downing Street Years. These have passed from popularity so might fit the category of presently underrated.

  4. Michele says:

    A Jane Austen Education has reshaped my education and teaching ideals. I don’t know what I would do without it and always push it on my friends/colleagues who scoff when I mention Austen. So far only one has absolutely refused to read it and the others have given Austen a chance since reading it.

  5. liz n. says:

    “The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest,” by John Gerard.

    After being captured and tortured, he escaped the Tower of London. If that doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what will…

  6. Dana says:

    Love, love The Getaway Car by Patchett. I also loved This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I devoured it!

    Jane Austen Education and the one by Eleanor Roosevelt both sound great..OOPS there goes the teetering TBR pile again! : )

  7. I loved Girl Meets God, but Still was a little lackluster for me, too. Maybe I just wasn’t at the right place to read it. My GoodReads review was that I liked her writing in Still, I just didn’t like her anymore. Which is kinda weird.

    I also love Truth and Beauty by Patchett, so I’ll check out that other one by her!

    A couple memoirs I adore: Atlas Girl by Emily Wierenga; It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell; All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg; Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen; Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks; The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore; Almost French by Sarah Turnbull.

    I love some memoir. Sorry for that giant list. 😉

    • Anne says:

      I haven’t read ANY of the memoirs you say you adore, even though several have been on my list for years because of their great reviews and excellent titles (like Bragg’s and Quindlen’s).

  8. Steph says:

    I’m glad to see An American Childhood by Dillard on this list. I first read this for a college application (I did not end up applying, though!). After, I checked out every book she wrote. I still try to bring out her parents’ jokes at parties 🙂

    I really enjoyed What now? by Patchett (Audiobook), so I’ll have to checkout The Getaway Car. Thanks!

  9. Jeanne says:

    The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma is a memoir for book lovers, and one I highly recommend! It’s about a girl and her father who read books together every night for years. Through the ups and downs of her growing up, it was how they stayed connected. One of those books that will stay with you, especially if you are raising children. Also has a great list of the many books they read together.

  10. Aubrey says:

    I loved When We Were On Fire. It helped me heal through a lot of things, and it was so nice to feel like I wasn’t the only one who was really messed up by these things that, on the surface, seemed really inconsequential.

    I also loved Mark Twain’s Roughing It and every memoir-like thing by John Steinbeck–Working Days, The Log From The Sea of Cortez, the parts of Cannery Row and East of Eden that are more memoir than novel.

  11. Steph says:

    I really enjoyed When We Were on Fire. I called up my siblings and read portions aloud because so much of it emulated our teen years. It also made me wonder how we’ll handle youth group for our kids when they’re old enough. Especially since my husband is on staff at an evangelical church. Thankfully our current youth pastors seem very aware of and avoid emotional and spiritual manipulation.

  12. M.E. Bond says:

    I loved A Jane Austen Education. Now I want to read Eleanor Roosevelt’s book. (I have a daughter named Eleanor, so I feel it’s my duty. Plus it is amazing how tirelessly she worked throughout her life!)

  13. Ally says:

    “When We Were on Fire” was life changing for me, I also really loved “My Sisters the Saints” by Colleen Campbell and “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom

  14. djes says:

    I love memoirs. Some of my favorites:
    I am Malala — Malala Yousafzai (to understand our world)
    The Road from Coorain — Jill Ker Conway
    700 Sundays — Billy Crystal (tribute to his father)
    An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth — Chris Hadfield
    Glitter and Glue — Kelly Corrigan (for any mother who ever felt under appreciated)

  15. Pamela says:

    I love a good memoir!! Thanks for these recommendations.
    I recently read Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols. What a surprisingly delightful memoir. It’s a good thing it’s late fall, or I would have gone and spent a fortune at the garden center! I highly recommend it ?

  16. donna says:

    I am at the bookstore right now and was just having a discussion with my favourite bookstore employee. She doesn’t share my love of memoirs. She prefers history and political science.
    One of my favourite memoirs
    They Left Us Everything by
    Plum Johnson. (It’s pretty
    popular here because she’s
    Canadian. Not sure if it’s gotten much press in the
    And I just promised myself I will read “Long Walk to
    Freedom” by Nelson Mandela
    before year end! This one has
    been on my TBR list since my
    university days.
    Thanks for sharing!

  17. Ooh, I’m adding A Jane Austen Education to my TBR list right now! I love When We Were on Fire (and everything Addie writes). For what it’s worth, I blazed through An American Childhood, but I can’t seem to finish Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for the life of me.

    My favorite underrated memoir that didn’t make this list is Mud & Poetry by Tyler Blanski. It’s a glorious merging of the ordinary and the sacred, and I can’t get enough of it. And I ADORE Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennelly. It’s the most beautiful collection of essays, and I wish more people had heard of it.

  18. Asha says:

    I’m definitely adding A Jane Austen Education and You Learn By Living to my ever-growing TBR list!
    My favourite memoir is ‘West With the Night’ by Beryl Markham. I wish more people read and talked about this book because its well worth tracking down. Markham grew up mostly in colonial Kenya (think Out of Africa) and was the first women to fly solo across the Atlantic. Her memoir is lyrical, it reads almost like poetry its so beautifully written. I guess there has been some controversy as to whether she actually wrote it, or it was written by her husband, but either way doesn’t detract from its beauty.

  19. Pamela says:

    I almost forgot. Mary Beth Chapmans, Choosing to See. If you haven’t read it yet, you must. Especially considering the circumstances you’ve gone through this last year. I want to know what you think of it!!?

  20. Vanessa says:

    The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig. It was such an interesting book and she only ever wrote knitting how-to’s after that one.

  21. Sharon says:

    Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the List Children of Nepal be Connor Grennan; Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living With Joy by Susan Spencer-Wendell

  22. Stephanie says:

    I LOVED What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang. This book was a beautifully written, highly addictive avalanche of emotions from cover to cover. I came into this book expecting to gain insight into Maya’s life and relationship with her mother, hopeful that I could learn from her stories to better write my own. Instead, I gained an insight into my own life, my own expectations, my own relationships, my own sense of motherhood and mothering. I laughed, I cried and I cried some more as Maya seemed to speak directly to me, leaving me with lessons on the page that I could not escape. I do not have the words to adequately state how much this book has truly impacted my heart, so I’ll just leave it at this: This book has forever changed how I view myself, my mother, motherhood and the tangled bonds woven between each. It’s a beautiful memoir.

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