Prepare to be Overwhelmed… By Memoir!

Gus, Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Creative Commons License photo credit: adobemac

If you’ve been feeling like everyone and their neighbor is writing a memoir, well EW’s list proves your hunch to be true!  I realize this list is overwhelming, but it’s also kind of fun.  Be sure to check out which ones EW picks at the very end…  Ready, Set, Go!


Grew up…
In Texas: A Strong West Wind, by Gail Caldwell (2006)
In the Midwest: Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships, by John T. Price (2008)
In Pittsburgh: Hoop Roots, by John Edgar Wideman (2001)
In Wisconsin: Falling Through the Earth, by Danielle Trussoni (2006)
In youth shelters: Girlbomb, by Janice Erlbaum (2006)
In foster care: Hope’s Boy, by Andrew Bridge (2008)
On a Depression-era Iowa farm: Little Heathens, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (2007)
In WWII-era Singapore: The Thorn of Lion City, by Lucy Lum (2007)
In rural Appalachia: All Over but the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg (1997)
In Hawaii: Light Years, by Susanna Moore (2008)
In Ireland: Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt (1996)
In Jamaica: From Harvey River, by Lorna Goodison (2008)
In Peru: American Chica, by Marie Arana (2001)
In Japan: Yakuza Moon, by Shoko Tendo (2007)
In Rhodesia: Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller (2001)
In a Havana slum: No Way Home, by Carlos Acosta (2008)
In war-torn Sudan: They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, by Benjamin Ajak, Alephonsion Deng, and Benson Deng, with Judy A. Bernstein (2005)
In war-torn Kabul: The Other Side of the Sky, by Farah Ahmedi, with Tamin Ansary (2005)
In a polygamous sect: Stolen Innocence, by Elissa Wall, with Lisa Pulitzer (2008)
In a Hmong refugee camp: The Latehomecomer, by Kao Kalia Yang (2008)
In a remote Himalayan village: Leaving Mother Lake, by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu (2003)
In a neighborhood tavern: The Tender Bar, by J.R. Moehringer (2005)
In a psychiatrist’s home: Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs (2002)
In the Playboy Mansion: Playground, by Jennifer Saginor (2005)
In Macbeth’s castle: A Charmed Life, by Liza Campbell (2007)
In a haunted house: I’m Looking Through You, by Jennifer Finney Boylan (2008)

Family History

Father was part black: One Drop, by Bliss Broyard (2007)
Father was Jewish: When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, by Peter Godwin (2007)
Prominent father was secretly gay: The Bishop’s Daughter, by Honor Moore (2008)
Father cheated and was a morphine addict: Who Do You Think You Are?, by Alyse Myers (2008)
Father was a petty criminal and mother was caught up in the Red scare: Crisis, Pursued by Disaster, Followed Closely by Catastrophe, by Mike O’Connor (2007)
Mother left a convent and assumed a false identity: Family Romance, by John Lanchester (2007)

Reunited with…
Ailing brother: Apples & Oranges, by Marie Brenner (2008)
Biological parents: The Mistress’s Daughter, by A.M. Homes (2007)
Long-lost identical twin: Identical Strangers, by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein (2007)

Loved ones (human and animal)
Rich: Oh the Hell of It All, by Pat Montandon (2007)
A polygamist: Shattered Dreams, by Irene Spencer (2007)
A gay man: First Comes Love, by Marion Winik (1996)

Dealt with…
Divorce: Split, by Suzanne Finnamore (2008)
Bad relationships: Seducing the Demon, Erica Jong (2006)
Coming out: Mississippi Sissy, by Kevin Sessums (2007)
A troubled niece: Breakfast With Tiffany, by Edwin John Wintle (2005)
Becoming a mother figure to a homeless teenaged girl: Have You Found Her, by Janice Erlbaum (2008)
Double-dating with his recently widowed father: Assisted Loving, by Bob Morris (2008)

Fell in love with…
A married man: Necessary Sins, by Lynn Darling (2007)
A capuchin monkey: Kasey to the Rescue, by Ellen Rogers (2009)
His dog: Marley & Me, by John Grogan (2005)
Her pet pig: The Good Good Pig, by Sy Montgomery (2006)
His truck: Truck: A Love Story, by Michael Perry (2006)
His garden: The $64 Tomato, by William Alexander (2006)


Adolescence: The Discomfort Zone, by Jonathan Franzen (2006)
Middle age: Waiting for My Cats to Die, by Stacy Horn (2001)
Being normal: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2005)
Infertility: Waiting for Daisy, by Peggy Orenstein (2007)
Parents’ divorce: Dark at the Roots, by Sarah Thyre (2007)
Motherhood: Baby Love, by Rebecca Walker (2007)
Fatherhood as a hipster: Alternadad, by Neal Pollack (2007)
Teen pregnancy: Without a Map, by Meredith Hall (2007)
Being a virgin: Superstud, by Paul Feig (2005)
Med school: Body of Work, Christine Montross (2007)
Plagiarism scandal: Burning Down My Masters’ House, by Jayson Blair (2004)
A sinister father: A Wolf at the Table, by Augusten Burroughs (2008)
Baldness (from chemotherapy): Bald in the Land of Big Hair, by Joni Rodgers (2001)
Shaving her head: Tongue First, by Emily Jenkins (1998)
A stay in a mental hospital: Life Inside, by Mindy Lewis (2002)
Having big breasts: Stacked, by Susan Seligson (2007)
The Pillsbury Bake-Off: The Ungarnished Truth, by Ellie Mathews (2008)
Climbing Mount Everest: Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer (1997)
Being kidnapped: The Birthday Party, by Stanley N. Alpert (2007)
Being a POW: 1001 Nights in Iraq, by Shant Kenderian (2007)
Being trapped in prison during the Iranian revolution: Prisoner of Tehran, by Marina Nemat (2007)
Life under the Khmer Rouge: When Broken Glass Floats, by Chanrithy Him (2000)
Over 10 years in an Indonesian penal colony: The Mute’s Soliloquy, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1999)
18 months undercover as a man: ]Self-Made Man, by Norah Vincent (2006)
Fat camp: Moose, by Stephanie Klein (2008)
Murder attempts by two girlfriends: Thick as Thieves, by Steve Geng (2007)
Buying a piano: Grand Obsession, by Perri Knize (2008)


Alcohol: Drinking: A Love Story, by Caroline Knapp (1996)
Cocaine: Broken, by William Cope Moyers, with Katherine Ketcham (2006)
Meth: Leaving Dirty Jersey, by James Salant (2007)
Ritalin: More, Now, Again, by Elizabeth Wurtzel (2002)
Gambling: Born to Lose, by Bill Lee (2005)
Sex: Love Sick, by Sue William Silverman (2001)
Everything: A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey (2003)
Scrabble: Word Freak, by Stefan Fatsis (2001)

Mother addicted to…
Alcohol: Circling My Mother, by Mary Gordon (2007)
Cocaine: The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here, by Felicia C. Sullivan (2008)
Sex: Her Last Death, by Susanna Sonnenberg (2008)
Plastic surgery: The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, by Robert Leleux (2008)

Father addicted to…
Alcohol: The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (2005)
Glamour and power: Them, by Francine du Plessix Gray (2005)


Sexual abuse: The End of the World as We Know It, by Robert Goolrick (2007)
Sexual abuse in prison: Fish, by T.J. Parsell (2006)
Incest: Driving With Dead People, by Monica Holloway (2007)
Beatings from his sister: Perishable, by Dirk Jamison (2006)
Brutal fraternity hazing: Goat, by Brad Land (2004)
An unhealthy religious fixation and eating disorders: Seeking Rapture, by Kathryn Harrison (2003)
Mother’s abandonment: The Mother Knot, by Kathryn Harrison (2004)
An affair with her father: The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison (1997)

Diseases, disorders & a lobotomy

Suffered from…
Bipolar disorder: Manic, by Terri Cheney (2008)
Multiple personalities: The Magic Daughter, by Jane Phillips (1995)
Mania: Electroboy, by Andy Behrman (2002)
Asperger’s: Look Me in the Eye, by John Elder Robison (2007)
Polio: Warm Springs, by Susan Richards Shreve (2007)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Devil in the Details, by Jennifer Traig (2004)
ADHD: ADHD & Me, by Blake E. S. Taylor (2008)
Early-onset Alzheimer’s: Losing My Mind, by Thomas Debaggio (2002)
Cardiomyopathy: Sick Girl, by Amy Silverstein (2007)
Schizophrenia: The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn R. Saks (2007)
An eating disorder: Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher (1998)
Cancer: My Own Medicine, by Geoffrey Kurland, M.D. (2002)
Hypochondria: Hyper-Chondriac, by Brian Frazer (2007)
Active autoimmune hepatitis: Tiger’s Eye, by Inga Clendinnen (2001)
Paralysis: Waking, by Matthew Sanford (2006)
A lobotomy: My Lobotomy, by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming (2007)
Anxiety: A Brief History of Anxiety (Yours & Mine), by Patricia Pearson (2008)
Bad teeth: Experience, by Martin Amis (2000)

Mother suffered from…
Schizophrenia: My Mother’s Keeper, Tara Elgin Holley, with Joe Holley (1997)

Father suffered from…
Schizophrenia: The Outsider, by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer (2000)
Prostate cancer: Pig Candy, by Lise Funderburg (2008)

Sister suffered from…
Schizophrenia and cancer: Relative Stranger, by Mary Loudon (2007)

Husband suffered from…
Brain damage: A Three Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas (2007)


Decided to…

Be a food writer: The Man Who Ate Everything, by Jeffrey Steingarten (1997)
Be a restaurant critic: Tender at the Bone, by Ruth Reichl (1998)
Attend Le Cordon Bleu: The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, by Kathleen Flinn (2007)
Go to the great European cooking schools: The Saucier’s Apprentice, by Bob Spitz (2008)
Cook locally for one year: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver (2007)
Tell her family’s story through one dish: The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, by Laura Schenone (2007)
Work as a kitchen assistant in a famous restaurant: Heat, by Bill Buford (2006)
Cook every recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell (2005)
Evoke his childhood via the food his mother cooked: Toast, by Nigel Slater (2004)
Tell the story of her courtship through food: Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser (2003)
Eat everything she could in China, no matter how strange: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, by Fuchsia Dunlop (2008)
Eat anything, no matter how disgusting: The Year of Eating Dangerously, by Tom Parker Bowles (2007)


Coped with…
Abandoning her faith: Easter Everywhere, by Darcey Steinke (2007)
Embracing her faith: Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott (1999)
His Jewish roots: Foreskin’s Lament, by Shalom Auslander (2007)
Becoming a Buddhist: This Side of Nirvana, by Sara Jenkins (2001)
Becoming a Methodist minister: Grace, by Mary Cartledgehayes (2003)
Juggling her faith with her love for an Italian priest: The Scent of God, by Beryl Singleton Bissell (2006)
Following the Bible to the letter: The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs (2007)
Life as an Amish boy who became a Mennonite: From Dawn to Dusk, by Will Troyer (2003)
Life as a Wiccan high priestess: The Love Spell, by Phyllis Curott (2005)
Being possessed by the devil: Running From the Devil, by Steve Kissing (2003)

Racial identity

Life as a biracial child: The Color of Water, by James McBride (1996)
Racism abroad: Kinky Gazpacho, by Lori L. Tharps (2008)
Her rigid Chinese family values in suburban New York: Daughter of Heaven, by Leslie Li (2005)
Fighting for Latino civil rights: Memoir of a Visionary, by Antonia Pantoja (2002)
Overcoming racism as the daughter of a Panamanian mother: Mama’s Girl, by Veronica Chambers (1996)
Life as a black man in a 99.9% white, racist town: Not a Genuine Black Man, by Brian Copeland (2006)
Racism directed toward her adoptive African-American brother in rural Indiana:Jesus Land, by Julia Scheeres (2005)
Being an African-American who passed as a white woman: The Black Notebooks, by Toi Derricotte (1997)
Being a white man who worked for African-American journalism outlets: Nitty Gritty, by Ben Burns (1996)
Racism in a German orphanage: Invisible Woman, by Ika Hügel-Marshall (2001)
Being biracial in WWII-era China: Things That Must Not Be Forgotten, by Michael David Kwan (2001)
Being gay in Mexican culture: Butterfly Boy, by Rigoberto González (2006)
Rejecting his peers’ prejudices as a child to play jazz with veteran black musicians in New Orleans: Song for My Fathers, by Tom Sancton (2006)
Being the only African-American commercial deep-sea diver working in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa: Black Man Under the Deep Blue Sea, by Tony Wells (2007)


As a waiter: Service Included, by Phoebe Damrosch (2007)
As a veterinarian: Tell Me Where It Hurts, by Dr. Nick Trout (2008)
As a New York City cop: Blue Blood, by Edward Conlon (2004)
At Tiffany’s: Summer at Tiffany, by Marjorie Hart (2007)
As a wedding photographer: Exposed, by Claire Lewis (2008)
In the Army: Love My Rifle More Than You, by Kayla Williams and Michael E. Staub (2005)
As an English teacher in China: River Town, by Peter Hessler (2001)
As a Rolling Stone writer: But Enough About Me, by Jancee Dunn (2006)
As a male escort: Dandy in the Underworld, by Sebastian Horsley (2008)
As a hip-hop dancer: Confessions of a Video Vixen, by Karrine Steffans (2005)
In the drug trade: Mr. Untouchable, by Leroy ”Nicky” Barnes and Tom Folsom (2007)
As a porn star: My Undoing, by Aiden Shaw (2006)
As an undercover mobster: Covert, by Bob Delaney and Dave Scheiber (2008)
As an undercover motorcycle gang member: Under and Alone, by William Queen (2005)
As a private investigator, copywriter, and at an auction house: Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, David Goodwillie (2006)
As a guard at Sing Sing: Newjack, by Ted Conover (2000)
As a Starbucks barista: How Starbucks Saved My Life, Michael Gates Gill (2007)
As a monk: Turtle Feet, by Nikolai Grozni (2008)
As a geisha: Autobiography of a Geisha, by Sayo Masuda (2004)
As a Somali-born member of the Dutch parliament: Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2007)
As a Japanese bar hostess: Bar Flower, by Lea Jacobson (2008)
As a translator in Chad refugee camps: The Translator, by Daoud Hari (2008)
As a child soldier in Sierra Leone: A Long Way Home, by Ishmael Beah (2007)
As a Tokyo day laborer: A Man With No Talents, by Oyama Shiro (2005)
As a Maine-based chaplain to game wardens: Here if You Need Me, by Kate Braestrup (2007)
As an ad exec by day and a 7-foot-tall drag queen by night: I Am Not Myself These Days, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell (2006)

To Rome to live with his family: Four Seasons in Rome, by Anthony Doerr (2007)
To several countries to recover from divorce: Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
To Alaska to fly-fish: Backcast, by Lou Ureneck (2007)
Around the world to sample food: Around the World in 80 Dinners, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (2008)
To India to document her life story: Daughter of the Ganges, by Asha Miró (2006)
To Afghanistan as a war correspondent and to connect with her roots: The Storyteller’s Daughter, by Saira Shah (2003)
Across Asia in search of enlightenment: Ultimate Journey, by Richard Bernstein (2001)
To Haiti to help local orphans: Angels of a Lower Flight, by Susie Scott Krabacher (2007)
To Pakistan, where he built schools: Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (2006)
To Vietnam to retrace his former-Marine father’s tour of duty: The Father of All Things, by Tom Bissell (2007)
To U.S. rivers to swim across them: Nine Ways to Cross a River, by Akiko Busch (2007)
To Egypt to row the Nile: Down the Nile, by Rosemary Mahoney (2007)
Across the Americas riding her motorcycle: Lois on the Loose, by Lois Pryce (2007)
To Kabul, where she started a beauty school: Kabul Beauty School, by Deborah Rodriguez (2007)
To Kenya to join a baboon troop: A Primate’s Memoir, by Robert M. Sapolsky (2001)
To China to become a martial-arts fighting machine: American Shaolin, by Matthew Polly (2007) 


Dealt with loss of…
Husband: The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (2005)
Wife: About Alice, by Calvin Trillin (2006)
Brother: Name All the Animals, by Alison Smith (2004)
Both his siblings: The Los Angeles Diaries, by James Brown (2003)
Father: Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat (2007)
Mother: Bagels and Grits, by Jennifer Anne Moses (2007)
Father and mother: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers (2000)
Daughter: Comfort, by Ann Hood (2008)
Pet ducks, rabbits, and a parrot: Fowl Weather, by Bob Tarte (2007)

EW Picks
Cancer Vixen
by Marisa Acocella Marchetto (2006)
What happens when a New York City lipstick-loving fabulista is diagnosed with breast cancer? Cartoonist Marchetto captures her story in spare, spunky panels — gathering friends and family close, to be sure, but also tottering to chemo on the best heels she can find.

Not Buying It
by Judith Levine (2006)
Imagine coming to terms with your own rampant consumerism. That’s what Levine did for an entire year, buying only necessities. Going to the movies, restaurant meals, even Q-tips — all were taboo.

The Bill From my Father
by Bernard Cooper (2006)
Cooper’s litigious father lashed out at family members, even sending Bernard a $2 milllion bill for his upbringing. But what could have been a catalog of his cruelties is instead a compelling look at a father who was a baffling mix of derision, bitterness, and — yes — love.

Thinking in Pictures
by Temple Grandin (1995)
The author may communicate more easily with cows than humans — but after you read her groundbreaking book about being autistic, you’ll understand why.

Killing Yourself to Live
by Chuck Klosterman (2005)
The author meanders across the U.S. to peer at rock & roll death Sites — like the place where Kurt Cobain shot himself — and muses about fame and mortality in his typically oddball prose.

Strip City
by Lily Burana (2001)
Whatever you might expect from a cross-country stripping odyssey, this surely isn’t it. For one thing, Burana’s eloquent, thoughtful goodbye to her longtime craft of bump-and-grind is decidedly unsexy. For another, her experiences frame a sort of social history of strip clubs and the girls who work at them.

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9 Responses to Prepare to be Overwhelmed… By Memoir!

  1. I have to say that as a memoir-lover, this list kinda irks me because it seems to trivialize the very real issues dealt with in these books! I know it’s just a “fun” list, still, there is something mocking about it….but I guess that’s the EW wouldn’t be entertaining without some mocking….

  2. Cynthia says:

    Holy cowpies, Batman! This is incredible – you could spend your life reading memoirs. Wow. And you know…it doesn’t have the best one on there (mainly because it hasn’t been published yet) – I just finished it last night, by Marian Henley the creator of Maxine – she’s created a GRAPHIC memoir of the story of her adopting a baby from Russia. Gorgeous, funny and will just break your heart. I have never seen such simple drawings convey so much emotion. Amazing artist. I was completely shocked. So I guess I’m plugging the book, eh…sorry. “The Shiniest Jewel” by Marian Henley.
    On the other side – was suprised that Toni Bentley’s memoir “The Surrender” wasn’t listed. Touted to be the “most shocking” memoir. Um…and it is.
    So it’s funny that even though this list you provided is exhausting – it’s not EXHAUSTIVE!! I guess everyone has something to say – which is why we love these blogs so much, eh?

  3. Kristen says:

    You make a really good point! It does seem a bit mocking… I, too, love memoir and believe that everyone has the right to share their specific story. Thank you for your insights!

  4. Kristen says:

    Cynthia — Thank you for the recommendation!! My sister is actually in the process of adopting a baby from Ethiopia so foreign adoption stories are particularly fascinating right now… Haven’t heard of Bentley’s either — I love your comment that the list is exhausting but not exhaustive!! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Memoir Redux | BOOK CLUB CLASSICS!

  6. Sonja says:


  7. Cathy says:

    I highly recommend Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge. Heartwrenching account of growing up in foster care. A must read memoir!

  8. Carol says:

    Thank you for compiling the list of memoirs/category! I love it!
    I have another for the travel/mid-life adventure/unexpected stuff category that’ll be soon added 🙂

    see the book trailer

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