A memoir can be a lot of things: a journey through someone’s life, a look into their mindset at a certain time, a comfort to someone who is going through the same thing, and a source of inspiration for people who want more.
Often, when a memoirist tells their own story, they are speaking to a large group of people.
It’s been a while since we asked Penguin readers on Twitter to tell us what their favorite memoir was. Our to-read lists have grown a lot in a short amount of time. All kinds of books were recommended to us, from reflections on war, grief and sexuality to insider accounts of Hollywood life, political conspiracy, and even philosophical sports legends.
We’ve put together a list of the most popular items. There’s something for everyone, no matter what kind of movie or book you want to watch.
For more lists like this one, check out our readers’ favorite classic novels, their favorite kids’ books, and books written by women that they love!
Educated by Tara Westover (2018)
This coming-of-age story by Tara Westover was a favorite on “Book of the Year” lists in 2018 from The Guardian to the New York Times, The Economist, and Vogue. Educated is a heartwarming story about how a girl who was raised in a strict Mormon family in Idaho was able to leave and go to college.
You say: This is a very interesting story, but it was written very well and without being too emotional. Still, I think about it a year or two after I did.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (2017)
: We say that the poem Patricia Lockwood wrote about her unconventional Catholic upbringing is a real treat. From anti-abortion rallies to vows of virginity, it looks at how to balance tradition with your own sense of who you are.
There is a great story, but it’s also very funny.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)
We say that Nadia Hallgren’s brilliant 2020 Netflix documentary was inspired by the candid memoir of the former First Lady of the United States, which was written by the author. For people who like to read, this is a book that will change their lives. It goes from her childhood in Chicago to her time living at the world’s most famous address.
In this case, you say: She’s been through so much. There was a lot of girl talk when I read it every night. People learn from books from a teacher.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton (2018)
Everything I Know About Love was called a “Nora Ephron for the millennial generation” because of Dolly Alderton’s hilarious and heartfelt book about life in your 20s. It was also praised for its honesty and poignancy.
You say: I laughed a lot, I felt like I was getting it, and of course it is very current. This is what you say:
Know My Name by Chanel Miller (2019)
“Know My Name” tells us that Emily Doe, the woman who was raped by Brock Turner in 2016, is Chanel Miller. It took less than four days for 11 million people to read Miller’s heartfelt victim impact statement when it was first put up on the Internet. Her memoir is just as important and vivid. It gives a vivid picture of a broken legal system that is both searing and sublimely written.
“It helped me put myself back together and put a name to how I felt about our legal system,” you say.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing (2016)
We say that this book is a beautiful and heartfelt look at the universal experience of loneliness, based on Olivia Laing’s experiences after moving to New York City in her mid-30s.
There is a unique taste to the loneliness that comes from living in the city, where there are a lot of people. “You can be lonely anywhere,” you say.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016)
Think-provoking story of Trevor Noah, host of US show, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Born A Crime. With insightful thoughts on politics, race, and identity, it’s a must-read that will nourish your heart and soul.
You say: I learned a lot that I will always remember.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Haley (1965)
This person was not liked by his critics, but was an important voice for African-Americans. The author of Roots, Alex Haley, wrote this book with him. In this book, he tells his own story.
You say: It was a brutally honest look at how man can change in the face of the most oppressive conditions.
Set the Boy Free by Johnny Marr (2016)
We say that Johnny Marr tells his own story in Set the Boy Free. He talks about the tensions that led him to leave The Smiths in 1987 and how he pushed the boundaries of music in groups like The Pretenders, The The, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs, among others.
You say: He proves that he is as good at writing as he is at playing the piano.
Red Notice by Bill Browder (2015)
We say that Red Notice is an eye-opening look at the death of young Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and how it changed Bill Browder from a brash hedge fund manager to a well-known human rights advocate.
You say: It’s like a fictional thriller with a lot of information about history in it.
The Moon’s a Balloon by David Niven (1971)
We say that David Niven’s memoir, The Moon’s a Balloon, is a wonderful look into the golden age of Hollywood, with appearances from Lawrence Oliver, Vivien Leigh, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, and more. It’s also a lot of fun to read.
First, it came to me. Charming, honest, funny, and poignant are just a few words to describe this book.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
We say that When Breath Becomes Air is an important part of the new medical memoir genre. Paul Kalanithi, who was 36 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer that couldn’t be removed, moves from medical student to subject in this movie. It looks at how he deals with questions about death, identity, life, and fatherhood. A work of art.
You say: This is a deeply moving story about a doctor’s personal struggle to understand death. Raw and honest.