In Episode 4 of my Non Fiction Round Up series, where I talk about all the nonfiction books I’ve read lately, I’ve listed down the little things I realized and enjoyed ever since I started reading them regularly:
- You get to expose yourself to realistic depictions of human experiences you always get to read in fiction.
- You get to read different perspectives and first-hand experiences on topics you always see in media.
- You get to educate yourself on topics that you aren’t normally exposed to or read about.
- You get to realize that real human experiences are also as interesting as made-up ones.
If you read the right book (at the right time), it will stick with you. Sometimes, it left me more fulfilled than reading a lot of fantasy series where the hero triumphs against all odds. It also made me more emphatic and give more allowances towards other people because, at the end of the day, these stories are testament to the lived-in experiences that make up a person. And, more often than not, these are things that are not necessarily exhibited outright or talked about enough.
It’s always hard rating memoirs… because how can you even evaluate human experiences that are so different from your own? However, as usual, I am rating books based on how they made me feel when I was reading them and how I can’t stop thinking about them long after I finished them.
(READ: Non Fiction Round Up Episode 4: Memoirs All The Way)
Honestly, I feel like I’m in a memoir bender lately. There was even a moment when I was reading more of these than fiction at a time. And, now, I feel like I have the tendency to gravitate to them more often than not somehow. My favorite way of reading them? Through audiobook! There’s nothing like going on a walk or doing something mindless while listening to a narrator tell life stories while I try to contemplate how they relate to my own.
To show my love, I figured I could list down all the memoirs that I’ve loved, enjoyed, and those that basically just stayed with me through the years. I know I haven’t read much but from the ones I did, these are my favorites so far (in no particular order):
Becoming by Michelle Obama
This was the first memoir that I’ve ever read and, same with How to Make Friends, it really pushed me to expand my reading taste because I just enjoyed Michelle Obama’s Becoming so much. Now, memoirs are a staple in my reading list. I was pretty obsessed with Michelle even before I read this and this book just solidified my admiration for her.
Becoming narrates her life from her childhood, growing up in the south side of Chicago, coming into her own as a young professional, meeting her eventual husband, assuming the role of being FLOTUS, and becoming a mother. I loved how this book focused more on “her” life before being the FLOTUS. I’ve heard her somewhere mentioning that “So little of “who I am” happened in those eight years. SO much more of “who I was” happened before.” You know, I wouldn’t be surprised (and I wouldn’t mind that much) if she capitalized on that role more since it was a really important event in her life. But this focused on her, as it should be. This book contained so much wisdom and inspiration for me – and is a book that I hold very close to my heart. Her insights on womanhood, ambition, family, and education are testament to how amazing Michelle Obama is as a person. Throughout her story, she emphasized compassion and the importance of education in one’s life. I’d say this is really necessary reading for any woman: working ladies, mothers, daughters. A true icon and such an inspiration!
(Read my full review of Becoming by Michelle Obama HERE)
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
Reading Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe you Should Talk to Someone cemented the idea more that you don’t really need a mental condition to seek out professional help. It can be about processing your emotions, processing your grief, coming to terms with loss, or a confusing major moment in your life – it’s actively putting in the effort towards making yourself feel better with the assistance of others. This is necessary reading for any mental health advocate and for people that are still trying to figure out whether they need therapy/counseling. Read this and it might just give you the proverbial kick (or gentle nudge, if you might) to finally go.
(Read my full review of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb HERE)
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
There is just something about Haruki Murakami’s writing style that just entices me and I guess this list won’t be complete without his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I first read this back in 2014 and have reread this multiple times: and it meant different to me every single time. Murakami is an avid runner and this book is a collection of personal essays, particularly on his experience as a long-time marathon runner. He described the meditative (almost trance-like) experience of long-distance running and I liked how he incorporated his musings as a writer in various moments of this book. There is a line that I really loved “They remember things and endure, and to some extent they improve. But they never compromise. They don’t give up.” which was technically Murakami talking about his muscles (lol 😂) but it really proved comforting to me when I came across it in one of my rereads. For those familiar with the work of Raymond Carver, the title is a direct reference to the latter’s short story collection titled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” – Carver is one of Murakami’s major influences, which was evident because Murakami is such an excellent short story writer (in fact, I love his short stories more than I love his novels). This is also the book where the oft-quoted line came from: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.“
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road was an old, obscure (by today’s standard, I guess) book that I found while I was scrolling through bookstagram. And it was such a charming read and a memorable one to boot. This book chronicles a special epistolary relationship between a writer in New York and a used-book dealer in London – whose shop is located in (as you guessed it) 84, Charing Cross Road. Years passed and an unlikely friendship developed. It is such a fun and heartwarming experience reading the correspondence between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel that spanned 20 years. This story is both a curious and offbeat (relative to current day-to-day) story that I always have to remind myself that it really happened in real life. Reading this and imagining it was almost wishful thinking as this is a relationship that you can rarely form in today’s age. There’s a very comforting element to this book, the way it feels like the sort of story you read when you’re having a bad day: like a cup of hot chocolate or a warm blanket on a cold morning. I also liked how it was written, despite it being an old book. The feed is so full of overhyped and new books these days so it’s nice to find something like this pop up once in a while. Such a wholesome and memorable read!
(Read my full review of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff HERE)
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
There’s a lot to be said about Chanel Miller’s Know My Name but know that it deserves all the stars and praise everyone is giving it. There’s a reason you see it everywhere. This is maybe the most beautiful memoir I’ve ever had the chance of reading and it was up there among the best books I’ve ever read, including fiction – and that says a lot. I know it would be good but I didn’t expect it to be this good. This was one of those books that got me through and helped me when I was in a dark patch last year. I know I can’t really claim to experience even half the things that Chanel had but there’s a lesson to be learned, among others, at how she handled this whole experience. Besides the beautifully written prose (it was soooo good), it was a reminder that you don’t need to harden yourself to weather the storm. “I survived because I remained soft, because I listened, because I wrote. Because I huddled close to my truth, protected it like a tiny flame in a terrible storm.” It’s such a beautiful sentiment: that there were so many beautiful things that await you if you just hold it out. Chanel will probably remain as one of the most inspiring persons I’ve ever come to know (even just through a book) and I am guessing that her existence and her story will always be a source of strength for me.
(Read my full review of Know My Name by Chanel Miller HERE)
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
The book that launched Anthony Bourdain’s career, Kitchen Confidential is as good as it was hyped. If you’ve watched any documentary of Bourdain’s (Parts Unknown or No Reservations) you know that he has such a unique storytelling style – and in this book, that voice shows. He had no qualms in getting dirty and exposing the nitty-gritty. There is a cool tone, sometimes detached, to his writing – which is the reason why it is much more surprising (and interesting) when he would throw in random musings and hard truths. It was entertaining even if I don’t know much about anything culinary to the point that I didn’t want the book and his stories to end. I started this after Daving Chang’s Eat A Peach sent me into a Bourdain wormhole (hello to that magnificent email from Bourdain that I wrote in my journal because it’s just too beautiful for me to forget: “Be a fool. For love. For yourself. What you think MIGHT possibly make you happy. Even for a little while. Whatever the cost or good sense might dictate.“) and I finished this right after watching Roadrunner – so it was kind of bittersweet hearing Anthony Bourdain’s voice and narration. I’m still beating myself up for reading this book only recently. I read somewhere that while some chefs (particularly those celebrity chefs that released a memoir) know how to write, Anthony Bourdain is a writer who can cook. And I agree, he is a writer first (and a brilliant observer), through and through. He has such a brilliant writing voice that I wanted to read more of his works. But at this point, I can’t look at a show/episode or piece of writing related to him without being a bit sad. 😔
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking is a book that I recently finished but it ended up shooting straight to my list of top memoirs I’ve ever read. I sort of spiraled down a Joan Didion blackhole this month. I can’t believe I am only discovering her works now. Even from the snippets that were recited in the documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, I know that her writing style is something that would resonate with me. There was a part in there where she said that “He [her husband] was between me and the world.” and it was such a heartbreaking thought considering his untimely passing. This book, ultimately, is her coping mechanism – her coming to terms with her own grief. Honestly? It was incredibly triggering considering my feelings towards death and grief – but this whole work was just too heartbreakingly beautiful that I can’t afford to look away. I loved how this book was not written from the perspective of a “believer” because that sort of stuff (if you know, you know) can be a little grating sometimes. If you’ve lost someone dear to you, one of the worst things to hear is that “your loss is for the best” or “[that person] is in a good place now” or “there is a meaning for all this pain”. It’s just a purely personal sentiment of mine. Grief is so personal an experience to the point that it is not often talked about enough because 1) doing so feels like exposing a wound to the open, 2) words just don’t come easy for things like that (again, personal), and 3) there is a feeling that you feel like no one would understand. But Joan Didion wrote this for herself, to make sense of her thoughts – because she is a writer, first and foremost; and writing is the main activity that helps her understand the world (and even herself). This is the closest literature I’ve ever read that mirrored my experience with grief and mourning (and even my feelings towards death) with perfect clarity and abandon. I wish I’d read this during ~that~ time more than 8 years ago. But then again… I don’t think I could be brave enough to pick this book up then.
I say “so far” because I still have a lot of promising titles in my TBR (case in point: In The Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous). Honestly, I am just so excited to add books to this list! Memoirs have proven to be an indispensable part of my reading and I hope it will continue to be for a long time. ✨
5 thoughts on “Listed | My Favorite Memoirs (so far)”
While I admired Joan Didion’s writing, I didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to it. I don’t think I process grief and death in the same way she does, but I’m so glad that you found this and that it resonated with you.
The only other book I’ve read on this list is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which I really enjoyed for its insight into topics that people don’t talk about very often. I’d like to get to pretty much everything else on your list too 🙂
I haven’t read a single memoir lol. I need to step up my reading game.
Know my name is on my tbr but i know it will destroy me in every way possible😭 so i want to be prepared.