7 Moving Memoirs on Life, Death, Sex, Poverty and Parenting

Here are seven memoirs that have stuck with me long after I’ve put them down. From parenting to social pressure, to the deep history of a country, to reckoning with death, dying, and growing up poor: this collection of books takes you inside the experiences of different human lives.

Are You My Mother?, A comic drama by Alison Bechdel. Interwoven graphic depictions of dreams, memories, and psychological insights from Freud, Winnicott, and more in a memoir/comic novel.

Appetites: Why Women Want, by Caroline Knapp. Haunting, troubling, winding—this book examines the hungers of women through a personal and intense memoir of a woman who struggled with anorexia. At her lightest, she weighed 83 pounds and eight a cheese cube and an apple for dinner. But it wasn’t entirely about food. She writes: “Satisfying hungers, taking things in, indulging in bodily pleasures—these are not easy matters for a lot of women.”

Roots: The Saga of An American Family, by Alex Haley. Incredible, long read about the ancestry and history of a family ripped from his homeland and brought into the markets of the new world slavery. Read if you want a better context for the history of the United States.

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. A talented neurosurgeon who studies language, mortality, and brain science is suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer. This is the book he writes in the final year of his life. I started sobbing at several points in the book—it’s that moving.

Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti. Heartbreaking memoir. At times distinctly uncomfortable but important to read. I wish these stories women told weren’t true. I wish more of my men friends read these books and understood.

Between The World And Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A series of letters from a father to his young son. Simply outstanding.

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. Another brilliant memoir of what it’s like to grow up in the poverty-stricken hills of Appalachia. Reminded me of the plight of so many in America, and how many perspectives there are throughout this country.


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