Sunday, February 19, 2017

Recommended Reads in Biography and Memoir, Part 1: Childhood and Coming of Age

I sent my youngest sister a long list of recommended memoirs and biographies because they are her jam. I thought since I had done the work to make the list, I could share it with you too, updated since the list I sent her in December. Since it is so long I will post a chunk of it every now and then. Tell me what you think about this kind of post!

For books to end up on this list,
  1. I read them already
  2. I rated them 4 or 5 stars (out of 5)
  3. I still remembered them
The descriptions are for my sister, who I'm assuming has not heard of these before. Your mileage may vary! And do tell, what have I missed?

Everything by David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs
(This is a bit of a cop out but these were the first memoirs I remember reading ever, so it's been over ten years.)

The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson
This is an actor from The Office (USA) and I listened to the audio. It was fascinating because he grew up in small town Washington, but as a Ba’hai. I had never heard of anyone with that background. Also he’s a huge geek, lots of fun.

The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
Growing up in an east Texan town with troubled parents. Mary is one of the best memoirists out there.
Cherry by Mary Karr
This is kind of the second but also simultaneous half to The Liar’s Club, kind of about when she leaves home as a teen but also rehashing some of TLC. I’d just read TLC.

An alternative to all the missionary accounts in Zimbabwe, this one is a girl who grew up there without her parents being missionaries. When [White] Rhodesia experiences a revolt, her family has to figure out what to do.

Dream More by Dolly Parton
I liked this way more than I expected. She is encouraging and like positive action on a stick, but her story really is inspiring.

Fun Home by Allison Bechdel
A graphic novel about growing up with a father who is a funeral director (aka fun. Home, get it?) This book has generated lots of controversy and probably wouldn’t be a good one to read until you had your own place, but it deals with lgbt stuff and parent-child stuff. Bechdel wore outfits and took polaroids of herself, then drew them to create all the art. She’s amazing. See also Are You My Mother? which is a followup about her relationship with her mother and also about analysis (therapy) – this one is more brainy and I didn’t care as much.

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith
One man's experience of growing up Black in America.

I actually read this during my trip home in 2014 because my friend somehow knew I would need lighter reads than what I had packed, and mailed it to our parents' house. It’s light and funny, like candy. Mindy is the person behind The Mindy Project and was also on The Office.

Individual stories about getting through the worst of it.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
I remember being freaked out by this book, and started wondering if maybe we were actually Mennonites. I mean, her mom sang the same songs in the car as our mom.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming, the actor, discovered some things about his childhood and parentage that led him to write about all of it. This is great in audio, his amazing Scottish accent. And there is an episode online from the “Who Do You Think You Are” show that tells more or less the same story.

Pigs Can't Swim by Helen Peppe
The youngest child writes about her childhood growing up very poor in rural Maine.

Swallow the Ocean by Laura M. Flynn
I read this in the Creative Non Fiction class I took, a memoir about growing up with a mother suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Phew.

To the Is-Land by Janet Frame (these days only available in complete autobiography, An Angel at my Table)
A childhood in New Zealand, which would later lead to incredible mental illness which isn’t so present in this book. I read this as part of New Zealand November last year and wouldn’t have probably known about it otherwise, but Janet is a well-known poet in that country.

Full disclosure, Jeanette is one of my favorite novelists of all time. Top 3. She talks about her childhood and coming to terms with her identity despite her parents and the pressure they tried to impose to fake it.

A geeky memoir from the star of a web series called “The Guild.” Might be too geeky for you but I liked it.


  1. Awesome list and yes, I would love to see more like this from you!

  2. Replies
    1. Great idea, I hope to see more! Here's some books to consider:

      A Long Way Home

      The Glass Castle

      & Angela's Ashes

  3. Good list. I'm starting on the Cumming book, now I wish I would've bought that in audio. Being a science geek, I really enjoyed Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, The Last Man on the Moon by Eugene Cernan, and Sally Ride by Lynn Scherr.


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