5 Memoir Recommendations

Lately I've been really enjoying memoirs. There are so many out there and I have many more on my to-read list, but here is my list of my five favourite memoirs I've read so far. 
I've seen a lot of people talking about memoirs on social media lately, so I guess that's where I get my inspiration from. I'm a lover of non-fiction books anyway, and memoirs are (in my opinion) the easiest non-fiction books to read. 

The genre 'memoir' can be quite difficult to define. There are a lot of different types of memoirs, but according to Book Riot the main defining characteristics of a memoir are that it is nonfiction and autobiographical (read more here). The five memoirs I've picked for this post are very different from each other in their subjects, but have one thing in common: they are written from the perspective of the author about one or several aspects of their life. 

Here is a list of my recent favourites - in no particular order. 

'Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London' by Lauren Elkin

Elkin writes about the female version of the 'flâneur', flâneuse. She explores the paths taken by women who have lived and walked there. The author herself moved from New York to Paris, and she explores her own journey as a flâneuse, as well as other famous flâneuses - such as Virginia Woolf, George Sand and Martha Gellhorn.

The topic might sound unfamiliar and specific to interest a general audience, but I think it's a very interesting piece of journalism and historical research that helps the reader herself to think about her place in society and on the streets. I read this while I was travelling to Paris, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these famous and important women walking the streets of the city I was walking in, and I almost felt as a flâneuse myself.

I must admit I enjoyed the personal bits about the author herself a little less, mainly because she could be a bit privileged and nagging (especially the chapter about her living in Tokyo). Nevertheless, I would still really recommend it if you enjoy travel writing and women's history.

Keywords: travel writing, history, the city, women's history, feminism.

'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (And Other Lessons from the Crematorium) by Caitlin Doughty 

You might know Caitlin Doughty from her popular YouTube channel, 'Ask A Mortician'. If not, I would highly recommend watching her videos. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is her first book (her second book, From Here to Eternity, came out last year) and talks about her experience of starting to work in the death industry. She writes about working in a crematorium and the people she cremated and their story. Doughty also talks about the reactions of people to death, and how we avoid talking about it even though we really should.

This is both a funny and dark book to read. Caitlin Doughty writes in a very accessible and personal way, and I admire her for writing about such a controversial topic. She pleads the case for healthier attitudes towards death and dying, which I found really inspiring and made me much more conscious about the death industry and its problems. It inspired me to start talking about death in a more open way, which turned out to be very valuable. I can't wait to read her second book.

Keywords: death, medical, culture, rituals, science.

'Reading Lolita in Tehran' by Azar Nafisi 

"(...) If Austen were in our shoes, she'd say it's a truth universally acknowledged that a Muslim man, regardless of his fortune, must be in want of a nine-year-old virgin wife." 

Azar Nafisi writes about her secret bookclub, where she and seven of her students (she teaches at a university in Tehran) discuss forbidden works of Western literature. They explore Lolita, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice and other works as well as sharing their own stories. This book is proof of the transformative power of books, and how they can show beauty during the darkest moments.

This book is my favourite type of memoir: a book that uses books to show the importance of literature and culture in society. It's a really accomplished memoir, one that shows you how we mustn't overlook the power of words.

Keywords: journalism, books about books, culture, war, education.

'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first volume in a seven-part autobiography written by Maya Angelou. We follow her life as a black girl living in the American South of the 1930s and later in California during the 1940s. 

It is appalling to see how relevant the experience of Maya Angelou as a young black girl still is to girls and boys from all over the world. Maya Angelou’s bravery and courage even though she experienced horrifying things have been and will be a source of inspiration to past, present and future generations. This book is also a wonderful ode to the power of language and literature. Angelou struggled with her identity and didn’t know where she belonged. Books were one of the things that were a constant throughout the book and made her feel understood and comforted. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a highly intelligent, readable and (in spite of itself) enjoyable book of which I’m sure will remain a classic for decades to come. 

Keywords: racism, race, North-America, history, discrimination, courage.  
Trigger warning: rape. 

'Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s' by Jennifer Worth 

I'm a huge fan of the tv-series Call the Midwife, and when I found out it was based on the memoir by Jennifer Worth (the main character of the series), I immediately bought it and read it.
This book is very similar to the tv-series. Jennifer Worth tells her own story of working as a midwife in one of London's poorest areas during the 1950s. The stories about her patients are heartwarming and heartbreaking. This book might be regarded by some as a fluffy kind of read, but it's actually a very valuable account of the beginning of a new era in medical history.

I loved reading this book. As someone who is very interested in social and medical history, this book was the perfect fix. It was fun and very interesting to read and if you are only remotely interested in these topics, please read it.

Good to know: Jeniffer Worth wrote three more memoirs!

Keywords: medical history, 20th century, women's history, poverty.

I'd love to know if you have already read any of these or if you plan to read some of them.

With bookish love, 


  1. Cherrie Cryole9/20/2018

    Doughty's book is on my tbr list. Love memoirs. Right now reading what I would classify as a memoir, a historical non-fiction work by George Kolber, Thrown Upon the World, thrownupontheworld.com for the book site. It's probably the best true story of 2 families in WWII that I have read in a long time.

    1. Hi Cherrie! It sounds interesting, I hope you enjoy it. Glad to see more people interested in this genre.

  2. Anonymous10/02/2018

    Those sound like some great memoirs! I just finished a very moving non fiction book called "We Can Do It: A Community Takes on the Challenge of School Desegregation" www.wecandoitbook.com. I thought it was a very interesting glimpse into the lives of the community in Gainesville, Florida who worked hard together to help make the segregation of schools a thing of the past. Though I am not from that generation I thought it was inspiring to hear how they overcame the challenges they faced and those who came together gave a great lesson into how we should strive to be today. The book was written by Michael Gengler, and his website is www.michaelgengler.com if you want more information! -Ollie