Growing up, I mostly read fiction, losing myself in adventures in other worlds. I didn’t want to think of my own. In college, I discovered memoirs, and I read book after book, soaking in the stories of people from all over the world. Books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Year of Magical Thinking drew me in with their incredible prose and vivid worldbuilding. I felt like a little girl in the ’90s who just discovered Lisa Frank. What an incredible genre full of life.
In the last decade since college graduation, I’ve picked up memoir after memoir, book after book, scouring library sales and used book stores to add to my personal library. Memoirs in recent years have outdone themselves, showing an incredible amount of creativity and innovation. From graphic memoirs to experimental entries into the genre, there’s no singular way to write a memoir, making each story unique.
If you’re looking to read more memoirs, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. So to help you, here are 20 of my favorite memoirs from the last decade or so that need to be on your TBRs. Let’s jump right in!
Must-Read Memoirs From The Last Decade
Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome
Brian Broome grew up in Appalachian Ohio. As dark-skinned Black, gay boy, Brian felt out of place in his small town. He experiences bullying and colorism in his community and dreams for a better world. But as he moves to bigger and bigger cities, he’s forced to confront and accept himself for who he is, both the good and the bad. Broome’s memoir of his search for belonging and acceptance is incredibly well-written and deeply moving.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
In her graphic memoir, Thi Bui tells the story of her life, starting with her parents. As we, the readers, see her parents fall in love in Vietnam, we know the war is coming. We follow Bui’s family through the Vietnam war and flee Vietnam as refugees, eventually ending up in the United States. Bui’s art used a limited color palette, highlighting moments and scenes in a way that enhances the emotional depth of the story.
Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Roz Chast has been traveling to visit her parents in the same apartment for years, so she doesn’t notice how things change in her parents right away. But soon she’s forced to confront the fact that her parents are aging. Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? is a beautiful love letter to her parents, celebrating their lives and laughing along with so many wonderful memories.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
Adopted by white parents, Nicole Chung grew up in a small Oregon town. Chung learned of her adoption from the same story over and over. Her Korean parents couldn’t take care of her when she was born premature. But as an adult, Chung became determined to find her birth family and learn more about her past. In her memoir, Chung examines what it really meant for her to be a transracial adoptee and the myth society believes about adoption.
Say Hello by Carly Findlay
Born with Ichthyosis, a skin condition that causes her skin to often appear red and inflamed, Carly Findlay grew up with people constantly commenting about her appearance. She found herself thinking, I wish they’d just introduce themselves and say hello. This idea drives her memoir, Say Hello, in which she advocates for disabled people, especially those with facial differences.
Ten Steps to Nanette by Hannah Gadsby
After her comedy special Nanette made huge waves across the world, no one could get enough of Hannah Gadsby, including me! Where did she come from? How did Nanette come to be? Gadsby’s new memoir answers all of those questions and more as she tells the story of her childhood in Tasmania as an autistic queer girl just trying to find her way through the world. If you’re a fan of audiobooks, this is definitely one to listen to, as she narrates the memoir with her perfect delivery and comedic timing.
Hunger by Roxane Gay
After being gang raped as a girl, Roxane Gay tried to make herself as undesirable as possible, stronger, safer. Hunger follows her experience living in America as a fat, Black, queer woman who struggles to believe in her own worth. The structure of the memoir moves forward and back in time, following ideas rather than timelines. My copy is filled with an endless number of annotations and underlined passages. I have never been able to stop thinking about it since I finished reading it.
A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernández
Growing up in her Cuban-Colombian family, Daisy Hernández always had family around her. But when she came out as bisexual, her family wasn’t entirely accepting. Over the years, she had to navigate her relationships and who she introduced to her family. While she loves them, they can also make her feel like she’s never enough. A Cup of Water Under My Bed is a beautiful portrayal of family and how they navigate the world together.
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
At the start of this graphic memoir, Mira Jacob tries to answer her son’s questions about the upcoming 2016 presidential election. Why are his Jewish grandparents voting for Trump when they know he hates brown people like him? As Jacob tries to answer these questions for her son, she also takes us back to her own childhood growing up as an Indian American. She moved to New York and eventually met her son’s father, a white Jewish man. This memoir in conversations is an incredible testament to what it was like parenting in this particular time in America’s history.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
As a botanist, Hope Jahren is used to working in a male-dominated field, but that doesn’t make it any easier. In Lab Girl, Hope Jahren invites readers into her life, sharing the moments that led her to fall in love with plants and become a botanist. She describes the ups and downs of studying plants, working as an academic, and how her field of study affected her relationships with the people around her. The layers of this book never cease to “wow” me every time I pick it up.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Poet Saeed Jones takes to prose with his Kirkus Prize–winning memoir How We Fight for Our Lives. In his nonfiction debut, Jones tells readers about his childhood growing up as a gay, Black boy in the South. As he makes his way through the world, he doesn’t know how a man like him is supposed to find a place for himself. But he fights for it anyway.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
Lawson is now known for her series of humorous stories about her life that use humor to confront the difficult parts of her life. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s first book, follows her early years and eventual marriage to her husband. Lawson inherited her quirky personality and love of all things taxidermy from her parents, and she is more than happy to share some of their most ridiculous family stories.
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Heavy shows a master of the craft doing what he does best. His book follows Laymon’s life as a Black boy from the South growing up with a mother that frequently manipulated his emotions, but he loved her desperately. The memoir always follows how Laymon’s weight fluctuates with his life. Sometimes he weighs more. Sometimes he weighs less. But he’s always trying to find a way to take back some control of his life.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
In her experimental memoir, Carmen Maria Machado describes her life with an emotionally manipulative and abusive partner. What started out as a fairytale turned into something more sinister as the relationship went on. Each chapter feels like a different genre, giving readers just enough info to keep turning the pages needing to know more.
Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden
In this memoir in essays, T Kira Madden guides us through her life as the daughter of a Jewish father and a Chinese Hawaiian mother. Madden’s girlhood is filled with everything a girl could want, but her parents’ addictions begin to seep away her childhood innocence. Every time I read Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, I find a new detail that reminds me of how brilliantly Madden has crafted this memoir. Every word is there for a reason and has a role to play in Madden’s story.
I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell
A memoir told through nonlinear snapshots of Maggie O’Farrell’s life, I Am, I Am, I Am describes 17 moments in O’Farrell’s life when she came the closest to death. Some chapters are brief while others go on for pages, but they all combine to give us a more complete picture of O’Farrell’s life. The writing flows with ease across the page, making even the most perilous moments contain a sense of self awareness and hope.
Heartland by Sarah Smarsh
Sarah Smarsh writes to her possible future daughter, August. For generations, the women in Smarsh’s family have married young and started families early, making it impossible for them to attend college or pursue a career. But Smarsh is determined to change her future by focusing on bettering her future by attending college. Heartland is a testament to the working class and Smarsh’s determination to see a new possible future.
Sissy: A Coming-of Gender Story by Jacob Tobia
Growing up in North Carolina, Jacob Tobia never felt like their gender quite fit. At first they came out as gay. But as they move into the world, go to college, and make new friends, they realize they’re genderqueer, but fully themselves. Funny, poignant, and full of heart, Sissy is the perfect must-read for any memoir lover.
Heart Berries by Therese Marie Mailhot
Heart Berries is a revelation. Mailhot writes to save her life. Hospitalized for post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II, she writes to work through her life and learn more about how she is going to move forward with her life. An Indigenous woman from the Seabird Island Band, Mailhot grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Through her writing, Mailhot comes to terms with her past to embrace a new possible future.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
In Men We Reaped, two-time National BookAward–winning author Jesmyn Ward tells the story of five men she lost in her community in Mississippi. Spliced in between these men’s stories, Ward discusses her girlhood growing up in a small Southern town. With her incredible prose and impeccable eye for characters, Ward weaves together the stories from her life in a singular, impactful narrative.
Whatever memoir you choose, you’re sure to find something to love on this list. For even MORE memoir selections, check out the great picks over on “20 Must-Read Nonfiction Books by Women”!