Reading a memoir is a fascinating literary experience. It’s an opportunity to take a peek into the life of another person, to hear the story as they would tell it. The best memoirs are intimate explorations of life – sometimes hilarious, sometimes painful, sometimes inspirational, but always authentic and vulnerable.
There’s also something special about hearing a person tell their own story. That is why memoirs often make great audiobooks, and the authors who wrote them very often handle the reading. Here are a few of our favorites.
Amy Poehler’s 2014 memoir is just delightful – there’s really no other word for it. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, candid and emotional, and surprisingly insightful. My wife and I snagged it from the library for a road trip and it’s the sort of audiobook that left sitting in the car at our destination for a few minutes longer than necessary just to finish a chapter. While Poehler does most of the heavy lifting herself, there are some truly well-timed and hilarious cameos from the likes of Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, Kathleen Turner, and a few others. After listening to the audiobook, I honestly can’t imagine experiencing Amy Poehler’s story any other way.
A Story of Race and Inheritance
Barack Obama’s now-classic memoir is truly a remarkable read. It’s difficult to imagine a career politician, particularly one with presidential ambitions, releasing a more candid personal history. Dreams From my Father is a lyrical and unsentimental view into Obama’s early life, his complex relationship with his father’s memory, and his struggles coming to terms with what it means to be a black man in America. At turns melancholic and hopeful, it is a fascinating and honest rumination on identity and legacy. Obama’s skillful narration lifts the story to another level.
Stories from a South African Childhood
It’s difficult to imagine what life must have been like for Trevor Noah coming-of-age in the waning days of apartheid in South Africa, particularly given that Noah’s very existence was technically a crime. Born to a white father and a black Xhosa mother, Noah was living proof of his parents’ indiscretion – their relationship was punishable by prison time. As a result, Noah’s mother went to occasionally absurd lengths to keep her son hidden from a government that could legally take him away from her at any moment. Born a Crime is a heartfelt, comic, and inspiring look at a boy’s life in a particularly tumultuous and dangerous time.
Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
I, like so many others, was devastated at the news of Anthony Bourdain’s tragic suicide in June 2018. Bourdain was an extraordinary voice that reshaped the way I viewed not only food, but the world around me. His unapologetic honesty, disarming wit, and ability to explore a culture from a place of humility and curiosity made him one of a kind. Kitchen Confidential is really where it all began. His no frills, brutally candid memoir is a descent into the dregs and triumphs of the culinary world and an early indicator of the Bourdain’s unpretentious, unrepentant, sincere style.
With Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the history of race in America by taking readers through a series of profound, painful, and deeply intimate personal experiences – experiences that defined both his conception of self and the place of people of color in society. It is a landmark work, particularly in our current political climate, and echoes James Baldwin in its eloquent and piercing insight.
And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman
It’s honestly difficult to talk about Nora Ephron’s absurdly entertaining memoir without falling into a pit of superlatives – I Feel Bad About My Neck is sharp-tongued, wry, wickedly funny, and sometimes painfully frank. In short, it is very much Nora Ephron. Ephron’s collection of essays on womanhood and aging capture everything from Ephron’s eponymous issues with her neck to the travails of empty-nesting to a blistering, scorched-earth letter to Bill Clinton. Hearing Ephron reading it all herself is just so icing on the cake.
There will likely never be another quite like Carrie Fisher – bawdy, whip-sharp wit, assured confidence, and a searing sense of humor. It’s a little unfortunate that her place in pop culture hinges almost entirely on her acting career given her utter brilliance as a writer. While you can’t go wrong with either of her previous memoirs, The Princess Diarist is the best intersection of her acting and writing careers. Built around diaries she rediscovered from her time on the set of “Star Wars,” The Princess Diarist reveals Fisher just coming into her own, both in terms of her career and her life. It’s a thoughtful look at her reckoning with early fame and you can hear the combination of wistfulness and bemusement as Fisher reads words written by her younger, more naïve self.
My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery
Scott Kelly spent a year in space aboard the International Space Station – a record breaking stretch of time. Couple that with his four spaceflights, and Kelly has spent of 500 days in outer space. Endurance recounts not only Kelly’s time in space in meticulous and sometimes unnerving detail (time in space is not kind to the human body), but also his childhood in New Jersey and his journey to becoming one of NASA’s most famous astronauts.
A Memoir of the Craft
While I recommend On Writing to any and all aspiring writers – you’d be hard pressed to find a more accessible nuts-and-bolts guide to the craft of writing – it also functions as pretty entertaining memoir. Alongside his advice and general theory on the act of writing, King also delves into his childhood, his years struggling to crack into publishing, and his battle with alcoholism and drug addiction. It’s a self-aware, candid, occasionally hilarious read and King is as skillful a narrator as he is a storyteller.
Hearing Maya Angelou, with her inimitable voice and cadence, narrate her own early life is a profound and meditative experience. Her lyrical prose and honesty made I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings an unquestioned classic. Hers was a life of tragedy and triumph and if you’ve never experienced the astonishing life story of Maya Angelou, there is no better way than hearing it directly from Angelou herself.