Five inspiring memoirs to get you thinking about writing your own.

If you saw Aga's previous blog, How to Write a Memoir, you may have started to let the idea stir in your mind...

Here Aga shares her Top 5 examples of amazing Memoirs to get you inspired to write your own.

1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”

SR book shelfJoan Didion’s heart wrenching and deeply personal memoir is a study of grief following the sudden death of her husband, which coincided with her daughter’s illness and subsequent death. The ‘magical thinking’ in the title refers to the belief that we can avert catastrophic events by thinking about them. Didion describes being unable to throw away her husband’s shoes, because, in her mind, he might need them when he returns.

‘We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.’

2. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

“You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”

Compassionate and eloquent, Frank McCourt’s memoir recounts his youth in Depression-era Brooklyn and later the slums of Limerick, Ireland. His mother, Angela, struggles to feed the children while his alcoholic father, Malachy, drinks away his scarce wages. But one thing helps them survive the desperate poverty – the power of story-telling, fuelled by his father’s fantastical tales.

"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

3. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertSR outside reading in sun

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”

And that’s exactly what Elizabeth Gilbert does – after a devastating divorce and heartbreak, she sets off on a journey of self-discovery that takes her to three very different places in the world: Italy, India and Indonesia. It’s a great modern memoir, chatty and accessible, that draws the reader in from the first sentence.

"It wasn't so much that I wanted to thoroughly explore the countries themselves," she explains. "This has been done. It was more that I wanted to thoroughly explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well. I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two."

4. The Liars' Club by Mary Karr

“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.”

Mary Karr’s memoir tells the story of her 1960s childhood in a swampy East Texas refinery town. The title refers to a place where her alcoholic father would meet his cronies after work to spin booze-fuelled tales. Her father’s loud, larger than life presence is juxtaposed with her silent, almost non-existent, seven times married, mother. Karr tackles her family secrets and dramas head on, with raw honesty, courage and dry humour.  

 “When the truth would be unbearable the mind often just blanks it out. But some ghost of an event may stay in your head. Then, like the smudge of a bad word quickly wiped off a school blackboard, this ghost can call undue attention to itself by its very vagueness. You keep studying the dim shape of it, as if the original form will magically emerge. This blank spot in my past, then, spoke most loudly to me by being blank. It was a hole in my life that I both feared and kept coming back to because I couldn’t quite fill it in.”

5. Why Be Happy If You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

SR Man reading inside 1“There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realise that being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else's terms.”

Jeanette Winterson’s book could make it to the list of most memorable memoirs on the strength of its title alone. It is in fact the real-life question her adoptive, fiercely religious, mother asks her after discovering that the 16-year old Jeanette is a lesbian. The readers familiar with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit will recognise echoes of Winterson’s bestselling debut. It is the true story behind it, a record of a turbulent youth in search of identity and belonging. Above all, it’s a paean to the power of writing.

“It took me a long time to realise that there are two kinds of writing: the one you write and the one that writes you. The one that writes you is dangerous. You go where you don’t want to go. You look where you don’t want to look.”






SR man writingIn addition to the Creative Writing and Pilates Retreat that focuses on the ways to build skills in creating characters, narrative structure and plot, Aga is adding a workshop around the art of memoir.

Would this be of interest to you? If so, email us and ask to claim your spot.

Join us and fulfill your dream of being a writer and having your amazing story encouraged and witnessed. Spaces are limited!