11 Must-Read Memoirs by Women

Memoirs Written by Women

These inspiring accounts are exceptionally told — and deliver universal lessons in humanity.

Women’s stories are an important record of what it means to be a daughter, a mother, a lover. They also show us what it means to be an immigrant, a patient, or a person who changes the world. The following memoirs by women belong on every shelf, not just because they’re exceptionally told but because they deliver universal lessons that resonate with us all.

By Jessica Dukes

Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch

By Erin French

Erin French grew up on her family’s farm, and that’s where she first fell in love with food. By working her way from line cook in the family diner to being a professional chef with her own acclaimed restaurant, she appears to have fulfilled her destiny. However, her road to success was far from easy. Throughout her life, French struggled with anxiety and addiction, hit rock bottom, and saw her relationships come apart. The person who kept her on track? Her son. Through him, French found her way — not just to sobriety but to triumph.

Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs

By Jennifer Finney Boylan

Boylan’s groundbreaking memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders details her emotional and physical transition from male to female and is the first bestseller written by a transgender American. In Good Boy, Boylan celebrates another deeply human topic: love. Specifically, how the unconditional love of seven dogs in her life taught her important lessons in courage, acceptance, and the joy of finding a home.

Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares

By Aarti Namdev Shahani

In many ways, NPR correspondent Aarti Shahani and her family are shining examples of the American Dream. The Shahanis arrived in New York City from India; Aarti’s parents worked hard so she could attend great schools and embark on her own successful career. On the other hand, the Shahanis’ struggles prove that success and stability in America is far from guaranteed — especially for immigrant families. When Aarti’s humble shopkeeper father accidentally sells goods to the Cali drug cartel and finds himself ensnared in a criminal investigation, Aarti must face challenges she never imagined in order to keep her family together in America.

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning

By Cathy Park Hong

Part memoir, part history lesson, Cathy Park Hong’s bestseller tackles America’s complicated history with race. Hong, a daughter of Korean immigrants, shares stories about family, art, individuality, and politics with both humor and the poet’s impulse to transform life experiences into universal truths. The racism she experiences throughout her life causes “minor feelings” — moments when her reality and America’s ideals are out of sync. Hong’s memoir is her attempt to understand this dissonance.

The Empathy Diaries

By Sherry Turkle

MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle has spent her career researching how technology impacts our understanding of who we are. Her new memoir offers an achingly beautiful look at her life’s work. From studying her mother’s pain, hypothesizing about why her father left, finding camaraderie in the antiwar movement, and fighting sexism at MIT, Turkle hones in on what connects us and drives us apart. And with social media’s dominating presence in our lives, Turkle’s insights on digital culture and her warnings about the loss of human empathy are vital.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

By Suleika Jaouad

Suleika Jaouad is a college grad working in Paris when she receives a terrifying medical diagnosis. At age 22, she has leukemia — and the odds of survival aren’t great. After moving home to New York, she gets chemotherapy, participates in a clinical trial, receives a bone marrow transplant, and writes about all of it for The New York Times. Four painful years later, Jaouad has cheated death, but now she must learn how to live again. Before figuring out what that looks like, she sets out on a solo (plus one dog) three-month road trip to meet all the people who wrote to her in the hospital, people who are also fighting for a second chance at life.

Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss

By Margaret Renkl

The transition from beloved daughter to caregiver is bittersweet. Yet, as Margaret Renkl observes, it’s also as ordinary as the cycle of the seasons. Here, a naturalist’s love of life extends from her suburban garden beds, through beehives and snake holes, to her parents’ sickbeds. More than just a circle-of-life observation, Renkl’s ability to marvel at death and regeneration, all while grieving the loss of her parents, will take your breath away.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir

By Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

Patrisse Khan-Cullors was raised by a single mother in an underprivileged Los Angeles neighborhood, where she witnessed the prejudice faced by so many Black Americans. The 2013 trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer was a turning point in her life. Outrage wasn’t enough to change people’s lives; what her community needed most was justice, safety, and respect. A cofounding member of Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Khan-Cullors reflects on the movement they created, how her life has changed since, the nature of political power, and our very humanity.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

By Susannah Cahalan

Susannah Cahalan knows what it’s like to be labeled a medical mystery. At 24 years old, she found herself strapped to a hospital bed for her own safety. She had no memory of how she arrived there. She was young, in a serious relationship, and working full-time in New York City — until something in her brain hit the brakes. Cahalan’s story of her illness and the diagnosis that almost came too late is a real-life mystery. And her fight to reclaim her identity is a redemption story you’ll have a hard time forgetting.

My Broken Language

By Quiara Alegría Hudes

Quiara Alegría Hudes grew up in the Philadelphia barrio with her Puerto Rican family. Her family’s stories, dances, recipes, and tragedies were told in English and in Spanish, or sometimes not told at all. Hudes often feels like she’s on the outside looking in, always the audience and never the performer. This beautiful memoir is her path to the core of her family, an examination on how memories feed our identity, and what it feels like to truly belong to a group of people.

Priestdaddy

By Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood’s father is a Father — a Catholic priest. After a strict and sometimes odd religious upbringing, Lockwood left the church. But when a family crisis hits, she and her husband move back into her parents’ rectory for nearly a year. With humor and an open heart, Lockwood sees it as an occasion to revisit the uncomfortable past, to discover how she and her parents are still connected, and to accept the many ways that they’re not. In the end, confronting her identity, trying to explain her parents to her non-Catholic husband, and finding a tentative respect for tradition bring Lockwood a sense of peace.

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