My favourite memoirs!

I’m very excited for this post, because one of my great joys in reading these days discovering people’s true stories. There will be some crossover with my must read non fics, because, well, I can’t help it! 😉 I will, however, resist the urge to mention Man’s Search for Meaning for the millionth time… although I kinda just did 😉

Eat, Pray, Love– part self-help, part memoir, this was really worth reading. Not just because it offers a trip across the globe at the budget price of a book, it also offers a lot of positivity and spiritual guidance.

This is Going to Hurt– this one absolutely will sting a bit. Not just for the personal stories, but how it points to the current state of the NHS and what a junior doctor goes through. However for all of the discomfort and emotional moments, this does offer some medicinal humour to make the pill less bitter.

Educated– I didn’t review this, because the experience of reading this was so unusual that I couldn’t quite pin down my thoughts. What’s interesting about this memoir is that Westover doesn’t give her retrospective feelings or impose her will on the writing- she let’s you draw your own interpretations from events. It is a unique way of telling a lifestory and all the more compelling for it. It also happens to be a memoir that occupies my thoughts long after reading.

Infidel– it’s been a long time since I mentioned this- however I can’t think of many books more important. This is the origin story of a champion of free speech and a woman of tremendous courage. Before this, she was a refugee, an intellectual and a former member of the Dutch parliament.

March– I read this in the graphic novel version. And I found this moving and important and well worth reading.

Maus– speaking of graphic novels, this was a book that proved to me how great the format can be. It was heartbreaking, powerful and original. I loved how this intertwined Spielberg’s parents painful experiences with his own story growing up with them. It was beautiful how the narrator came to understand them with the telling of it. I can’t recommend it enough.

In Order to Live– I’ll admit I had this in the last list, but I simply couldn’t leave it out! Park is a North Korean defector and she gives a peek behind the iron fences of that regime. Her perseverance in the face of such adversity is inspiring beyond belief.

Wild Swans– this family epic made me so emotional. Spanning three generations of Chinese women, it gives a close look into China’s history, including of Maoist China. It’s not just worth reading for the personal stories, but for the significance of the history. It can help understand the modern context of China.

Man in the White Sharkskin Suit– oh this one made me cry- for many, many reasons. Telling of the 20th Century exodus of the Jews from Egypt, it has a personal touch, developing Lagnado’s relationship with her family across its pages. Beautifully written, it was not a book I expected to love quite as much as I did, and yet it had a great impact on me. 

Becoming– I listened to the audio version of this and completely get the hype around it. What’s interesting is I found the parts pre-presidency far more compelling (mostly because, for good reason, there were a lot of things in those 8 years she couldn’t talk about) and I recommend it more for her story than anything else. 

Inheritance– this is a book I read recently and can’t get out of my head. In this genealogical detective story, Shapiro discovers the truth about her parentage. Fundamentally, it is asking the question “who am I”, but I felt like it was answering the question “who are we”? It explores everything that goes into making us who we are and how we guide each other through life.

*BONUS!!!*

I Partridge, We Need to Talk About Alan- AHA we have a winner! Okay, yes, this isn’t a real memoir, but it is a damnably hilarious parody of celebrity memoirs! Definitely worth a read- but all the more fun if you’re at all familiar with the character Alan Partridge!

And that’s all for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? And what are your favourite memoirs? Let me know in the comments!

My Must Read Non Fic

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I didn’t use to be a massive non fiction reader. When I was younger I struggled to read any non fiction book from cover to cover. Then I started including non fiction in my yearly goals to make sure I got my fill. But now- this year- for some reason I can’t explain, I’ve been devouring the non fiction. Maybe it’s cos I got into memoirs last year, maybe it’s cos I can’t seem to click with a lot of my usual favourites this year. Either way, I thought it might be good to recommend a few of the very best non fic books I’ve read over the years. Books that are *vital*, that will shake you to the core, that will mean a lot to any reader. Now, while this won’t be a favourites list, I will say that my interests in non fiction are pretty niche, so be prepared for an unusual selection. But I hope you get as much out of these as I did:

Big Magic– I want to begin on a positive and empowering note- so what better place to start than with something that will spark your creativity? Insightful and inspiring, this was such an uplifting read for me. And it might just give you a kick up the backside if you need it 😉

The Art of War– one of the most spectacular books I’ve ever read. This is full of ancient wisdom that still feels very relevant. And while the title might suggest it’ll only be of use to military generals, I’d strongly recommend this to anyone writing a book or just needs to understand people a bit better. The advice is surprisingly universal.

Man’s Search for Meaning– I’ve gone on about this book so often, I almost feel bad… but it’s such a good book!! It made a massive difference to my own outlook on life. Frankl may have been through hell, however, he used it to empower others to find meaning in suffering.

Twelve Years a Slave– a heartrending, true account, sometimes I just think it’s important to understand history and look evil in the eye. Speaking of which…

Evil– this is in part to understand how and why other people do evil things, but also to understand our own nature as humans. In my view, that is the only way to truly prevent evil in all its forms. When I first started looking into moral psychology, this book was recommended everywhere and for good reason. Not only is it a thorough exploration in its own right, it’s also got a very good bibliography that you can use as a springboard for further research.

Ordinary Men– this is a book I found because of Evil (and other recommendations). Even though I knew it would be tough, I also understood that I had to read it if I wanted to truly understand how ordinary men can do evil things. As important as it is to remember victims, I’d argue it’s more important to understand how the human heart can be twisted to do the unthinkable. Lest we are doomed to repeat it.

Wild Swans– I’m not just recommending this because it’s emotional and moving and interesting- though it is all those things. It goes beyond personal stories to be an account of a historical era that, while recent, seems to have been quickly forgotten. We ought to know more about it.

In Order to Live– I was blown away by this memoir. It was both an incredible and universal tale of human endurance, giving us just a peek behind the fences of North Korea. Hearing of how Park not only persevered and survived, but also thrived was such an inspiration to me. It was impressive beyond belief.

Gulag Archipelago– even if you just read volume 1, I think it is tremendously important to understand the full scope and tragedy of communism. This is the definitive explanation as to why it did not work and why it could never work. It also demonstrates how the same tragedy repeated itself across borders and how the experiment fails the same way every time. I also personally found the parallels with 1984 astounding- which, interestingly enough, the previous two recommendations also explicitly referred to.

Communist Manifesto– because of my last two recommendations, this may be a surprise. However, unsurprisingly, this is not an endorsement of communism. Far from it. I believe that an honest evaluation of this creed is necessary. I trust people to check it out for themselves (and come to your own conclusions about whether it’s a good idea to denigrate human endeavour, family and freedom).

On Liberty– whether you agree with this or not, I feel like it’s important to understand the founding principles of a lot of Western political systems. I think this is a great place to start.

Righteous Minds– given the gulf that exists between political classes right now, I’d say there’s never been a more important time to read this. Explaining why different people react differently to the same information and why people might have different political inclinations, I think this could be really useful for people looking to reach an understanding. In my view, this book can help people move towards productive conversations and see each other’s perspectives. I reckon we could all do with this in our lives.

Woke– and since we’re ending on a political note, then I must once again talk about THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK OF OUR TIME! This book will CHANGE YOUR WHOLE WAY OF THINKING! You will see what A GODDESS TITANIA MCGRATH IS! (okay, for the record, this is satire, don’t make the same mistake as that bookshop that took it too seriously 😉 but I do think it’s a must-read, because there’s no greater cure for all the *bonkers* in the world than a little bit of laughter!)

So, have you read any of these? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Have any MUST-READ books to recommend? Let me know in the comments!