8 Memorable Memoirs that Move Me

by | Jun 13, 2014 | Books


H often teases me about falling asleep through movies and television shows. I’m just not that interested if there isn’t some kind of relationship element in the story. What makes people tick – that’s what inspires me.  And my relational preferences cross over into books.

At the heart of memoir is brave vulnerability; intimate life details like two girlfriends in bunk beds on a hot summer night sharing stories and secrets. It’s the underside of life shown through word pictures that gives me hope.

Mostly, memoir writing holds up a mirror. In each story, we see a silhouette of our true selves, a distinguishing outline that offers revelation and insight.

We don’t have to agree to be inspired by someone, that’s the joy of memoir.

While each of these books captures unique voice, they all have a special place on my bookshelves. Today, I’m continuing my weekly posts on books that have a prominent place in my heart with eight memoirs. I started with 8 (Fiction) Books I Can’t Put Down and 12 (Non-Fiction) Authors Who Influence Me.

Growing Up by Russell Baker

I found this book when my best friend shared a new-to-me author’s website and this book was  listed in her writers toolbox of reads. Serendipity at its finest, don’t you think? Baker’s tale of growing up under the cloud of depression between world wars paints an accurate, informing and courageous story that sticks in my memory like sweet taffy chewed slowly to savor it. You’ll experience every emotion.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

I think this may be my favorite memoir, perhaps because I can identify with much of her story. Walls tells the sobering tale of growing up in a dysfunctional family that paints a fine line between mental illness associated with alcoholism and parental neglect. I took it as a great compliment when my agent told me that my writing reminds him of Walls.

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

For the girl who loves finding redemption this one is lacking in that category. But in typical Patchett form, this story of a 20-year friendship with Lucy Grealy, the notable author of Autobiography of a Face, haunted me for weeks. In exquisite storytelling, she vulnerably exposes the joy and dark side of friendship with Lucy, who suffers to find identity after losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer. I read Grealy’s bestseller afteward and found it riveting. Found them both at my used bookstore. Score!

Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha

I’m not choosing this one just because Michelle is a dear friend but because it is truly one of my favorite reads ever. I actually read her book in one Sunday, which is a first for me. Michelle is funny, painstakingly honest and thoughtful about finding relationship with God as a “spiritual misfit.” Anyone who feels like an outsider in typical Christian culture (which is probably all of us) will identity with Michelle’s journey. You’ll laugh out loud and then find yourself tearing up throughout her stories. The Cheez-it story seems to be the most memorable. Curious?

Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza

I can’t remember if I read this before or after my first trip to Rwanda but it has perhaps done more to shape my faith than any other memoir. As Immaculee tells the tragic but redemptive story of survival through the 1994 genocide, I found myself thinking, What would I do and how would I react if faced with her circumstances. It made me stand back, take a sobering look at my faith and begin making some changes. You will need Kleenex but it’s worth it.

The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner

Because truthfully, he could write about eating burnt toast and I would love it. Buechner shares about a childhood moment; a morning he anticipates an outing with his father that becomes the most tragic day of his life, one he questions throughout adulthood. He has a way, always, of turning everyday life we often overlook into extraordinary moments of pondering.

All is Grace by Brennan Manning

In the last book of his life, I sense Manning has nothing to lose as he shares openly and honestly about living as a Christian with the limp of alcoholism. It is stunningly authentic; true to his “Ragamuffin” status. He makes brokenness a state of simple beauty.

Currently on my Nightstand:  The Eyes of the Heart by Frederick Buechner, Atlas Girl by Emily Wierenga and Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen.

What memoirs would you add to this list?

For more book recommendations in different genres, click on my What I Read tab.

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  1. Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    I really loved Truth and Beauty.

    • Shelly Miller

      I know me too Kelly. I didn’t like it at first but then I found myself thinking about it for days on end. A sign of a good one, don’t ya think?

  2. Kelly Greer

    Thank you for this list Shelly and I have to agree on Michelle’s book. I have been gifting it like crazy because it is both relatable and funny. I have Atlas Girl on pre-order and cannot wait to have it in my hands. I am looking forward to reading your memoir some day too. I hope we don’t have to wait much longer!

    • Lynn D. Morrissey

      Ditto, Kelly. Shelly, we are all waiting with baited breath. Have never totally understood what that means, but we are EAGERLY ANTICIPATING!!!!!!

      • Shelly Miller

        You two are good for my ego, thank you for the encouragement. *wink*

  3. Michelle DeRusha

    I can’t even tell you how grateful I am that you included Spiritual Misfit (1) among this list of stellar writers and (2) as one of your favorite books. Humbled, Shelly. And grateful (I needed this little lift today, girl, with the book currently ranked on Amazon at #148,000 – BLEH!!!!!!).

    • Lynn D. Morrissey

      I ditto Shelly, Michelle. Stop reading those dumb rankings…..well, please, ok?! I’m telling you: God will get this where it needs to go. LOVED THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!

      • Shelly Miller

        I echo Lynn, numbers are not an accurate indicator of influence or worth. Your book is being used by God despite whatever number it ranks. And your writing resonates Michelle, it does.

    • Dena Dyer

      Amazon, Schmamazon. BLEH on them. 🙁 Your book is priceless, friend, as are you.

  4. Lynn D. Morrissey

    I would add Sue Monk Kidd’s God’s Joyful Surprise and When the Heart Waits, plus,drum roll: Shelly Miller’s Marvelous Memorable Moving Meaningful Memoir!!!!!!!!
    So there!

    • Shelly Miller

      I need to get that those by Sue Monk Kidd, you’ve mentioned them to me many times Lynn. I read her Invention of Wings and LOVED it.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        You’ll love these.

  5. pastordt

    What a great list!! And Baker, DeRusha, Buechner and Manning are on my list, as well. Fabulous, one and all. I thought Baker’s opening was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever read when I found it 30 years ago or so – and I think of it still as we’ve tended these moms with dementia. I wait impatiently for yours, Shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      I know Diana, the opening of Growing Up drew me in, such vivid imagery. Thinking about you today as you recover.

  6. Jillie

    Hi Shelly…Again, I love your book lists! Have read ‘All Is Grace’–fantastic, after reading Jennifer Dukes Lee’s tribute to Manning after he died. Had never heard of him prior. ‘The Glass Castle’ is one of my all-time favourites. I also own ‘Left To Tell’ by Immaculee. Horrendous story but full of hope. And yes, ‘Spiritual Misfit’ and ‘Love Idol’ (by Miss Jennifer) are also two of my favourites. Have you ever read anything from ‘Rick Bragg’? He came recommended by a good friend and I simply love him!

    • Shelly Miller

      I haven’t read anything by Bragg, he is a new name to me. I’ll have to check him out since we have similar taste in books. Thanks!

  7. Natalie

    I’ll be exploring some of those titles. Thanks for sharing. I’ve read The Sacred Journey. That was a work of painful art, indeed.

    • Shelly Miller

      They are all quite different Natalie, hope you enjoy them.

  8. Lisa

    Absorbed Buechner’s story with relish; the way he turns a phrase is a reader’s joy. A very different voice, but so heart gripping, would be All that is Bitter and Sweet by Ashley Judd. Her strength of faith in her global aids prevention work is seared in my memory.

    • Shelly Miller

      I know Lisa, I love every.single.thing Buechner writes. Such a creative thinker and wonderful communicator, isn’t he? Thank for the recommendation.

    • Dena Dyer

      YES. I totally agree with that recommendation.

  9. Dena Dyer

    I haven’t read Baker’s book but LOVE the others you mentioned, esp. Live to Tell (it shook me hard, but I needed it) and of course our dear Michelle’s book. I am anxious to hear what you think about Janzen’s first memoir. I finished her second one and wasn’t as impressed. The first one was delightful, though, IMHO. I just finished Karen Armstrong’s “The Spiral Staircase” and though it was without redemption (like “Truth and Beauty”) I liked it for very personal reasons. [always knew we were soul-sisters. I just wish we could spend some time together talking about books, over tea. Maybe one day, In England?]. Hugs, friend!

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