From a story of unthinkable loss after a natural disaster to the first book that helped readers understand what depression feels like, these acclaimed memoirs have the power to change your world view with the turn of a page.
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The Water is Wide, by Pat Conroy
Legendary author Pat Conroy’s first book deals with a common theme: A young idealist wants to change the world, only to discover it won’t be as easy as he thinks. However, Conroy’s story of a year spent teaching impoverished children is told so vividly, with such passion and empathy, that you feel like you’re experiencing the hardships and triumphs along with him.
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala
While vacationing in Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004, Sonali Deraniyagala and her family were swept up in a 30-foot high racing wave; only Deraniyagala survived. Her wrenching account of the loss of her two sons, her husband, and her parents are a punch to the stomach. But ultimately, her story provides an understanding of how one can move forward after experiencing an unthinkable loss.
Always Running, by Luis J. Rodriguez
Luis Rodriguez was only 11 years old when he joined his first street gang. Ultimately, he escaped from a life of violence and crime when he found a higher calling through art, writing, and championing political causes. Years later when Rodriguez watched his own son lured by gang life, he wrote Always Running in an effort to pull his son back by sharing his own story.
Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup
It wasn’t until the 1960s that this harrowing true story of a freed slave recaptured and sold into slavery was rediscovered. The inspiration for the 2014 Oscar-winning film, Twelve Years a Slave gives readers an invaluable glimpse into a shameful chapter of American history.
Darkness Visible, by William Styron
William Styron’s memoir detailing his battle with depression is justly credited with bringing discussions of mental illness out into the open. Styron, who likened his depression to “being in prison in an intensely hot room from which there’s no escape,” helped a generation of readers understand what depression looks and feels like, and the book remains an essential text on the subject to this day.
The Child Who Never Grew, by Pearl Buck
When Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl Buck published this memoir in 1950, it was one of the first works of nonfiction to candidly discuss raising a child with severe disabilities. Despite all the difficulties, Buck realized, “It was my child who taught me to understand so clearly that all people are equal in their humanity and that all have the same human rights.”
The Lord God Made Them All, by James Herriot
Whether or not you love books about animals, you won’t be able to resist James Herriot’s charming stories of life as a veterinarian in the English countryside, told with wit, warmth and compassion.
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Adolescence is rarely easy, but imagine coming of age in the midst of a political revolution. Satrapi’s story of growing up in 1970s Tehran is both foreign and familiar, and a stunning look at the power of the graphic novel as memoir to convey universal truths.
Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Think your house is crowded? Imagine sharing it with 11 brothers and sisters and two parents who consider themselves to be “efficiency experts.” This warm and comic memoir gives readers an understanding of how an oversized family could survive financially in the 20th century.
Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat’s memoir is a tale of a Haitian family adjusting to life in a new country, while still plagued with anxiety about political unrest back home. This intimate memoir is both emotional and political and paints a picture of Haiti that goes far beyond the snippets of news that many Americans know.