Memoirs That You Can’t Put Down

I love reading memoirs that you can’t put down. You know the kind of book that reads almost like fiction.

Memoirs are one of my favorite types of nonfiction books to read. Real-life really is often stranger than fiction. I almost always prefer to read about a real-life dysfunctional family over a fictitious one.

Because we love memoirs so much we put together a list of our favorite memoirs.

As always this list is a list of books that Grace and I have read and enjoyed. We feel that these books are all memoirs that you can’t put down once you start reading them.

I will admit that not all memoirs are for everyone. Many of the memoirs, including ones that are on this list, deal with tough topics. They share stories of rough lives, tough childhoods, war, and more.

If you are someone that is sensitive to those types of stories, or stories about abuse be sure to read our full review by clicking on the title of the book.

Memoirs That Are Hard To Put Down

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle was published in 2006. It is one of the books that is credited for making modern-day memoirs popular. I read this book in 2016. It was one of my favorite books that I read that year. Jeannette Walls grew up in extreme poverty in a deeply dysfunctional family. In The Glass Castle, she shares the honest and difficult story of her childhood.

Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is not only Phil Knight’s memoir it is the story of NIKE and how NIKE became the company it is today. Shoe Dog is a great memoir for those that enjoy business books or books about how businesses are built.

Walk To Beautiful

Walk To Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne

In Walk To Beautiful, country music singer, Jimmy Wayne shares his childhood of growing up in and out of foster care and how it made him who he is today. This book deals with difficult subjects. It is a tough but good read.

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy is J.D. Vance’s memoir of growing up and spending time in the Appalachian mountain area of the country. Some of what this book deals with is unique to that area, but much of it is a reality all over America. I think many families will be able to relate in some way to this story. The warning I would put on this book is that it deals with tough subjects and it had a lot of language in it. This book has also had some controversy surrounding it, but I enjoyed it.

All the Pretty Things

All the Pretty Things by Edie Wadsworth

All the Pretty Things is one of those books that will bring you to tears. Your heart will break for what Edie and her family have gone through. But this story is also a story of survival, hope, and God’s grace. 

A Thousand Miles to Freedom

A Thousand Miles To Freedom by Eunsun Kim

I don’t think A Thousand Miles To Freedom got the attention that it deserves. It is a great read. Very few people escape North Korea. Even fewer escape and then turn their story into a book. What I loved about this book, is that it gives you a look into North Korea which is rare. It is a story of modern-day survival that you have probably never read or heard about. It shares a look into something that very few of us know about.

Cheaper By the Dozen

Cheaper By the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth

Did you know that the movie Cheaper By the Dozen was based on a nonfiction book? Yes, the Cheaper By the Dozen family was a real family. In the Cheaper By the Dozen book, Frank B. Gilbreth shares his fascinating childhood in a family of twelve kids. This book is hilarious and fun. It is a memoir that was written in 1948, so it has an old-fashioned feel, but if you love memoirs and haven’t read this one, you should add it to your TBR list.

Forty Autumns

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner

Forty Autumns is not just a memoir it is the biography of a family and their courage and survival on both sides of the Berlin Wall. I loved this book. It is a real-life story that follows a family through multiple generations that lived on both sides of the Berlin Wall. 

A Long Way Home book cover

A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

At five years old Sarro Brierly was lost on a train in India. He did not know the name of his town or even his own last name. He survived on the streets of India, ended up in an orphanage, and then was adopted by a couple from Australia. In A Long Way Home Saroo Brierley shares his story of being lost, finding a home, and then the long road of trying to find his family. I got his as part of my Page 1 subscription and it was the perfect book for me.

Gone to the Woods book

Gone To the Words by Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen is the author of Hatchet and many other books for kids and teens. Gone to the Woods is Gary Paulsen’s autobiography. He lived a difficult life and he shares it in an honest way. This book takes you on all kinds of adventures starting with life on his aunt and uncle’s farm to living overseas in the Philippines after WWII. It covers his difficult adolescent years and how a library and librarian helped change his life. My son and I listen to this on audio on a car trip and really enjoyed it. If you have read Gary Paulsen’s books, I think you will enjoy hearing about his life and how it inspired his books.


Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Inheritance makes you think, makes you question, and yet marvel at the advances in science and technology. It makes you think about family and genetics and what makes us who we are. Once I started this book, I could not put it down. It is a well written fascinating memoir. It is a book that reminds us that fact is often stranger than fiction.

Through the Eyes of a Lion

Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko

This book is part memoir part encouragement on how to face impossible things. Levi Lusko and his wife lost their five year old daughter due to an asthma attack. As someone who suffers from asthma, and has several kids that have asthma, this was tough, but a good read for me.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken book

Will the Circle Be Unbroken by Sean Dietrich

Sean Dietrich of Sean of the South shares his story of growing up in the south. He scattered his father’s ashes from a mountain top at twelve years old. Will the Circle Be Unbroken is a story of love, loss, family, life in the south, and so much more. It is an unforgettable story of overcoming your past and the odds that are against you.


Educated by Tara Westover

I always struggle to say that I enjoyed a non-fiction book like this that shares a tragic event or difficult life and childhood. Maybe saying I found the book Educated fascinating is a better way to describe it. Once I started this book, I had trouble putting it down. I read it in just a few days. This book is truly a fact is stranger than fiction story.

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale

If you love true crime books Catch Me If You Can is a great one. Grace could not put this one down once she started reading it. At one time Frank W. Abagnale the author of Catch Me if You Can was one of the most wanted criminals in the world. He shares a fascinating story of the life he lived.

My Life In France

My Life In France by Julia Child

My Life In France is a must read for foodies. It is considered an autobiography, but it reads more like a memoir to me. It was published in 2006. Julia Child wrote it with the help of her nephew. It is a fascinating look at France and food during the Cold War and how Julia Child became the famous chef that we know.

Save Me the Plums

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

I love it when my love of food and reading comes together. Save Me the Plums is a memoir all about food and the food publishing world. Ruth Reichl shares her love of food and cooking. This book covered life in New York City and the food, publishing, and advertising world. This is another great memoir for foodies.

Farewell to Manzanar

Farewell To Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

Farewell To Manzanar was published in 1973. It is a memoir of life in Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp during WWII. I feel like this is a book that should be required reading in school. This is an important part of our history that we need to know about.

Testament of Youth book review

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth is a memoir of WWI. This book isn’t your typical, can’t put it down, memoir. It was written in 1933, so the writing style is different than a modern day memoir. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did I found this book a great look at WWI that not many books share.

Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

I had to include this food memoir on the list. I am not sure I have ever loved a book so much that I was so hesitant to recommend it. This book was first published in 2007. Anthony Bourdain shares a raw look at the restaurant world in NYC. I found this book so interesting. I may never look at eating out the same way again. However, this book has a ton of language and a ton of really rough descriptive sexual content that makes me a little reluctant to recommend it. So this book is one that is not for everyone.

The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz

The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitx by Denis Avey

Grace read this one a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The author goes into what happened to him as a prisoner of war. He says that he went into Auschwitz by trading places with a Jew. He has stories of what he saw in Auschwitz, and I found that to be gripping. He describes it differently than people who lived in it, maybe that is because he knew he was just there for a day and didn’t have to suffer for years.

Never Call Me a Hero

Never Call Me a Hero by N. Jack “Dusty” Kleiss

This is another book that Grace loved. It is about Dusty and his memories of World War II. He has an amazing story that is very well written. It is one of Grace’s favorite World War II stories.

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me by Jennifer Teege

The is a book about Jennifer Teege and her journey of investigating her family’s history. That journey leads her to find out horrible things about her family in WWII. The title is in fact true. Her grandfather probably would have shot her. A fascinating well-written read.

What is your favorite memoir?

3 thoughts on “Memoirs That You Can’t Put Down”

  1. There are so many good ones here that I need to add to my TBR list. Recently I bought “Jerome Kersey: Overcoming the Odds” by Kerry Eggers. I have a few books to finish before I start it, but knowing you’re from NW Oregon and that you like memoirs and sports books, I thought you might be interested in it too. The late’80s-early’90s were good years for the Blazers with a team of men of such strong character. I’m sure Jerome’s story will be a good one.

    • I had not seen that book so thank you for the recommendation. I am going to add it to my list. Those were great years for the Blazers! It was a team of great players. Since I am from Oregon and remember the Blazers well during that time I am definitely adding this to my TBR. Thanks!

  2. Living in Appalachia for 77 years and dealing with thousands of Appalachian people during my teaching and social worker years, I loved The Glass Castle and Hillbilly Elegy. Those books are winners! Great recommendations!


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