8 Favorite Memoirs

It’s summer and I’m enjoying my eight favorite memoirs.

It’s important to remember memoirs and biographies are different.

While biographies tell an entire life’s story, a memoir generally limits itself a slice of time, or a particular event.

I love memoirs even more than biographies, in part because narrative non-fiction is my favorite genre.

(Memoirs also fall into the narrative non-fiction category. They’re fungible, as needed!)

Reading a great memoir feels like touching an author with that age-old question: “Tell me a story.”

Here’s a list of eight favorite memoirs (in reverse alphabetical order, for fun).

White Road

I’ve written about Olga Ilyin’s memoir before. The story of a brand new mother fleeing the Cossacks during the upheaval of the Russian Revolution, is fascinating. It’s also horrifying as they took off in winter. Filled with stories of the baby’s final bottle, the last diaper pin, wolves, dachas in the woods and incredible cold, this one kept me on the edge of my seat.

Beautifully written by a poet, it also features a most improbable, yet deeply satisfying ending.

Waiting for Snow in Havana

Yale religion profession Carlos Eire wrote a rollicking memoir of his pre-Castro youth in Havana that won the National Book award.

He used glorious Latinate language, clever stories, laugh-out-loud improbabilities and a picture into a world long lost. Fantastico!

Victim of Grace

This is my favorite of novelist Robin Jones Gunn‘s many bestselling books. Filled with her signature melding of laughter, romance and truth, Gunn does not disappoint in her storytelling.

Several images and stories have remained with me ever since I read this wonderful, fun and moving memoir of her life with God.

8 favorite memoirs, Waiting for Snow in Havana, Robin Gunn, Carolyn Weber, Girl Named Zippy, White Road, Madeleine L'Engle, Lynn Vincent, Carlos EireSame Kind of Different as Me

What a wonderful story of God at work in amazing ways through a reluctant husband in Texas and a wise homeless man. Fashioned by Ron Hall, Denver Moore and Lynn Vincent, this memoir resonates in my heart and insists I look at a homeless person with sympathy and hope. A mesmerizing and wonderfully encouraging story.

In Love and War

A family memoir written by James and Sybil Stockdale in his/her alternating chapters. This is the story of their seven years while Jim was held captive in Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton during the war. I read it first as a young Navy wife and came away with a great appreciation for what it means to be part of that select group.

It’s a wonderful story of a marriage that simply did not give up despite overwhelming odds.

Crosswicks Journals

I like several of Madeleine L’Engle‘s Crosswicks Journals, so I just included all four. The Summer of the Great-Grandmother is wonderful storytelling through generations of time and memories. A Circle of Quiet and The Irrational Season gave me hope as an awkward young woman that I might some day smooth out into a confident and wise woman. (Still hoping . . . ).

L’Engle’s voice can become grating with time, but these books met me in a strategic point in my life for good.

Surprised by Oxford8 favorite memoirs, Waiting for Snow in Havana, Robin Gunn, Carolyn Weber, Girl Named Zippy, White Road, Madeleine L'Engle, Lynn Vincent, Carlos Eire

I read Carolyn Weber’s Surprised by Oxford in one sitting. The next year, I reread it on the train while traveling to Oxford, England.

A glorious literary romp, conversion story wrapped in romance. This memoir will delight to anyone who fits into those categories. C.S. Lewis fans will appreciate Weber’s book as well.

A Girl Named Zippy

Haven Kimmel’s story of her childhood is just plain funny.

The stories ridiculous, the tone warm and loving, this is a great read for a summer day on the porche or swinging in a hammock.

Memoirs in time and place

You’ll notice I included where I was in time or life while reading the memoirs listed above.

I can feel the nubly couch from reading Zippy, along with the clack of the train while pouring through Oxford.

I remember the wonder of my life to come while devouring L’Engle’s books and my awe at Sybil Stockton’s devotion.

White Road convinced me I needed jewelry and I read Eire’s book by flashlight while chaperoning the sixth graders to outdoor ed.

Vincent and Gunn’s books just made me feel encouraged all over–though perhaps that’s because I heard their voices in my head while reading!

Maybe a memoir just needs to hit you in the right time and place for it to stay in your heart?

What are some of your favorite memoirs? I’m always looking for suggestions!


8 favorite memoirs for summer fun and erudition. Click to Tweet

Grandmothers, Zippy, Snow, Havana and great memoirs. Click to Tweet

Victim of Grace, White Road, Same Kind of Different; great memoirs. Click to Tweet

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