Nonfiction November is here, and we want to arm you with the BEST memoir recommendations for fast page-turners that are just as compelling as fiction.
This week’s podcast guest, Olive Fellows from the BookTube Channel “A Book Olive,” will join the show to share her Nonfiction November challenge that encourages readers to embrace nonfiction books through beautifully assigned prompts. Listen to the episode below or here.
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In the spirit of this month’s challenge, I wanted to share a few of my favorite memoir discoveries.
Although I have included a couple of great celebrity memoirs, today’s focus is also on a few under-the-radar gems that will fascinate, surprise, and inspire you.
These people have all lived extraordinary lives and I found these to be difficult to put down.
The Best Memoirs to Read for Nonfiction November
I can say with great confidence that this book will be on the best books of the year list.
Katy Tur is an MSNBC anchor who became more notable during her coverage of the Trump presidency as she followed and documented his campaign trail.
This book is NOT about that time, though, and offers no particular lens on the campaign other than some general reflections on our distrust in journalism and the growing challenges of this polarizing season.
This is Tur’s coming-of-age story growing up as the child of pioneering helicopter journalist parents.
To clarify, I’m not talking about helicopter parenting with parents who hover too much over their children.
Instead, I am talking about commercial pilots that captured some of the most significant moments in history, like the Los Angeles riots of 1992 and the white Bronco footage when O.J. Simpson was on the run.
When she was just a toddler, she would ride in her parents’ helicopter as they reported on these stories as they were happening.
As you can imagine, being bold enough to take on this task came with significant risks and rewards. Her father never shied away from these opportunities but embraced them, leading them to fame and fortune of their own.
Unfortunately, this ambition came with a price, including death threats to their family and a chaotic existence for every family member. His temper proved to be the perfect stomping ground for what she would later deal with in her journalism career covering the presidential campaign of 2016.
Later, in adulthood, Katy’s father makes a surprising transition to a woman. Katy shares these passages with honesty and vulnerability, along with the mourning process she goes through.
However, the more significant issues she grapples with are less rooted in this gender decision and more in their complicated past.
We also follow Tur’s journalism career as she becomes a mother through this challenging season as a journalist and the pandemic.
I can’t think of a memoir that deserves to be turned into a film more than this.
It is larger than life while still feeling so grounded that I could not stop listening.
Ruth is the 39th child in her polygamist family of 42 children. Ruth’s father is brutally murdered by his brother, and Ruth’s mother later marries another polygamist who cares little for these children or provides for his family.
He is the epitome of a deadbeat dad with little to offer to his family.
This is also a true survivor story as Ruth becomes sexually abused, and the people who should love and believe in her the most are not there for her in her life. It is about what it is like to grow up in poverty, the challenges of being just one of many wives, the challenges of disability, and how Ruth has had to learn to stand up for herself.
Well-written and hard to put down, the tragedy that unfolds left me stunned and in awe of Wariner’s strength and resilience.
Formation by Ryan Leigh Dostie
This was one of the first memoirs we had the opportunity to read together in the MomAdvice Book Club and a memorable and compelling story from Ryan Leigh Dostie.
Ryan’s journey begins when she strikes up a conversation with an Army recruiter (who visits her high school), that leads her to sign up to join the troops.
It’s an opportunity for her to grow her own wings as she has grown up in a sheltered Christian community.
For her role, Ryan is hired as a linguist and finds the environment challenging as a woman and as someone who has been sheltered so lovingly by her family.
One awful night Ryan is raped by a fellow soldier, and this story, HER story, is about the aftermath of reporting the soldier and how this begins to impact her career and reputation.
While the story of the assault is just a couple of pages, it is powerful, raw, and honest.
What makes this one more compelling is the journey Ryan takes as she learns to love herself again and find peace within her body.
It’s such a journey too and I’m thankful she shared it in such an honest way.
I also learned SO MUCH about what it would be like to serve in the Army as a woman. There are so many aspects to this complicated role that I never knew about.
I, truly, have even more respect for our women soldiers and the obstacles they face daily.
We asked Ryan to join us for a book club chat and it was a powerful evening of reflection and frustration on how far we still need to go on believing women.
Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
One night, as an adolescent, Adrienne is awakened by her mother confessing that she has kissed another man.
The husband (and his wife) are their oldest friends, and she needs a confidant to spill her secrets to and assist with coordinating her secret rendezvous.
Adrienne loves having her mother’s attention and tirelessly lends her ear to hear the stories of her mother’s infidelity. She also becomes the decoy for many of their secret meetings. Adrienne loves feel chosen to be part of her mother’s other world.
The affair goes on for years and what was once exciting starts to cause strain on Adrienne. She is forced to lie constantly and her guilt starts to infiltrate her daily life.
When Adrienne begans confiding in others, she realizes how inappropriate her involvement is and how this secret then begins to threaten her relationships.
I could not put this one down and be captivated from page one.
If you have a challenging relationship with your mother, this might be difficult to read.
That said, Adrienne’s lessons learned through this experience contain so much wisdom as she begins processing the actions of her narcissistic mother.
Rabbit by Patricia Williams
This memoir shares the story of Patricia Williams (aka Ms. Pat) and her life growing up in Atlanta at the height of the crack epidemic.
Williams is one of five children and witnessed how her mother was able to work the system to help her family survive and how her children were used just for these purposes.
Patricia becomes a mom of two children at fifteen and must learn strategies for her family to survive when she is only a child too. She becomes a master at hustling and dealing crack to keep her family fed.
This book is unflinching in its honesty about how quickly Patricia had to grow up and the unbelievably difficult situations she survived, from being sexually abused to even being shot.
She survived it all, though, and shared her story with equal parts heart and humor, even in the face of her adversities.
Moving to Shanghai and being newly married, Amber finds herself thrown into a new world.
A third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, Amber has devoted her entire life to the ministry.
Although she had freedom in the states to share about God, in Shanghai, she finds herself in a secret society where her preaching is illegal and punishable.
There is nothing like moving away to help you discover yourself, is there?
This is a coming-of-age story to realize that there were so many ways to see the world and its people. A blossoming friendship with someone outside the faith leads her to an awareness of how many different ways one can find God.
The decision to explore this comes with severe consequences, including being shunned by her church community, the one place where she finds her identity.
I learned so much about China’s customs and culture, and could not put this down. Amber’s story of finding herself was gorgeous and forced me to reflect on my time growing up in church in a completely different way.
Do you love a good meet cute story?
This sweeping love story was a MomAdvice Book Club selection that will give you the chance to travel the world with the most unlikely tour guide.
City girl, Torre DeRoche, isn’t looking for love, but a chance encounter in a San Francisco bar sparks an instant connection with a soulful Argentinean man who unexpectedly sweeps her off her feet.
He’s about to cast the dock lines and voyage around the world on his small sailboat, and Torre is terrified of deep water. However, lovesick Torre determines that to keep the man of her dreams, she must embark on the voyage of her nightmares, so she waves goodbye to dry land and braces for a life-changing journey that’s as exhilarating as it is terrifying.
It is hilarious, harrowing, and a true story of what it would be like to sail around the world.
In this heartwarming coming-of-age story, Zauner returns home to care for her mother as she battles an arduous journey with cancer.
As with all mother-and-daughter relationships, this relationship has much complexity, and Zauner struggles with not meeting her mother’s expectations.
It becomes quite the role reversal when Michelle must care for her mother’s basic needs, including feeding her.
To bring comfort to her mother, she longs to recreate all of the Korean dishes she grew up with to comfort her mother (and herself) through this time.
Zauner brings much humor to the beginning of this book as she shares her childhood memories of her mother’s younger days.
Later in the book, she writes of her grief with raw and heartbreaking honesty that left a lump in my throat.
This haunting memoir that delivers on gorgeous narration and bits of music within the audiobook.
Jollett was born into one of the country’s most infamous cults and lived a life thick with poverty, abuse, and so unpredictable that it is pretty stunning that he survived.
It is evident that he is an incredibly gifted child and finds ways to weather narcissistic parenting and abuse in ways that most children would be unable to endure.
However, despite it all, his path finds him on the way to Stanford. It then blossoms into working professionally as a musician and writer.
It might be challenging to read if you are feeling blue. Jollett’s sweetness and poetic writing, though, makes going on the journey with him worthwhile, even amid unbelievable heartache.
Tessa Fontaine shares two death-defying stories…her own and the incredible story of her mother, who defied all predictions of death for many years after suffering a series of strokes.
Many of us dream of escaping it all, but Tessa does this and applies for a job working with the World of Wonders, America’s last traveling sideshow.
Bravely, she tries all sorts of incredible acts within this company, like sword swallowing, snake charming, and even performing as an electric woman!
Surrounding herself with some of the world’s most unusual people, she shares their stories with kindness and love for this misfit family and her time with them.
Layered between these captivating moments, she weaves in the parallel life of her mother and her death-defying act of traveling the world amid health struggles that should have killed her.
She reflects poetically on the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship and how we grow to understand our parents more and more as we age.
Open Book by Jessica Simpson
If you had told me that I would have found Jessica Simpson’s memoir to be one of the most compelling memoirs I’ve read, I would have chuckled.
While often thought of as a dumb blonde, Jessica now runs a successful billion-dollar global fashion brand that proves she has more brains than Hollywood had ever expected.
Originally slated to write a self-help book, she realized she could help people more by being open and honest about what she had to overcome to reach success and happiness. She wasn’t prepared to offer advice, but she could share the challenges within her own story.
Simpson’s title says it all because she unashamedly shares her story from the beginning of her career to her current successes.
Her life has not been all roses and sunshine, and this book is quite dishy.
The meat of this doesn’t lie in learning about her past marriage with Nick Lachey, though.
It lies within her internal struggles.
Within these pages is the power struggle with her parents, her family’s tragic death, the sexual abuse she endured, and her addiction issues.
She also candidly documents her struggles with healthy body acceptance and her continued body dysmorphic disorder after having kids.
I really enjoyed this one for its refreshing honesty and smartly layered truth bombs within its pages.
Memoirs are best savored in audiobook format, especially when their author reads them.
This memoir, in particular, lends itself well to this format because so much emotion is behind so many of these passages that allow you to connect with her writing.
If you have struggled to get answers to your chronic illness or had moments where you felt disbelieved by physicians, this one will hit some tender spots in your heart.
As with many “secret lady clubs” she discovered that many other women had faced similar circumstances when sharing her story. So why was this such a common theme, and why do we have to work so hard to be believed?
Sarah is a powerhouse for many reasons, this book is just one of them.
Not only is she a gifted writer, but she’s a gifted musician and also was a part of the writing team for Obama’s campaign in 2008.
I had the chance to sit down with her for an afternoon and talk through her story, and I have to say that this is one of the most powerful interviews that I’ve ever got to be part of.
This conversation can be listened to in our Book Gang Patreon community.
Not only can you immerse yourself in this memoir, you can watch the HBO documentary series when you finish.
This memoir details the obsessive search for McNamara to uncover the identity of a serial rapist turned murderer. NcNamara’s tireless investigation to pinpoint the source of terror that haunted California for over a decade.
McNamara, tragically, passed away while researching this book, and those that worked on the case with her (her lead researcher and a close colleague) pieced together all of the incredible research that she did to try to solve this case.
Over ten years, a violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California and then headed South, only to achieve an additional ten sadistic murders.
He got away with the terror he caused by disappearing and eluded his capture despite the best detectives in the area being on the case.
Three decades later, Mcnamara (a true crime journalist) was determined to discover his identity and spent the last portion of her career searching for answers for these victims.
Her research is so expansive and McNamara leaves no stone unturned, becoming a trusted confidant of many lead investigators in this case.
McNamara remains grounded throughout her account while offering compassion and hope for justice for these victims.
She was a gifted writer that, sadly, died too soon.
Bookending this story is an intro by Gillian Flynn and a touching afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, completing this as a captivating read that will keep you up until the wee hours.
Although Bryony was not someone I knew, she’s a respected journalist (working at The Telegraph), was a bestselling author, and launched an award-winning mental health campaign.
She’s so well-known that when I found her podcast, I discovered her first episode on mental health was with…wait for it… PRINCE HARRY.
People did not know that secretly Bryon was battling a twenty-year addiction to drugs and alcohol that had spiraled out of control, threatening her own life, her marriage, and her motherhood journey.
This memoir documents her recovery process, and it is, honestly, the best memoir on recovery I have ever read.
Often our recovery stories end with just the rehabilitation process. This story documents some critical lessons from the challenges of sober holidays to replacing these addictions with different addictions (yes, even ones that feel healthy).
It expands beyond the scope of the traditional recovery program that make it compelling and hard to put down.
A Few Well-Known Memoirs You Could Also Read
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
Maid by Stephanie Land
What memoir would you recommend for Nonfiction November? Please share your recommendations below!
Looking for more books to read? Check out these posts for more book recommendations!
The Best Psychological Thrillers to Check Out
15 Books About Books, Bookstores, and Libraries
Join the MomAdvice Book Club (and read with me ALL YEAR!)