10 MUST-READ BIOGRAPHIES AND MEMOIRS OF REMARKABLE WOMEN
I still remember when I discovered Helen Keller. I stumbled across a children’s biography at my elementary school’s library and I was obsessed. I learned everything I could about her, watched each version of The Miracle Worker I could get my hands on, and embarked on a life-long love affair with reading biographies and memoirs of remarkable women.
Tales of amazing women have guided me along at each important moment in my life. I devoured Allie Brosh’s stories while trying to make sense of my anxiety, Caroline Knapp kept me company when I quit drinking, and Joan Didion helped me process the death of someone important to me. Now, I keep Lindy West’s and Phoebe Robinson’s books at hand as I determine how to move forward in the Trump era.
Here’s a list of 10 biographies and memoirs of remarkable women. All descriptions are from Amazon unless otherwise specified.
1. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock. Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population.Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization.
2. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. In this funny, razor-edged memoir, Karr looks back at her upbringing in a swampy East Texas refinery town with a volatile, defiantly loving family. With a raw authenticity stripped of self-pity and a poet’s eye for the lyrical detail, Karr shows us a “terrific family of liars and drunks … redeemed by a slow unearthing of truth.
3. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Didion’s husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack, just after they had returned from the hospital where their only child, Quintana, was lying in a coma. This book is a memoir of Dunne’s death, Quintana’s illness, and Didion’s efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. This book is about getting a grip and getting on; it’s also a tribute to an extraordinary marriage (summary from The New Yorker).
4. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. When Malala was fifteen, she was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York.
5. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. In the wake of her mother’s death, Strayed’s family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with no experience or training, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail alone.Wild captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
6. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, as fundamentalists seized hold of the universities and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the women in Nafisi’s living room spoke not only of the books they were reading but also about themselves, their dreams and disappointments.
7. Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston. This is an imaginative and exuberant account of Hurston’s rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston’s self-portrait offers a revealing, often audacious glimpse into the life of an extraordinary artist, anthropologist, chronicler, and champion of the black experience in America.
8. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi. A memoir-in-comic strips, this is the story of Satrapi’s childhood and coming of age in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.
9. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. The first Hispanic and third woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor has become an instant American icon. Now, with a candor and intimacy never undertaken by a sitting Justice, she recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a journey that offers an inspiring testament to her own extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself.
10. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter’s complex yearning for her father. A fresh and brilliantly told memoir from a cult favorite comic artist, marked by gothic twists, a family funeral home, sexual angst, and great books