Book Recommendations, Reading

12 Compulsively Readable Memoirs/Biographies

12 Compulsively Readable Memoirs + Biographies // If you're looking for tales of real life that are as readable as many novels, check out these 12 picks! #memoirs #bookrecommendations #booklist #bookrecs #biographies

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to always be in the middle of several books at once so that I’ve got a pick to fit every mood that might come up. My “ideal four” genres to always have going on? An adult fiction, a young adult fiction, a nonfiction (often a self-help or religious title), and a memoir/biography. Lately, I’ve noticed that I seem to finish the memoirs MUCH faster than I finish anything else, often because I’ll start one later in the week and find myself so drawn in by the story that I’ve finished it by Sunday.

So, if you’re looking for a memoir or biography that you could easily finish off in a weekend, look no further—almost all of these picks were finished within a time span of about 72 hours, and they run the gamut from the *just* out of the ordinary to the almost sensational, so there should be a title to fit what you’re looking for!

Note: If you click on the titles below, you’ll notice that they are affiliate links through the Amazon Associates program, which means that I get a small percentage of any sale (at no extra cost to you), which helps to support To Love and To Learn.

Title: Educated

Author: Tara Westover

This memoir has been getting a LOT of buzz recently, and for good reason. Reminiscent of The Glass Castle (which I also mention on this list), Educated is about Tara Westover’s experience growing up in a survivalist family where her father insisted they live “off the grid” and not allow their children access to public education, hospitals, government-sponsored anything, etc. In this raw and at times almost unbelievable book, she talks about the internal struggle she faced (and continues to face)—is the price of education and a more free existence worth severing ties with her family? Note: This title would make a GREAT book club pick, as it’s one you will definitely want (and I’d even say NEED) to discuss after.

Title: The Dirty Life

Author: Kristin Kimball

After my post on 14 books (beyond cookbooks) that foodies would love, reader Kaity pointed me to this title, which I’d never heard of before. And I’m so glad she did! The Dirty Life is the story of a city girl reporter who, when interviewing a rural first-generation farmer, falls in love with him (and his farm) and decides to uproot herself from everything she knows and understands to marry him and start the farming life. As I’ve long nursed dreams of living in the country and having my own little farm, this book was a great little trove of both the good AND the hard about farming. While it definitely made me think twice about wanting my own farm for real, it was delightful getting to experience it vicariously through someone else!

Title: Into the Wild

Author: Jon Krakauer

This book both fascinated and haunted me throughout my reading of it, and it’s a story I will probably never, ever forget. Into the Wild is journalist Jon Krakauer’s research into a young man who, after graduating from college, sold everything he owned and literally went off into the Alaskan wilderness, where he disappeared after four months. Piecing together the complicated bits and pieces of Chris McCandless’s story, this book reads almost like a suspense novel—I literally couldn’t put it down for long (except at night, when I didn’t want to freak myself out too much!). Note: I recently discovered that his sister actually recently published a book that sheds a lot more light on WHY McCandless did what he did, though I’ve heard mixed reviews about it. That book is called The Wild Truth, and it costs less than $6 on Amazon (or ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>you can actually read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited).

Title: Meet the Frugalwoods

Author: Elizabeth Willard Thames

This is the perfect example of a highly readable memoir that is also super relatable, as Thames’s experiences aren’t SO far off-base that they make her story seem out of the realm of possibility. I’ve long been a fan of the Frugalwoods blog, and I was ecstatic when I heard she’d be writing a book that chronicled more of her journey from being totally broke out of college to retiring (with her husband) in her early thirties to a 66-acre homestead in Vermont. Basically she’s living out one of my dreams, and the best part is, she makes it seem totally do-able.

Title: Delancey

Author: Molly Wizenberg

I’ve mentioned this title in another roundup I did, but I found it to be a great kind of “escape” read, and I’m always up for reading vivid descriptions about food! This memoir is all about how the author got herself into a bit more than she bargained for when she said she was okay with her husband opening up a restaurant. Because he’d often devised schemes before (that went unfinished), she figured she had nothing to worry about…until the restaurant really started to happen. While there was nothing life-changing in this book, it was the perfect kind of fun read I needed between some heavier reads.

Title: Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

No matter how I try to describe this book, it’s not going to describe this book, because this memoir (or, “not exactly a memoir,” like it says on the cover) is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. In this compilation, the author includes snippets, drawings, random “essays” and “quizzes,” fun assignments, personal experiments, etc. that all represent part of her life in some way. This book was whimsical and made me vow to be more lighthearted and playful in my own life, and the message of the book was driven home even harder when I learned the author had passed away shortly after its publication. Almost everyone I know who’s read this has given it five stars…read it for yourself, and you’ll see why.

Title: The Glass Castle

Author: Jeannette Walls

This memoir got a lot of buzz well BEFORE it was made into a movie last year, but since then, it’s generated even more interest. Under any definition, Jeannette Walls had an unusual childhood, having been brought up by two extremely free-thinking parents who gave their children so much freedom to pursue whatever they wanted that it often strayed into downright neglect. As Walls grows up and eventually graduates college, she is forced to grapple with conflicting views on her parents and their ideals and, much like in Educated, has to decide for herself–can she break ties with her family and still love them? Can she stay in her parents’ lives and not turn into them? The thing that amazed me most about this memoir was that, despite some truly terrible situations and circumstances her childhood placed her in, she never comes across as bitter. I think it would be fascinating to study this alongside Westover’s Educated as part of a summer book flight.

Title: The Year of Less

Author: Cait Flanders

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this book by one of my favorite bloggers, and it probably won’t be the last. The Year of Less follows Flanders’s journey from being totally broke and unhappy to being free from all debt, becoming sober after years of unhealthy binge drinking at parties, and giving up the pursuit of MORE in favor of the pursuit of what was really important. I read this in less than 48 hours, and I was reinvigorated to look for new ways to simplify my own life (and this is after years of already having done a lot of paring down!). The best part is, you can get this title on your Kindle for only $1.99. Note: Cait Flanders is well-known through her blog for her two-year shopping ban, but this book is not a “how to” on doing your own shopping ban–rather it’s a searingly honest account of WHY she got to where she felt she needed to do one and what it ended up giving her in return.

Title: Tender at the Bone

Author: Ruth Reichl

I’ve read several works by Reichl, and I have a LOT of “favorites,” depending on what I’m looking for. Of all her memoirs that cover a lot of years of her life (rather than a memoir that covers mostly just one event or short time frame), this is my favorite, as it details her experiences with gastronomy and cooking from a very young age. In a lot of ways, you could consider this a famous food critic’s (and later food editor’s) coming-of-age story, from her experiences with her mother’s dishes that frequently led to food poisoning, to her first tastes of French food when she was sent off to live at a boarding school. One thing is for sure—Reichl’s childhood could hardly be classified as “typical,” but it also seemed to provide the perfect backdrop for one of the most-published food critics of our day.

Title: Unbroken

Author: Laura Hillenbrand

Chances are good you’ve heard of this title thanks to the buzz surrounding both the book and the movie (by the same name), which portray the extraordinary life of Olympic-runner-turned-WWII-fighter Louis Zamperini, but if you haven’t yet read it—YOU SHOULD. I read somewhere that Hillenbrand is one of the most intensive biographers of modern day and that she spends around a decade on each of her works. But if the word “biography” conjures up the dusty volumes of chronological facts and figures from assigned book reports, you need to give the genre some more love, and you should start here. This biography reads more like a gripping tale of a young man whose indomitable spirit could not be taken down by even the most harrowing of circumstances. I would consider the life of Zamperini to easily be the most “sensational” of all the works here, so this is a great pick if you’re looking for a story you’re not likely to forget very soon (if ever).

Title: Breaking Night

Author: Liz Murray

I seem to be going with a theme through several books here—that of “woman has tremendously difficult childhood but overcomes it all to rise above and achieve educational and professional success.” Breaking Night was actually one of the first “modern” memoirs I ever read (meaning, when the genre really started to explode and change forever the dry “biography/autobiography” genre of the past), and I remembered trying to press it on just about anyone that asked me for book recommendations for the next several years after. This memoir tells the story of Liz Murray, who was made homeless by the time she was in her mid-teens but still somehow was able to push forward (thanks to the help of some inspired teachers and mentors) and get accepted into Harvard. And great news for you if you’re interested in picking this one up– You can get this title in paperback for all of about $7 right now.

Title: The Magnolia Story

Author: Chip and Joanna Gaines

While many of the memoirs listed here could hardly be considered “light” or “fun,” this one had me laughing out loud at multiple parts. In fact, I passed this one on to my husband immediately after I’d finished it (and we hardly share similar book tastes), but he also was chuckling throughout (and we both finished it in the span of a few days). Obviously you’ll enjoy this one more if you’re a Fixer Upper fan, but even if you aren’t an aficionado of the show, there’s a lot of inspiration and humor to be taken from this one. The Magnolia Story is basically how a pretty regular guy with a lot of BIG dreams made them come true thanks to hard work and an equally talented and hardworking wife. The thing I’ve always loved about the Gaines is that even though they’re both famous, they still seem like regular people–the kind you’d want to shoot the breeze with and have over for dinner. Sometimes memoirs can easily veer into the “depressing” category, but sometimes it’s refreshing to read one that’s just a happy story of how one couple made the American dream happen for them.



Now it’s your turn to recommend titles to ME (since I’m obviously always on the lookout for more “compulsively readable” memoirs). What are some memoirs YOU’VE read that you could hardly put down until you’d read them all the way through?