The best books for truth wranglers

Beth Kephart Author Of We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class
By Beth Kephart

Who am I?

The first memoir I ever read—Road Song by Natalie Kusz—pierced me in ways I did not know were possible. Kusz had written, in this elegantly crafted book, of an Alaskan childhood, a life-changing accident, early motherhood, and family love. She had written, I mean to say, of transcending truths. I have spent much of my life ever since deconstructing the ways in which true stories get told, and writing them myself. I’ve taught memoir to five-year-olds, Ivy League students, master’s level writers, and retirees. I co-founded Juncture Workshops, write a monthly newsletter on the form, and today create blank books into which other writers might begin to tell their stories.


I wrote...

We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class

By Beth Kephart,

Book cover of We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class

What is my book about?

In a range of provocative and personal essays, nationally renowned memoir writer and teacher Beth Kephart explores new ideas on the craft of memoir and offers an arrangement of question cascades and exercises designed to carry readers into and through their own true stories. How do we remember to remember? What is the art of the moment? Can your story be your obsession vessel? How do you manage time in memoir? What is the art of the suppose? These questions, among many others, stand at the heart of a book that is now becoming a staple in classrooms and workshops. Finally, with more than 100 memoirs cited throughout, this book is designed to expand your memoir library.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays

By Randon Billings Noble,

Book cover of A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays

Why this book?

Yes, it’s the old chestnut, and forgive me, but we must read to write, we must wade into other worlds to understand what is at stake, and what is possible, when we begin to shape our story for the page. Noble’s anthology begins with a quote-worthy meditation on the lyric essay and its manifold forms. It carries readers forward with a range of essays and commentary by writers both well-known (Dinty W. Moore, Diane Seuss, and Lidia Yuknavitch) and up-and-coming. The flash, the braid, the collage, the mosaic, the hermit crab—all the forms are here, waiting to be admired and adapted.


Thinking About Memoir

By Abigail Thomas,

Book cover of Thinking About Memoir

Why this book?

This (almost) palm-sized book became an instant classic when it was published in 2008. Here, the reader watches the great memoirist, Abigail Thomas, at work, translating daily scenes into passages that resonate with universal appeal. It’s as if you are watching over her shoulder as she works. Writing a little of her own life, she’ll stop and look up and say, in so many words, join me. “Write two pages of what you have too much of,” she advises, after writing about a woman who ate only clams for months. “Write two pages about the softest thing,” she suggests, pages later, after she was “trying to recall the softest thing and remembered a white ermine muff.” Look to Thomas for the ways in which the every day becomes a story.


The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

By Sven Birkerts,

Book cover of The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

Why this book?

“One of the first discoveries I made when I began to return in a reflective way to earlier parts of my life was that there was often very little connection between events that by rights ought to be capitalized—important trips, moves, friendships, deaths—and the experiences that had in fact left the most vivid deposit in memory,” Birkerts writes in this little book that packs a punch. Focusing on Coming-of-Age Stories, Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters, Trauma and Memory, Birkerts deconstructs well-loved texts to teach us how their writers chose to manage time.


Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process

By Joe Fassler,

Book cover of Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process

Why this book?

Sometimes we just want to know how it feels to be someone else living the writer’s life. In this collection, forty-six writers ranging from Roxane Gay and Billy Collins to Edwidge Danticat and Amy Tan answer one single question: What inspires you? My favorite response comes from Marilynne Robinson, who writes “I’m drawn to that movement toward essentials, away from all secondary definitions, all extraneous props, and ornaments.” What about you? What inspires you? Why are you writing in the first place? You’ll ponder that question while you read these short pieces by writers who shine a light in dark places.


To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

By Phillip Lopate,

Book cover of To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

Why this book?

No frills, this book. Just good stuff. Chapters on the state of nonfiction today and on the ways to end an essay. Essential talk about “the ethics of writing about others” and “the necessity of turning oneself into a character.” Thoughts on the lyric essay and on research as it applies to nonfiction. Lopate blazed many a trail for teachers and writers of nonfiction. He is perennially relevant.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the creative process, 21st century, and poetry?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the creative process, 21st century, and poetry.

The Creative Process Explore 22 books about the creative process
21st Century Explore 156 books about 21st century
Poetry Explore 178 books about poetry

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Upstream, My Life in Middlemarch, and Path of Least Resistance if you like this list.