The best books for truth wranglers

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

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

Beth Kephart Why did I love 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.

By Randon Billings Noble,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Harp in the Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2021 Foreword Indies Honorable Mention for Essays

What is a lyric essay? An essay that has a lyrical style? An essay that plays with form in a way that resembles poetry more than prose? Both of these? Or something else entirely? The works in this anthology show lyric essays rely more on intuition than exposition, use image more than narration, and question more than answer. But despite all this looseness, the lyric essay still has responsibilities-to try to reveal something, to play with ideas, or to show a shift in thinking, however subtle. The whole of a lyric essay adds…


Book cover of Thinking About Memoir

Beth Kephart Why did I love 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.

By Abigail Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thinking About Memoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If living is an art, it must be practiced with diligence before being done with ease. Yet almost nothing in our culture prepares us for reflection on the great themes of existence: courage, friendship, listening, dignity—those everyday virtues that can transform our world. Because AARP believes it’s never too late (or too early) to learn, they, together with Sterling Publishing, have created the About Living series to address these crucial issues. Each entry will be written by only the best authors and thinkers.
Thinking About Memoir, the first of these volumes, helps adults look back at their past and use…


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

Beth Kephart Why did I love 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.

By Sven Birkerts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Time in Memoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Memoir is, for better and often for worse, the genre of our times,' Birkerts writes. This piece of elegant literary criticism seeks to understand what makes some memoirs memorable and others self-serving. Birkerts argues that the memoirists strategies for presenting the subjective experience of time reveal the power and resonance of the writer's life. By examining Virginia Woolf's A Sketch of the Past, and Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, Birkerts describes the memoirists essential art of assembling patterns of meaning.'


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

Beth Kephart Why did I love 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.

By Joe Fassler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Light the Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning masterclass on the creative process, the craft of writing, and the art of finding inspiration from Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, Roxane Gay, Neil Gaiman, and more of the most acclaimed writers at work today

"For artists in need of a creative fix, Light the Dark is as good as a visit from the divine muse." -Bookpage

What inspires you? That's the simple, but profound question posed to forty-six renowned authors in LIGHT THE DARK. Each writer begins with a favorite passage from a novel, a song, a poem—something that gets them started and keeps…


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

Beth Kephart Why did I love 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.

By Phillip Lopate,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked To Show and to Tell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A long-awaited new book on personal writing from Phillip Lopate—celebrated essayist, the director of Columbia University’s nonfiction program, and editor of The Art of the Personal Essay.

Distinguished author Phillip ​Lopate, editor of the celebrated anthology The Art of the Personal Essay, is universally acclaimed as “one of our best personal essayists” (Dallas Morning News).

Here, combining more than forty years of lessons from his storied career as a writer and professor, he brings us this highly anticipated nuts-and-bolts guide to writing literary nonfiction.

A phenomenal master class shaped by Lopate’s informative, accessible tone and immense gift for storytelling, To…


You might also like...

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

By Joylynn M Ross, Falessia Booker (editor),

Book cover of Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

Joylynn M Ross

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business is for anyone who wants to learn how to make money with their book and make a living as an author. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author, which can hinder book sales and the money that can be made as an author.

This resource serves as a guide to mastering the art of financial literary success and to help avoid the mistakes that many authors make while learning the ropes on their own. This book helps authors “think outside the book” in order to make money in ways other than book sales and create multiple streams of literary income.

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

By Joylynn M Ross, Falessia Booker (editor),

What is this book about?

Do you want to make money with your book? Do you want to make a living as an author? There’s more to doing so than simply writing and publishing your book. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author. This could dramatically hinder your book sales and the money you can make as an author. Without a guide such as this, mastering the art of financial literary success can take you years, and you’ll be sure to make mistakes during the learning phase. Some mistakes could cost you money;…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the creative process, creativity, and art?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the creative process, creativity, and art.

The Creative Process Explore 29 books about the creative process
Creativity Explore 139 books about creativity
Art Explore 870 books about art