The best memoirs for snobs who don’t read memoirs

Who am I?

I write memoir. I didn’t set out to write memoir. But I’ve become convinced by the power of personal narrative, both on its own merits, and as a frame and lens through which to view the world—a way to take a reader by the hand before slipping into whatever other subject matter sings its siren call. And the memoirs I love best are always in conversation with something bigger, or beyond the self. As Annie Dillard wrote, “there’s nothing you can’t do with [literary nonfiction]. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is proscribed. You get to make up your own form every time.” I like to see these works as doing just that.


I wrote...

Tango Lessons: A Memoir

By Meghan Flaherty,

Book cover of Tango Lessons: A Memoir

What is my book about?

From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut memoir about a young woman learning to dance tango, becoming comfortable in her own skin and in the arms of others.

“Well-researched, eloquent, and entertaining, Flaherty’s book is not only a witty, incisive reflection on a beloved dance and its history. It is also an intimate celebration of dance, life, and the art of taking chances. A vibrantly intelligent reading pleasure.” -Kirkus “From the first page, Tango Lessons engages, charms, and inspires. Like the best memoirs, it tells a story of self-discovery that transcends the personal.” - Sari Botton

The books I picked & why

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H Is for Hawk

By Helen MacDonald,

Book cover of H Is for Hawk

Why this book?

Look, you don’t like memoirs, and I don’t have the slightest interest in falconry. Nevertheless—this book is transcendent. At once the story of a daughter grieving her father, it is also a year-in-the-life narrative of a woman learning to raise (and fly) a goshawk named Mabel, and, as if that weren’t enough, a sneaky literary biography of forgotten dinosaur (and hawk enthusiast) T.H. White. The book would have worked on any one of these levels, but braided together, it is a masterclass in narrative nonfiction. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be transported—and you’ll learn a lot of ornithology along the way. 

H Is for Hawk

By Helen MacDonald,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked H Is for Hawk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle (Top 10), Miami Herald, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Top 10), Library Journal (Top 10), Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Slate, Shelf Awareness, Book Riot, Amazon (Top 20)

The instant New York Times bestseller and award-winning sensation, Helen Macdonald's story of adopting and raising one of…


Negroland: A Memoir

By Margo Jefferson,

Book cover of Negroland: A Memoir

Why this book?

Margo Jefferson is one of the smartest humans on the planet and her memoir reflects that. She tells her story as intertwined with the story of her first cultural context—the Black elite of the 1950s, and the crisis of identity she experienced with the rise of the Black Power movement of the 1960s. She brings her critic’s sharp intelligence and wit to bear in every paragraph, but doesn’t hold back any of her heart. It’s a terrifically moving book and a masterpiece of personal/cultural criticism, full of elegance and nuance. 

Negroland: A Memoir

By Margo Jefferson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The daughter of a successful paediatrician and a fashionable socialite, Margo Jefferson spent her childhood among Chicago's black elite. She calls this society 'Negroland': 'a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty'. With privilege came expectation. Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments - the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of post-racial America - Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions.

The Argonauts

By Maggie Nelson,

Book cover of The Argonauts

Why this book?

Few writers manage to blend theory and narrative like Maggie Nelson, let alone make the combination sing. In this book of ‘autotheory’ she writes about desire, the body, identity, transformation, the queerness of pregnancy, the formation of her queer family, and the relationship of freedom to caretaking. Follow her beautiful mind through this book that will never be called memoir, but which should change your mind, nevertheless, as to what memoir can do. 

The Argonauts

By Maggie Nelson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Argonauts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

By Maxine Hong Kingston,

Book cover of The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

Why this book?

This astounding book of nonfiction folds outright fiction, in the form of folk tales and “talk-story”, into autobiographical narrative. The result is a mille-feuille of mirrors and arcs and threads that gives us the truest possible portrait of a woman told through the fullest expression of her cultural, familial, and personal contexts. Mary Karr says “God is in the truth,” but sometimes ‘actuality’ cannot tell the whole truth. Without breaking any covenant with her readers, Maxine Hong Kingston finds a way to widen our sense of what ‘truth’ is—at least for these 209 pages. 

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

By Maxine Hong Kingston,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Woman Warrior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

By Edmund de Waal,

Book cover of The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

Why this book?

You’d never expect such a literary triumph from the pen of a ceramicist (and academic in possession of not one, but five honorary doctorates), and yet: I dare anyone to read this book and remain unconvinced of its lyrical brilliance. It is a gripping, searching family—and world—history traced and told through actuality and artifact. You’ll learn all you never knew about netsuke, as well as a few things about (literary) craft. 

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance

By Edmund de Waal,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Hare with Amber Eyes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


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