The best memoirs that combine the inward and outward journey

Jane Christmas Author Of What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela
By Jane Christmas

The Books I Picked & Why

Starting Out In the Afternoon

By Jill Frayne

Book cover of Starting Out In the Afternoon

Why this book?

Your marriage is over and your child is heading off to university. What to do? Why, you get in your car and drive nearly 6,000 km from Toronto to the Yukon. This lyrical, enchanting memoir of a mid-life journey tugs at the soul. What strikes me the most about it is the courage of its author to go it alone.

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A Moveable Feast

By Ernest Hemingway

Book cover of A Moveable Feast

Why this book?

I am not a huge fan of Hemingway, but A Moveable Feast, published posthumously, took my breath away. It’s not the literary name-dropping; it’s the depiction of Paris, between 1921 and 1926, when it was run by artists and vagabonds, not the glitterati. I read this in Paris under duress; I wasn’t even keen on Paris for that matter. This book changed all that the moment I read its opening line: ‘Then there was the bad weather.’

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The Seven Storey Mountain

By Thomas Merton

Book cover of The Seven Storey Mountain

Why this book?

Admittedly, a book about a womanizing druggie who finds God and goes off to be a Trappist monk sounds trite. But this is the real deal, mainly due to Merton’s candidness, but also to his beautiful writing. Though published in 1948, it feels entirely modern. There’s a journey here but you’ll remember the interior one more than the exterior one.

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Just Kids

By Patti Smith

Book cover of Just Kids

Why this book?

Patti Smith’s pale scowl and dark music always scared me a little. Then I picked up this book on a personal dare. It changed everything. Lyrical and touching, this memoir delves into Greenwich Village circa the ‘60s to the late ‘70s and chronicles Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Mostly it reveals the heart of a kind, creative artist. Smith will win you over.

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The Crossway

By Guy Stagg

Book cover of The Crossway

Why this book?

In 2013, Guy Stagg set off from Canterbury and walked all the way to Jerusalem to heal himself from depression. He travelled without belief and without support, trusting entirely on the generosity of strangers. The weird and the wonderful came through for him. Funny, fascinating, and personal.

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