The best memoirs that read like novels

Who am I?

I became interested in the genre of memoir during the lockdown when I found myself reflecting on my past during the extended solitary periods. Looking through a shoebox of old letters put me in touch with the person I had once been. I then discovered that the act of writing down memories opened up areas that I had forgotten about or that had faded almost to nothing, and suddenly they became quite vivid. I decided to create for writing at a more literary level and only publish highly polished pieces. Memoirist now has many followers and some posts have nearly a thousand views. 

I wrote...

A Young Lady's Miscellany

By Auriel Roe,

Book cover of A Young Lady's Miscellany

What is my book about?

When a young teenager is left to her own devices following the disintegration of the family home, things quickly spiral into dysfunction. Neither parent is inclined to help the heroine negotiate the potholes toward becoming a responsible adult so she flounders again and again, often with humorous effect. It is her Cumbrian grandmother, whose door is always open, who becomes the parental figure she comes to rely on.

"A magical transformation of memory's rags and patches into a coherent story: a wonderful account, perhaps the best I've read, of a female coming into her own." Tony Connor, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Muzungu: A Rhodesian Testament

Why did I love this book?

I found this new memoir riveting partly because it was so different from my own life experiences. My favourite sections were about the author's childhood in Northern Rhodesia [which became Zambia on independence]. Rod Madocks's childhood years seemed to structure his life for better and worse: leaving Zambia at the age of thirteen to be sent to boarding school in England has an increasingly negative effect for years to come but there are some humorous aspects. I was also deeply drawn to the portraits of the author’s parents as elderly people which was poignant after I as the reader had got to know them so well in the descriptions of his childhood. Rod Madocks is a wordsmith supreme—I hope this book becomes a classic.

By Rod Madocks,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Muzungu is a vivid memoir of growing up in a time and place it has become taboo to speak of - Rhodesia in the twilight of empire. An elegy upon a vanished life and people, it is a reflection upon a childhood mainly spent deep in the backcountry of what is now Zambia as the son of an adventurous British official and his enigmatic wife. It is a story of being raised by and among black Africans, the best of whom are the people you admire most in the world, only to be shipped off to boarding school in England.…

Book cover of In Search of the Blue Duck

Why did I love this book?

After graduating, the narrator's family set him up with a job on Wall Street but it just isn't for him despite his upbringing preparing him for this kind of route. A few months later, he sets off on a round-the-world trip. The book features the first eighteen months of this journey spent in Australasia scraping a living in any way he can with occasionally outlandish casual jobs including beekeeping, running a youth hostel, and working on a production line in a cardboard box factory. He comes across a young woman, another traveller, sleeping beneath a table of honey pots and they begin a passionate yet fraught love affair.

Not only is this a great story, it is also punctuated with Bloom's vivid descriptions of landscapes and people he encounters along the way. There are meditations on the quirky details of life and reminiscing on an unusual childhood.

By James Bloom,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Search of the Blue Duck as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Memoir of falling in love young and travelling and working rough around Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia in the mid-1980s.

Book cover of Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived

Why did I love this book?

I've chosen this one not only because it's about growing up in Cairo, where I spent five years of my adult life as a teacher in an international school, but also for its astute analysis of how and why the memories we form in childhood differ fundamentally from those we acquire as adults. Another reason for its inclusion on my list is that it belongs to two childhood memoir subgenres for which I have a particular penchant, those by authors raised by people who were neither their biological nor adoptive parents and those by under-appreciated women novelists.

By Penelope Lively,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Using memories of her childhood among the privileged expatriate society of Egypt in the 1930s, Penelope Lively provides a slice of autobiography which is also an exploration of childhood perception. In snapshots of recollection, we build up a picture of her happy, self-absorbed early years in a familiar land of canals and palm-trees, mud-brick villages and water buffalo, under the ever-watchful and loving eye of her nanny, Lucy. Even World War II barely proved a disruption to an idyllic childhood which was shattered by adolescence and her parents' divorce. Penelope Lively's account of the childhood that has remained so vivid…

Boy and Going Solo: Tales of Childhood

By Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Book cover of Boy and Going Solo: Tales of Childhood

Why did I love this book?

Like so many people of my generation, I have the writing of Roald Dahl in my blood. I learned to read with his children’s classics then, as an older child, watched his disturbing yet rivetingly spooky Tales of the Unexpected on television. The stories from his life in these two volumes are often more incredible than his fiction, and certainly equally outlandish. The people he encountered can certainly be traced to the characters he created in his career as an author. This is one of the few books I can re-read. 

By Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Boy and Going Solo is the whole of Roald Dahl's extraordinary autobiography in one volume.
Reissued in the exciting new Roald Dahl branding.

Roald Dahl wasn't always a writer. Once he was just a schoolboy. Have you ever wondered what he was like growing up?
In BOY you'll find out why he and his friends took revenge on the beastly Mrs Pratchett who ran the sweet shop. He remembers what it was like taste-testing chocolate for Cadbury's and he even reveals how his nose was nearly sliced off.
Then in GOING SOLO you'll read stories of whizzing through the air…


By Sylvia Smith,

Book cover of Misadventures

Why did I love this book?

A memoir that deals with the everyday life of an office worker in 1950s/60s London seems like a joke and, indeed, when it came out, it was treated as such but there is some kind of poetry in this exploration of the humdrum. The manuscript was discovered in the slush pile by a rare editor who grasped the humour of what would appear to be an empty life but a life that Smith is content with. She lived with her parents until her twenties then moved into various lodgings, descriptions, and inhabitants of which are examined in detail. Smith had many short-term boyfriends, usually meeting them at a 'social club'.

Chapters are minimalistic and quirky but I wondered if some could be expanded and if she had missed some opportunities. Not a lot happens as Smith moves through life as a secretary making her observations, some grotesque, some unusual, some so humdrum they seem bizarre. I was reminded of Dot Cotton. Smith rarely delves into her psyche and what we have at the most is subtext, rather like Pinter or a Kitchen Sink drama. 

By Sylvia Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Part memoir, part comic monologue, this is an ensemble of mishaps and anecdotes that, taken together, reveals the ups and downs of one woman's life. Relentlessly self-deprecating, Sylvia Smith's diary at first seems to relay the humdrum, everydayness of living, yet it steadily gains momentum as a darker undertone gathers force. Interspersed between humorous tales of first-date disasters and "get-rich-quick" schemes gone awry, the reader is thrown off-balance by the loss of sexual innocence and a pervading sense of loneliness. As Sylvia stumbles from one temporary job to another, and through a variety of furnished flats, her deadpan delivery is…

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