The best books about the power of memoir writing to promote healing and build resiliency

Why am I passionate about this?

I believe in the power of personal narratives and the memoir genre as tools to foster healing and forgiveness. As a licensed professional counselor with a doctorate in adult education, I devoted years toward better understanding the fractured relationship I had with my mother, eventually uncovering the source of her pain and trauma. My mother’s mental health and addiction issues were muddied by the shame she carried for years, as a terrified secret keeper, full of self-loathing. Although I was often the target of her anger, I found a pathway to compassion that mended my heart and provided an example of intergenerational healing for my own daughter.

I wrote...

Surviving Sue

By Vicki Atkinson,

Book cover of Surviving Sue

What is my book about?

Surviving Sue is an eye-opening story about the fallout of keeping secrets, told from a daughter’s perspective as she navigated her mother’s mental health and addiction issues, while trying to shield and protect her disabled sister. Surviving Sue is about the power of storytelling to build resiliency, a guidebook for others who struggle with complex family issues.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative

Vicki Atkinson Why did I love this book?

Melissa Febos’ book Body Work provides encouragement to writers who are considering the memoir genre by highlighting the importance of storytelling as central to human experience. 

Memoir writing is like magic; unique in its ability to shine a light on stories of survival, perseverance, and resilience. Febos’ book beautifully portrays the power of memoir as a tool to prompt growth, pulling back façades in ways that are both personally empowering and enriching for readers and writers alike.

We are telling the stories that no one else can tell, and we are giving this proof of our survival to each other.” (p. 27)

By Melissa Febos,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Body Work as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Memoir meets craft master class in this “daring, honest, psychologically insightful” exploration of how we think and write about intimate experiences—“a must read for anybody shoving a pen across paper or staring into a screen or a past" (Mary Karr)

In this bold and exhilarating mix of memoir and master class, Melissa Febos tackles the emotional, psychological, and physical work of writing intimately while offering an utterly fresh examination of the storyteller’s life and the questions which run through it.
How might we go about capturing on the page the relationships that have formed us? How…

Book cover of Opening Up by Writing It Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain

Vicki Atkinson Why did I love this book?

Dr. Pennebaker describes writing as a mechanism for wellness – highlighting the power of prose in solving puzzles, bringing secrets into the light, as we seek to understand ourselves and others.

Keeping secrets, according to Pennebaker, is physical work with negative implications (often across a lifetime) potentially impacting long-term physical and mental health due to stress.

I’ve returned to Opening Up by Writing it Down many times in my career in order to tap into the wisdom to write about my mother’s complicated life and to better understand the pain she carried into her adult years. It’s a terrific tool for writers curious about the memoir genre.

By James W. Pennebaker, Joshua M. Smyth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Opening Up by Writing It Down as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Expressing painful emotions is hard--yet it can actually improve our mental and physical health. This lucid, compassionate book has introduced tens of thousands of readers to expressive writing, a simple yet powerful self-help technique grounded in scientific research. Leading experts James W. Pennebaker and Joshua M. Smyth describe how taking just a few minutes to write about deeply felt personal experiences or problems may help you:

*Heal old emotional wounds
*Feel a greater sense of well-being
*Decrease stress
*Improve relationships
*Boost your immune system

Vivid stories and examples yield compelling insights into secrets, self-disclosure, and the hidden price of silence.…

Book cover of Good Morning, Monster: A Therapist Shares Five Heroic Stories of Emotional Recovery

Vicki Atkinson Why did I love this book?

Good Morning, Monster is a beacon of a book. Bolstering my interest in writing about mental health, resiliency, and survivorship. Dr. Gildiner showcases five compelling case studies of patients she’s served. 

Written with candor and compassion, Good Morning, Monster provides encouragement to writers to engage in their own storytelling to uncover tales of triumph in the face of individual or family mental health challenges.  Each case study provides a glimpse of vulnerability, demonstrating the unique human capacity for healing.

Despite the heaviness of the topics, Dr. Gildiner gives the reader rare insight into trauma and recovery buoyed by love and hope.

By Catherine Gildiner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As seen on Good Morning America's SEPTEMBER 2020 READING LIST and FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2020!

"We need to read stories about folks who have been through hell and kept going... Fascinating." ―Glennon Doyle, A Favorite Book of 2020 on Good Morning America

"Gildiner is nothing short of masterful―as both a therapist and writer. In these pages, she has gorgeously captured both the privilege of being given access to the inner chambers of people's lives, and the meaning that comes from watching them grow into the selves they were meant to be." ―Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe…

Book cover of The Truth of Memoir: How to Write about Yourself and Others with Honesty, Emotion, and Integrity

Vicki Atkinson Why did I love this book?

One of the conundrums that writers in the memoir genre encounter is the balancing act related to sharing family stories while addressing concerns and nuances about privacy.

Kerry Cohen’s The Truth of Memoir provides pointed advice about truthful storytellers, while also being considerate of multiple, familial viewpoints. Cohen reminds authors of the importance of thoughtfully assessing the motivation to write, cautioning those who may feel compelled to write in order to seek revenge, particularly when writing about family members.

By Kerry Cohen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Baring the Truth in Your Memoir

When you write a memoir or personal essay, you dare to reveal the truths of your experience: about yourself, and about others in your life. How do you expose long-guarded secrets and discuss bad behavior? How do you gracefully portray your family members, friends, spouses, exes, and children without damaging your relationships? How do you balance your respect for others with your desire to tell the truth?

In The Truth of Memoir, best-selling memoirist Kerry Cohen provides insight and guidelines for depicting the characters who appear in your work with honesty and compassion. You'll…

Book cover of The Glass Castle

Vicki Atkinson Why did I love this book?

The Glass Castle was a revelation to me; the first book to boldly chronicle the layers of madness in one family and the pivots from illusions of grandeur to poverty and food insecurity.

I instantly connected with the honesty and bravery of Walls’ story as she introduces readers to her chaos-ridden childhood, including public displays of bizarre behavior and parental failures. Holding out hope for normalcy, Walls tells the story of a broken, nomadic family “skedaddling” from one trauma/drama to another. 

The Glass Castle is a raw, compelling treasure, demonstrating the potential for resiliency despite a childhood of poverty, shame, and embarrassment.

By Jeannette Walls,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked The Glass Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson.

This is a startling memoir of a successful journalist's journey from the deserted and dusty mining towns of the American Southwest, to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue. Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, 'brilliant' but alcoholic parents.

At the age of seventeen she escapes on a Greyhound bus to New York with her older sister; her younger siblings follow later. After pursuing the education and civilisation her parents sought to escape, Jeanette eventually succeeds in her quest for the 'mundane,…

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Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

Book cover of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

Gabrielle Robinson Author Of Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired english professor

Gabrielle's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Gabrielle found her grandfather’s diaries after her mother’s death, only to discover that he had been a Nazi. Born in Berlin in 1942, she and her mother fled the city in 1945, but Api, the one surviving male member of her family, stayed behind to work as a doctor in a city 90% destroyed.

Gabrielle retraces Api’s steps in the Berlin of the 21st century, torn between her love for the man who gave her the happiest years of her childhood and trying to come to terms with his Nazi membership, German guilt, and political responsibility.

Api's Berlin Diaries: My Quest to Understand My Grandfather's Nazi Past

By Gabrielle Robinson,

What is this book about?

"This is not a book I will forget any time soon."
Story Circle Book Reviews

Moving and provocative, Api's Berlin Diaries offers a personal perspective on the fall of Berlin 1945 and the far-reaching aftershocks of the Third Reich.

After her mother's death, Robinson was thrilled to find her beloved grandfather's war diaries-only to discover that he had been a Nazi.

The award-winning memoir shows Api, a doctor in Berlin, desperately trying to help the wounded in cellars without water or light. He himself was reduced to anxiety and despair, the daily diary his main refuge. As Robinson retraces Api's…

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