The best books about weird families—and how to survive them

Richard Glover Author Of Flesh Wounds
By Richard Glover

Who am I?

I’m an Australian writer and journalist. I’ve written several humour books, as well as a history of Australia in the 1960 and 1970s called The Land Before Avocado. I also write for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Washington Post and present a radio show on ABC Radio Sydney. Of the books I’ve written, the one that’s closest to my heart is my memoir Flesh Wounds.

I wrote...

Flesh Wounds

By Richard Glover,

Book cover of Flesh Wounds

What is my book about?

Flesh Wounds is a defiant and, I hope, funny book about growing up in a dysfunctional family. My mother had a fake past, hidden under delusions of grandeur. My father had more conventional problems. Together they had me—using artificial insemination, my mother said, due to her unwillingness to consummate the marriage. She found herself pregnant and yet still a virgin. In the book, I describe a game of my own invention called “Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents.” Maybe you’d like to play. Who knows? You may even win.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

By Frank McCourt,

Book cover of Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

Why this book?

Poor Frank McCourt has been blamed for the rise of what is derisively called “the misery memoir”. It’s true this book describes kids without shoes, a father who drinks every night until he drops, and a house that floods every time it rains. But for all the misery and poverty, what’s really on offer is an Irish shovelful of poetry, love, and laughter.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

By Dave Eggers,

Book cover of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Why this book?

After losing both parents to cancer, almost simultaneously, twenty-something Dave becomes father to his much younger brother. Don’t be put off by the jokey title, this book is a heartfelt and hilarious celebration of young men and the way their competitive, raucous humour can be an expression of love and support. I guarantee you will love these two boys-on-the-way-to-be-men.

Maggie & Me

By Damian Barr,

Book cover of Maggie & Me

Why this book?

A young boy, already knowing he’s gay, is growing up in a Scottish slum. The rest of the household consists of people who are drunk, violent, and unemployed. Then, watching the TV, tiny Damian sees Margaret Thatcher, the then British Prime Minister, emerging from the smoke and destruction caused by the IRA’s bombing of the 1984 Conservative Party Conference. Maggie doesn’t have a hair out of place. This little ill-treated boy, sitting on his filthy couch, thinks: “If only she could come here, she’d sort this lot out....” Maggie & Me is so fresh, unlikely, and hilarious, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be moved by the story.

The Anti-Cool Girl

By Rosie Waterland,

Book cover of The Anti-Cool Girl

Why this book?

Rosie is one of Australia’s most compelling young writers. Her book came out at the same time as mine, so my wife read it straight after my book. Afterward, she picked up my book and said: “You really are just a middle-class whinger.” Ok, it was said with a smile, but she had a point. Rosie’s parents were so much worse than mine—jaw-droppingly awful—yet it’s brilliant how Rosie shrugs off any urge for self-pity.

Cider with Rosie

By Laurie Lee,

Book cover of Cider with Rosie

Why this book?

In my book I talk about how many people miss out on the love they expect—the love of a mother, father, spouse, or child—and yet how most of us survive by finding the love we need elsewhere. In Cider with Rosie, Laurie’s father abandons his family, but Laurie’s mother shines: her frisks and gaieties, her fits of screams, her love of man. This is the childhood memoir of one of the great (somewhat unacknowledged) poets of the twentieth century.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in dysfunctional families, poverty, and cancer?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dysfunctional families, poverty, and cancer.

Dysfunctional Families Explore 59 books about dysfunctional families
Poverty Explore 42 books about poverty
Cancer Explore 70 books about cancer

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Glass Castle, Another Hill and Sometimes a Mountain, and The Tender Bar if you like this list.