100 books like To Show and to Tell

By Phillip Lopate,

Here are 100 books that To Show and to Tell fans have personally recommended if you like To Show and to Tell. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Art of Memoir

Helena de Bres Author Of Artful Truths: The Philosophy of Memoir

From my list on to read if you're thinking of writing a memoir.

Who am I?

I’m a philosophy professor who started writing memoir in her mid-thirties. I love the similarities and the differences between memoir and philosophy (to sum it up: both are ways of making sense of your experience, but memoirists are allowed to tell stories, make jokes and break your heart.) On the trail of my obsession with the two, I’ve written a book on the philosophy of memoir and a memoir about philosophy. My sister calls them “your weird book twins.” Whatever! The whole experience has felt like falling in love, and I now want to encourage everyone to give personal writing a shot. 

Helena's book list on to read if you're thinking of writing a memoir

Helena de Bres Why did Helena love this book?

This book is a blast to read and also packed with insight (the Holy Grail, no?) It’s a collection of short chapters on a wide range of questions that either a baby or seasoned memoirist might ask. How do I find my voice? How do I organize my material? Am I betraying my family? (When Karr asked her own mom if she minded being outed as a knife-wielding alcoholic who set her children’s toys on fire, Mrs. Karr apparently replied: “Oh hell, the whole town knew about that.”) Karr draws on her extensive experience as a best-selling memoirist and teacher of memoir, serving up hard-won wisdom and concrete practical advice. Reading The Art of Memoir is like trapping a celebrity genius in a hotel bar and getting the unvarnished version. You’ll love it.

By Mary Karr,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Art of Memoir as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr's The Liars' Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well. For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning teaching prizes at Syracuse. (The writing program there produced such acclaimed authors as Cheryl Strayed, Keith Gessen, and Koren Zailckas.) In The Art of Memoir, she synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and "black belt sinner," providing a unique window…


Book cover of The Writing Life

Landis Wade Author Of The Write Quotes: The Writing Life

From my list on the writing life.

Who am I?

I am a recovering trial lawyer (after 35 years of law practice) who took up fiction writing in my late 50s and became so interested in learning what it’s like to be a writer – and how to write better – that I began a podcast designed to encourage authors to open up about their writing lives. After more than 500+ author interviews, I remain fascinated by the many different ways that writers approach their craft and how they turn their “what-ifs” into interesting stories. The writing books that I am recommending are books I used to guide me in my interviews. I hope they will provide insight and inspiration in your writing journey.  

Landis' book list on the writing life

Landis Wade Why did Landis love this book?

While some writing books offer nuts and bolts–the so-called rules of writing–this book from Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Dillard teases the writer with essays that make you think.

We are invited into the world of writing with metaphor and we learn by comparison. Like the story of the inchworm stuck in the long grasses, frozen to the tall blades. Perhaps you should just jump, Dillard quips, and put yourself “out of your misery.”

True, writing can be miserable at times, but also, it can be wonderful. I like this book because it is a way to experience what it feels like to be a writer through the craft of prose. 

By Annie Dillard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"For nonwriters, it is a glimpse into the trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words. For writers, it is a warm, rambling, conversation with a stimulating and extraordinarily talented colleague." — Chicago Tribune

From Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie Dillard, a collection that illuminates the dedication and daring that characterizes a writer's life.

In these short essays, Annie Dillard—the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and An American Childhood—illuminates the dedication, absurdity, and daring that characterize the existence of a writer. A moving account of Dillard’s own experiences while writing her works, The Writing Life offers deep insight into one…


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

Vicki Atkinson Author Of Surviving Sue

From my list on the power of memoir writing to promote healing.

Who am I?

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.

Vicki's book list on the power of memoir writing to promote healing

Vicki Atkinson Why did Vicki 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?

AN INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER

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 Easy Beauty: A Memoir

Helena de Bres Author Of Artful Truths: The Philosophy of Memoir

From my list on to read if you're thinking of writing a memoir.

Who am I?

I’m a philosophy professor who started writing memoir in her mid-thirties. I love the similarities and the differences between memoir and philosophy (to sum it up: both are ways of making sense of your experience, but memoirists are allowed to tell stories, make jokes and break your heart.) On the trail of my obsession with the two, I’ve written a book on the philosophy of memoir and a memoir about philosophy. My sister calls them “your weird book twins.” Whatever! The whole experience has felt like falling in love, and I now want to encourage everyone to give personal writing a shot. 

Helena's book list on to read if you're thinking of writing a memoir

Helena de Bres Why did Helena love this book?

The best way to learn how to write a memoir is to read a lot of memoirs. It expands your sense of the possibilities (“what? I’m allowed to do that?”), provides you with techniques to steal for your own work, helps you identify your distinctive strengths and weaknesses, and inspires you to keep going when self-doubt and weariness swoop in. I could recommend memoirs all day, but here’s a brand new one I’m reading right now that I love. It’s written by a philosophy professor with a skeletal disorder (like me!) and combines reflections on art, beauty, and disability with the author’s personal experience of those things. It’s thought-provoking, funny, and moving, and offers what feels like a direct window into the soul of another human. Isn’t that why we read and love memoirs? So why not write one?

By Chloé Cooper Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A New York Times Notable Book of 2022 * A Washington Post, Time,Publishers Weekly and New York Public Library Best Book of the Year * “Gorgeous, vividly alive.” —The New York Times * “Soul-stretching, breathtaking…A game-changing gift to readers.” —Booklist (starred review)

From Chloé Cooper Jones—Pulitzer Prize finalist, philosophy professor, Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant recipient—an “exquisite” (Oprah Daily) and groundbreaking memoir about disability, motherhood, and the search for a new way of seeing and being seen.

“I am in a bar in Brooklyn, listening to two men, my friends, discuss whether my life is worth living.”

So begins Chloé Cooper…


Book cover of A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays

Beth Kephart Author Of We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class

From my list on for truth wranglers.

Who am I?

The first memoir I ever read—Road Song by Natalie Kusz—pierced me in ways I did not know were possible. Kusz had written, in this elegantly crafted book, of an Alaskan childhood, a life-changing accident, early motherhood, and family love. She had written, I mean to say, of transcending truths. I have spent much of my life ever since deconstructing the ways in which true stories get told, and writing them myself. I’ve taught memoir to five-year-olds, Ivy League students, master’s level writers, and retirees. I co-founded Juncture Workshops, write a monthly newsletter on the form, and today create blank books into which other writers might begin to tell their stories.

Beth's book list on for truth wranglers

Beth Kephart Why did Beth love this book?

Yes, it’s the old chestnut, and forgive me, but we must read to write, we must wade into other worlds to understand what is at stake, and what is possible, when we begin to shape our story for the page. Noble’s anthology begins with a quote-worthy meditation on the lyric essay and its manifold forms. It carries readers forward with a range of essays and commentary by writers both well-known (Dinty W. Moore, Diane Seuss, and Lidia Yuknavitch) and up-and-coming. The flash, the braid, the collage, the mosaic, the hermit crab—all the forms are here, waiting to be admired and adapted.

By Randon Billings Noble,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Harp in the Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2021 Foreword Indies Honorable Mention for Essays

What is a lyric essay? An essay that has a lyrical style? An essay that plays with form in a way that resembles poetry more than prose? Both of these? Or something else entirely? The works in this anthology show lyric essays rely more on intuition than exposition, use image more than narration, and question more than answer. But despite all this looseness, the lyric essay still has responsibilities-to try to reveal something, to play with ideas, or to show a shift in thinking, however subtle. The whole of a lyric essay adds…


Book cover of Thinking About Memoir

Beth Kephart Author Of We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class

From my list on for truth wranglers.

Who am I?

The first memoir I ever read—Road Song by Natalie Kusz—pierced me in ways I did not know were possible. Kusz had written, in this elegantly crafted book, of an Alaskan childhood, a life-changing accident, early motherhood, and family love. She had written, I mean to say, of transcending truths. I have spent much of my life ever since deconstructing the ways in which true stories get told, and writing them myself. I’ve taught memoir to five-year-olds, Ivy League students, master’s level writers, and retirees. I co-founded Juncture Workshops, write a monthly newsletter on the form, and today create blank books into which other writers might begin to tell their stories.

Beth's book list on for truth wranglers

Beth Kephart Why did Beth love this book?

This (almost) palm-sized book became an instant classic when it was published in 2008. Here, the reader watches the great memoirist, Abigail Thomas, at work, translating daily scenes into passages that resonate with universal appeal. It’s as if you are watching over her shoulder as she works. Writing a little of her own life, she’ll stop and look up and say, in so many words, join me. “Write two pages of what you have too much of,” she advises, after writing about a woman who ate only clams for months. “Write two pages about the softest thing,” she suggests, pages later, after she was “trying to recall the softest thing and remembered a white ermine muff.” Look to Thomas for the ways in which the every day becomes a story.

By Abigail Thomas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

If living is an art, it must be practiced with diligence before being done with ease. Yet almost nothing in our culture prepares us for reflection on the great themes of existence: courage, friendship, listening, dignity—those everyday virtues that can transform our world. Because AARP believes it’s never too late (or too early) to learn, they, together with Sterling Publishing, have created the About Living series to address these crucial issues. Each entry will be written by only the best authors and thinkers.
Thinking About Memoir, the first of these volumes, helps adults look back at their past and use…


Book cover of The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again

Beth Kephart Author Of We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class

From my list on for truth wranglers.

Who am I?

The first memoir I ever read—Road Song by Natalie Kusz—pierced me in ways I did not know were possible. Kusz had written, in this elegantly crafted book, of an Alaskan childhood, a life-changing accident, early motherhood, and family love. She had written, I mean to say, of transcending truths. I have spent much of my life ever since deconstructing the ways in which true stories get told, and writing them myself. I’ve taught memoir to five-year-olds, Ivy League students, master’s level writers, and retirees. I co-founded Juncture Workshops, write a monthly newsletter on the form, and today create blank books into which other writers might begin to tell their stories.

Beth's book list on for truth wranglers

Beth Kephart Why did Beth love this book?

“One of the first discoveries I made when I began to return in a reflective way to earlier parts of my life was that there was often very little connection between events that by rights ought to be capitalized—important trips, moves, friendships, deaths—and the experiences that had in fact left the most vivid deposit in memory,” Birkerts writes in this little book that packs a punch. Focusing on Coming-of-Age Stories, Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters, Trauma and Memory, Birkerts deconstructs well-loved texts to teach us how their writers chose to manage time.

By Sven Birkerts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Memoir is, for better and often for worse, the genre of our times,' Birkerts writes. This piece of elegant literary criticism seeks to understand what makes some memoirs memorable and others self-serving. Birkerts argues that the memoirists strategies for presenting the subjective experience of time reveal the power and resonance of the writer's life. By examining Virginia Woolf's A Sketch of the Past, and Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, Birkerts describes the memoirists essential art of assembling patterns of meaning.'


Book cover of Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process

Beth Kephart Author Of We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class

From my list on for truth wranglers.

Who am I?

The first memoir I ever read—Road Song by Natalie Kusz—pierced me in ways I did not know were possible. Kusz had written, in this elegantly crafted book, of an Alaskan childhood, a life-changing accident, early motherhood, and family love. She had written, I mean to say, of transcending truths. I have spent much of my life ever since deconstructing the ways in which true stories get told, and writing them myself. I’ve taught memoir to five-year-olds, Ivy League students, master’s level writers, and retirees. I co-founded Juncture Workshops, write a monthly newsletter on the form, and today create blank books into which other writers might begin to tell their stories.

Beth's book list on for truth wranglers

Beth Kephart Why did Beth love this book?

Sometimes we just want to know how it feels to be someone else living the writer’s life. In this collection, forty-six writers ranging from Roxane Gay and Billy Collins to Edwidge Danticat and Amy Tan answer one single question: What inspires you? My favorite response comes from Marilynne Robinson, who writes “I’m drawn to that movement toward essentials, away from all secondary definitions, all extraneous props, and ornaments.” What about you? What inspires you? Why are you writing in the first place? You’ll ponder that question while you read these short pieces by writers who shine a light in dark places.

By Joe Fassler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A stunning masterclass on the creative process, the craft of writing, and the art of finding inspiration from Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, Roxane Gay, Neil Gaiman, and more of the most acclaimed writers at work today

"For artists in need of a creative fix, Light the Dark is as good as a visit from the divine muse." -Bookpage

What inspires you? That's the simple, but profound question posed to forty-six renowned authors in LIGHT THE DARK. Each writer begins with a favorite passage from a novel, a song, a poem—something that gets them started and keeps…


Book cover of The Craft of Revision

Mark Rennella Author Of The One-Idea Rule: An Efficient Way to Improve Your Writing at School and Work

From my list on helping you find and assert your voice in writing.

Who am I?

Mark Rennella has given students and professionals helpful advice about writing throughout his career, most recently as a writing coach for MBA candidates at Harvard Business School. Mark earned a PhD in American history from Brandeis University and has taught literature and American history at Harvard University, the University of Miami, and the University of Tours (France). Mark's books, articles, business case studies, and collaborative writing endeavors have garnered him critical praise from historians, academicians, and business leaders alike. His concept of the “one-idea rule” was included among HBR.org’s ten favorite management tips for 2022 and was featured more recently in Forbes. He currently works as an editor for Harvard Business Publishing.

Mark's book list on helping you find and assert your voice in writing

Mark Rennella Why did Mark love this book?

This writing instruction book came to my aid as I began to teach writing at Harvard University in the late 1990s, when I was trying to help college students cultivate their own voice as writers.

The title was brilliant, surprising the reader that the subject was revision and not writing, per se. This focused on a fundamental truth, which is that good writing – whether it be fiction or non-fiction, artistic or professional – almost always goes through several revisions. Students often recoil at the idea of revisions because they threaten to burden them with more work.

What Murray underlined (and a point I’ve reiterated) is that revisions provide the opportunity to improve your work. The more that writers are comfortable with making revisions, the easier it will be to cultivate and improve their voices in their written work.

By Donald Murray,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Donald M. Murray takes a lively and inspiring approach to writing and revision that does not condescend but invites students into the writer's studio.


Book cover of Steering The Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

Margot Livesey Author Of The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing

From my list on reading and writing fiction.

Who am I?

I grew up in the Scottish countryside, reading passionately. When adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer came from my latest book: a nun, an outlaw, a queen, or an explorer. Not until I was in my twenties did I realise that I wanted to be the person behind the covers of a book, not between them. My early stories, written between waitressing shifts, were bafflingly bad. Gradually I began to understand that the fiction I loved was driven by a hidden machinery. I now teach at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and have been lucky enough to explore this idea with many talented students.

Margot's book list on reading and writing fiction

Margot Livesey Why did Margot love this book?

Le Guin is a star in fiction’s firmament but in this book she’s also a wonderfully modest practitioner of the art of writing. She discusses the sound of your prose, naming characters, repetition, and point of view. I found her chapter on crowding and leaping especially helpful. Crowding is when you follow Keats’ advice to load every rift with ore; leaping is when you skillfully leave things out—two invaluable skills in fiction, and in life.  

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the celebrated Ursula K. Le Guin, "a writer of enormous intelligence and wit, a master storyteller" (Boston Globe), the revised and updated edition of her classic guide to the essentials of a writer's craft.

Completely revised and rewritten to address modern challenges and opportunities, this handbook is a short, deceptively simple guide to the craft of writing.

Le Guin lays out ten chapters that address the most fundamental components of narrative, from the sound of language to sentence construction to point of view. Each chapter combines illustrative examples from the global canon with Le Guin’s own witty commentary and…


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