19 remarkable memoirs by women you should add to your reading list

memoirs by women

I’ll admit it. I have a thing for autobiographies and memoirs of people who have lived incredible lives. Lives that are nowhere close to mine, or lives that involved an amount of struggle I can’t even comprehend, or lives of people who have achieved remarkable success. 

As a young person in my twenties the unknown blank canvas of the future can seem really daunting. Anything could happen. Anything good, anything bad, anything crazy, anything weird as hell. You just never know. 

And because of that it can be hard to take actions now that may not seem like there’s much of a payoff in the immediate moment. But you have to lay seeds down in your life in the hopes that those actions might payoff in the long run. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. You never know what your life will be or what your life could be. 

And since that is the way of the world, reading what has been for some women is something I have become very interested in. 

And reading about the lives of incredible women or about the lives of women whose lives have taken a turn from what they expect can be a rollercoaster of emotions. Inspiring, hopeful, frightening, sad, relatable, and can often times put your own life into perspective. 

There are so many amazing stories out there to help you learn about others, to learn about yourself, and to help you reflect. Here are some of those stories. 

Inspirational and interesting memoirs by women that you should read: 

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl Cover

About this book: The Diary of a Young Girl is the record of two years in the life of a remarkable Jewish girl whose triumphant humanity in the face of unfathomable deprivation and fear has made the book one of the most enduring documents of our time.”

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

About this book: “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I know why the caged bird sings by maya angelou

About this book: “Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.”

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

About this book: “‘I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.’ When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.”

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (A memoir written as fiction**)

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

About this book: “Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity. Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time.”

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The year of magical thinking by joan didion

About this book: “Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.”

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: An autobiography

About this book: “‘Agatha Christie’s most absorbing mystery — the story of her own unusual life. She has put it all on record: her early romances; a broken (and a happy) marriage; strange events on the path to roaring success.’ Daily Mail”

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

I feel bad about my neck by Nora Ephron

About this book: “With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.”

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

About this book: “With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system.”

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

About this book: “The last book from beloved Hollywood icon Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist is an intimate, hilarious, and revealing recollection of what happened behind the scenes on one of the most famous film sets of all time, the first StarWars movie.”

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

About this book: “The mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder chronicles how saying YES for one year changed her life―and how it can change yours, too.”

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews

Home by Julie Andrews

About this book: “In Home: A Memoir of My Early Years, Julie takes her readers on a warm, moving, and often humorous journey from a difficult upbringing in war-torn Britain to the brink of international stardom in America. Her memoir begins in 1935, when Julie was born to an aspiring vaudevillian mother and a teacher father, and takes readers to 1962, when Walt Disney himself saw her on Broadway and cast her as the world’s most famous nanny.”

We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union

We're going to need more wine by Gabrielle Union

About this book: “In the spirit of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, a powerful collection of essays about gender, sexuality, race, beauty, Hollywood, and what it means to be a modern woman.”

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini

troublemaker: surviving hollywood and scientology by leah remini

About this book: “An eye-opening, no-holds-barred memoir about life in the Church of Scientology, now with a new afterword by the author—the outspoken actress and star of the A&E docuseries Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.”

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

the glass castle by jeannette walls

About this book: The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.”

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

girl, interrupted by susanna kaysen

About the book: “In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years in the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele—Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles—as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary.”

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Cung

About the Book: “[A] deeply moving and profound account of [Chung’s] life as a Korean American adoptee, as she grows up and strives to understand her identity . . . All You Can Ever Know honors the grand complexity of love, family, and identity, while showing us how these things can save us and break us with devastating clarity and beauty.” ―Today

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore

wildflower by drew barrymore

About the book: “Actress Drew Barrymore shares funny, insightful, and profound stories from her past and present—told from the place of happiness she’s achieved today—in this heart-stirring New York Times bestseller that InStyle called “deeply thoughtful and fun.”

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

wave by sonali deraniyagala

About the book: “On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. In this brave and searingly frank memoir, she describes those first horrifying moments and her long journey since.”


Have you read any of these? What did you think? 

Do you have any good suggestions you would add to this list? 


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— a twenty something

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