Looking for a powerful memoir to read on a rainy day? For a brief moment, memoirs let us break out of our own understanding and see the world from the perspective of another. Empathy can be incredibly powerful and illuminating. Truly accepting the experience of someone else can permanently change the way we view life.
Here are a few powerful memoirs that will (most likely) change your outlook on life!
1. Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee
It’s essentially impossible not to be blown away by Nobel Peace Prize winner and women’s rights advocate Leymah Gbowee. When faced with unspeakable devastation and war, she not only stands up for what she believes in, she reminds us that she, too, is human and everyone is capable of instigating change. Leymah Gbowee not only reveals her successes but exposes her struggles with depression and shares her methods of overcoming. She reminds us that women, sisterhood, and forgiveness are essential in achieving peace. This novel will take you so far out of your sheltered life and comfort zone you will never look at the world in the same way again.
“You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.” – Leymah Gbowee, Mighty Be Our Powers
2. A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk
In A Life’s Work, Rachel Cusk shares her relentlessly honest and darkly witty story of motherhood; her journey during her daughter’s first year of life. She holds nothing back and reveals what it’s like to be a modern mother and woman. Although her memoir was met with some contention from other mothers, her candidness will shed a little light on something so personal and profound.
“When she is with them she is not herself; when she is without them she is not herself, and so it is as difficult to leave your children as it is to stay with them. To discover this is to feel that your life has become irretrievably mired in conflict, or caught in some mythic snare in which you will perpetually, vainly struggle.” – Rachel Cusk, A Life’s Work
3. Educated by Tara Westover
Educated is the story of a woman who didn’t step foot in a classroom until the age of seventeen. Through sharing her struggles of growing up, family, and abuse, Tara Westover gets to the heart of what education really means and the profound impact it can have on your life.
“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” – Tara Westover, Educated
4. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion shares her experience of losing her husband, detailing her grief following the devastating loss. Her story is visceral and real and she doesn’t hold back. She takes us into her everyday routine; the rituals of her life that will forever be changed.
“A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” – Joan Didion,
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5. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in the form of a letter to his son about the present-day crisis and historical realities of being black in the United States. He details his childhood in Baltimore and exposes the racist violence embedded in the American culture. His incredible novel is a wake-up call; revealing the relentless truth of growing up as a black man.
“The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. “Good intention” is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
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6. Unbowed by Wangari Maathai
Shattering the glass ceiling in nearly every sense, Nobel Peace Prize-winning Wangari Maathai spearheaded a grassroots environmental movement in her home country, Kenya. Read her journey from childhood into leadership from her own words: you’ll put the book down wanting to save the world too.
“Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.” – Wangari Maathai,
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7. Night by Elie Wiesel
With horrifying detail, Elie Wiesel shares the testimony of his and his families’ experiences at the Auschwitz concentration camp and Buchenwald.
“We cannot indefinitely avoid depressing subject matter, particularly if it is true, and in the subsequent quarter-century the world has had to hear a story it would have preferred not to hear – the story of how a cultured people turned to genocide, and how the rest of the world, also composed of cultured people, remained silent in the face of genocide.” – Elie Wiesel,
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8. First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
A survivor of the Cambodian genocide, Loung Ung recounts her childhood in Phnom Penh, starting with her privileged early years to life during the Khmer Rouge regime. It’s a story of survival, family, and pushing through horrifying circumstances despite all odds; Loung Ung shares her story with resounding emotional truth.
“I think how the world is still somehow beautiful even when I feel no joy at being alive within it.”
― Loung Ung,
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9. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
In Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah drops truth bombs with humor and wit. Born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, he details his childhood in apartheid (and post-apartheid) South Africa with searing honesty. Born a Crime is educational, illuminating, and captivating; it tackles the ever-pervasive and prevalent issues of racism and showcases the unconditional love and strength of a mother. Every page is worth the read.
“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.” – Trevor Noah,
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10. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
In her uniquely gripping tale, Jeannette Walls takes us into her unstable childhood, her precarious relationship with her family, and her eventual journey into adulthood and success. Despite everything, Jeannette Walls never abandons her love for her family or her belief in humanity. Her ability to see the good in every person and situation is incredibly powerful.
“You should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. Everyone has something good about them. You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.” – Jeannette Walls,