Four Must-Read Personal Memoirs

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When it comes to writing your personal memoir, the advice is always the same: just start. Pick a story, a moment or memory that ignites your imagination and get pen to paper. However, sometimes a little inspiration is in order. Here are some of our favourite personal memoirs – by turns touching, funny and incredible – to delight and inspire memoir-lovers everywhere.

Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

A real tearjerker, McCourt’s wryly humorous reflections on his poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland have resonated with millions, including those who hand out the Pulitzer Prize. Throughout the narrative, McCourt’s deep convictions about the power of education create a desperate narrative with hope. He reminds the reader again and again that “you might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace”.

Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison – Piper Kerman

Before Netflix came along, Piper Kerman was a New York communications specialist with a few skeletons in her closet; specifically, her participation in an international drug smuggling ring. This open and honest memoir includes Kerman’s take on her own criminality (“To me, that’s the central thing that allows crime to happen: indifference to other people’s suffering. If you’re stealing from someone, if you’re hurting them physically, if you’re selling them a product that you know will hurt them—the thing that allows a person to do that is that they somehow convince themselves that that’s not relevant to them.”) and an unvarnished look at life in the Big House.

Open – Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi was both tennis’ golden boy and black sheep. His personal memoir includes romantic history (from Streisand to Steffi), drug confessions and reflections on the sport that made him a star. This kind of vulnerable storytelling fuels some of the most insightful writing we’ve read in awhile. Agassi remarks that “few of us are granted the grace to know ourselves, and until we do, maybe the best we can do is be consistent”. As we follow Agassi’s spellbinding story, we feel privileged to see how Agassi has come to know himself, deeply and honestly.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death – Jean-Dominique Baulby

Baulby was a successful editor at French ELLE when he suffered a stroke of the brain stem that sent him into a coma. When he awoke, he was reduced to a single blinking eye as a means of communicating with the outside world. Imprisoned in his body, Baulby remarks to the reader that “once, I was a master at recycling leftovers. Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories”. He laboriously dictated this personal memoir by blinking to indicate the correct letter as the alphabet was slowly read to him. (Talk about a first draft.)

Personal memoirs can give us the peek inside lives that may seem ordinary – but turn out to be unexpectedly extraordinary. Through this unique form of storytelling, we can revisit aspects of our life through the lens of distance, creating a perspective that can transform both the reader and the writer.

We at Echo always leave a great memoir totally inspired – we hope you do too!