Biography/Memoir

9 of the Best Memoirs to Read

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Alice Nuttall

Senior Contributor

Alice Nuttall (she/her) is a writer, pet-wrangler and D&D nerd. Her reading has got so out of control that she had to take a job at her local library to avoid bankrupting herself on books - unfortunately, this has just resulted in her TBR pile growing until it resembles Everest. Alice's webcomic, writing and everything else can be found at https://linktr.ee/alicenuttallbooks

Memoirs have always been a popular genre, and for good reason. Whether they’re telling us the life story of a famous person or delving into a facet of being human, reading them can open up new worlds to us — or show us that other people have been through the same things that we have. Some of the best memoirs have gone on to become highly successful films, like Angela’s Ashes or Eat Pray Love, while others have been rewritten for audiences of all ages, such as Michelle Obama’s Becoming.

In the past couple of years, many fascinating memoirs have been published, all of which are enlightening and often moving reads. Memoirs have sparked and developed widespread discussions on social issues such as coercive control and institutional abuse, and reading about the experiences of others, including high-profile people who may have seemed to ‘have it all together,’ can often make survivors feel less alone. However, the memoir form isn’t only a way to process painful situations; the best memoirs can also delve into happy memories, making them comforting and cheerful for the reader. Memoirs can be humorous and snappy, or slow-paced and poetic, but there is something out there for everyone. Here are some of the best memoirs of the last few years from famous and non-famous writers alike.

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The Chain: The Relationships That Break Us, the Women Who Rebuild Us by Chimene Suleyman

Poet Chimene Suleyman offers a frank and heartfelt look at emotionally abusive relationships and their aftermath in The Chain. After the end of her relationship with a toxic partner, Suleyman discovers that her ex-boyfriend has also had abusive relationships with several other women. Connecting with these women allows Suleyman not only to heal but also to explore how women can be tricked into toxic partnerships.

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Pageboy by Elliot Page

In Pageboy, Elliot Page tells the story of his professional journey into becoming one of the best-known actors of his generation, alongside his highly personal journey of discovering his trans identity and coming out as a trans man. Pageboy is at times a very tough read, dealing with sexual assault, family alienation and other difficult subjects, but is ultimately uplifting and joyful.

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Transitional by Munroe Bergdorf

Munroe Bergdorf is a model, activist, and the first UK Champion for UN Women. In her memoir, she writes about her life as a Black trans woman in the UK, a country that has a history of institutionalised racism and an ever-growing atmosphere of vicious transphobia. In Transitional, Bergdorf makes the case that everyone ‘transitions’ in some way during their lives, whatever their race, sexuality, or gender identity, and offers a powerful vision of how to build a more caring and compassionate society.

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Hijab Butch Blues by Lamya H.

In her groundbreaking memoir, Lamya H. talks about her experience of growing up as a young lesbian Muslim woman who develops her understanding of her sexuality through her engagement with her faith and her study of the Quran. Following her life as she moves to the US and comes out, Hijab Butch Blues is a deep and moving exploration of identity.

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Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein is best known for her incisive books on politics and society, particularly the groundbreaking No Logo. However, throughout her professional life and especially in recent years, she has been repeatedly mistaken for another Naomi — Naomi Wolf, who was initially famous for works such as The Beauty Myth but is now more often remembered for her tweets that include conspiracy theories and anti-vax rhetoric. Doppelganger is part memoir and part deep dive into our current age of fake news and the proliferation of conspiracy theories on social media.

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If You Can’t Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury by Geraldine DeRuiter

Geraldine DeRuiter went viral when she posted about making the cinnamon roll recipe that, bafflingly, chef Mario Batali included in his apology for sexual harassment. In If You Can’t Take the Heat, DeRuiter takes on other examples of misogyny and abuse in the world of food, as well as talking about her life growing up and her work as a restaurant critic.

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A Very Private School by Charles Spencer

Charles Spencer, the brother of the late Princess Diana, outwardly seemed to have led a luxurious life as a high-profile member of the British aristocracy. However, like the majority of his peers, Spencer spent his childhood at expensive boarding schools — where, also like many of his peers, he suffered horrific physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from the adults who were supposed to be caring for this cohort of young boys. Spencer draws on his own memories and diaries but also talks to other survivors about their experiences and how their lives have been impacted.

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Just Sayin’: My Life in Words by Malorie Blackman

Malorie Blackman is an awesomely talented and prolific author and was formerly the UK Children’s Laureate, in charge of championing books for young readers. Just Sayin’ explores her relationship with stories and her childhood growing up as a young Black woman in the UK during the often openly racist environment of the Seventies and Eighties. Anyone who loves Blackman’s books will find her life story fascinating.

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Burning My Roti: Breaking Barriers as a Queer Indian Woman by Sharan Dhaliwal

Part memoir and part guide, Burning My Roti tells the story of being queer and South Asian in a heteronormative, white-centric world and how to thrive in the face of marginalisation and prejudice. Tackling beauty standards, mental health, sexuality, and a host of other topics, Burning My Roti is an important read.

Memoirs can be highly influential — to find some of the best, look at The 20 Most Influential Memoirs of All Time. If you want to expand your memoir reading, try The Best Memoirs You’ve Never Heard Of.