The extraordinary women on this list are no different than the rest of humankind -- enjoying moments of pure bliss, as well as the tragedy that ensues with love and loss. From working as a dominatrix to struggling as an artist, transitioning genders to living as an amputee, these memoirs reveal a strikingly familiar and in-depth portrayal of the realities of simply being alive.
Whip Smart by Melissa Febos
As a child, Febos often thought about the fractured future that she believed was inevitable. The high-school drop-out, with a need to fund a drug addition, worked for four years as a dominatrix in a midtown New York City dungeon. This powerful memoir chronicles the importance of human interaction and the risks some will take to feel needed.
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
It’s the thing people see first and at 13, when Lucy Grealy returned to school after undergoing treatment for cancer, she faced the despairing amount of ridicule and ostracism one would imagine after losing a third of her jaw. She spends her life stuck between humankind’s desire to be perfect and the yearning to be loved.
She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan
Boylan was 40 years old, married and the father of two children, when she could no longer suppress her deep-rooted desires to be a woman. Leaving her wife and children devastated and confused, Boylan shares the journey of one person’s struggle between her physical and intuitive self.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
“Whenever my mother drove us from coastal Mississippi to New Orleans … she would say, ‘Lock the doors.’” Jesmyn Ward knows loss. In a four-year span of time, in a small Mississippi town, she lost five of the closest men in her life to drugs, accidents, murder and suicide, including a brother. Everyone is born somewhere -- and our environment weighs heavily into the paths we encounter.
Poster Child: A Memoir by Emily Rapp
Born with a congenital defect that left her with no left leg by the age of 8, Rapp’s life was spent as a poster child for overcoming challenges, with a beaming smile plastered across her face. Rapp’s memoir begs the question, is our outcome solely reliant on our outlook or is there always a deep-down desire to just be ordinary?
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Smith’s memoir of her life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe begins at the end, with the memory of her final goodbye before his last breath. In “Just Kids”, Smith chronicles the fateful day they met as jobless vagabonds on the streets of NYC, through romance and friendship, fame and fortune. Readers know that a friendship such as theirs is hinged upon inevitably facing a tragic ending.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
For a lighter read, fans of Tina Fey will not be surprised about the way her life has unfolded. From her upbringing in Pennsylvania, to amateur improv in Chicago and her stint on Saturday Night Live, Fey’s reigning moment came when she earned the name “bossypants” as a mother and career woman.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Following the death of her father, Macdonald relates to the wild disposition of adopted hawk, Mabel. Together, they discover the reality of living, from joy to grief and everything in between.
Highsmith by Marijane Meaker
A fascinating read about the life of lesbian authors Marijane Meaker and Patricia Highsmith, Highsmith details the 1950s vibrant NYC love affair that led eventually to disappointment, jealousy and inner struggles.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Talk about a struggle. In 2003, after returning from the hospital, where their daughter lay in a coma, Didion’s husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a massive heart attack. Her memoir picks up here, offering a glimpse into the writer’s struggles with loss, disaster, and heartache after 40 years of love and friendship.
What other memoirs would you include on this list? Let me know in the comments.