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I love a good memoir. It’s so interesting to climb into someone else’s world and learn all about them. While many readers automatically gravitate towards the big-name biographies, I really enjoy reading about ordinary people with extraordinary lives (or ordinary people just living life the best that they can). So, the titles I’ve selected for your reading enjoyment are about people just like us. They aren’t celebrities. They aren’t rich or famous. And you won’t hear about them in history class. But, their lives are fascinating. These are some of my favorite memoirs to recommend to interested readers. I hope you find something to enjoy!

I love Hope Jahren! She’s smart and funny and surprisingly deep. Her memoir, Lab Girl is a wonderful introduction to the world of a woman in science. But, it’s really about more than that. It’s about work and love and the lengths that one goes to in order to achieve your goals. It’s a story about friendship, finding oneself, and beautiful and amazing world of science. But, the core of the story is Jahren’s relationship and deep friendship with fellow scientist, Bill, and how the two of them influence–and eventually change–each other for the better.

We don’t like to talk about death. But, death is just another part of life. Doughty’s memoir, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is both shocking and sweet, and a little gross, all at the same time. After all, it’s about her experiences as an undertaker. But, readers may be surprised by how Doughty tackles the topic. Certainly, she’s very funny, but there is a gentle candidness and compassion throughout the book. Doughty manages to strike the perfect balance of seriousness and humor, bringing readers a book that is both amusing and deeply touching.

If you’re not feeling too squeamish, you might enjoy reading another book by Doughty: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? which is a collection of questions and answers about death that you were always too scared to ask. Oh, and did I mention that all these questions were asked by kids?

Leslie Buck had built her career in landscaping. And then one day, she put her entire life on hold to move across the world and pursue her dream of working as a tree-pruner in Japan, becoming the first American woman to take a job with one of the most pretentious companies in Kyoto. In Cutting Back, her story alternates between funny, surprising, and sweet, as Buck learns so many lessons, not just about trees, or Japan, but about herself. If you’re interested in plants, gardening/landscaping, or Japan, I cannot recommend this book more highly.

I’ll be the first to admit that Hyperbole and a Half is an unorthodox choice. But, this book is a fascinating read. Allie Brosh’s brightly illustrated memoir is full of stories from her childhood and her struggles with mental illness. Brosh talks about everything from her dog (who is loving, but incredibly stupid) to the time she tried to prove to her mom that she should be allowed to attend a birthday party while still drugged after having her wisdom teeth removed. Throughout it all, Brosh’s story is hilarious, relatable, and totally full of heart.

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened is an incredibly funny book. And sometimes, I felt bad for laughing. But, then, Lawson would say something completely ridiculous and I would be reduced to tears of laughter all over again. Memoirs about mental illness are not supposed to be this funny. But, Lawson somehow manages to take what must have a difficult and traumatic childhood, and makes it into a book that is surprisingly sweet and funny and nearly impossible to put down.

If you liked this book, consider checking out Lawson’s second memoir, Furiously Happy, which continues her misadventures.


I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.