Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Memorable Memoirs

by Kim on June 27, 2014 · 20 comments

nonfiction recommendation engine

Life at my day job this week has been… strange, so I only have one recommendation to share today. But the request from Rhonda is a great one, so I’m excited to share it. Here’s what Rhonda is looking for:

I read a lot of memoirs. I love fiction, but it has been a long time since I’ve been carried away. Many of the memoirs I read seem like they could have fictional elements… love those as well. Some that I’ve enjoyed are Angela’s Ashes, The Glass Castle, The Gringo and anything by David Sedaris.

This one was a little tricker than I expected – I haven’t read as many memoirs lately as I used to read – but after skimming through my Library Thing catalogue I came up with three that I thought were both out-of-the-ordinary and compulsive reads:

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan – This is one of the scariest and most interesting memoirs I’ve read in a long time. When she was 24 years old, Susannah Cahalan experienced a “month of madness” when a rare autoimmune disorder nearly killed her. In the book, Cahalan uses her reporting skills to reconstruct her missing month based on medical records, interviews with friends and family and a journal her father kept during the ordeal. It’s intense and wonderfully written.

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman – After her college graduation in 1986, Susan Jane Gilman and her friend Claire decided to take a trip to China, a country that has just recently opened up to tourists. The women soon discover they are well out of their league as novice travelers, particularly when Claire starts to behave strangely, leaving Susan to pick up the pieces. I originally listened to this one as an audiobook and coudn’t pull myself away.

This Life Is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman – This book was one of my favorite reads in 2011. Coleman grew up on a rural homestead on the coast of Maine in the 1970s with her parents, Eliot and Sue. The couple was part of a movement of people leaving behind society to life a simpler life. But the costs of their decision –  frenetic summers, long winters, and the daily pressure just to get through the day – result in some terrible consequences. This memoir is just stunning… ominous, elegant, honest and evocative. I read it in a single sitting.

Interested in getting a personalized nonfiction recommendation? Please fill out this form to get on the list. I currently have two requests in my queue, so any new requests should get answered within the next month. 

Photo Credit: Chris at Shutterhacks

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandy June 27, 2014 at 5:56 am

I’ve wanted to read all of these! BTW for anyone out there that is interested, I think Brain on Fire is on the “Buy One Get One” table at Barnes & Noble.

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bermudaonion (Kathy) June 27, 2014 at 6:46 am

I’ve read all 3 of those memoirs and they’re all terrific!

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Nupur June 27, 2014 at 7:44 am

I’ve read the first and will look for the other two! My top three memoir recommendations:

1. Open by Andre Agassi- This one is gripping, whether or not you care at all about tennis.

2. My life in France by Julia Child.

3. Marbles by Ellen Forney (a graphic memoir).

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Kim June 28, 2014 at 9:10 am

Good suggestions! Marbles is on my list too.

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Andi @ Estella's Revenge June 27, 2014 at 9:22 am

I did love, love, love Brain on Fire, and I’d be really interested to try Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Great recs!

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Mysterious Bibliophile June 27, 2014 at 9:33 am

I enjoy memoirs, and these all sound good. Thank you for the recommendations!

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Vasilly June 27, 2014 at 9:57 am

I remember reading Andi’s recommendation about Brain on Fire. Napur’s right, Marbles by Ellen Fornay is a memoir that goes perfect with this theme. Nice recommendations, Kim.

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tanya (52 books or bust) June 27, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Undress me in the Temple of Heaven sounds great. I loved Brain on Fire and since you are lumping them together I may give it a try.

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Kim June 28, 2014 at 9:11 am

They stuck together, for me, because they were stories I just couldn’t put down. I hope you enjoy them!

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Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader June 27, 2014 at 1:35 pm

I really liked Brain on Fire. I’m going to have to check out the other two you listed here :D

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Sheila (Book Journey) June 29, 2014 at 8:18 am

This Life Is In Your Hands sounds like one I need to look at!

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Athira June 29, 2014 at 11:12 am

I certainly agree with you that Brain on Fire was a very compelling read. It was also a book that hit very close to home. It was scary but also a reminder that there are all kinds of diseases out there and just become it leaves strange symptoms doesn’t mean we ignore the person or the illness.

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Kim July 1, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Yes, that’s very true. I haven’t had much experience with mysterious illness, but it’s scary to think about.

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Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf June 29, 2014 at 8:11 pm

I’ve read NONE of these, but I love memoirs!! And holy cow, Brain on Fire sounds incredible!

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Christy July 1, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven is great! I probably read it because of your review. I tried Coleman’s book but couldn’t get into it, unfortunately.

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Kim July 1, 2014 at 6:20 pm

I adored Coleman’s book, but it does have a particular sensibility and style that I know hasn’t worked for everyone I’ve suggested give it a try.

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Tanya @ Mom's Small Victories July 2, 2014 at 9:14 pm

I saw Brain on Fire at the store and the premise terrified me though I did not know it was because of an autoimmune illness. I have an autoimmune disease that attacks my joints and I know it can impact my organs but never thought about inflammation in the brain. How scary.

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Katie @ Doing Dewey July 3, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Oh, great list topic! I love memoirs and Brain on Fire has recently made it to the top of my to-read list, after reading Elizabeth is Missing with it’s fictional look at the experience of having dementia. Some Nerve, Saturday Night Widows, and The Know-It-All are my favorite memoirs I’ve read recently, but I actually haven’t read any that have completely blown me away, but your recommendations sound as though they might :)

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Jennifer July 13, 2014 at 8:16 pm

I do really enjoy the memoir genre. All three of these recommendations sound super engaging!

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