Biography & Memoir Booklists


Childhood Memoirs

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A Brother's Journey: Surviving a Childhood of Abuse
by Richard Pelzer Details
In this gripping, deeply troubling memoir, a follow-up to his brother David's bestselling "A Child Called It," Pelzer reveals the unyielding suffering he says he experienced at the hands of his depraved mother growing up in the 1970s. By looking back at — and then releasing — the image of the skinny, red-haired boy who wanted nothing more than his mother's love, Pelzer discovers his true spirit, which he shares courageously and selflessly here in the hope of healing himself, as well as raising awareness of and preventing child abuse.
A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana
by Haven Kimmel Details
In this first book, Kimmel has written a love letter to her hometown of Mooreland, Ind., a town with an unchanging population of 300 in America's heartland. Nicknamed "Zippy" for her energetic interpretation of a circus monkey, she could not be bothered to speak until she was three years old, and her first words involved bargaining with her father about whether or not a baby bottle was still appropriate. Born in 1965, Zippy lived in a world filled with a loving family, peculiar neighbors, and multitudes of animals, including a chicken she loved and treated like a baby. Her story is filled with good humor, fine storytelling, and acute observations of small town life.
An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of My Rural Boyhood
by Jimmy Carter Details
In an American story of enduring importance, Jimmy Carter re-creates his Depression-era boyhood on a Georgia farm, before the civil rights movement that changed it and the country. Carter describes the people who shaped his early life, only two of them white: his eccentric relatives who sometimes caused the boy to examine his heritage with dismay; the boyhood friends with whom he hunted and worked the farm, but who could not attend the same school; and the eminent black bishop who refused to come to the Carters' back door but who would stand in the front yard discussing crops and politics with Jimmy's father. In his singular voice and with a novelist's gift for detail, Jimmy Carter creates a sensitive portrait of an era that shaped the nation.
Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India
by Susan M. Jacksack Details
The celebrated actress and author of several books on Indian cooking turns her attention to her own childhood in Delhi and Kampur. Born in 1933 as one of six children of a prosperous businessman, Jaffrey grew up as part of a huge "joint family" of aunts, uncles and cousins under the benign but strict thumb of Babaji, her grandfather and imperious family patriarch. It was a privileged and cosmopolitan family, influenced by Hindu, Muslim and British traditions, and though these were not easy years in India, a British ally in WWII and soon to go though the agony of partition (the separation and formation of Muslim Pakistan), Jaffrey's graceful prose and sure powers of description paint a vivid landscape of an almost enchanted childhood.
Daughter of Heaven: A Memoir with Earthly Recipes
by Leslie Li Details
Leslie Li's paternal grandfather, Li Zongren, was China's first democratically elected vice president, to whom Chiang Kai-shek left control of the country when he fled to Formosa in 1949. Nine years later, Li's wife, Nai-nai, comes to live with her son's family in New York City, bringing a whole new world of sights, smells, and tastes as she quickly takes control of the kitchen. Through her grandmother's traditional cuisine, Leslie bridges the cultural divide in an America in which she is a minority -- as well as the growing gap at home between her rigid, traditional Chinese father and her progressive American-born mother.
Learning Joy from Dogs Without Collars: A Memoir
by Lauren Summer Details
At 17, Summer won a wrestling scholarship to Harvard after spending much of her life as a homeless child. She became a media model at least two different ways: girl wrestler makes the boys' team was one story, but even that couldn't top “Homeless to Harvard.” But now, at 25, she tells the darker side of the myth in this groundbreaking memoir. She remembers how it was, and she tells it without pretentiousness or self-pity, honest about her shame, rage, and loyalty to her mother, factual about the physical reality of always moving. Just as compelling as the migrant child story is the Harvard student experience. Her search for the dad who abandoned her is a dramatic quest story in itself. But perhaps the most searing episode is Parents' Weekend at college, when Mom arrives from the shelter with all her bags of stuff. This is an unforgettable Cinderella story without a savior prince.
Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan
by Hillary Carlip Details
Carlip's fresh, funny memoir of growing up at celebrity's edge in Hollywood, accompanied by photos and highlights of current events from the 1960s through 2004, is at once hilarious and heartbreaking. Even before her childhood appearance on Art Linkletter's TV program "House Party," Carlip had been bitten by the showbiz bug. With shameless determination, in her teens she pursued friendships with celebrities such as Carly Simon and Carole King, and created her own minor celebrity as a juggler on "The Gong Show," an extra in films like "Xanadu," and the star of her own rock band. Carlip also turns the lens on her love life and the experience of growing up gay in Los Angeles.
Rocket Boys: A Memoir
by Homer Hickham Details
In 1957, Homer H. "Sonny" Hickam, Jr., and a handful of his friends were inspired to start designing and launching the home-made rockets that would change their lives and their town forever. Looking back after a distinguished NASA career, Hickam shares the story of his youth, taking readers into the life of the little mining town of Coalwood and the boys who would come to embody its dreams. Step by step, with the help (and occasional hindrance) of a collection of unforgettable characters, the boys learn not only how to turn scrap into sophisticated rockets that fly miles into the sky, but how to sustain their dreams as they dared to imagine a life beyond its borders in a town that the postwar boom was passing by.
Running with Scissors: A Memoir
by Augusten Burroughs Details
It's hard to imagine a childhood more disturbing and relentlessly surreal than the one the author describes in this memoir. When his violent, nearly homicidal parents divorce, young Augusten lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his mother, a confessional poet battling a mental illness. Deciding she needs more space for personal exploration and art, Augusten's mother packs her 12-year-old son off to the home of psychiatrist Dr. Finch, a wildly eccentric egomaniac. Most of this memoir centers on Augusten's teenage years spent in this uncontrolled, profoundly bizarre household.
The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood
by Elspeth Huxley Details
In an open cart, Elspeth Huxley set off with her parents to travel to Thika in Kenya. As pioneering settlers, they built a house of grass, ate off a damask cloth spread over packing cases, and discovered -- the hard way -- the world of the African. For a young girl it was a time of adventure and freedom, and Huxley paints an unforgettable portrait of growing up among the Masai and Kikuyu people, discovering both the beauty and the terrors of the jungle, and enduring the rugged realities of the pioneer life.
The Glass Castle: A Memoir
by Jeanette Walls Details
Walls, who spent years trying to hide her childhood experiences, allows the story to spill out in this remarkable recollection of growing up. From her current perspective as a contributor to MSNBC online, she remembers the poverty, hunger, jokes, and bullying she and her siblings endured, and she looks back at her parents: her flighty, self-indulgent mother, a Pollyanna unwilling to assume the responsibilities of parenting, and her father, troubled, brilliant Rex, whose ability to turn his family's downward-spiraling circumstances into adventures allowed his children to excuse his imperfections until they grew old enough to understand what he had done to them -- and to himself. Shocking, sad, and occasionally bitter, this gracefully written account speaks candidly, yet with surprising affection, about parents and about the strength of family ties -- for both good and ill.
The Language of Baklava
by Diana Abu-Jaber Details
Abu-Jaber's ealry life seemed defined by the rites and rituals of cooking and eating and she weaves her charming story around vividly remembered, sensually described meals.
The Liars' Club: A Memoir
by Mary Karr Details
In this funny, razor-edged memoir, Mary Karr, a prize-winning poet and critic, looks back at her upbringing in a swampy East Texas refinery town with a volatile, defiantly loving family. She recalls her painter mother, seven times married, whose outlaw spirit could tip into psychosis; a fist-swinging father who spun tales with his cronies -- dubbed the Liars' Club; and a neighborhood rape when she was eight. With a raw authenticity stripped of self-pity and a poet's eye for the lyrical detail, Karr shows us a "terrific family of liars and drunks . . . redeemed by a slow unearthing of truth."
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir
by Bill Bryson Details
Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century (1951) in the middle of the United States (Des Moines, Iowa) in the middle of the largest generation in American history (the baby boomers.) As one of the best and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold.
Updated 12/21/2011
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