Passing on our stories is one of the most essential methods of ensuring societies evolution. We all have stories to tell and everyone can probably find something to learn from in your story. As we get older, we begin to embrace that feeling of sharing, in fact, many boomers are beginning to take up writing memoirs as a way of leaving a written legacy. As a way of exploring how moving and inspiring someone else’s stories can be, let’s have a look at some of the greatest memoirs ever written.
Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup (1853)
The name of this first memoir is quite probably familiar to you as it served as the basis for the Oscar-winning 2013 film of the same name. However, reading the first-hand account of this unimaginable nightmare is somehow even more affecting. This is the story of Solomon Northup who was a freed African-American man living a well-off life in New York when he was kidnapped and sold illegally into slavery. It is a narrowing account of slavery and a reminder of the inhumanity that was so accepted in society at the time.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank (1947)
Perhaps the most famous and influential memoir of all time. When Anne Frank turned 13, she received a blank diary as a birthday present and she would go on to fill that diary with a heartbreaking and account of what she and her family went through as Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The diary details the occupation, Anne and her family hiding from the Nazi authorities and their eventual capture and imprisonment in concentration camps which is where Anne’s young life ended. As the truth about the horrors of World War II began to come to light, this memoir served as an account of the innocence that was made to pay the price for incomprehensible evil.
Night, Elie Wiesel (1956)
Another account of one of the darkest times in human recorded history. Wiesel recounts his experiences living through the Holocaust as a teenager and making it out of the death camps when so few did. While it is a tale of survival, it is not a happy tale to be sure. Still, the importance of these accounts can not be understated. Wiesel explores how the experience crushed his faith in man and higher powers while finding strength to move forward. A difficult read, but a necessary one.
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway (1964)
Ernest Hemingway is one of the most celebrated authors of all time and maybe one of the most interesting artists who has ever lived. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that his memoir is an extremely engrossing peak at a genius mind. Recounting his days of living in Paris among some of the greatest artistic minds the world has ever known, this memoir feels like you’ve been invited to the greatest dinner party ever.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby (1997)
Bauby was an editor-and-chief of the French Elle magazine when he suffered a massive stroke which left him unable to use hardly any of his voluntary muscles. All he could do was blink one eye as a means of communication. Through this method and with the help of his nurse, Bauby was able to dictate this entire memoir out through his developed form of communication. It details his experience living in this rare condition as well as the life he led before the incident. It’s a moving and inspiring look at life, told through extraordinary means. Bauby died two days after the book was published.
Bossypants, Tina Fey (2011)
Themes: Comedy, work, womanhood
As anyone who has seen her work on Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock already knows, Fey is one of the great comedic personalities working today. The same level of humour translates fantastically into her memoir which is a simple yet hilarious journey through her life on the road to success. Yes, the book is hysterically funny, but it’s also wise, inspirational and touching. Fey explores being a female boss in a male dominated world and the difficult balancing of career and motherhood all with an honest and self-deprecating humour.
Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
Sadly, we move onto another heartbreaking memoir with this unforgettable experience of lower class Irish families. McCourt takes the reader on an honest journey of his life, growing up in Limerick and deals with the many tragedies that befell his family from the death of his infant sister to his father’s battle with alcoholism. As with much Irish literature, there is a bit of levity thrown in amongst the more difficult moment, all making for a complete and hard piece of work.
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai (2013)
A story that all of us surely want and need to know more about. It’s all too rare to find a truly inspiring figure in the world who you can stand behind without reservation, and even more rare to find those qualities in such a young person. Malala Yousafzai has taken on so much in her short life and her account is unsurprisingly fascinating, unforgettable and deeply moving. To gain some insight into how such a young girl managed such resistance and strength is a valuable lesson for anyone to takeaway.