The 25 Best Memoirs of the 2010s

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The 25 Best Memoirs of the 2010s

The most powerful memoirs weave individual stories with universal truths, creating personal narratives that highlight the human experience. Tackling topics as varied as adoption or apartheid or addiction, memoirists ultimately succeed when they convey their story in their unique voice.

As the decade comes to a close, we want to celebrate the memoirs that impacted us during the last 10 years. This list includes 25 titles published in English between 2010 and November 2019, and we’ve limited it to one book per author. You’ll notice the majority of the books were released in the second half of the decade; it turns out that memoirs published during the last five years are the ones that resonated the most with us today. And this list is obviously subjective; it’s by no means representative of the only “good” memoirs published during the last 10 years. This is simply a collection of the books we were moved and inspired by during a tumultuous decade.

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memoirmometa.jpg 25. Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman (2013)

Mo’ Meta Blues offers a vital, non-mainstream chronicle of hip-hop history, and Questlove, the Roots’ drummer and joint frontman, is supremely self-aware of his responsibility as an author. He begins with an interview with himself, in which he tries to figure out how to write this memoir, and his confidence grows from there. Mo’ Meta Blues’ most entertaining moments surface when the Questlove writes, as a fan, of iconic songs and musicians. He recalls the time he saw Prince roller-skate and when he ran into KISS at a hotel. This memoir ultimately succeeds in confirming a frank reality we all find relatable: Whether we like it or not, we’re looking for answers but finding none. —Christina Lee

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memoirabandonme.jpg 24. Abandon Me by Melissa Febos (2017)

In her overlapping collection of personal essays, Febos digs into her childhood, troubled adolescence and adulthood to tell a complex narrative. Each essay’s backbones take us through Febos’ life—from her childhood on Cape Cod waiting for her sea captain father to her heroin addiction in her early twenties to an emotionally abusive relationship in her early thirties. The essays reveal her many sides; she’s both the young girl reading picture books with her father and the addict cradling a phone on her shoulder in case she needs to call 911 as she shoots up. Abandon Me finds the universal in Febos’ story and taps into many people’s fears, pushing you to question what you might abandon yourself. —Bridey Heing

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memoirhungermakes.jpg 23. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (2015)

At the height of Sleater-Kinney’s popularity, one particularly difficult image to reconcile might be of its guitarist—the one who occupied stage right and high-kicked her way through kinetic sets—doing anything else. Like other notable ‘90s upstarts out of the Pacific Northwest, Sleater-Kinney was a band that thrived on the winning combination of the right time, the right place, the right community and, most importantly, the right talent. With the release of Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein guides audiences through a concise recollection of how this came to be, beginning with a childhood Duran Duran cover band that simply mimed along to the music. The result is a completely addicting and entertaining memoir that will strike a chord beyond Sleater-Kinney fans. —Tyler R. Kane

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memoirshrill.jpg 22. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016)

Covering everything from feminism to fat-shaming to body image to rape jokes to internet trolls to abortion to marriage to growing up, Shrill is a tightly wound memorial to the last gasps of the malingering old millennium. It’s also a killer starting pistol for all the fierce, funny women, who have joined West in the latter half of the decade and take up her unapologetically shrill baton—including West herself. West’s brilliant essay collection lit a fire mid-decade, and her recently released second essay collection, The Witches Are Coming, fans the flame. The last decade’s leading loud woman is back in the race just in time to close the whole thing out. —Alexis Gunderson

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memoirjustkids.jpg 21. Just Kids by Patti Smith (2010)

Patti Smith  made a promise to celebrated photographer Robert Mapplethorpe that she would one day write their story. Decades after Mapplethorpe’s death to AIDS-related complications, Smith has kept her word, immortalizing their journey of innocent love and artistic pursuits amidst New York City’s bohemia in her memoir. Just Kids begins during the late-‘60s in Brooklyn, where a young Smith meets Mapplethorpe, and concludes when they are permanently parted by death. Smith’s recollections rewire traditional ideas of love, and her poetically pure storytelling does more than allow her to fulfill her promise; it cements “Smith and Mapplethorpe” as one of the art world’s most relevant pairs. —Helen Matatov

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memoirhunger.jpg 20. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay (2017)

Hunger is rooted in the gang rape Roxane Gay survived when she was 12 years old, an event orchestrated by a boy she felt she loved and a turning point in what Gay admits was a fairly lucky life up until that point. In the aftermath of the attack, Gay ate and ate to build a fortress for herself out of her own body, to become invisible to men as a safety mechanism. What she discovered instead was that fatness (her preferred term) invites its own personal violations in a society obsessed with bodies but accepting of only a narrow range of them. As Gay proclaims up front, Hunger is not a “success story” as either a weight-loss memoir or as a story about coming to love her body, but an honest, unflinching collection of essays about (her) body and the life she has lived in it. —Steve Foxe

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memoirnowalls.jpg 19. No Walls and the Recurring Dream by Ani DiFranco (2019)

Ani DiFranco’s memoir plays by similar rules to which she’s lived her life and worked her career: there are no conventions; nothing is sacred; she will tell the tale however she pleases. No Walls and the Recurring Dream could’ve been twice as long and remained fascinating, but after detailing her early family life, love of folk music and formation of Righteous Babe, the book ends in 2001 with so much left to tell. If/when DiFranco decides to pick this tale back up, whether it’s in memoir form, song, interpretive dance or whatever format floats her boat, we’ll be thrilled. This is a worthy read for those interested in folk music, social activism, DIY recording and general badassery. —Brad Wagner

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memoiryellowhouse.jpg 18. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom (2019)

Sarah M. Broom’s powerful memoir is as much about a house as it is about her family and the city of New Orleans. Broom’s mother, Ivory Mae, bought the titular yellow house in 1961; it was where she raised 12 children alongside her husband. It was instead destroyed twice—first by Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and then by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After Katrina, with the family displaced, the city tore down the yellow house and with it the place Broom’s family had always known as home. This history of New Orleans as seen through one ordinary (amazing, funny and loving) family puts a finer point on Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. In doing so, Broom cuts through what has become a well-known narrative and replaces rote fact with a human saga. —Bridey Heing

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memoirlonglive.jpg 17. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (2019)

T Kira Madden’s debut memoir is viscerally honest, exploring her coming-of-age experience as a queer, biracial teen. Offering snapshots of formative years marked by privilege and neglect, Madden’s captivating voice reveals a girl desperate to belong. What makes this book a must-read is not its luminous prose (which is stunning) or its twists (which you’ll remember months later); it’s the fact that you’ll believe she’s weaving a story personally for you by the end. Madden has already proven herself as an essayist, and Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls confirms she’s just as skilled a memoirist. —Frannie Jackson

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memoircollected.jpg 16. The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang (2019)

Esmé Weijun Wang’s memoir of her life with schizoaffective disorder bears the heavy burden of proving its author’s very humanity. Wang’s mental health disorder is the kind which haunts the public consciousness and creates a caricature of her from the moment it is invoked—one she dissipates through fierce fashion choices and her vast rhetorical power. The result is a memoirist who is a person in full, not their book title or a DSM definition, and a memoir of remarkable verve to match the mind that wrote it. What Esmé Weijun Wang delivers in The Collected Schizophrenias is a panoptic view of the titular affliction. —B. David Zarley

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memoirbreathbecomes.jpg 15. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)

There’s a specific gravity to reading a man’s thoughts about why life is worth living after he’s passed away. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015 from stage IV lung cancer, mere months after completing a decade of training as a neurosurgeon and becoming a father. When Breath Becomes Air, drafted by Kalanithi and completed posthumously by his wife, Lucy, chronicles his years in medicine and his transition from a doctor to a patient after the diagnosis. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality,” he writes, “in a sense, had changed nothing and everything.” Possessing the heart of a poet and the mind of a scientist, Kalanithi tackles impossible questions with wisdom and grace, crafting a moving portrait of love and loss. —Frannie Jackson

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memoirborncrime.jpg 14. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016)

As he explains throughout Born a Crime, Trevor Noah’s experience growing up in South Africa under apartheid was a decidedly mixed affair—both because of his literal mixed-race identity and because of the wildly different corners of Johannesburg that heritage opened up for him. His telling of this fraught personal history is equally mixed, balancing measured thoughtfulness and precisely deployed comedy with a sharp multi-linguistic fluidity. Apartheid may have ended long before the 2010s began, but in a decade that saw the wider world become both more (technologically) and less (empathetically) connected than ever, Noah’s story—and the entertaining way in which he tells it—is critical reading. —Alexis Gunderson

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memoirallyoucaneverknow.jpg 13. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (2018)

Family secrets are powerful, and Nicole Chung’s memoir offers an honest look at what happened when she faced her own. A transracial adoptee (she was placed for adoption by Korean parents and raised by a white family), Chung grew up being told that her biological parents gave her up to offer her a “better life.” But as a grown woman expecting her own child, Chung questioned that narrative and began to search for the couple. All You Can Ever Know chronicles that search, delivering a powerful saga about identity with revelations to keep you captivated from cover to cover. —Frannie Jackson

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memoirhowtomurder.jpg 12. How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell (2017)

Press surrounding Cat Marnell’s book deal was dripping with venom. Yellow headlines blared—even The Atlantic couldn’t resist running the headline, “Cat Marnell’s Book Deal Could Buy a Lot of Drugs.” The entire saga was laced with hatred, because although Marnell was achieving media success directly because of her sickness, she was not afflicted with something relatable like cancer. Her main condition, the least pitied of all pathologies, is addiction. Yet Marnell’s memoir is wonderful. Her voice is her single greatest asset—a pure stylist who can tackle both beauty tips and the savage electricity of a life on amphetamine. How to Murder Your Life turns the addict, trucked with so many gallows watchers’ outrages, into her own fully-formed person. —B. David Zarley

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memoirmenreaped.jpg 11. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward (2013)

In Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward gazes back at the lives of five men in her life who died where they were born, in her own birthplace, DeLisle, Mississippi. She deals honestly with memories of these beautiful men, loved at birth and ensnared by circumstance in death. Ward doesn’t seek to cast blame or pick up a political cause. Rather, she pierces the surface of each man’s story the way a bird breaks the surface of tidewaters. In her eyes, pallbearers must accept the responsibility of telling stories the dead cannot. Circling around the facts of their lives, a seabird in search of stories, Ward’s memoir dives in and out of her childhood, snatching memories and laying them bare on the page. —Sybil McLain—Topel

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memoirdreamhouse.jpg 10. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (2019)

Melding personal trauma, academic analysis, speculative trappings and formalist playfulness, In the Dream House follows the arc of Carmen Maria Machado’s first serious relationship, which starts optimistically (as most do) and quickly descends into emotional manipulation and abuse. Machado writes much of the memoir in the second-person, which strengthens the emotional gut-punch of her lived experiences and provides a sort of warning-cum-roadmap for queer women who may find themselves in similar scenarios. Through footnotes, pop-culture metaphor and even choose-your-own-adventure chapters, Machado thoroughly upends the memoir—and perhaps even helps to prevent others from having to look back on their own trauma years from now. —Steve Foxe

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memoirautobiographical.jpg 9. How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (2018)

When you dive into Alexander Chee’s essay collection, expect to frequently pause and soak up his gorgeous writing. To read Chee is to find yourself submerged in whatever topic—9/11, Tarot reading, his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, rose gardening—he’s discussing until you’re living in between the pages. Chee succeeds in weaving an intimacy born of honesty, bluntly writing about the writing process and the stories we tell ourselves. But he also goes beyond writing advice, delivering a powerful memoir told in the most vivid way possible. We knew he was a talented novelist, but with How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Chee cements himself as a master of nonfiction as well. —Frannie Jackson

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memoirargonauts.jpg 8. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (2015)

Maggie Nelson, author of Bluets (a stunning book of philosophical aphorisms that report on depression), is prolific and intelligent in content and experience. As Marx flipped Hegel on his head, so too does Nelson flip conventional thinking, living and writing upside down in her latest critical memoir. Weaving a tale of love and marriage with her husband, artist Harry Dodge, Nelson creates a brilliance that would fade in the hands of a lesser writer. The Argonauts is as much a life-lived as it is theory. Equal parts poetry, philosophy, criticism and diary, this text delivers a charged examination of norms that pervert the open-minded necessity of love and the inner struggle to find happiness. —Mark Eleveld

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memoirbetweentheworld.jpg 7. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

Between the World and Me is the personalization of what, for many people, has been merely political for too long. Of course, racism in this country is political, is historical, is the very foundation on which the American Dream was built, and Ta-Nehisi Coates weaves these important historical narratives into this short text. But it’s his insistence on the small things that often get overlooked in public discourse that makes this book so terribly powerful. It’s not just in the form of the piece—a letter to his teenage son Samori—but in the more intimate content which requires that tragedies be contextualized. Coates’ memoir is one of the most necessary reads for any person interested in what it means to be awake and still hopeful in America today. —Shannon M. Houston

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memoirhowwefight.jpg 6. How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (2019)

An award-winning poet, Saeed Jones weaves a radiant coming-of-age saga in his new memoir. How We Fight for Our Lives chronicles his experiences growing up Black and gay in the South, juxtaposing beautiful memories of his mother with heart-rending accounts of surviving violent and racist encounters. You’ll fly through Jones’ brief tome, as his gorgeous prose guides you through his youth, adolescence and young adulthood. And by the end, you’ll want to revisit his words all over again. To read Jones is to be swept into a powerful journey that illuminates race and class relations in America today, and this memoir ensures he’ll be an author to watch for decades to come. —Frannie Jackson

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memoirbeastieboys.jpg 5. Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz (2018)

The Beastie Boys   have never been a musical group to play by the rules, so it should come as no surprise that their opus of a hardcore/hip hop memoir, Beastie Boys Book, isn’t concerned with the rules either. Constructed from a series of warm, clever essays written by the remaining band members, Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock), this brick of a memoir also includes essays from former bandmates (Kate Schellenbach, from the band’s early hardcore days) and fans and a ton of love for their third bandmate, Adam Yauch (MCA), who they lost to cancer in 2012. You don’t have to be fluent in Beastie to love this memoir, but you will be by the final page. —Alexis Gunderson

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memoirknowmyname.jpg 4. Know My Name by Chanel Miller (2019)

For years the world knew Chanel Miller as Emily Doe, the survivor in the Brock Turner rape case. After Turner was sentenced to only six months in county jail for assaulting Miller while she was unconscious, she released her powerful victim impact statement describing the assault’s severe effect on her life. Now, over three years since her statement went viral, Know My Name further chronicles the assault, trial and aftermath in Miller’s own words. She strikes the challenging balance of writing raw truths for over 300 pages with grace and fervor, delivering a gripping narrative that you won’t want to put down. The content alone makes this a must-read in the Me Too era, but Miller’s luminous prose is what makes it one of the decade’s best memoirs. —Frannie Jackson

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memoirpriestdaddy.jpg 3. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (2017)

Patricia Lockwood had an unorthodox childhood. As the child of a Catholic priest, she grew up as an anomaly in the faith, but that detail is only the tip of the bizarre Midwestern upbringing Lockwood recounts in her memoir. Her parents are hilarious and strange, her siblings unique and loud, and Lockwood herself is just as mischievous as her Twitter presence would suggest. But Priestdaddy is more than a series of anecdotes; the book is obscene, moving and complex, with Lockwood not shying away from reflecting on the darker areas of the faith in which she grew up. It places the beautiful and the filthy side by side, just as any God with a sense of humor would intend. —Bridey Heing

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memoirsurvivalmath.jpg 2. Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson (2019)

Mitchell S. Jackson is one of the finest writers currently working in the English language, and the language he uses is uniquely his own. Examining race and economic disparity through the lens of his own life, Jackson delivers a book that is heavy but not crushing, terrifying but not frightening. In combining Jackson’s experiences in Portland, his voracious mind, his acid blood and his shotgun-lethal tongue, Survival Math evolves into the Konami Code of memoirs. This is a book capable of unlocking depths of pathos, bathos and artistic envy in any reader. —B. David Zarley

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memoireducated.jpg 1. Educated by Tara Westover (2018)

Combining an extraordinary narrative with beautiful writing, Tara Westover’s memoir delivers a powerful coming-of-age saga. Educated chronicles Westover’s life as the child of Mormon survivalists, detailing her isolated upbringing in the Idaho mountains. Denied access by her father to professional medical care and any formal education, Westover describes a childhood infused with pain. But she created a way out, educating herself and ultimately gaining acceptance to Brigham Young University…and then Harvard and Cambridge. What makes Educated unique is not its success story, but rather its assertion that the American Dream is not a given for people who “work hard.” Westover’s journey is one fraught with abuse and trauma, and her educational success does not magically heal her complicated family relationships. The result is a memoir that proves haunting in the best way. —Frannie Jackson

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For more best of the decade book coverage, check out our lists of the best novels, best fantasy novels, best horror novels and best Young Adult novels of the 2010s.

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