Being the inherently nosey person that I am, memoirs are one of my favourite type of books to read. Getting to understand someone’s life and the nitty-gritty, tell-all secrets – oooft I just love getting that insight into someone’s world.
Here are a few memoirs that I have enjoyed, a real mixture of celebrity, journalists and people with incredible life stories.
As long as it’s juicy, I’m there.
How To Murder Your Life – Cat Marnell
At the age of 15, Cat Marnell unknowingly set out to murder her life. After a privileged yet emotionally-starved childhood in Washington, she became hooked on ADHD medication provided by her psychiatrist father. This led to a dependence on Xanax and other prescription drugs at boarding school, and she experimented with cocaine, ecstasy… whatever came her way. By 26 she was a talented ‘doctor shopper’ who manipulated Upper East Side psychiatrists into giving her never-ending prescriptions; her life had become a twisted merry-go-round of parties and pills at night, and trying to hold down a high profile job at Condé Nast during the day.
With a complete lack of self-pity and an honesty that is almost painful, Cat describes the crazed euphoria, terrifying comedowns and the horrendous guilt she feels lying to those who try to help her. Writing in a voice that is utterly magnetic – prompting comparisons to Brett Easton Ellis and Charles Bukowski – she captures something essential both about her generation and our times. Profoundly divisive and controversial, How to Murder Your Life is an unforgettable, charged account of a young female addict, so close to throwing her entire life away.
After reading Cat Marnell’s explosive interview on The Cut, I immediately ordered her book How To Murder Your Life from Amazon. Cat Marnell describes her drug-fuelled life in her memoir in a way that is completely unapologetic. Her writing style is clumsy, with far too many exclamation marks, but it gives you a strong sense of her chaotic personality. The first couple of chapters are a bit of a chore to get through, in which she describes her childhood, and it took me a while to get used to the chatty, informal way that she writes. However, despite the writing, the story of her life really needs to be read to be believed.
Books that give me an insight into a world, so unlike my own, are what I find really interesting, so learning about drug addiction, working in Manhattan for Conde Nast and having an overwhelmingly large amount of privilege is something that was gripping for me. The book doesn’t make you like the women, in fact – I can say she comes across like a bloody nightmare – but as a reader, its a window into a world that I would otherwise not have ever been able to look through.
Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
In this poignant, hilarious and deeply intimate call to arms, Hollywood’s most powerful woman, the mega-talented creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder and Catch, reveals how saying YES changed her life – and how it can change yours too. With three hit shows on television and three children at home, Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say no when invitations arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No. And to an introvert like Shonda, who describes herself as ‘hugging the walls’ at social events and experiencing panic attacks before press interviews, there was a particular benefit to saying no: nothing new to fear. Then came Thanksgiving 2013, when Shonda’s sister Delorse muttered six little words at her: You never say yes to anything. Profound, impassioned and laugh-out-loud funny, in Year of Yes Shonda Rhimes reveals how saying YES changed – and saved – her life. And inspires readers everywhere to change their own lives with one little word: Yes.
Shonda Rhimes is my absolute bloody hero, writing my favourite show (and the best tv series on the planet) Grey’s Anatomy. If you’ve seen any of her shows, you will know Shonda is known for breaking down walls, making reality come to life and putting diverse and complex characters front and centre screen. She is a fantastic storyteller and captivating to listen too.
Year of Yes follows Shonda’s journey to becoming centre screen herself. She was so used to turning down flashy events and invitations to important functions, it just became a part of her identity. Shonda was so used to being in the shadows, writing stories and making up her own worlds. After a word from her sister, she decided she was going to embark on a year of saying yes to everything, no matter how scary it was. She soon discovered that saying yes, even if it terrifies you, makes life so much richer.
This memoir is so uplifting and powerful, making you aware just how short life is and that opportunities are fantastic building blocks to a better life. You don’t have to have watched any of her shows to read it, but it would help so you understand the references. Big fan of Grey’s, Scandal or HTGAWM? You will bloody *love* it.
How To Fail – Elizabeth Day
This is a book for anyone who has ever failed. Which means it’s a book for everyone.
If I have learned one thing from this shockingly beautiful venture called life, it is this: failure has taught me lessons I would never otherwise have understood. I have evolved more as a result of things going wrong than when everything seemed to be going right. Out of crisis has come clarity, and sometimes even catharsis.
Part memoir, part manifesto, and including chapters on dating, work, sport, babies, families, anger and friendship, it is based on the simple premise that understanding why we fail ultimately makes us stronger. It’s a book about learning from our mistakes and about not being afraid. Uplifting, inspiring and rich in stories from Elizabeth’s own life, How to Fail reveals that failure is not what defines us; rather it is how we respond to it that shapes us as individuals. Because learning how to fail is actually learning how to succeed better. And everyone needs a bit of that.
In this memoir, author and journalist Elizabeth Day writes about her ‘failures’, separating them out and discussing them in categories; her failure in friendships, sport, work etc. Really, her failures are not failures at all – with her entire life smacking of white privilege (which the author does acknowledge).
When I first starting reading this book I did a little eye roll – what Elizabeth deemed a failure wasn’t anything catastrophic in the grand scheme of things, however when we got into the nitty-gritty of her failing marriage and trying to have children, I found it to be so honest and raw – the process of going through IVF was especially heartbreaking to read. As someone with a chronic illness who will find conceiving naturally very difficult, having an honest portrayal of the process of IVF was eye-opening.
I found this book enjoyable and really appreciated the sentiment behind this book, however apart from one or two chapters this book was somewhat lacking for me. I much prefer the podcast, which is what led to this book being written. Despite the failures-that-aren’t-really-failures, this book has an important message and I’m glad I read it. Acknowledging failure as something that we need not be ashamed of is something that I think needs to be recognised more.
Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton
A spot-on, wildly funny and sometimes heart-breaking book about growing up, growing older and navigating all kinds of love along the way.
When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown-up, journalist and former Sunday Times dating columnist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod-Stewart themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped, realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you’ve ever been able to rely on, and finding that that your mates are always there at the end of every messy night out. It’s a book about bad dates, good friends and – above all else – about recognising that you and you alone are enough.
Glittering, with wit and insight, heart and humour, Dolly Alderton’s powerful début weaves together personal stories, satirical observations, a series of lists, recipes, and other vignettes that will strike a chord of recognition with women of every age – while making you laugh until you fall over. Everything I know About Love is about the struggles of early adulthood in all its grubby, hopeful uncertainty.
I’ve been listening to The High Low for well over two years now, a news and pop culture podcast hosted by Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. Dolly has always been someone who I strongly relate too, her obsessive nature, her deep thinking and the way she is able to appreciate the nuances of life.
I bought this book as a fan of Dolly, but you don’t need to be a fan to enjoy this book. Overall, this memoir tells the chaotic tale of Dolly’s life, her outlandish and wild lifestyle and how different romantic relationships have affected her. But overall, the main tenet of the book is her relationship with her best friend and the importance of female friendships, something that is not celebrated half as much as romantic relationships.
As a woman in her twenties who hasn’t got a bloody clue – this book was a breath of fresh air.
This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay
Adam Kay was a junior doctor from 2004 until 2010, before a devastating experience on a ward caused him to reconsider his future. He kept a diary throughout his training, and This Is Going to Hurt intersperses tales from the front line of the NHS with reflections on the current crisis. The result is a first-hand account of life as a junior doctor in all its joy, pain, sacrifice and maddening bureaucracy, and a love letter to those who might at any moment be holding our lives in their hands.
It is absolutely imperative that you read this book. It’s not really a memoir, per se, but I had to include it because it is one of the best books I have ever read.
Adam Kay used to be a doctor and this book is a collection of his journal entries from his time spent working for the NHS. It’s beautiful, laugh out loud funny and also heartbreakingly raw.
Read it. Read it now.
My Thoughts Exactly – Lily Allen
So, this is me. Lily Allen. I am a woman. I am a mother. I was a wife. I drink. I have taken drugs. I have loved and been let down. I am a success and a failure. I am a songwriter. I am a singer. I am all these things and more. When women share their stories, loudly and clearly and honestly, things begin to change – for the better. This is my story.
Lily Allen’s memoir is explosive, raw, honest and heartbreaking. Lily doesn’t hold back in her memoir and she wants to tell her story, her way.
Being catapulted into the spotlight at such a young age, she found it difficult to navigate her new found fame and this has had repercussions, which she still struggles with. Without giving away spoilers, Lily’s life has been wild. With drug-fuelled binges, divorce, the death of her first child, mental breakdowns, stalkers – Lily has really been through it all.
This book offers an insight into her very fractured past and she does a fantastic job of writing her own story, from her own perspective. She feels no shame in telling her story and she writes in such a brave, reflective way. Very enjoyable, heartbreaking and truthful. Even if you’re not really a Lily Allen fan, this memoir is still a fantastic read.
The Girl With Seven Names – Hyeonseo Lee
An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom. As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”? Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.
She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable. This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo’s escape from the darkness into the light, but also of her coming of age, education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life – not once, but twice – first in China, then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.
This was one of the first memoirs I had ever read and boy – what a story. The Girl with Seven Names tells the story of Hyeonseo who escaped the brutal North Korean regime. In this book, she shares insight on what it was like to grow up in North Korea, in horrendous conditions and the barbaric laws the citizens have to abide by.
She made the decision to leave, at just 17, and while she sought a better life, free from the dictatorship, she faced so many hardships in doing so.
For an insight into this very sheltered world and for a look at what sheer determination to survive looks like, this book is a must.
Brave – Rose McGowan
Rose McGowan was born in one cult and came of age in another, more visible cult: Hollywood. In a strange world where she was continually on display, stardom soon became a personal nightmare of constant exposure and sexualization. Rose escaped into the world of her mind, something she had done as a child, and into high-profile relationships. Every detail of her personal life became public, and the realities of an inherently sexist industry emerged with every script, role, public appearance, and magazine cover. The Hollywood machine packaged her as a sexualized bombshell, hijacking her image and identity and marketing them for profit. Hollywood expected Rose to be silent and cooperative and to stay the path. Instead, she rebelled and asserted her true identity and voice. She reemerged unscripted, courageous, victorious, angry, smart, fierce, unapologetic, controversial, and real as f*ck.
Rose McGowan was one of the first whistleblowers of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement. She has been interviewed on podcasts such as Channel 4’s Ways To Change the World and Grazia Life Advice and she’s always struck me as so eloquent and aware of how the world works.
I found this book difficult to put down, as her life is an absolute whirlwind. Growing up in a religious cult when she was a child, to then live on the streets, to then having her boyfriend murdered, to then being picked up in Hollywood and then attacked by Weinstein – it’s a wild ride.
Rose has been hurt by a lot of men in her life and the hatred she feels towards the men who have hurt her is palpable, for obvious reasons. However, while I agree with her attitude of ‘fuck the patriarchy’, it can be a bit too much. If you don’t mind this, you’ll find this book an enjoyable read but some reviews I have read found that her agenda throughout the book is skewed towards man-hating vibes. While this book is a fascinating read, it is very preachy so if you can see past it – you’ll love it!
Have you read any of the memoirs on this list? What were your thoughts? Do you have any to recommend?