Are memoirs still important? Top books and why we love them

Are memoirs still important? Top books and why we love them

Celebrity confessions and the resurgence of memoirs: unveiling the human experience through personal narratives

by Suswati Basu

We live in an era punctuated by the candid revelations of Prince Harry’s commentary and the tantalising disclosures of stars like Pamela Anderson and Elliot Page. What is is clear is that 2023 is the year of the celebrity memoir. The appeal of these personal histories lies not only in their capacity to satiate our collective curiosity about the lives of the famous but also in their powerful ability to cultivate empathy and offer profound cultural insights.

The rise of celebrity memoirs in 2023: reflecting and connecting

For New York Times bestselling author Britney Spears, her memoir represents a heartfelt undertaking that resonates with fans globally. “I poured my heart and soul into my memoir, and I am grateful to my fans and readers around the world for their unwavering support,” Spears shared, upon the explosive success of her book, “The Woman in Me,” which rocketed to 1.1 million copies sold in the US within the first week of its release.

Was 2023 the year of the celebrity memoir?
Read: Britney Spears book: The Woman in Me and age-old misogyny – review

The pull of these narratives extends beyond the glitterati, tapping into the enduring human desire to connect and understand one another. The ancient threads of personal storytelling, spun by historical figures like Julius Caesar and St. Augustine, are today woven into the fabric of contemporary literature, demonstrating the unyielding power of memoirs to preserve the past and enlighten future generations.

So what is a memoir and what are the best ones of all time?

A memoir is a personal narrative that captures the essence of an individual’s life experiences, providing a window into their world through their own lens. It's not a comprehensive autobiography but rather a curated collection of memories, moments, and feelings that have shaped the author’s identity and worldview. Rich in personal reflection and emotional depth, memoirs often focus on a specific theme, period, or series of events, offering insight and understanding into the human condition. They are powerful literary works that connect readers to the author’s journey, fostering empathy and a shared sense of humanity.
  • The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank. This poignant diary offers a heartbreaking and intimate perspective of life during the Holocaust, written by a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam.
  • Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography details his journey from his early years to his time as a leader of the anti-apartheid movement and his 27 years in prison.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. The first in a seven-volume series, this powerful memoir chronicles the challenges of Angelou’s childhood, including racial discrimination and trauma, and her eventual path to self-discovery and healing.
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X” as told to Alex Haley. This seminal work provides a detailed account of the life of Malcolm X, offering insight into his evolution from a small-time criminal to an influential African American leader.
Read: Controversy erupts as Texas teacher fired for using Anne Frank graphic book
  • Night” by Elie Wiesel. This harrowing account of Wiesel’s survival in Nazi concentration camps is a powerful meditation on the horrors of the Holocaust and a poignant contemplation on human cruelty.
  • The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. In this intensely personal narrative, Didion recounts the year following the sudden death of her husband, examining themes of grief, memory, and resilience.
  • Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt. McCourt’s memoir of his impoverished childhood in Ireland is both a tragic and comic tale of survival and the power of storytelling.
  • Educated” by Tara Westover. This recent memoir details Westover’s journey from growing up in a strict and abusive household in rural Idaho to earning a PhD from Cambridge University.
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama. Obama’s memoir is a candid and inspiring account of her life, from her childhood in Chicago to her time as First Lady of the United States. Obama writes about her challenges and triumphs with warmth and humor, and her story is a reminder that anything is possible if you work hard and believe in yourself.

The art of memoir: crafting truth from the tangles of reality

The pandemic, as Rutger Bruining of StoryTerrace suggests, has played a significant role in this resurgence. “What better time to reflect and write a book when there were no other professional obligations to distract them?” Bruining told CNN. The resulting outpouring of personal tales has catered to a diverse readership, eager for insight into the myriad walks of life, from royalty to the realms of Hollywood.

These stories serve as more than just entertainment; they provide a mirror reflecting our vulnerabilities and shared human experiences. Bruining remarks on the poignancy of such works, especially in light of Matthew Perry’s recent passing, which spurred a renewed interest in his personal battle with substance abuse.

Read: Matthew Perry book: Chandler’s life was his ideal – review

The motivations behind penning such works are manifold, encompassing therapeutic release and, not infrequently, substantial financial gain, as evidenced by the rumoured $20 million advance for Prince Harry’s memoir “Spare”. Ghostwriters play a pivotal role here, creating a safe space for stars to divulge their most personal tales.

Yet, as Bruining reminds us, the fervour for celebrity memoirs will inevitably ebb, giving way to new literary trends. It is, however, the enduring capacity of the memoir to capture the truths of human existence that cements its place in literature.

The art and craft of memoir writing: beyond the tell-all

Reflecting on the genre’s significance, Tyler C. Gore, author of “My Life of Crime: Essays and Other Entertainments,” shared with How To Be Books, “Memoir is storytelling — indeed, perhaps storytelling in its most primal and essential form — and has much in common with the craft of fiction, relying on compelling narratives, memorable characters, and a discerning eye for detail.” He adds: “Memoir offers something that is arguably even more fantastic: In its most seductive form, memoir invites the reader into the private inner world of the writer, an actual human being.”

“Real life, actual life, is just a bunch of random, undifferentiated experience: a tale told by an idiot. The memoirist’s job is to sift through the junkyard of existence, and find the stories that give our lives meaning.”

Tyler C. Gore, “My Life of Crime” Author

Gore underscores the memoirist’s challenging task of crafting a narrative from the tangled web of real life, a feat that demands a discerning eye and a gift for storytelling that rivals the artistry of fiction.

Read: Britney Spears biography: the problem with celebrity memoirs

Adding to the conversation, children’s author Deborah C. Mortimer highlighted the unique power of memoirs within the realm of children’s literature. Her work, “Summer Island,” is an homage to her Caribbean heritage and a poignant act of cultural preservation. “It can be a vehicle to connect generations, stimulate dialogue, and even impress upon a child that they are not alone,” the Leap Forward Publishing, LLC. owner shared.

“It is a way to reset the clock, enabling an author to capture memories of their youth to dive into the world and mind of a child, yet retrospectively impart wisdom. It can be a vehicle to connect generations, stimulate dialogue, and even impress upon a child that they are not alone.”

Deborah C. Mortimer, “Summer Island” Author

In the contemporary literary landscape, memoirs stand not as the lesser-known sibling of fiction but as its equal, if not its surpassing counterpart. They are the vessels of truth in an age of fiction, the touchstones of reality in a world draped in the veils of fantasy. As we navigate the libraries of personal histories that line our shelves this year, we are reminded that through memoirs, literature does not just tell a story; it shares a life.

Subscribe to my newsletter for new blog posts, recommendations & episodes. Let’s stay updated!

This article contains affiliate links via in which we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, in order to support local bookshops. We have not been commissioned to review books and services.


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

Your contribution is appreciated, as everything you give we put back so we can provide the best information.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

You may also like


Megan | The Booknerd Copywriter November 4, 2023 - 3:08 pm

I think there is definitely a bigger draw to celebrity memoirs than ever before. I just picked up Matthew Perry’s book but haven’t gotten a chance to read it. Other than that (and Prince Harry’s), I don’t have too many on my TBR. Great discussion!

Suswati Basu November 4, 2023 - 3:13 pm

That’s really interesting – I’m curious to hear what made you feel you wanted to read Matthew Perry’s book? Is it the need to understand him a bit more – that definitely was the case for me.

Fact checking: Endgame raises questions over other books - How To Be Books December 1, 2023 - 8:49 pm

[…] More from our Friday opinion pieces: Are memoirs still important? Top books and why we love them […]

Endgame book: Omid Scobie and the problem of hearsay - review - How To Be Books December 4, 2023 - 9:55 pm

[…] Read: Are memoirs still important? Top books and why we love them […]


Leave a Reply

Are you sure want to unlock this post?
Unlock left : 0
Are you sure want to cancel subscription?