Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Read Outside the Box: Best Biographies Memoirs

A few weeks ago, I fell in love with a book: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I read the 600 page biography in 5 days, having to force myself to put the book down for little things like sleep and showering. I wanted to shout praises for this book from the rooftops. I wanted to extol my adoration on my blog. But I review YA fiction, which this definitely is not. Of course, I could make an exception, but I've chosen a niche for my blog and I stick to it, with the exception of a few cross-over novels. So the idea for Read Outside the Box formed: a monthly feature in which I - along with my readers - will recommend favorite books outside the YA fictional genre. After all, if you're old enough to read YA, you're old enough (or at least capable) of reading other things as well. YA is simply one of many genres that many of us enjoy reading.

Biographies and memoirs have always been one of my go-to genres. I remember enjoying biographies as a kid, but my passion for them really began in high school, when I became obsessed with politics. And with that, American history. My interest in politics has waned significantly, but my love for biographies and memoirs of all kinds have remained.

Here's how this is going to work:

First I'll list some of my favorites. Following that, will be a list of my readers' favorites. Thank you so much to all of you who submitted books!!!

My Favorite Biographies and Memoirs

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
-Incredibly fascinating life. Perfect mixture of personal details and career.

Madame Secretary by Madeleine Albright
-Albright's rise from Czechoslovakia to the UN to Secretary of State

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
-Absolutely hilarious. Girl growing up in a quirky family in small town Indiana.

Personal History by Katharine Graham
-How Katharine Graham became head of the Washington Post. Reads like a novel.

-The movie October Sky is based on this. The book is so much better (October Sky is one of my favorite movies).

John Adams by David McCullough

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
-Tale of one screwed up family

My Life in France by Julia Child, Alex Prud'Homme
-Read about what made Julia famous - France and her introduction to French cuisine.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
-Iranian teacher reads forbidden Western novels with female students

-Childhood survivor of the Pol Pot regime. Incredibly harrowing, yet un-put-downable.

The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
-Dutch Jewish girls hide in a farmhouse during WWII. I read this dozens of times as an early teen.

Big Russ and Me by Tim Russert
-Memoir by the late NBC journalist of his childhood and important lessons from his father.

Readers' Favorite Biographies and Memoirs

 My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel - Annette
-About a girl with learning disabilities. Sounds great.

-Tale of survival in the Utah desert

When I Was a Soldier by Valerie Zenatti - Annette
-Service in the Israeli Army

Bossypants by Tina Fey - Roro, Sandy, and Melissa
-Memoir by the well-known comedian.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser - Sarah and Laura

-Anything by Bill Bryson is a must read.

-Moves to England to fulfill dream of finding love with a prince

A Heart For Freedom by Chai Ling - Ramona
-Chinese dissident's escape after  Tiananmen Square

Red Scarf Girl by Jiang Ji-Li - Kimberly
-Tale of a girl during China's Cultural Revolution. I've also read this and really enjoyed it.

-Man moves to remote New Mexico and tries to live off the land. Sounds interesting and funny.

-Rescue and healing of a former racehorse.

Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper - Jennie
-Memoir from the CNN newscaster.

-Memoir about becoming homeless after losing corporate job.

Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman - Rachel
-Teaching English and studying martial arts in post-Cultural Revolution China.

Call Me Russell by Russell Peters - Saisei-Chan
-How Peters rose to become a leading comedian.

Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Shoenberger - Lee
-Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century.

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma - Jennifer
-Father pledges (and succeeds) to read to daughter every night until she turns 18.

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok - Melissa
-17-year estrangement of the author and her homeless schizophrenic mother, and their reunion.

I'll Scream Later by Marlee Matlin - Melissa
-Memoir of the award winning deaf actress.

Night by Elie Wiesel - Jennie
-Harrowing memoir of survival in the Holocaust

Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini - Jennifer
-Love, food, and healing in Italy.

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill - Jennifer
-A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone.

Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper - Jennifer
-Tale of an extraordinary cat and his owner (or servant, as my cat would say).

Life by Keith Richards - Mary
-Memoir by the Rolling Stones member.

What are your favorite biographies and memoirs? Have you read any of these?

Any suggestions for next month's feature?


  1. I read the Glass Castle and it blew my mind!! Seriously made me appreciate my family so much more.

  2. I love a good memoir/biography! I see a few that I've read and some that I need to add to my TBR (Red Scarf Girl really caught my eye).

  3. Thanks for including my choices! I also enjoyed Chinese Cinderella -- I forgot about that one -- good choice. And, someday I'm going to read's been recommended many times.

    Interesting list!

  4. are you telling me the book october sky is better than the movie? Then I MUST GET it..
    Is the movie 127 hours based on Between a Rock and a Hard Place ? Felt so seeing the cover picture

  5. Loved Night and Diary of Anne Frank. I didn't care for Reading Lolita in Tehran. I would definitely add Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I'm currently reading a good one called "Breaking the Night" by Liz Murray which is a memoir of how she went from homeless to Harvard.

  6. Wow Alison, that's quite a list! I'll have to check and see if my dad has read the Steve Jobs one, I bet he'd love it. I think he's read the Tina Fey one, but I'll have to double check:) I'm going to print the whole list out and send it to him, thank you!

  7. I'm glad I could help add to your list. :) I'll have to check some of these others out. Who knows, I may enjoy them. :)

  8. I haven't read any others than the one I suggested but I really do appreciate the list because I have a biographies/Memoirs category for a 12X12 challenge that I'm doing and this list will help a lot as a reference.

  9. What a grear list! So many good books on some fascinating people. I read a couple of books on Cleopatra and found her fascinating. I also believe it or not enjoyed George Bush's book. The chapters on 9-11 was so good. There are many on your list I want to read, including Steve Jobs, my husband read it and loved it. Thanks for sharing, Allison.

  10. Some great choices, I have only read Glass Castle and wow, such a great read.

    I have these on Wishlist, i'm excited to see some. Steve Jobs, Memory Palace and Keeping the feast. 13th Winter sounds good.

    I would recommend to moms of daughters - Cinderella ate my daughter.

  11. Great list this month Alison!! Maybe next month's feature could be classic books (A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo)?

  12. This is such an awesome list! Thanks for the feature!

  13. Excellent list! I just read a review for the Steven Jobs book and I really want to check it out. And Savannah's suggestion sounds really good too!

  14. So many to add to my wishlist!! I really want to read the Starbucks Saved My Life one! That sounds really interesting.

    (I love memoirs once in awhile; but I need to be in the mood.)

    -Jac @ For Love and Books

  15. Steve Jobs and Bossypants are definitely on my list to read. I just finished an autobiography about a cheerleader cum primatologist who treks around in the jungles. Very interesting. Pink Boots and a Machete but I can't remember the author.

  16. What a great list! Many I have heard of and just need to get to, but others like Marlee Matin is new to me. Thanks for sharing :)

  17. I haven't read many memoirs/biographies but my favorite would have to be Night by Elie Wiesel. I'll definitely be checking out some of the books you mentioned, thanks!

  18. I'm not sure if I have a favorite. But I love your list. I really love that it isn't all celebrities. It feels like I only see celebrity memoirs being promoted these days.

  19. I never read a memoirs/biograpy, but that's because I just don't like it. I don't want to read about a celebrity, because I don't care..

  20. Thanks so much for this fabulous list and for including my recommendation, A Heart For Freedom, on the list. There are a few books on the list I have already read and several that have caught my eye! I will be bookmarking this for future reference!

    Create With Joy

  21. John Adams was excellent. Reading Lolita annoyed me because it spoiled some classic novels I haven't read yet. Obviously Lolita would be discussed, but others were mentioned throughout the text that weren't as obvious.

  22. I love "Why You Crying?" by George Lopez. Probably my all time favorite bio. Absolutely amazing story. I want to read a couple of these...

  23. I've only read Big Russ and Me and I hadn't a clue who the man was before I started listening to it on audio. I stumbled across it at my library and it turned out to be a sweet and down to earth read and I didn't regret picking it up.

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