These 11 Memoirs Perfect For Readers Who Love Literary Fiction

The world of literature is vast and nearly endless, and sometimes readers need a little help when it comes to navigating its many realms. If you usually stick to one kind of book but are looking for a way to shake up your reading list, it’s time you turned to these page-turning memoirs perfect for literary fiction-lovers.

Lit fiction-lovers typically enjoy digging in deep to the story's symbolism, insights, and deeper meaning, and often, it’s hard for them to leave the literary style and explore other reading options.

Much like literary fiction, memoirs go beyond storytelling. They’re intimate accounts of a person’s life or important historical event that transcend traditional autobiography and seek to impart some kind of greater wisdom on the reader. Through the experiences of the writer, memoirs have the ability to offer insight, not only into the author’s life but the world (and humanity) itself. They allow readers to walk in someone else’s shoes and gain a new perspective on complicated issues including love, sexuality, parenthood, race, body image, and so much more. Complete with lyrical prose and inventive formats, memoirs have everything literary fiction readers love.

Ready to dive into an engaging narrative and learn an important life lesson or two? Here are 11 memoirs perfect for literary fiction-lovers.

'The Liars' Club' by Mary Karr

A must-read memoir for anyone new the the genre, The Liars' Club will especially appeal to fans of literary fiction who crave complex characters, provocative themes, and lasting insight into this crazy thing we call life. A hilarious and heartfelt coming-of-age story, Mary Karr's masterpiece chronicles the author's childhood in an East Texas oil town, complete with a hard-drinking, fast-talking father, a secretive and seductive mother, and a fearless sister. Bursting with life, The Liars' Club is an addictive read you won't want to put down.

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'The Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion

After Joan Didion's daughter fell ill and her husband died, she fell into a state she called "magical thinking": a period of mourning that pushed her beyond any imagined pain into a state of near insanity. In her moving memoir of that time, Didion recounts that year of grief and heartbreak in her signature candor and stunning prose. A powerful story about marriage, family, and losing it all, The Year of Magical Thinking is a lyrical journey into the heart of what connects us all: love, loss, and survival.

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'Where the Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir' by Amy Tan

Literary legend Amy Tan turns her attention inward in Where the Past Begins, a breathtaking memoir about the connection between her traumatic childhood and her life as a writer. In vivid detail and her signature storytelling flair, the celebrated author takes readers inside her most intimate memories to reveal the seeds of inspiration behind her most beloved works of fiction. Deeply personal and unflinchingly honest, Where the Past Begin reveals a side of the writer readers have never known.

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'When Breath Becomes Air' by Paul Kalanithi

In this critically acclaimed and internationally recognized memoir, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi is forced to reckon with the unbelievable: a terminal stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. Once a doctor caring for ill patients, Kalanithi is thrust into a world where he is faced with the possibility of his own death on a daily basis. A heart-rendering examination of mortality and what makes life living, When Breath Becomes Air will change the way you think about death and the gift of life.

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'Love, Loss, and What We Ate' by Padma Lakshmi

In her evocative memoir of food, family, and the strength of the human spirit, Padma Lakshmi takes readers on her unbelievable journey from young unknown immigrant to celebrated culinary professional and Emmy-winning TV show host. Love, Loss, and What We Ate follows Lakshmi from her childhood spent mostly between one place and the next, through the success of her first cookbook, to the set of Top Chef and beyond, all along the way inviting you to taste, smell, feel, and hear the author's experiences with her. A captivating story of a truly remarkable woman, Love, Loss, and What We Ate will titillate not only the mind, but all of the senses, too.

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'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?' by Jeanette Winterson

Fans of Jeanette Winterson's fiction will fall in love with her groundbreaking memoir about love, identity, belonging, and the author's lifelong search for happiness. Moving, lyrical, and daring, much like her novels, Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? is a feat of stunning storytelling that recounts the most intimate, often painful moments in Winterson's life. A celebration of overcoming trauma, finding bliss, and the power of literature to change a life, this enlightening memoir will give you all the feels.

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'American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood' by Marie Arana

The daughter of a Peruvian father and an American mother, Marie Arana spent most of her childhood split between two worlds: one where she learned to be a proper lady, and another where she was given the freedom to shoot, ride, and hunt like one of the boys. While she always felt comfortable toeing the line between her two identities, Arana's family's immigration to the United States forced her to see the truth: she wasn't either or, but a hybrid of both cultures. In her own words, Arana was an "American Chica." A stunning portrait of the collision of two vastly different two worlds, American Chica is a touching story about family, heritage, identity, culture, and carving out your own place in the world.

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'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' by Maya Angelou

It's hard to round up memoirs without mentioning Maya Angelou's work, and this list for literary fiction lovers is no different. In her seminal work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou weaves a heartbreaking story about love and loss, trauma and survival, silence and finding your voice that is as poetic as it is powerful. A truly remarkable work of intimate nonfiction, this classic should be considered required memoir.

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'Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books' by Azar Nafisi

A beautiful celebration of the power of literature to free its readers, Azar Nafisi's "memoir in books" is a remarkable tale of one woman's dedication to the education and liberation of the oppressed. In Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi recounts the two years she spent in Iran secretly teaching her most dedicated female students to read classic Western literature. From Jane Austen to Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald to Vladimir Nabokov, these novels proved a remarkable tool for freedom and empowerment in the lives of the girls they touch. An eloquent love letter to the power of literature, Reading Lolita in Tehran is a must-read for lit lovers.

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'H Is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald

After suddenly losing her beloved father, Helen Macdonald struggled to find the right way to grieve. That is, until she decided to raise and train a goshawk, one of the most vicious predator birds in the sky. Mabel, her new bird, quickly became the coping mechanism Mcdonald needed. Strong, powerful, and fierce, training the unpredictable bird not only provided her with the kind of healthy obsession that distracted her from her grief, but it became a lens through which to find beauty in the world again. Insightful as it is powerful, H Is for Hawk is a literary masterpiece.

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'A Cup of Water Under My Bed' by Daisy Hernández

In her spellbinding coming-of-age memoir, Daisy Hernández shares the life lessons she learned from the remarkable women in her Cuban-Colombian family. In a series of stories about love, money, sexuality, race, and class, the author pieces together what life was life growing up, and coming out, in her tightknit immigrant community. Thoughtful and captivating, A Cup of Water Under My Bed is more that a memoir: it's a statement about identity, family, and self in modern America.

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'The Other Side of Paradise' by Staceyann Chin

A remarkable story of survival from celebrated performer, poet, and activist Staceyann Chin, The Other Side of Paradise is an inspiring, must-read memoir. Born unexpectedly on the floor of her grandmother's home in Jamaica, Staceyann was unwanted before she took her first breath, and for much of her life after. Raised by her grandmother but separated from the only protection she ever knew, Chin spent her formative years in between homes and without the support she needed. Alone, she navigated coming-of-age, searching for her father, coming out as a lesbian, and discovering her true self. Beautiful and lyrical, The Other Side of Paradise is simply extraordinary storytelling.

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