Non-fiction, not non-good: Under-appreciated memoirs you should read

By Kaitlin Dunn
Lifestyle Editor

For many, memoirs are something you read in school, works of literature seen as boring, to be groaned and complained about as your record your thoughts for your reading log.

However, memoirs offer a wide selection of poignant, well-written texts that deserve more credit than they are given. Here are a few underrated memoirs that you should add to your “To-Be-Read” list.

“Know My Name” by Chanel Miller

At its core, “Know My Name” is a story of survival.  Formally known as Emily Doe, Chanel Miller shocked the world when she addressed her assailant with a letter, beginning with “you don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”

The trial itself was striking,  as “she recounted, in precise and wincing and unrelenting detail, what it felt like to be transformed, in the space of a few moments, from ‘person’ to ‘victim,’” The Atlantic writer Ali Smith said.

Miller’s novel chronicles her sexual assault and the legal and media aftermath where she was simply referred to as Emily Doe.

In the novel, she reclaims her identity and her name, going from “victim” to “person,” from Emily Doe to Chanel Miller.

“‘Know My Name’ is one woman’s story. But it’s also every woman’s story — the story of a world whose institutions are built to protect men; a world where sexual objectification is ubiquitous and the threat of sexual violence is constant,” New York Times writer Jennifer Weiner said.

“Educated” by Tara Westover

“Educated” tells the story of author Tara Westover,  born to a survivalist Mormon family.

According to the books synopsis, Westover “was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom…Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.”

Westover’s story follows her self-intervention, as she manages to get into Brigham Young University, her studies then taking her to Harvard University and Cambridge University.

“By the end, Westover has somehow managed not only to capture her unsurpassably exceptional upbringing, but to make her current situation seem not so exceptional at all, and resonant for many others. She is but yet another young person who left home for an education, now views the family she left across an uncomprehending ideological canyon, and isn’t going back,” New York Times writer Alec MacGillis said.

“Boy Erased” by Garrard Conley

Now an American biographical drama film, Garrard Conley’s “Boy Erased” details his life as a young gay  man in the Bible Belt.

Conley writes of what it was like to be the son of a preacher, chronicling his experience being outed to his parents when he was in college, the conversion therapy he went through, and what his adult life looked like in the aftermath.

Conley writes of his experiences in a way that is at its core, poetic and yet his style emphasizes how young he was when he experienced such life-altering situations, writing of how the taking of his prized journal in a way that is almost haunting.

“As I grew older and discovered my love of literature, I externalized the markings, wrote them down in my Moleskine, kept my notebook close –  so much so that when the LIA counselors took away my notebook years later, they took away much of this protection. But they didn’t take all of it. The empty pages still carried ghosts.”

 His writing is captivating, and each page leaves you yearning to read more.

If you are looking to expand upon your literary horizons, any of these memoirs would make a great read.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Featured Photo Caption: Memoirs are often assumed to be stuffy books with boring content and verbose sentences. However, more often than not, they are a very worthwhile and rewarding read.

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