When I was in high school and even into my twenties, I read autobiographies and biographies as I would a blue print. They showed things to do and to not do. They showed the pitfalls of life. They were instructions on a life well-lived.
These days, intead of being the lofty guide to how to live my own life, I choose them based on relatability and if the person is someone I would enjoy learning more about. Based on these very high and stringent qualifications, I recommend the following autobiographies.
Just as I Am: a Memoir. Cicely Tyson’s autobiography was released two days before her death. Tyson led an intersting life as an actor on stage and in film, as well as, as an activist. While there are many encounters with Hollywood names, It is her gracious account of her relationship with Miles Davis that is most noteworthy. As a side note, I adore the picture of Tyson on the cover of the book. It is a bold and beautiful choice.
A Moveable Feast. Hemingway recounts his life, his loves, and the many people he met in his twenties in Paris. Hemingway crosses paths with Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound among other expatriots. This book was published posthumously but is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. It paints a beautiful portrait of Paris and the beauty of his life although it was often turbulent.
Know My Name: A Memoir. Chanel Miller’s account gives a name and a face to sexual assault. Miller’s story of survival is painful and powerful to read. I was stunned after reading Miller’s court letter. The case was incedibly famous and Miller’s identity was rightfully hidden but this letter allowed everyone to understand that Miller was a real person, a victim, and a survivor. Her memoir is just as stunning.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Trevor Noah’s account of his childhood in South Africa is a book that I could read over and over again. Noah is frank and honest in his account of the brutality, racism, and rambunctiousness that encompassed his early years. After reading this book, I had a newfound respect for Noah as a comedian and as a human.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I read this memoir earlier this year and honestly loved it. Strayed shares both her successes and failures. There were moments when I thought she was inept and had no business going on this trip. But then there were the times that her humor and resilience made this story incredibly uplifting.