20 Memoirs PEOPLE Staffers Love — That Aren't Written By Celebrities (Exclusive)

From medicine, to LGBTQ+ issues, to parenting and just plain fun, here are our staff picks for the best memoirs out there

<p>Amazon</p> best non-celebrity memoirs


best non-celebrity memoirs

We get it: Life is hard. And when the going gets rough, sometimes we all need a little perspective — or just an escape from our own day-to-day — to get through it. That's when many readers turn to memoirs. The best memoirs let readers walk a mile in someone else's shoes, striking that perfect balance between feeling like you're reading someone's diary and learning more about the world outside your own two ears.

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There's a memoir out there for every type of reader. Some of PEOPLE's staff favorites cover topics like medicine, parenthood, LGBTQ+ identity, family dynamics, military life, food or simply what it's like to be human. One of these is sure to speak to you, too.

'Inconceivable' by Alexandra Collier

<p>Amazon</p> 'Inconceivable'



When Allie realized she wanted a baby and her partner didn't, she found herself back home in Australia single and ready to mingle. But since she was in her 30s, she also felt her biological clock ticking and decided to embark on a different, often controversial, journey: Conceiving with donor sperm. This candid account is by turns funny, poignant and perfect for anyone starting a family on their own terms.

'Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones' by Priyanka Mattoo

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'Bird Milk & Mosquito Bones'

Priyanka Mattoo was born in a wooden house in Kashmir, like so many of her ancestors before her. But violence forced her family to flee in 1989, and over the next 40 years, she moved 32 times. In essays that take us to England, Saudi Arabia, Michigan, Rome and Los Angeles, Mattoo finds hilarity in the darkness, wit and wisdom in challenging circumstances and most importantly, a sense of who she's meant to be, wherever she happens to land.

'The Chair and the Valley: A Memoir of Trauma, Healing and the Outdoors' by Banning Lyon

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'The Chair and the Valley'

It’s hard not to become overcome with fury by the injustice Banning experienced when he was a teen. Placed in a psychiatric hospital at 15 after being branded suicidal for giving his skateboard away to a friend, he spent the next year subject to psychological abuse disguised as therapy.

Forced to sit in a chair facing a wall for hours, unable to help fellow teen patients who were unnecessarily restrained, he was left with overwhelming PTSD — and that's before the tragic death of his fiancée. That Lyon found the courage to grab happiness after decades of darkness transforms this devastating memoir into an inspiring read.  — Marissa Charles

'I'm Mostly Here to Enjoy Myself' by Glynnis MacNicol

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'I'm Mostly Here to Enjoy Myself'

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City in March 2020, Glynnis MacNicol, 46, found herself holed up alone in her tiny Manhattan apartment for 16 months. The isolation and loneliness felt crushing, so when an opportunity arose to sublet a friend's Paris apartment, she packed her bags. What follows is a tale of grabbing life with both hands: There's sumptuous food and nourishing friendship, sex with handsome men and plenty of (often naked) adventure. Fans of Nora Ephron and Joan Didion will devour this memoir of living with unapologetic joy.

'Know My Name' by Chanel Miller

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'Know My Name'

After Brock Turner was sentences to just six months in county jail after sexually assaulting a woman then known as Emily Doe, a letter stunned the world. Chanel Miller's victim impact statement made shockwaves around the world, where it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands felt empowered to own and share their own stories, as a result.

Here, in powerful prose, she shares her own story of trauma, shame and healing, as well as the biased culture we all exist within. It's a stunning, beautifully told story that will stick with you for a long time.

'Wow, No Thank You' by Samantha Irby

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'Wow, No Thank You'

If you thought fame would change bestselling author Samantha Irby, think again. She's still a "cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person," and has the mason jar salad recipe to prove it. This riotous, delightfully raunchy essay collection reveals the "Hallmark Channel dream" of a life the author has built and it's as belly-bustingly funny as it is relatable.

Related: Best Books by Black Authors to Celebrate Black History Month

'Somebody's Daughter' by Ashley Ford

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'Somebody's Daughter'

Growing up with an incarcerated father, Ashley Ford often wishes she could turn to her dad for support. That feeling only intensifies after she's sexually assaulted by a boyfriend. And when her grandmother reveals the reason her dad's in prison, it rocks her world. This is a searing memoir about growing up a poor Black girl without a father present, battling her body and society's expectations for it, who she is and who she can be.

'Autobiography of a Face' by Lucy Grealey

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'Autobiography of a Face'

After having surgery to remove a third of her jaw after a cancer diagnosis, nine-year-old Lucy returns to school to cruel taunts from the other kids. That sets off a 30-year journey toward self-acceptance, with many reconstructive procedures and lots of introspection along the way. This unsentimental, often funny memoir explores what it feels like to be caught between two desires: to be loved just as you are and to see conventional beauty shining back from the mirror.

'When Breath Becomes Air' by Paul Kalanithi

<p>Amazon</p> 'When Breath Becomes Air'


'When Breath Becomes Air'

Paul Kalanithi was just 36 and almost finished with his decade-long training as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. With that, the future he and his wife had been working toward was gone, and Paul was no longer a doctor treating the dying, but a patient himself. In this deeply absorbing, profoundly thoughtful memoir, he seeks to answer the question all of us ponder at some point: What makes life worth living?

'Educated' by Tara Westover

<p>Amazon</p> 'Educated'



As the child of survivalists, Tara Westover was 17 the first time she entered a classroom. When one of her brothers turned violent and another got into college, Tara decided she wanted a different kind of life for herself. Thus unspools a road to education that takes her around the world and into some of the most storied institutions on the planet. But only when she gets far away does she wonder whether you can ever really go home again. Give this to the teens and young adults who whine about not wanting to go back to school, or read it yourself to stave off the "Sunday Scaries."

'Well, This Is Exhausting' by Sophia Benoit

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'Well, This Is Exhausting'

Anyone who's ever tried to fit into a mold that isn't made for them will tear through this poignant memoir in essays about modern womanhood in all its fabulosity, flaws and foibles. With essays on how to be the life of the party (but also a "chill girl" at the same time), to that time a dietician deemed Sophia’s ketchup habit a health risk, to why an encyclopedic knowledge of reality TV is actually a good thing, this book will help just about anyone feel seen.

'A Year Without a Name' by Cyrus Grace Dunham

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'A Year Without a Name'

When dissociation is all you know, it can start to feel like all there is. Cyrus Dunham traces his transition from a little girl, daughter, sister and young gay woman who never quite feels at home, with plenty of meditations on how that's influenced by wealth, whiteness and the cultural soup we all swim in.

Related: Essential Reading for Pride: PEOPLE Picks Our Favorite LGBTQ+ Books For Adults

'Happy-Go-Lucky' by David Sedaris

<p>Amazon</p> 'Happy-Go-Lucky'



David Sedaris is one of our greatest living essayists, and never fails to elicit both spit takes and tears, sometimes both at the same time. In his latest essay collection, he ruminates on the pandemic, what it means to be an adult orphan and the recent — and ongoing — upheavals in his and our country's lives.

'Crying in H Mart' by Michelle Zauner

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'Crying in H Mart'

As if the title didn't tip you off, grab some tissues before reading this one. Growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Oregon, Michelle Zauner recounts a challenging adolescence and trips to Seoul to visit her grandmother and bond with her mother over plates heaped with food. After she moves across the country to begin a life of her own, her mom gets diagnosed with terminal cancer when Michelle is just 25. Both a story of the fraught relationship between mothers and daughters and a reckoning with her racial identity through food, family history and language, this is an emotional must-read.

'Belonging' by Nora Krug

<p>Amazon</p> 'Belonging'



Even though World War II was long over by the time she was born, it cast a shadow over Nora's childhood in Germany. Part of that was how little she knew about her grandparents' involvement: they never talked about it. So she returns to Germany to conduct research and interview family members in a quest to unearth their stories. It's a wholly unique, engaging graphic memoir about the secrets family's keep and what it's like to bring them to light.

'The Glass Castle' by Jeanette Walls

<p>Amazon</p> 'The Glass Castle' by Jeannette Walls


'The Glass Castle' by Jeannette Walls

In gorgeous language and storytelling that won't let you go, Jeannette Walls brings readers into her unconventional, often neglected upbringing as the child of unconventional and perennially absent parents. It's a heartbreaking read, but a rewarding one.

'Maid' by Stephanie Land

<p>Amazon</p> 'Maid'



After she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant at 28, Stephanie takes a job cleaning houses to support herself and her daughter, dreams of college falling by the wayside. This is the bare, unflinching story of struggling to survive on food stamps and WIC, what it takes to get government assistance and how little help is really available for society's neediest members.

Related: Netflix's 'Maid': Everything to Know

'And No Birds Sang' by Farley Mowat

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'And No Birds Sang'

After he's rejected by Royal Canadian Air Force, Farley Mowat joined the infantry in 1940 as a second lieutenant and quickly earned the trust of his fellow soldiers. He's an affable leader who cultivates an air of optimism but when their regiment meets elite German forces, their early camaraderie withers into despair. An important read for today's times, this on-the-ground account of the horrors of war feels unsettlingly prescient.

'Tender at the Bone' by Ruth Reichl

<p>Amazon</p> 'Tender at the Bone'


'Tender at the Bone'

Grab a snack and dig into this memoir that's also a love letter to cuisine. Food writer Ruth discovered young that, as she puts it, “Food could be a way of making sense of the world. If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.”

'Fierce Attachments' by Vivian Gornick

<p>Amazon</p> 'Fierce Attachments'


'Fierce Attachments'

This masterwork of a memoir traces the complicated, often fraught relationship between Vivian and her controlling, complicated mother. It's also a portrait of their "urban peasant" life in the Bronx and its cast of characters, sure to resonate for a long time.

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