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ten loved memoirs

I'm loving peeking at people's bookshelves across the web this week.  My "to-read" list is getting out of hand, and the local interlibrary loan service is getting a workout.

Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and I have an especial weakness for spiritual memoir and foodie memoirs.  Here are ten memoir-ish books that I've loved.

1. The Crosswicks Journals by Madeleine L'Engle.  These three memoirs about life and writing set by Madeleine L'Engle in her ancient farmhouse are beautiful.  I remember the first, "A Circle of Quiet," inspiring me to learn how to "be" instead of "doing" all the time.
2. The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris.  I've always been fascinated by the monastic lifestyle.  Here Norris uses the structure of the liturgical year to frame her memoir and meditations inspired by three years spent living in a Benedictine monastery as an oblate. The writing is gorgeous.
3. Letters of Vincent Van Gogh  These letters, mostly written to his brother Theo, reveal Van Gogh to be a sensitive, thoughtful man of faith. I started reading this because I wanted to know how Van Gogh had gone from missionary to miners to artist to cutting off his own ear.  I kept reading them because I found a beautiful soul.
4. These Strange Ashes by Elizabeth Elliott is her account of her first year in missionary work (before she was married to Jim). At the end of the year, all of her work was destroyed, and in this book she reckons with that reality.  I read it after going through a similar experience, and it helped me immensely.
5. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken is a memoir of love, conversion, and tragedy.  One of my favorite scenes is when Sheldon and his wife buy their first car.  They take a hammer to the front, denting it as a way to remind themselves that it's just a thing, not a god. The love story here makes for addictive reading, but so does the conversion story, which takes place in England where Vanauken and his wife are friends with C.S. Lewis.
6. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  Kingsolver writes beautifully about a year in which her family vowed to eat only food from their own farm or raised locally.
7. Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes.  This is kind of a guilty pleasure.  Don't watch the movie, but do read the book.  My girlfriends and I read it as we traveled to Tuscany for a semester ourselves, and we called Frances Mayes our patron saint.  One weekend, in fact, we traveled the 15 km from our little convent-turned-dormitory to Cortona, and searched until we found her house.  We giggled and giggled and knocked on the door, and me her husband.  It was one of my favorite adventures.
8. Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton.  Hamilton, chef at Prune in New York, writes about her unique childhood, the unromantic work of catering, and gorgeously, gorgeously, about food and life.
9. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott was the first conversion memoir I read that was funny and irreverent and so honest about the difficulty of the life of faith.  I love Blue Like Jazz, too, but I feel like this is the book that made Blue Like Jazz even possible, so I chose it instead.  And while we're on the subject of recent spiritual memoirs that people my age love, let's go ahead and say that I've also loved each of Lauren Winner's books (and have not yet finished her newest).
10. Surprised by Joy & A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Lewis's conversion memoir, and his account of the grief he experienced at this wife's death, are profoundly moving and, well, perfect.
11. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (Since I've already actually listed about 15 books, I'll go ahead and add one more...) A memoir of marriage and loss, the writing is beautiful, and will make you cry.


And there are so many more...what are yours?