Brittany Allen
October 26, 2014 7:00 am

According to some recent stats in Big Publishing, autobiographical books are currently having a moment, which is most certainly a reflection of our culture’s constant need to self-document and self-reflect (see: reality TV). Still, there are great, life-transforming memoirs out there, big inspiring books that reveal fascinating origin stories of the most empathic, interesting icons of an age and, in the process, help you imagine how you want your own life to be.

And fun fact: a lot of the best autobiographies are written by ladies. But we bet you already knew that. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, or just looking for your next great read, here’s a collection of hilarious, poignant memoirs written by incredible women that you should probably (OK definitely, but we don’t want to seem bossy) read.

The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

The late Maya Angelou is best known for her poetic works, like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings — but the author led an amazing, wild life long before she perfected her opus. In the various volumes of Heart of a Woman, Angelou encounters characters like Malcolm X and Billie Holiday, as she sheds her identity as a singer/dancer for a writer’s life. This is an epic saga from a truly kick-ass lady.

Where I Was From by Joan Didion

If you haven’t already found cause to embroider one of Joan Didion’s famous essays into your life’s fabric, may I suggest you scoot to a library, stat. This collection of personal narratives delves into Didion’s relationship with her beloved California, lending readers a multi-faceted look at a state’s socioeconomic troubles in tandem with a woman’s adoration of it. Didion’s honesty, pathos and grit brand her a life-long member of the kick-ass club.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Soon to be a motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir that recounts hiking the thousand mile plus Pacific Coast trail is the story of a brave woman hell-bent on self-discovery. This heroine is the epitome of strength and spirit.

Living My Life by Emma Goldman

Anarchist and free-love/birth-control activist, Emma Goldman, led a pretty fantastic life — especially considering that the lady was endorsing a bohemian’s agenda in the early twentieth century. If you’ve ever felt the need to rabble-rouse, this inspirational story might be just the advice you need.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling

It seems that comedienne, TV writer, actress, and producer Mindy Kaling has only grown more fabulous since her best-selling autobiography hit shelves — but hey, we’re still along for the ride. This self-deprecating saga speaks to the awkward, nutty, but career-driven girl in each of us.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution is an epic tale of personal and cultural identity politics. The series heroine, Marjane, is a stellar avatar of a woman who comes of age in a war-torn place.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey: perhaps the most kick-ass of the kick-ass. Don’t be disturbed by her man hands on the book jacket — this book is a must-read for comedians, women in media, and anyone who’s ever felt like the goofiest goof in the room. A triumph for women on all fronts.

The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr

Memoirist Mary Karr is known for a whole constellation of autobiographies — but her gritty tales of an East Texas childhood are poetic and crushingly honest. This writer’s got “badass” written all over her canon.

How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

This feminist treatise and sleigh ride of personal anecdotes is as funny as it is smart — just like the book’s author, British writer Caitlin Moran. Moran, who wrote her first novel at age fifteen, is an icon for the brainy type who struggles with the power of autonomy. A great read for women of all ages.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

You’ve all come to love (or loathe) Piper Chapman — the bright-eyed inmate chronicling her experience in a women’s prison on the new Netflix show, Orange Is The New BlackBut the show’s source material, if slightly less violent, provides a genuine backdrop. Piper Kerman’s real memoir of her stint in state is an honest, dynamic look at a lifestyle often unobserved. And needless to say, Piper’s pretty tough.

An Autobiography: Angela Davis by Angela Davis

Political activist Angela Davis’ autobiography is, in some ways, just what you might expect from a constant rebel: the author presents a ruthless, brilliant look at the lingering flaws in American racial politics through her own compelling life story.

The Diaries of Anais Nin by Anais Nin

Anais Nin was perhaps one of the first (or at least, loudest) women to own and explore her sexuality before it was the Western social norm to do so.  In her diaries, Nin is funny, earnest, empathic and outrageous. These books comprise a portrait of an amazingly gutsy woman.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

I shouldn’t have to tell you exactly how kick-ass is Patti Smith (the first lady of rock n’ roll) — but in case you haven’t yet raced through her tell-all, early-days memoir: run, don’t walk to your nearest indie bookstore. Smith is a fantastic prose writer, and her love story with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is as touching as they come.

The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz 

Fran Lebowitz remains as New York City’s sassiest broad, the closest thing we’ve got to a Dorothy Parker in 2014. Her compilation book of metropolitan vignettes makes for a funny, raunchy and ridiculous ode to city life.

I’m With The Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela des Barres

Pamela des Barres was one of the first rock n’ roll “groupies” — meaning she spent her early twenties traipsing around after Led Zeppelin, The Who and a dozen other game-changing musical acts. Her memoir is a story of self-discovery told through the lens of hero worship, and accessorized with some of the best American (and British!) music of the 1970s.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

Seattle-based cartoonist Ellen Forney’s autobiography is an empathic, intelligent and often funny expression of the author’s life after receiving a diagnosis for bipolar disorder. The sexually liberated, eccentric Forney is a fantastic heroine to follow, and her Alison Bechdel-approved illustrations provide an amazing back-drop to a serious topic. This book is great for any newbies to the graphic novel genre, and its intelligent attitude towards mental health is valuable for anyone who’s ever struggled to stay sane in a frantic world.

Images via Barnes & Noble, via

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