Why Read a Memoir?

Posted on August 31, 2020

In honor of We Love Memoirs Day, our friends at The Arc allowed us to share this article with you. We hope it inspires you to pick up a memoir and explore someone's story today!

by Bethany Russell

Do you ever look at someone, whether they be your best friend or a complete stranger passing you by on the street, and wonder “What is their story? What’s it like to be them?”

I find it to be a great mystery. Everyone experiences their own version of life, perceiving everything from their unique first-person point of view. Imagine how much a novel would change if told from the perspective of a “main” character who owns the dog versus the “side” character that works as the vet tech versus the unnamed driver that cuts the dog owner off on the way to the vet. The possibilities are near endless. . .

Memoirs are a window into that mystery. Assuming that the authors are, to the best of their knowledge, writing honestly and authentically (we can thank the strong editorial departments of publishers for their fact-checking), readers can learn about and, in a way, experience part of someone else’s life that would have otherwise remained unknown.

This, of course, is not to discount the influence of breathtaking fiction, but there’s something about a memoir in that it actually happened. Put plainly, it’s largely the difference between theory and fact. With a novel, the story is the result of an author’s imagination. With a memoir, the story is the result of a Higher Sovereignty. That’s quite significant.

It should be concurrently noted that not all memoirs are of the same class. Like many other forms of literature, some pieces are poorly executed, shallow, insincere, etc. However, those memoirs which rise to a class of their own are the ones with heart. The author wrote the memoir because he or she endured something great, and as a result, has been transformed into someone who’s extraordinary, down-to-earth, and oftentimes, very wise. One of these kinds of memoirs is Joni: An Unforgettable Story. The author,

Joni Eareckson Tada, is the CEO and founder of Joni and Friends, a ministry serving those who are disabled as well as their loved ones. I listened to the audio book version, which, as it is read by Joni herself, made it feel as though I were there in her art studio, listening as she shared her life story with me. In a sense, her memoir is a coming-of-age story. She recounts the diving accident that caused her quadriplegia and goes into the details of the hospital experience, her expectations, and God’s divine presence in the midst of pain. The whole journey is indescribably moving.

Memoirs are fascinating because you can sometimes pick up on nuances and traits about the writer that they may or may not have realized they have woven into their story. One example is Abby Johnson’s Unplanned. Carrying the same title as the 2019 pro-life box office phenomenon, her memoir published in 2010 tells of how she came to be a director of a Planned Parenthood clinic but later, upon witnessing the surgical abortion procedure, abandoned her job to join the Coalition for Life. Personally, I was not particularly interested by a film adaptation, but I was curious to hear the perspective of someone who is closely associated with this issue. Abby is very pro-life, yet she critiques the ineffective and aggressive methods of some pro-life protesters and also shares about the compassion that some of her coworkers, albeit misled, showed for the women in crisis who were coming to the Planned Parenthood clinic. What is especially interesting about this book is how Abby repeats the policies and terminology of Planned Parenthood over and over. Even after leaving the clinic, she is still rehearsing the standard answers of Planned Parenthood throughout the pages. It was a startling lesson in the power of words and repetition.

Narratives of heavy subject matter can be intense, so it’s nice to balance one’s literary endeavors with some lighter, cheerier reads.

One memoir I’ve found to be both soothing and thought-provoking is Beyond the Castle: A Guide to Discovering Your Happily Ever After by Jody Jean Dreyer. A clear classic for Disney fans and alumni of Disney University,

Jody’s book, which is peppered with photographs and memories, exudes warmth, joy, and magical nostalgia as she takes readers along her thirty-year journey at Disney and her experiences with its legendary leadership. Encountering someone so passionate about the place they work is a rare delight, and it’s captivating to see how intentionally things are done at Disney.

As I continue making my way through the inspiring adventure of Beyond the Castle, I’m also going to be reading War Story. This powerful memoir examines the sheer depth of tragedy and grief in the aftermath of the death of an American hero by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan when Steven Elliott and fellow soldiers mistook an ally for the enemy. I had the opportunity to hear Steven Elliott speak in person, and it was unbelievably profound. Nothing I could say would be an adequate response to his heart-wrenching rawness. Knowing that one of the best things a person can do for an author is to read their book, I plan to show deep respect to Steven by wandering into his grief, agony, and eventual renewal as narrated and conveyed within War Story.

Check out these memoirs available in the Reader Rewards store!

Beautiful on the Mountain by Jeannie Light

If you enjoyed the classic novel Christy and the bestselling Mitford series, then you’ll love Beautiful on the Mountain, a real-life tale about serving God in unlikely circumstances. In 1977, Jeannie Light left her fine plantation home amid heartbreak and came to Graves Mill, a tiny hamlet in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Alone in an utterly new kind of life, Jeannie was determined to find the courage to make a fresh start. Redeem for points or buy it now >>>

Longing for Paris by Sarah Mae

Most days, you wouldn’t trade what you have for the world. You love your husband and your kids, and you are grateful to God for your life. But there are days when you feel as though life is rolling over you in waves and you are just going through the motions. You find yourself aching for something more, something that is calling to depths of who you are, maybe for something you can’t even name.

For Sarah Mae, it was Paris, a place that is known for breathtaking beauty, inspiring art, and exquisite food. But as she searched her heart, she found there was more to her longings than she anticipated. Redeem for points or buy it now >>>

First Things First by Kurt & Brenda Warner and Jennifer Schuchmann

Kurt Warner is the two-time NFL MVP–winning quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals. Brenda Warner is an ex-Marine turned stay-at-home Mom who collects coats for low-income kids and rocks babies to sleep at a center for chronically ill infants. Together they’re the parents of seven children, going into their thirteenth year of marriage. Their formula for success? They put First Things First—faith, family, and giving to others—it’s their family motto, and it drives everything they do. First Things First is an honest, entertaining, and insightful look at life inside the Warner house. Kurt and Brenda speak candidly about their marriage, the values they’re working to instill in their kids, things they’ve done right, mistakes they’ve made, the importance of giving back, and the legacy they hope to leave behind. Kurt Warner fans will enjoy this behind-the-scenes look into the Warner family daily life. Redeem for points or buy it now >>>

Still LoLo by Lauren Scruggs and the Scruggs Family with Marcus Brotherton

For fashion journalist Lauren (“LoLo”) Scruggs, a short flight to look at Christmas lights turned into a nightmare when she was struck by the plane’s spinning propeller blades. As Lauren was rushed to the hospital, the world watched in shock and horror. Several major surgeries and thousands of prayers later, Lauren was still alive. But she had suffered brain trauma and lost her left hand and left eye. And she had to face some incredibly difficult questions:

What kind of future will I have? Where is God in all this pain? Will anyone ever be able to love me now?

In Still LoLo, Lauren and her family reveal what really happened that night, what Lauren’s life is like today, what got them through their journey toward healing, and how they conquered all odds to persevere as a family. Redeem for points or buy it now >>>

Why I Stayed by Gayle Haggard and Angela Elwell Hunt

On November 2, 2006, Gayle Haggard’s life changed forever. That was the day that her husband, Ted Haggard, founder of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs and the President of the NAE, confessed to her the truth. In Why I Stayed, Gayle walks us through the choices she made in her darkest hours. On the day and in the months ahead, everything in her life was at stake—what she believed, the husband she thought she knew, and the church community she had worked tirelessly to establish with her husband and friends in the basement of their home more than two decades ago. Redeem for points or buy it now >>>

Find more inspiring memoirs at and!