Back in a college creative writing class, I was told everything we write about is potentially an autobiography, even if it’s intentionally fictional. We just can’t help writing about ourselves, or at least referring to ourselves in our writing. It’s human nature to be self-aware and talk about what we know. Perhaps this partly explains the appearance of popular bloggers (for example, the hilarious Dooce.com or the Julie/Julia Project, even adapted for Hollywood), who recount the day-to-day events of their personal lives for everyone to read.
This natural auto-literary drive, however, doesn’t take away the fact that personal memoirs straight from the pens of willing souls don’t sell as much as fiction or as much as probing (auto)biographies of controversial celebrities. Not everyone’s life is worth reading about in this manner, and fewer still are those whose lives are worth emulating.
But experience, either our own or other people’s, is indeed the best teacher, and a few autobiographies have been published that moved souls to action and refined their will to succeed. Here’s a short list of some inspirational memoirs.
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Published posthumously in 1947 by the author’s father, The Diary of a Young Girl, about Frank’s Jewish-Dutch family that went into hiding during World War II, has sold about 30 million copies and is the top-selling autobiography of all time.
Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Lindbergh, the wife of aviator Charles, was born into a life of privilege. For decades, Gift from the Sea has served as an inspiration to women, encouraging them to set aside time for solitude and reflection amid life’s tragedies.
Memoirs of the Second World War, by Winston Churchill
Churchill, the greatest Briton of all, won a 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature for his memoirs, which exhibit his “mastery of historical and biographical description [and are a] brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” His books combine a first-person view of a stunning period of history with an account of the life of an important figure.
The Story of a Soul, by Therese of Lisieux
Ever wondered how a fairly modern saint lived in our troubled times? This book was formed from three manuscripts a year after the author’s death at age 24. Her’s was a short life with nothing extraordinary but a continuous “struggle to be good.”
The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller
Even Keller’s name sounds inspiring. Published when she was just 22 with the help of her equally famous teacher Anne Sullivan, The Story of my Life tells of Keller’s education as a deaf-blind student of Sullivan’s.
Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela
Mandela will always be known as a figure of peace and just principles, who fought for sound democracy and won the sentiments and freedom of his people. He went on to become the oldest elected president of South Africa, though failed to keep his family life intact.
Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life, by James Blake
Tennis star Blake’s Breaking Back is the only autobiography I keep on my bookshelf besides Frank’s Diary. Even after contracting a series of injuries and a disease that could ruin his life and career, Blake’s infectious optimism and perseverance led to an astounding tennis comeback.