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Five must-read memoirs, written by women

Read more women! Chloé Julian is the founder and designer of Videris Lingerie - and a voracious reader. She shares five of her favourite memoirs, written by women, each with their own unique and deeply personal perspective.

Chloé Julian, reading on her kindle. Photo / Supplied

I really enjoy reading memoirs, especially those written by women. In the books below, women are open and vulnerable in telling their stories which is ultimately a way of taking back power and control. 

Often, the author is a survivor and is telling their story to make sense of what they’ve been through so that others with similar experiences will feel less alone. This does make them a challenging read because they often include real-life pain and suffering but the feeling you are left with after reading is hopeful and even uplifting.  

And although the ‘truth’ of a memoir is sometimes questioned, I believe those critics miss the point. If a memoir is an author’s unique experience of their own history, in other words, a personal account - surely it’s their story to tell.

The Choice by Edith Eger

Uplifting and inspirational, this monumental memoir opens with Dr Edith Eger in her therapy room, treating a catatonic patient suffering from an unknown trauma.

It then goes back to the terrifying night in 1944, when at just 16, armed soldiers forced her and her Hungarian Jewish family into a wagon bound for Auschwitz.

Part memoir, part self-help, The Choice examines how Eger not only survived the Holocaust but subsequently used that experience to help others heal. 

“Time doesn't heal. It’s what you do with the time. Healing is possible when we choose to take responsibility when we choose to take risks, and finally, when we choose to release the wound, to let go of the past or the grief.” - excerpt from The Choice 

Educated by Tara Westover

This is an outstanding memoir - difficult to read but impossible to put down. Educated explores the author’s experience growing up in a survivalist Mormon family, and receiving her first formal education at the age of 17. 

Beautifully written, Tara Westover manages to remain compassionate throughout the book, despite the rollercoaster of horrific events she and her siblings had to endure. 

Aware that memories of childhood can be subjective, Tara’s memoir includes footnotes that point out differing accounts of her siblings. I think this is a beautiful way of illustrating how perspectives can differ. We each have our own unique experiences.

In 2018, Tara told The New York Times, "I wrote the book I wished I could have given to myself when I was losing my family. When I was going through that experience, I became aware of how important stories are in telling us how to live...”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first of Maya Angelou’s seven-part autobiography describes her life until age 17.  I see a lot of people quoting her poetry on social media and I always wonder if they have read her autobiographies. For me, I think taking the time to know someone's story is important if you are going to share their words. 

She’s an incredible woman who has touched many through her poetry, lectures and civil rights work. Knowing about her life and upbringing adds even more beauty to her. 

Angelou told an interviewer in 1995, “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, 'I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.' They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, 'Damn, I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.' They can't forgive themselves and go on with their lives.” 

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

This book is classified as fiction but is based on the author's mother Betty.  I’ve chosen to include it because the events themselves are true and it deals with so many important themes. 

It's a coming of age story centred around the telling of a family secret Tiffany McDaniel’s mother shared with her when she was 17-years-old. It’s the type of secret that most families keep hidden and was written with the consent of her family, using their real names. 

It’s not a pretty story, devastating and full of grief but the writing is exquisite and through the ugliness, the richness of the characters and the strength of the family bond and loyalty shines through.

I particularly loved the relationship between Betty and her father. He is a gifted storyteller in the Cherokee tradition and has passed this gift onto his descendants. Betty tells stories as a way of coping with the dark secrets within her family, writing these down and burying them in sealed jars in the garden. Now her daughter Tiffany is unearthing the buried stories of her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts.

I was disheartened to read an interview with the author in the LA Times on her struggles to get the book published. She credits the #MeToo movement for helping to make space for the book, for creating “a more welcoming and supportive environment for individuals to feel they can share their stories.”

The feedback she got was consistently sexist: “Writing about bras and periods would make readers uncomfortable; Betty and her sisters should have romantic relationships; maybe Betty could be a boy, because “Male narrators sell better.”  

“Tiffany, never publish under your name, your name is too fluffy, it’s too female.” I considered only using my initials, but then I’d be part of the problem, not part of the solution. I think we need to view women’s names as powerful!” - LA Times interview with Tiffany McDaniel

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

An unflinchingly honest account of abuse in a same-sex relationship. The writing is haunting and beautiful and the format of this memoir is unlike anything I have read before.  

Written in the second person to represent the past, and the first person in the future, Carmen Maria Machado’s memories are told through the use of different narrative tropes for each of the 145 short chapters - from the generic such as romance, mystery, science fiction and horror, to others as a reflection on pop culture and societal expectations, or more conceptual themes like epiphany and hypochondria.  

I read the 264 pages in just a few nights. With each new chapter title shapeshifting the narrative, it was a devastating and uncomfortable read but it's worth it for the brilliance of the format and poetic writing. 

Carmen has said she wrote about the same-sex abuse she experienced to build an archive of material to make others going through similar abuse, feel less alone. 

“I wrote a book because I wanted to take something that had happened to me and turn it into something beautiful and interesting and a piece of art.  I hope that the people who need it read it.”

No items found.

Read more women! Chloé Julian is the founder and designer of Videris Lingerie - and a voracious reader. She shares five of her favourite memoirs, written by women, each with their own unique and deeply personal perspective.

Chloé Julian, reading on her kindle. Photo / Supplied

I really enjoy reading memoirs, especially those written by women. In the books below, women are open and vulnerable in telling their stories which is ultimately a way of taking back power and control. 

Often, the author is a survivor and is telling their story to make sense of what they’ve been through so that others with similar experiences will feel less alone. This does make them a challenging read because they often include real-life pain and suffering but the feeling you are left with after reading is hopeful and even uplifting.  

And although the ‘truth’ of a memoir is sometimes questioned, I believe those critics miss the point. If a memoir is an author’s unique experience of their own history, in other words, a personal account - surely it’s their story to tell.

The Choice by Edith Eger

Uplifting and inspirational, this monumental memoir opens with Dr Edith Eger in her therapy room, treating a catatonic patient suffering from an unknown trauma.

It then goes back to the terrifying night in 1944, when at just 16, armed soldiers forced her and her Hungarian Jewish family into a wagon bound for Auschwitz.

Part memoir, part self-help, The Choice examines how Eger not only survived the Holocaust but subsequently used that experience to help others heal. 

“Time doesn't heal. It’s what you do with the time. Healing is possible when we choose to take responsibility when we choose to take risks, and finally, when we choose to release the wound, to let go of the past or the grief.” - excerpt from The Choice 

Educated by Tara Westover

This is an outstanding memoir - difficult to read but impossible to put down. Educated explores the author’s experience growing up in a survivalist Mormon family, and receiving her first formal education at the age of 17. 

Beautifully written, Tara Westover manages to remain compassionate throughout the book, despite the rollercoaster of horrific events she and her siblings had to endure. 

Aware that memories of childhood can be subjective, Tara’s memoir includes footnotes that point out differing accounts of her siblings. I think this is a beautiful way of illustrating how perspectives can differ. We each have our own unique experiences.

In 2018, Tara told The New York Times, "I wrote the book I wished I could have given to myself when I was losing my family. When I was going through that experience, I became aware of how important stories are in telling us how to live...”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first of Maya Angelou’s seven-part autobiography describes her life until age 17.  I see a lot of people quoting her poetry on social media and I always wonder if they have read her autobiographies. For me, I think taking the time to know someone's story is important if you are going to share their words. 

She’s an incredible woman who has touched many through her poetry, lectures and civil rights work. Knowing about her life and upbringing adds even more beauty to her. 

Angelou told an interviewer in 1995, “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, 'I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.' They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, 'Damn, I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.' They can't forgive themselves and go on with their lives.” 

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

This book is classified as fiction but is based on the author's mother Betty.  I’ve chosen to include it because the events themselves are true and it deals with so many important themes. 

It's a coming of age story centred around the telling of a family secret Tiffany McDaniel’s mother shared with her when she was 17-years-old. It’s the type of secret that most families keep hidden and was written with the consent of her family, using their real names. 

It’s not a pretty story, devastating and full of grief but the writing is exquisite and through the ugliness, the richness of the characters and the strength of the family bond and loyalty shines through.

I particularly loved the relationship between Betty and her father. He is a gifted storyteller in the Cherokee tradition and has passed this gift onto his descendants. Betty tells stories as a way of coping with the dark secrets within her family, writing these down and burying them in sealed jars in the garden. Now her daughter Tiffany is unearthing the buried stories of her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts.

I was disheartened to read an interview with the author in the LA Times on her struggles to get the book published. She credits the #MeToo movement for helping to make space for the book, for creating “a more welcoming and supportive environment for individuals to feel they can share their stories.”

The feedback she got was consistently sexist: “Writing about bras and periods would make readers uncomfortable; Betty and her sisters should have romantic relationships; maybe Betty could be a boy, because “Male narrators sell better.”  

“Tiffany, never publish under your name, your name is too fluffy, it’s too female.” I considered only using my initials, but then I’d be part of the problem, not part of the solution. I think we need to view women’s names as powerful!” - LA Times interview with Tiffany McDaniel

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

An unflinchingly honest account of abuse in a same-sex relationship. The writing is haunting and beautiful and the format of this memoir is unlike anything I have read before.  

Written in the second person to represent the past, and the first person in the future, Carmen Maria Machado’s memories are told through the use of different narrative tropes for each of the 145 short chapters - from the generic such as romance, mystery, science fiction and horror, to others as a reflection on pop culture and societal expectations, or more conceptual themes like epiphany and hypochondria.  

I read the 264 pages in just a few nights. With each new chapter title shapeshifting the narrative, it was a devastating and uncomfortable read but it's worth it for the brilliance of the format and poetic writing. 

Carmen has said she wrote about the same-sex abuse she experienced to build an archive of material to make others going through similar abuse, feel less alone. 

“I wrote a book because I wanted to take something that had happened to me and turn it into something beautiful and interesting and a piece of art.  I hope that the people who need it read it.”

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

Five must-read memoirs, written by women

Read more women! Chloé Julian is the founder and designer of Videris Lingerie - and a voracious reader. She shares five of her favourite memoirs, written by women, each with their own unique and deeply personal perspective.

Chloé Julian, reading on her kindle. Photo / Supplied

I really enjoy reading memoirs, especially those written by women. In the books below, women are open and vulnerable in telling their stories which is ultimately a way of taking back power and control. 

Often, the author is a survivor and is telling their story to make sense of what they’ve been through so that others with similar experiences will feel less alone. This does make them a challenging read because they often include real-life pain and suffering but the feeling you are left with after reading is hopeful and even uplifting.  

And although the ‘truth’ of a memoir is sometimes questioned, I believe those critics miss the point. If a memoir is an author’s unique experience of their own history, in other words, a personal account - surely it’s their story to tell.

The Choice by Edith Eger

Uplifting and inspirational, this monumental memoir opens with Dr Edith Eger in her therapy room, treating a catatonic patient suffering from an unknown trauma.

It then goes back to the terrifying night in 1944, when at just 16, armed soldiers forced her and her Hungarian Jewish family into a wagon bound for Auschwitz.

Part memoir, part self-help, The Choice examines how Eger not only survived the Holocaust but subsequently used that experience to help others heal. 

“Time doesn't heal. It’s what you do with the time. Healing is possible when we choose to take responsibility when we choose to take risks, and finally, when we choose to release the wound, to let go of the past or the grief.” - excerpt from The Choice 

Educated by Tara Westover

This is an outstanding memoir - difficult to read but impossible to put down. Educated explores the author’s experience growing up in a survivalist Mormon family, and receiving her first formal education at the age of 17. 

Beautifully written, Tara Westover manages to remain compassionate throughout the book, despite the rollercoaster of horrific events she and her siblings had to endure. 

Aware that memories of childhood can be subjective, Tara’s memoir includes footnotes that point out differing accounts of her siblings. I think this is a beautiful way of illustrating how perspectives can differ. We each have our own unique experiences.

In 2018, Tara told The New York Times, "I wrote the book I wished I could have given to myself when I was losing my family. When I was going through that experience, I became aware of how important stories are in telling us how to live...”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first of Maya Angelou’s seven-part autobiography describes her life until age 17.  I see a lot of people quoting her poetry on social media and I always wonder if they have read her autobiographies. For me, I think taking the time to know someone's story is important if you are going to share their words. 

She’s an incredible woman who has touched many through her poetry, lectures and civil rights work. Knowing about her life and upbringing adds even more beauty to her. 

Angelou told an interviewer in 1995, “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, 'I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.' They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, 'Damn, I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.' They can't forgive themselves and go on with their lives.” 

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

This book is classified as fiction but is based on the author's mother Betty.  I’ve chosen to include it because the events themselves are true and it deals with so many important themes. 

It's a coming of age story centred around the telling of a family secret Tiffany McDaniel’s mother shared with her when she was 17-years-old. It’s the type of secret that most families keep hidden and was written with the consent of her family, using their real names. 

It’s not a pretty story, devastating and full of grief but the writing is exquisite and through the ugliness, the richness of the characters and the strength of the family bond and loyalty shines through.

I particularly loved the relationship between Betty and her father. He is a gifted storyteller in the Cherokee tradition and has passed this gift onto his descendants. Betty tells stories as a way of coping with the dark secrets within her family, writing these down and burying them in sealed jars in the garden. Now her daughter Tiffany is unearthing the buried stories of her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts.

I was disheartened to read an interview with the author in the LA Times on her struggles to get the book published. She credits the #MeToo movement for helping to make space for the book, for creating “a more welcoming and supportive environment for individuals to feel they can share their stories.”

The feedback she got was consistently sexist: “Writing about bras and periods would make readers uncomfortable; Betty and her sisters should have romantic relationships; maybe Betty could be a boy, because “Male narrators sell better.”  

“Tiffany, never publish under your name, your name is too fluffy, it’s too female.” I considered only using my initials, but then I’d be part of the problem, not part of the solution. I think we need to view women’s names as powerful!” - LA Times interview with Tiffany McDaniel

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

An unflinchingly honest account of abuse in a same-sex relationship. The writing is haunting and beautiful and the format of this memoir is unlike anything I have read before.  

Written in the second person to represent the past, and the first person in the future, Carmen Maria Machado’s memories are told through the use of different narrative tropes for each of the 145 short chapters - from the generic such as romance, mystery, science fiction and horror, to others as a reflection on pop culture and societal expectations, or more conceptual themes like epiphany and hypochondria.  

I read the 264 pages in just a few nights. With each new chapter title shapeshifting the narrative, it was a devastating and uncomfortable read but it's worth it for the brilliance of the format and poetic writing. 

Carmen has said she wrote about the same-sex abuse she experienced to build an archive of material to make others going through similar abuse, feel less alone. 

“I wrote a book because I wanted to take something that had happened to me and turn it into something beautiful and interesting and a piece of art.  I hope that the people who need it read it.”

No items found.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

Five must-read memoirs, written by women

Read more women! Chloé Julian is the founder and designer of Videris Lingerie - and a voracious reader. She shares five of her favourite memoirs, written by women, each with their own unique and deeply personal perspective.

Chloé Julian, reading on her kindle. Photo / Supplied

I really enjoy reading memoirs, especially those written by women. In the books below, women are open and vulnerable in telling their stories which is ultimately a way of taking back power and control. 

Often, the author is a survivor and is telling their story to make sense of what they’ve been through so that others with similar experiences will feel less alone. This does make them a challenging read because they often include real-life pain and suffering but the feeling you are left with after reading is hopeful and even uplifting.  

And although the ‘truth’ of a memoir is sometimes questioned, I believe those critics miss the point. If a memoir is an author’s unique experience of their own history, in other words, a personal account - surely it’s their story to tell.

The Choice by Edith Eger

Uplifting and inspirational, this monumental memoir opens with Dr Edith Eger in her therapy room, treating a catatonic patient suffering from an unknown trauma.

It then goes back to the terrifying night in 1944, when at just 16, armed soldiers forced her and her Hungarian Jewish family into a wagon bound for Auschwitz.

Part memoir, part self-help, The Choice examines how Eger not only survived the Holocaust but subsequently used that experience to help others heal. 

“Time doesn't heal. It’s what you do with the time. Healing is possible when we choose to take responsibility when we choose to take risks, and finally, when we choose to release the wound, to let go of the past or the grief.” - excerpt from The Choice 

Educated by Tara Westover

This is an outstanding memoir - difficult to read but impossible to put down. Educated explores the author’s experience growing up in a survivalist Mormon family, and receiving her first formal education at the age of 17. 

Beautifully written, Tara Westover manages to remain compassionate throughout the book, despite the rollercoaster of horrific events she and her siblings had to endure. 

Aware that memories of childhood can be subjective, Tara’s memoir includes footnotes that point out differing accounts of her siblings. I think this is a beautiful way of illustrating how perspectives can differ. We each have our own unique experiences.

In 2018, Tara told The New York Times, "I wrote the book I wished I could have given to myself when I was losing my family. When I was going through that experience, I became aware of how important stories are in telling us how to live...”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first of Maya Angelou’s seven-part autobiography describes her life until age 17.  I see a lot of people quoting her poetry on social media and I always wonder if they have read her autobiographies. For me, I think taking the time to know someone's story is important if you are going to share their words. 

She’s an incredible woman who has touched many through her poetry, lectures and civil rights work. Knowing about her life and upbringing adds even more beauty to her. 

Angelou told an interviewer in 1995, “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, 'I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.' They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, 'Damn, I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.' They can't forgive themselves and go on with their lives.” 

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

This book is classified as fiction but is based on the author's mother Betty.  I’ve chosen to include it because the events themselves are true and it deals with so many important themes. 

It's a coming of age story centred around the telling of a family secret Tiffany McDaniel’s mother shared with her when she was 17-years-old. It’s the type of secret that most families keep hidden and was written with the consent of her family, using their real names. 

It’s not a pretty story, devastating and full of grief but the writing is exquisite and through the ugliness, the richness of the characters and the strength of the family bond and loyalty shines through.

I particularly loved the relationship between Betty and her father. He is a gifted storyteller in the Cherokee tradition and has passed this gift onto his descendants. Betty tells stories as a way of coping with the dark secrets within her family, writing these down and burying them in sealed jars in the garden. Now her daughter Tiffany is unearthing the buried stories of her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts.

I was disheartened to read an interview with the author in the LA Times on her struggles to get the book published. She credits the #MeToo movement for helping to make space for the book, for creating “a more welcoming and supportive environment for individuals to feel they can share their stories.”

The feedback she got was consistently sexist: “Writing about bras and periods would make readers uncomfortable; Betty and her sisters should have romantic relationships; maybe Betty could be a boy, because “Male narrators sell better.”  

“Tiffany, never publish under your name, your name is too fluffy, it’s too female.” I considered only using my initials, but then I’d be part of the problem, not part of the solution. I think we need to view women’s names as powerful!” - LA Times interview with Tiffany McDaniel

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

An unflinchingly honest account of abuse in a same-sex relationship. The writing is haunting and beautiful and the format of this memoir is unlike anything I have read before.  

Written in the second person to represent the past, and the first person in the future, Carmen Maria Machado’s memories are told through the use of different narrative tropes for each of the 145 short chapters - from the generic such as romance, mystery, science fiction and horror, to others as a reflection on pop culture and societal expectations, or more conceptual themes like epiphany and hypochondria.  

I read the 264 pages in just a few nights. With each new chapter title shapeshifting the narrative, it was a devastating and uncomfortable read but it's worth it for the brilliance of the format and poetic writing. 

Carmen has said she wrote about the same-sex abuse she experienced to build an archive of material to make others going through similar abuse, feel less alone. 

“I wrote a book because I wanted to take something that had happened to me and turn it into something beautiful and interesting and a piece of art.  I hope that the people who need it read it.”

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

Read more women! Chloé Julian is the founder and designer of Videris Lingerie - and a voracious reader. She shares five of her favourite memoirs, written by women, each with their own unique and deeply personal perspective.

Chloé Julian, reading on her kindle. Photo / Supplied

I really enjoy reading memoirs, especially those written by women. In the books below, women are open and vulnerable in telling their stories which is ultimately a way of taking back power and control. 

Often, the author is a survivor and is telling their story to make sense of what they’ve been through so that others with similar experiences will feel less alone. This does make them a challenging read because they often include real-life pain and suffering but the feeling you are left with after reading is hopeful and even uplifting.  

And although the ‘truth’ of a memoir is sometimes questioned, I believe those critics miss the point. If a memoir is an author’s unique experience of their own history, in other words, a personal account - surely it’s their story to tell.

The Choice by Edith Eger

Uplifting and inspirational, this monumental memoir opens with Dr Edith Eger in her therapy room, treating a catatonic patient suffering from an unknown trauma.

It then goes back to the terrifying night in 1944, when at just 16, armed soldiers forced her and her Hungarian Jewish family into a wagon bound for Auschwitz.

Part memoir, part self-help, The Choice examines how Eger not only survived the Holocaust but subsequently used that experience to help others heal. 

“Time doesn't heal. It’s what you do with the time. Healing is possible when we choose to take responsibility when we choose to take risks, and finally, when we choose to release the wound, to let go of the past or the grief.” - excerpt from The Choice 

Educated by Tara Westover

This is an outstanding memoir - difficult to read but impossible to put down. Educated explores the author’s experience growing up in a survivalist Mormon family, and receiving her first formal education at the age of 17. 

Beautifully written, Tara Westover manages to remain compassionate throughout the book, despite the rollercoaster of horrific events she and her siblings had to endure. 

Aware that memories of childhood can be subjective, Tara’s memoir includes footnotes that point out differing accounts of her siblings. I think this is a beautiful way of illustrating how perspectives can differ. We each have our own unique experiences.

In 2018, Tara told The New York Times, "I wrote the book I wished I could have given to myself when I was losing my family. When I was going through that experience, I became aware of how important stories are in telling us how to live...”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first of Maya Angelou’s seven-part autobiography describes her life until age 17.  I see a lot of people quoting her poetry on social media and I always wonder if they have read her autobiographies. For me, I think taking the time to know someone's story is important if you are going to share their words. 

She’s an incredible woman who has touched many through her poetry, lectures and civil rights work. Knowing about her life and upbringing adds even more beauty to her. 

Angelou told an interviewer in 1995, “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, 'I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.' They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, 'Damn, I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.' They can't forgive themselves and go on with their lives.” 

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

This book is classified as fiction but is based on the author's mother Betty.  I’ve chosen to include it because the events themselves are true and it deals with so many important themes. 

It's a coming of age story centred around the telling of a family secret Tiffany McDaniel’s mother shared with her when she was 17-years-old. It’s the type of secret that most families keep hidden and was written with the consent of her family, using their real names. 

It’s not a pretty story, devastating and full of grief but the writing is exquisite and through the ugliness, the richness of the characters and the strength of the family bond and loyalty shines through.

I particularly loved the relationship between Betty and her father. He is a gifted storyteller in the Cherokee tradition and has passed this gift onto his descendants. Betty tells stories as a way of coping with the dark secrets within her family, writing these down and burying them in sealed jars in the garden. Now her daughter Tiffany is unearthing the buried stories of her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts.

I was disheartened to read an interview with the author in the LA Times on her struggles to get the book published. She credits the #MeToo movement for helping to make space for the book, for creating “a more welcoming and supportive environment for individuals to feel they can share their stories.”

The feedback she got was consistently sexist: “Writing about bras and periods would make readers uncomfortable; Betty and her sisters should have romantic relationships; maybe Betty could be a boy, because “Male narrators sell better.”  

“Tiffany, never publish under your name, your name is too fluffy, it’s too female.” I considered only using my initials, but then I’d be part of the problem, not part of the solution. I think we need to view women’s names as powerful!” - LA Times interview with Tiffany McDaniel

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

An unflinchingly honest account of abuse in a same-sex relationship. The writing is haunting and beautiful and the format of this memoir is unlike anything I have read before.  

Written in the second person to represent the past, and the first person in the future, Carmen Maria Machado’s memories are told through the use of different narrative tropes for each of the 145 short chapters - from the generic such as romance, mystery, science fiction and horror, to others as a reflection on pop culture and societal expectations, or more conceptual themes like epiphany and hypochondria.  

I read the 264 pages in just a few nights. With each new chapter title shapeshifting the narrative, it was a devastating and uncomfortable read but it's worth it for the brilliance of the format and poetic writing. 

Carmen has said she wrote about the same-sex abuse she experienced to build an archive of material to make others going through similar abuse, feel less alone. 

“I wrote a book because I wanted to take something that had happened to me and turn it into something beautiful and interesting and a piece of art.  I hope that the people who need it read it.”

No items found.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

Five must-read memoirs, written by women

Read more women! Chloé Julian is the founder and designer of Videris Lingerie - and a voracious reader. She shares five of her favourite memoirs, written by women, each with their own unique and deeply personal perspective.

Chloé Julian, reading on her kindle. Photo / Supplied

I really enjoy reading memoirs, especially those written by women. In the books below, women are open and vulnerable in telling their stories which is ultimately a way of taking back power and control. 

Often, the author is a survivor and is telling their story to make sense of what they’ve been through so that others with similar experiences will feel less alone. This does make them a challenging read because they often include real-life pain and suffering but the feeling you are left with after reading is hopeful and even uplifting.  

And although the ‘truth’ of a memoir is sometimes questioned, I believe those critics miss the point. If a memoir is an author’s unique experience of their own history, in other words, a personal account - surely it’s their story to tell.

The Choice by Edith Eger

Uplifting and inspirational, this monumental memoir opens with Dr Edith Eger in her therapy room, treating a catatonic patient suffering from an unknown trauma.

It then goes back to the terrifying night in 1944, when at just 16, armed soldiers forced her and her Hungarian Jewish family into a wagon bound for Auschwitz.

Part memoir, part self-help, The Choice examines how Eger not only survived the Holocaust but subsequently used that experience to help others heal. 

“Time doesn't heal. It’s what you do with the time. Healing is possible when we choose to take responsibility when we choose to take risks, and finally, when we choose to release the wound, to let go of the past or the grief.” - excerpt from The Choice 

Educated by Tara Westover

This is an outstanding memoir - difficult to read but impossible to put down. Educated explores the author’s experience growing up in a survivalist Mormon family, and receiving her first formal education at the age of 17. 

Beautifully written, Tara Westover manages to remain compassionate throughout the book, despite the rollercoaster of horrific events she and her siblings had to endure. 

Aware that memories of childhood can be subjective, Tara’s memoir includes footnotes that point out differing accounts of her siblings. I think this is a beautiful way of illustrating how perspectives can differ. We each have our own unique experiences.

In 2018, Tara told The New York Times, "I wrote the book I wished I could have given to myself when I was losing my family. When I was going through that experience, I became aware of how important stories are in telling us how to live...”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first of Maya Angelou’s seven-part autobiography describes her life until age 17.  I see a lot of people quoting her poetry on social media and I always wonder if they have read her autobiographies. For me, I think taking the time to know someone's story is important if you are going to share their words. 

She’s an incredible woman who has touched many through her poetry, lectures and civil rights work. Knowing about her life and upbringing adds even more beauty to her. 

Angelou told an interviewer in 1995, “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, 'I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.' They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, 'Damn, I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.' They can't forgive themselves and go on with their lives.” 

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

This book is classified as fiction but is based on the author's mother Betty.  I’ve chosen to include it because the events themselves are true and it deals with so many important themes. 

It's a coming of age story centred around the telling of a family secret Tiffany McDaniel’s mother shared with her when she was 17-years-old. It’s the type of secret that most families keep hidden and was written with the consent of her family, using their real names. 

It’s not a pretty story, devastating and full of grief but the writing is exquisite and through the ugliness, the richness of the characters and the strength of the family bond and loyalty shines through.

I particularly loved the relationship between Betty and her father. He is a gifted storyteller in the Cherokee tradition and has passed this gift onto his descendants. Betty tells stories as a way of coping with the dark secrets within her family, writing these down and burying them in sealed jars in the garden. Now her daughter Tiffany is unearthing the buried stories of her mother, her grandmother, and her aunts.

I was disheartened to read an interview with the author in the LA Times on her struggles to get the book published. She credits the #MeToo movement for helping to make space for the book, for creating “a more welcoming and supportive environment for individuals to feel they can share their stories.”

The feedback she got was consistently sexist: “Writing about bras and periods would make readers uncomfortable; Betty and her sisters should have romantic relationships; maybe Betty could be a boy, because “Male narrators sell better.”  

“Tiffany, never publish under your name, your name is too fluffy, it’s too female.” I considered only using my initials, but then I’d be part of the problem, not part of the solution. I think we need to view women’s names as powerful!” - LA Times interview with Tiffany McDaniel

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

An unflinchingly honest account of abuse in a same-sex relationship. The writing is haunting and beautiful and the format of this memoir is unlike anything I have read before.  

Written in the second person to represent the past, and the first person in the future, Carmen Maria Machado’s memories are told through the use of different narrative tropes for each of the 145 short chapters - from the generic such as romance, mystery, science fiction and horror, to others as a reflection on pop culture and societal expectations, or more conceptual themes like epiphany and hypochondria.  

I read the 264 pages in just a few nights. With each new chapter title shapeshifting the narrative, it was a devastating and uncomfortable read but it's worth it for the brilliance of the format and poetic writing. 

Carmen has said she wrote about the same-sex abuse she experienced to build an archive of material to make others going through similar abuse, feel less alone. 

“I wrote a book because I wanted to take something that had happened to me and turn it into something beautiful and interesting and a piece of art.  I hope that the people who need it read it.”

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