Balanced Memoirs of the Un-famous

Celebrity memoirs frequently appear on best seller lists, but what of the memoirs of the unfamous?  If your name is well-known in the arts or politics, publishers will clamor for anything you might write.  But, when a regular person with an interesting story writes a memoir, one of the first dilemmas they encounter is how to stand out in the market.  What makes readers pick up the memoir of an unknown person, love it, and recommend it to a friend?

I  usually prefer memoirs by ordinary people. One thing that makes a memoir like that resonate for me is the balance between the personal story and the special knowledge or experience the author shares. Below are a few of the more interesting memoirs I have read, written by non-celebrities.   


In Sickness and In Health,  by Karen Propp, 2002.  This memoir is a love story about managing marriage during the illness of a partner. An extremely open and heartfelt writer, Propp shares the emotional rollercoaster of falling in love with a man recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. She deals with everything from raising a toddler during her husband’s treatments to her personal feelings and doubts.  She also shares the the intimate efforts they try to resurrect their sex life.  There is much to be learned about sustaining a marriage in this memoir, with or without the added issue of illness.


Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, by Christina Thompson, 2008.  This informative and insightful book balances memoir with historical and travel non-fiction. Thompson seamlessly blends her personal love story with the history of the colonization of New Zealand.  She touches on multiple layers of understanding—everything from the attraction of the exotic, issues of marriage to someone of a different culture, her own New England background, the history of interaction between English colonists and the Maori culture, and the development of cultural stereotypes.



Paris Letters, by Janice MacLeod, 2014.  The author shares her journey from busy ad executive in L.A. to strolling artist in Paris.  Along the way she falls in love, gets married, and moves permanently to France.  Told with humor and honesty and illustrated with lovely watercolors by the author, Paris Letters offers an intimate look at how to simplify a fast-track life to allow for a year abroad. MacLeod concludes with fun tips for saving or making $100 a day—a trick she used to set aside money for her year of travel. Her suggestions could be of value to anyone who wants to save for a big expenditure.


The Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell, 2015.  Russell, a British journalist, writes about the year she and her husband lived as expats in Denmark.  An unusual blend of narrative non-fiction and a laugh-out-loud, humorous memoir, this book is divided into chapters that  chronicle one month.  Each chapter deals with a different aspect of Danish life and culture and is told with the thoroughness of a professional journalist.




Alone Time, by Stephanie Rosenbloom, 2018.  The author shares helpful tips, tools, and insights for solo travel balanced with delightful travel stories of Paris, Istanbul, Florence, and New York. A perfect book for anyone who would like to travel more, with or without a companion.


From Scratch,  by Tembi Locke,  2019.    Many distinct aspects make this memoir interesting. A black-American actress, Tembi falls in love with a Sicilian chef during her study year in Florence.  She shares her deepest feelings about love, motherhood, working through her grief when her young husband dies of cancer, and getting to know her Sicilian mother-in-law in the small rural setting where her beloved grew up.  Food and cooking connect the two women. Besides descriptions of simple meals, country cooking, and cheesemaking, Tembi also offers her readers the gift of special family recipes.


When the Red Gates Opened, A Memoir of China’s Reawakening, by Dori Jones Yang, 2020. This excellent memoir combines a personal love story with a journalist’s view of events in China in the 1980s. Stretching from the early days of China’s open-door policy to the Tiananmen Square crackdown, this book is perfect for any Sinophile. Yang lived through it all, wrote about it for BusinessWeek, all while falling in love and starting a family.  Her love for China is obvious and forms the core of the story.



Baggage, Confessions of a Globe-Trotting Hypochondriac, Jeremy Leon Hance, 2021.  This memoir shares the ups and downs of living with mental illness. It offers an interesting balance of nature travel and exotic locations with the author’s struggle with OCD, hypochondria, anxiety, depression, and a family history of mental illness.


A well-balanced memoir is like spending a long weekend talking with a friend or mentor. And it is this quality that can lift the memories of an ordinary person to an extraordinary level.  I hope you will find my memoir, Wherever the Road Leads, an interesting balance of travel adventures and the ups and downs of a new marriage.


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