Why I Started Reading Memoirs

How one book about a bad-ass ex-CIA agent completely changed the way I look at memoirs.

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Like many readers, I have always favored reading fiction. I loved immersing myself in Hogwarts and Forks and even Octavian Country Day. I wanted to read books with fantastical stories that were so vastly different from my own mundane life. As I grew older, I found myself looking for books with more realistic plotlines—ones that more easily reflected my everyday life. So, I found authors whose books had backgrounds that I was familiar with. Lauren Conrad’s L.A. Candy series and Sophie Flack’s Bunheads come to mind as some of my immediate favorites from high school. These examples are novels whose plotlines are fabricated but are “loosely” based on these women’s actual experiences. So even though the drama was heavy and I was never going to be a Hollywood star or a professional ballet dancer, the female protagonists still had tangible, realistic problems.




In 2017, I graduated into a turbulent political climate for America, which meant that everything from the economy to the job market was changing. I wasn’t quite ready to pursue a master’s degree, but I also felt so lost in comparison to my peers who seemed like they had perfected their roadmaps to success. When I did find a full-time position in law, I was too exhausted to live life outside my job. Almost a year into my new position, I was flicking through a magazine and came across an excerpt for a new book called Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA. In the tiny paragraph that described author Amaryllis Fox’s life as a CIA agent between the ages of twenty-one and thirty, I was absolutely hooked on learning more about this woman’s life and the government she helped protect.

As I was reading, it suddenly hit me: I wasn’t doing enough with my life. I wanted to find more meaning in my everyday. It was too late for me to help the world post-9/11 like Fox, but I could find something more worthwhile than pushing papers at a law firm. This one book about a bad-ass woman completely changed how I look at memoirs.



After that, I continued to expand my reading list to include memoirs from other people I admire: Michelle and Barack Obama, Chanel Miller, a woman who worked in law and quit because the profession isn’t as heroic as it once seemed. Each of the memoirs I have read has taught me so much about our general history. For example, I was thirteen when Obama was first elected. In 2008, there was no way kids were paying enough attention to the news to know about the real goings-on of the heated election. I just remember thinking that Barack had a fun personality and Michelle was articulate.

It wasn’t until I read Michelle’s Becoming and Barack’s A Promised Land that I realized there was so much more to the elections than I realized as a young teenager. I didn’t understand the extent of the racism that was used to campaign against the Obamas, or the references to Michelle as “too manly,” or even how the 2012 re-election of Barack was actually not as obvious as I thought it was. I didn’t realize how hard their team worked to break so many barriers that stood in the Obama’s way simply because that’s just how our system is set up.

Recently, I read Anna Dorn’s Bad Lawyer, a short memoir about Dorn’s years working to become a lawyer only to find that the justice system is extremely faulted. For a long time, I thought it was just me who noticed how scummy the legal field is, and I didn’t even work as a lawyer! (Trust me, just read Miller’s Know My Name, and you will feel the same.) I hastily made my way through Dorn’s story, and let me tell you, it reaffirmed that I made the right decision to quit working in law.




Each time I picked up another story about someone who I thought was “life goals,” I realized that I wasn’t the only one struggling to…figure out life. That’s not to say I was blind to how difficult life can be once I entered adulthood—it was just humbling to hear from successful people that through all the ups and downs and sideways paths, they ended up where they wanted to be. I think many of us can agree that going from being a teenager to an adult is one of the most difficult transitions of our lives. There are so many aspects of that transition that school never taught us. However, in time, we will figure things out and settle into our lives for the next sixty-odd years.



Now, memoirs are in my regular reading rotation. I read this genre because I enjoy learning about other people’s lives and because their stories make me feel less alone on the roadmap of life. If you find yourself feeling the same, you might just find that memoirs can change your perspective.