by Jenna Chapman
Of all the genres of books, I’ve probably read the most memoirs. What I love about them is the chance to learn someone’s story. I think that reading about someone’s life experiences — especially a life different than your own — is an immersive way to learn about history, different cultures or family dynamics.
Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers
This book is a perfect blend of the author’s life and a look at the history and present-day situation in rural Kentucky. Through the lens of the women who raised her, Chambers examined the irreplaceable role women have in the families and communities in the hills. I enjoyed taking the journey with her as she left her home, explored the unknown of an Ivy League education, and then found a balance between the two worlds.
Haben: The Deafblind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma
The story for disability rights activist and lawyer Haben Girma takes you across that globe and will help you see the world in a new way if you haven’t had much exposure to the experiences of blind, deaf, or deafblind people. Girma is an excellent writer, and each chapter of the book (and her life!) is captivating, whether it’s traveling to Mali, West Africa, speaking at the White House, or getting to know her guide dog, Maxine.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
You don’t have to be a runner to enjoy this memoir by the founder of Nike, Phil Knight. It’s an inspiring story with many twists and turns along the way. After reading about the early years of the company, it is honestly surprising that it is the global icon that it is today. There were so many times that Nike could have failed, but it didn’t. Knight really embraced the “fake it ’til you make it” attitude and barely held the company together. But it worked, as Knight’s mission to create a brand that made customers feel empowered to “play” is still a trademark of the company today.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
I believe this is a book that everyone should read, even though it focuses on very difficult topics. You probably first read Chanel Miller’s writing before you knew her name. Her victim impact statement from the Brock Turner case went viral in 2016. (If you don’t remember, Brock Turner was the attacker in an assault on Stanford’s campus who was also on the college’s swim team.) She was known then as Emily Doe, but revealed her identity when this book was released in 2019. The writing is just beautiful. Miller weaves bits of joy and humor throughout the intensely painful story.
Open Book by Jessica Simpson
You might be thinking, why would I read a book by the girl who everyone made fun of for asking if tuna is chicken or fish? You might not have any interest in former pop stars. But I’m telling you, this was one of the best books I read in 2020. It’s extremely honest and introspective. There are raw moments and very funny moments. Jessica relays stories from her childhood, the ups and downs of her career, performing for troops, beginning and ending relationships, and sobriety. It surprised me how much I enjoyed this book, which is why I often recommend it to anyone looking to read a memoir.
Jenna Chapman is a Stockbridge High School graduate who loves curling up with a book or listening to an audiobook on evening walks around her neighborhood in Chicago. You can find more reading suggestions on the book blog she and her partner have on instagram.com/neverdogear.