20 Memoirs About Transformation

20 books that celebrate where we've been and where we're going.

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'Devotion' by Dani Shapiro

Dubbed "a spiritual detective story," Shapiro's memoir chronicles the authors search for answers—with the help of a yogi, a Buddhist and a rabbi—and faith, in her mid-40s. (amazon.com)

'The Dirty Life' by Kristin Kimball

"I've slept in this bed for seven winters, and still, sometimes, I wonder how I came to be here, someone's wife, in an old farmhouse in the North Country," writes Kimball in this rich memoir about her decision, in her mid-30s to move to the country with her husband and start a community farm. (amazon.com)

'Farm City' by Novella Carpenter

Blogger and local food fanatic Carpenter transforms her inner-city Oakland home into fertile ground for a vegetable garden, a chicken coop and two 300-pound pigs. (amazon.com)

'Fear of Fifty' by Erica Jong

"Mortality is the question here, not face-lifts," insists Jong in this spirited collection of personal stories about the highs and lows that come with turning 50. (amazon.com)

'Grand Obsession' by Perri Knize

Knize grew up the daughter of a professional musician. She had long left music behind when, in her forties, she became obsessed with owning a rare German grand. She refinanced her home to buy the instrument only to discover that it had lost its beautiful tone during shipment. This is the passionate tale of her journey around the world in search of a way to restore it. (amazon.com)

'The Happiness Project' by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin had a good life: adoring husband? Check. Two kids? Check. A solid writing career? Check. But she knew she could be happier. So she took 12 months to test-drive "the wisdom of the ages, current sicentific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier." (amazon.com)

'Leap Days' by Katherine Lanpher

Lanpher moved from the Midwest to Manhattan at 44 to take a gig cohosting Al Franken's Air America. In this smart, funny memoir she reveals the ups and downs of transforming into a New Yorker. (amazon.com)

'Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis' by Amy Ferris

"Menopause is just like couture fashion," writes Ferris in her fierce, funny account of this life-altering period in her life. "Some of it is just really ugly." (amazon.com)

'Mennonite in a Little Black Dress' by Rhoda Janzen

"Besides being born Mennonite, which is usually its own beauty strike, my mother has no neck," observes Janzen in this wry, endearing true tale about moving back in with her Mennonite parents at 43, after her husband decides to date a guy he met on gay.com and a car accident leaves her injured and in need of a place to rest. (amazon.com)

'The Gift of an Ordinary Day' by Katrina Kenison

Thoughtful and poignant, Kenison's memoir, a sort-of sequal to Mitten Strings for God, about her life with two little boys, is about a family in transition. Her sons are now teenagers, and Kenison is faced with longing, discovery and the search for a new sense of purpose. (amazon.com)

'Please Excuse My Daughter' by Julie Klam

In this sweet, unassuming memoir, Klam, the only child in a family accustomed to living extravagantly, discovers, after giving birth to her own daughter, that she needs to become more self-reliant. (amazon.com)

'I Remember Nothing' by Nora Ephron

In Ephron’s delicious collection of riffs and reminiscences, she’s graduated from feeling bad about her neck to feeling bad, or rueful anyway, about encroaching fogy-hood ("I have no idea who anyone in People magazine is"), her inability to recognize old friends, and her failing memory, which is, luckily, upgradable ("The Senior Moment has become the Google Moment"). (amazon.com) —Amanda Lovell

'She's Not There' by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Riveting and intimate, Boylan's clear-eyed memoir describes her transition from living as a man to living as a woman (and undergoing gender reassignment surgery) at midlife. (amazon.com)

'The Slippery Year' by Melanie Gideon

"In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I climbed mountains, ran Class 3 rapids in a rickety canoe and camped along the way. On rainy nights we slept in a tent, and on starry nights we slept outside. We were in our twenties; our needs were simple," writes Gideon. But years later, with a son to raise and bills to pay, she wonders if her new life is really all there is. (amazon.com)

'In Spite of Everything' by Susan Gregory Thomas

"For most of my generation—Generation X—there is only one question: 'When did your parents get divorced?' Our lives have been framed by the answer. Ask us. We remember everything," writes Gregory Thomas in her powerful, moving memoir about what happened when she and her husband of 16 years split (something she swore to herself, and her daughters, that she'd never do). (amazon.com)

'Split' by Suzanne Finnamore

Finnamore was blindsided when her husband left her, "running out of the house one evening with nothing but the clothes on his back and a voluminous gym bag." This deeply felt, funny memoir chronicles how she finally came to terms with the end of her marraige and found herself changed. (amazon.com)

'Starting Out in the Afternoon' by Jill Frayne

Her long-term relationship had ended and her daughter was about to graduate and leave home. To combat loneliness, Frayne packed up her Toronto home and headed for the Yukon. In this moving travel memoir, she chronicles finding peace, and purpose, in nature. (amazon.com)

'How to Succeed at Aging Without Really Dying' by Lyla Blake Ward

In this amusing collection of essays, Ward offers wisecracks on health, grandparenthood, computers and more. (amazon.com)

'What I Thought I Knew' by Alice Eve Cohen

In this unbelievable story about a dangerous late-in-life pregnancy, Cohen tells how at 44, after months of mysterious symptoms, tests, x-rays and inconclusive diagnoses, a CAT scan finally revealed that she was six months pregnant. (amazon.com)

'Under the Tuscan Sun' by Frances Mayes

A warm, deliciously detailed story about one woman's decision to fix up an abandoned villa in Italy. (amazon.com)


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First Published October 11, 2011

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