Robert Rodi's Favorite Memoirs

shelved under Biography & Memoir and Non-Fiction

I’m principally a novelist, so for my first nonfiction outing — a memoir of a comically chaotic year on the canine agility circuit — I turned for inspiration to the following volumes. They range across centuries and modes of human experience, but they’re united by wisdom, wit, and an unquenchable, questing intelligence.


A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland Indiana

by Haven Kimmel

The hilarious memoirs of an idiosyncratic girlhood in rural Indiana. Kimmel’s voice is pitch-perfect; she maintains a child’s point of view without sacrificing her adult perspective. Irony is kept at bay; whimsy given free rein. Followed by a sequel, She Got Up Off the Couch.


The Naked Civil Servant

by Quentin Crisp

Hugely courageous and gently caustic, this is Crisp’s account of growing up flamboyantly gay in postwar Britain. In his own way, this little wisp of a man embodied the same virtues of grit and independence that tamed the wild west. Followed by a sequel, How to Become a Virgin.



by Diana Vreeland

The legendary editor of Vogue gives an irresistibly chatty account of her life as a style warrior. She’ll make you believe fashion matters. And if you can get through this book without becoming a lifelong convert to weekly shoe-polishing, you’re some kind of barbarian.


Intoxicated by My Illness

by Anatole Broyard

The renowned intellectual approaches his final illness as an adventure; a bracing, mind-expanding read. I’m not looking forward to dying, but when the time comes, Broyard’s will be the spirit that guides me.


Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

by Ruth Reichl

The editor of Gourmet tells her life story entwined with recipes. Surprisingly, it’s equally successful as a late-Twentieth Century social history; Reichl lived the Revolution in a way many of us did not. Delicious in every sense. Followed by a sequel, Comfort Me With Apples.


The Elusive Embrace: Desire and the Riddle of Identity

by Daniel Mendelsohn

The young classicist chronicles his life as a gay stepfather while investigating a mystery in his Jewish-immigrant family’s past. A vivid and engaging portrait of a man striving to abide in several worlds—a juggling act many of us have attempted.


My Life

by Benvenuto Cellini, translated by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella

The incomparable Renaissance goldsmith battles and beds his way across Europe while telling off kings, dukes, and popes. He always wins the duel, always gets the girl, always has the last word, and is more than willing to tell you all about it; despite which, he’s utterly likable. Impossibly entertaining.


Dry: A Memoir

by Augusten Burroughs

The lesser-known, but equally harrowing (and funny) follow-up to Running With Scissors. Burroughs worked in advertising in the 1980s, as did I; his downfall was alcohol—in my circles, it was cocaine. But Burroughs fell harder than I ever did, and he’s assembled this astonishing book from the wreckage.

This book also appears on Every Book by Augusten Burroughs


My Dog Tulip

by J.R. Ackerley, introduction by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

A dog memoir to round out the list, since that’s my métier at the moment. This is Ackerly’s paean of love to a dog he reluctantly inherited and subsequently adored, and which no one else could stand. What can I say—I can sympathize.