I’ve never been much of a fiction reader, so I tend to gravitate towards books and stories about real people and real things that are going on in the world. Lately, I’ve been on a biography kick that started with thumbing through books profiling classic rock musicians, and that then forayed into reading accounts by real people of their own lives.

Here are 3 of the memoirs I’ve read over the years that have penetrated my spirit, flung open the doors of my mind and generally done all the stuff that books are supposed to do.

Somaly Mam, The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, $15.00 from Amazon

Reading Somaly Mam’s autobiography of her childhood mired by the horror of rape and sex slavery opened my eyes to how far our world still has to come with women’s (and human) rights. I can’t tell you how many times I teared up on the subway while reading this, totally stricken by how fortunate I was to live in a country where women are able to receive educations and aren’t treated like worthless prostitutes. Mam’s book even inspired me to start volunteering with an anti-sex trafficking organization. A truly soul-shattering read.

 

David Carr, The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life: his own, $15.00 from Amazon.

Before David Carr had a family, a house and his prestigious job as a business reporter and columnist for the New York Times, he battled decades of cocaine addiction and was in and out of rehab and jail. In one of the book’s most chilling moments, Carr is smoking crack with his girlfriend, who was pregnant with twins, when her water breaks; later, he leaves his young twin girls in the car outside a crack house to go in and get his fix. Harrowing yet strangely sympathetic, Carr’s memoir is a poignant, page-turning journey through addiction’s grasp that gave me tremendous insight into both the psyche of an addict and of the troubles we all face at large. I’m still brought to tears each time I reread this.

 
Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth, $4.99 from Amazon.

Gandhi’s book is not a true autobiography in this sense of framing each moment of his life for the sake of chronology, but rather a retelling of key events in his quest for truth and compassion. Gahndi’s voice as a writer is lucid and compelling, and if you don’t know much about his life yet, this is a great place to start. In this first-person account, you get a sublime look at Gandhi as a person, and not just a timeline of his great deeds.

What memoirs or autobiographies have touched you?