Thanks for checking out this reading list! I’ve linked what titles I can to Bookshop.org in an effort to support both the authors and independent book stores; please order from your local store if you have one. You can also browse for spiritual memoirs and books on writing at Bookshop here and follow what I’m reading on Goodreads.
I’ve starred my favorite titles for those new to spiritual memoir. My parenthetical comments point writers to helpful examples of the craft. For the sake of simplifying I’ve separated classic titles from contemporary ones. Please contact me if with titles you believe should be on these lists.
Augustine. The Confessions of St. Augustine. New York: Doubleday, 1960. (The foundational conversion narrative. Everything in Augustine’s story hinges on his a-ha moment, dividing his life into “before” and “after”. Note how Augustine occasionally disregards the reader and directly addresses God.)
* Black Elk Speaks. Told through John Neihardt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1932. (A record of an oral narrative. Black Elk’s story illustrates the life-long ramifications of a single vision–a good example of how the impact of mystical experiences is more important than the experiences themselves. He also disregards the listeners to directly address the Grandfathers.)
David-Neel, Alexandra. My Journey to Lhasa. Boston: Beacon Press, 1927.
* Hillesum, Etty. An Interrupted Life. New York: Pocket Books, 1981.
* Merton, Thomas. Seven Storey Mountain. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1948. (A classic conversion narrative from Merton’s younger years.)
St. Therese of Lisieux. The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. Charlotte, NC: Tan Books, 2010 (originally published 1898).
Teresa of Avila. The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself. London: Penguin Books, 1957.
* Thurman, Howard. With Head and Heart. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1979. (An autobiography with keen attention to the evolution of Thurman’s theology.)
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Avon, 1969. (Powerful story of the loss of faith. A good example of how spiritual memoir can ask unanswerable questions and end without resolution.)
Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. New York: Philosophical Library, 1941.
Adiele, Faith. Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun. New York: Norton, 2004.
Andrew, Elizabeth J. Swinging on the Garden Gate: A Spiritual Memoir. Boston: Skinner House Books, 2000. www.elizabethjarrettandrew.com –On the Threshold: Home, Hardwood, & Holiness. New York: Westview Press, 2005.
* Armstrong, Karen. The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness. New York: Anchor Books, 2004. (Armstrong’s journey out of the convent and into a life of interfaith exploration.)
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. Jericho Books, 2013. (A gritty, theologically fresh memoir.) www.nadiabolzweber.com
Bondi, Roberta. Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995.
Bozarth, Alla Renee. Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey. San Diego: LuraMedia, 1978.
Breyer, Chloe. The Close: A Young Woman’s First Year at Seminary. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
Cairns, Scott. Short Trip to the Edge: Where Earth Meets Heaven–A Pilgrimage. New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 2007. (A convert’s journey to Mount Athos and into Greek Orthodoxy.)
Caldwell, Gail. Let’s Take the Long Way Home. New York: Random House, 2010. (A spirited memoir of friendship and loss. Good for studying powerful reflective writing, thematically grouped memories, and the writing of memories entirely from adulthood.)
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 2002.
Chernin, Kim. In My Father’s Garden: A Daughter’s Search For a Spiritual Life. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1996. (A skeptic’s very physical spiritual awakening.) www.kimchernin.com
* Covington, Dennis. Salvation on Sand Mountain. New York: Penguin, 1995. (One of my all-time favorite reads. Covington covers the trial of a pastor accused of murder in Appalachia and gets sucked into his snake-handling, strychnine-drinking faith.) http://www.english.ttu.edu/general_info/directory/faculty_profile_pages/covington.asp
Crane, George. Bones of the Master: A Buddhist Monk’s Search for the Lost Heart of China. New York: Bantam, 2000. (A particularly beautiful opening forty-some pages.) www.randomhouse.com
Delio, Ilia. Birth of a Dancing Star: My Journey from Cradle Catholic to Cyborg Christian. New York: Orbis Books, 2019.
Dezen Hammon, Cameron. This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession. Wilmington, NC: Lookout Books, 2019.
* Doty, Mark. Heaven’s Coast. New York: Harper Perennial, 1996. (Doty loses his partner to AIDS. His record of love, loss, and grief is eloquent. A good book to read for language and for linking reflection and narration.) www.markdoty.org
* Doyle, Brian. “Eating Dirt,” in The Best Spiritual Writing 1999, edited by Philip Zaleski. New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1999. (Doyle is a master of the “short.” This is my favorite of his, but he’s written many short memoirs and essays in collections like The Wet Engine and Epiphanies and Elegies.)
Dubus, Andre. “Love in the Morning,” in The Best Spiritual Writing 1998, edited by Philip Zaleski. New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1998.
Duncan, David James. My Story As Told By Water: Confessions, Druidic Rants, Reflections, Bird-Watchings, Fish-Stalkings, Visions, Songs and Prayers Refracting Light, from Living Rivers, in the Age of the Industrial Dark. Sierra Club Books, 2002. (Funny! Duncan, environmentalist and fly-fisherman, explores his nature-deprived childhood and the influence of his Bible-beating grandmother. Opening section is the best.)
* Ehrlich, Gretel. A Match to the Heart. New York: Penguin Books, 1994. (A Buddhist woman’s story of being struck by lightning–a second time–and what sense she makes of it.) http://gretel-ehrlich.com/index.html
Erdrich, Louise. The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. (A collection of reflections that trace the author’s first year with her daughter. Erdrich makes beautiful connections between the natural world and the life of her spirit.)
Foster, Patricia. Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul. New York: Doubleday, 1994.
Fox, Matthew. Confessions, Revised and Updated: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2015.
Gallagher, Winifred. Working on God. New York: Random House, 1999.http://literati.net/Gallagher/index.htm
Garcia, Kenneth. Pilgrim River: A Spiritual Memoir. New York: Angelico Press, 2018.
Gaustad, Edwin S, editor. Memoirs of the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia. New York: Penguin, 2006. www.elizabethgilbert.com
Halpern, Sue. Migrations to Solitude: The Quest for Privacy in a Crowded World. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.
* Hampl, Patricia. Virgin Time. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992. (Hampl’s pilgrimage to Italy and quest for prayer.)
Harvey, Andrew. A Journey in Ladakh. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
Hathaway, Katharine Butler. The Little Locksmith. New York: The Feminist Press, 1942. (An unfinished narrative by a woman whose childhood was confined to bed. Sensitive, lovely.)
Johnson, Mary. An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011. Mary Johnson’s website.
* Johnson, Robert A. Balancing Heaven and Earth: A Memoir of Visions, Dreams, and Realizations. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. (Jungian analyst tells of the formative impact of dreams and visions on his life’s journey.)
Jung, Carl. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage Books, 1961.
* Junod, Tom. “Can You Say Hero?” in The Best Spiritual Writing 1999, edited by Philip Zaleski. New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1999.
Kamenetz, Rodger. The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India.New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1994. http://rodgerkamenetz.com/
Kempe, Margery. The Book of Margery Kempe. New York: Penguin, 1985.
* Kingston, Maxine Hong. Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. New York: Vintage Books, 1975.
Kurs, Katherine, ed. Searching for Your Soul: Writers of Many Faiths Share Their Personal Stories of Spiritual Discovery. New York: Shocken Books, 1999.
Lamott, Anne. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. Anchor Books, 2000. (Master of humor and faithful irreverence. Lamott speaks to a younger generation of seekers.)
Lee, Li-Young. The Winged Seed: A Remembrance. St. Paul, MN: Hungry Mind Find, 1995. (A difficult but beautiful book. Lyrical in style, circular in form.)
Levine, Stephen. Turning Toward the Mystery: A Seeker’s Journey. New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 2002.
Lischer, Richard. Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son. New York: Vintage, 2015.
Livingston, Sonja. The Virgin of Prince Street: Expeditions Into Devotion. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2019.
MacDonald, Sarah. Holy Cow. New York: Broadway Books, 2002. (A hip Australian TV anchor spends a few years traveling through India learning about the world’s religions.)
Mairs, Nancy. Ordinary Time: Cycles in Marriage, Faith and Renewal. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.http://www.nancymairs.com/
Manning, Martha. Chasing Grace: Reflections of a Catholic Girl, Grown Up. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/6232/Martha_Manning/index.aspx
* Matthiessen, Peter. The Snow Leopard. New York: Penguin, 1978. (I find this story of trekking in the Himalayas fascinating for its structure, which defies the traditional story-arc in favor of a Zen Buddhist form.)
McCarthy, Mary. Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. Boston, MA: Mariner Books, 1972.
Miles, Sara. Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007. (A contemporary conversion story that highlights a socially progressive view of Christian ritual.)www.saramiles.net
Monk Kidd, Sue. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2016.
Momaday, N. Scott. The Names. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1976. –The Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1969.
Morrison, Melanie. The Grace of Coming Home. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1995.
Neumark, Heidi. Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2004.
Nomani, Asra. Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam. New York: HarperSanFransisco, 2005. (A single, unwed mother journeys to Mecca on the hajj, recommits to the Islamic faith, and works for women’s rights. Although poorly edited, this memoir demonstrates the profound influence of spiritual lives on the public sphere.) www.asranomani.com
* Norris, Kathleen. Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. (Really a collection of essays with strong memoir material. A good example of arranging smaller pieces into a narrative whole.) Nouwen, Henri. The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery. Garden City: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1976.
O’Reilly, Mary Rose. Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd. Minneapolis: Milkweed, 2001.
Patel, Eboo. Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2010.
* Rosen, Jonathan. The Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. http://us.macmillan.com/author/jonathanrosen
Rothluebber, Francis. Nobody Owns Me: A Celibate Woman Discovers Her Sexual Power. San Diego: LuraMedia, 1994.
Salzberg, Sharon. Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. New York: Riverhead, 2002. (Here is an example of blending memoir with instructional nonfiction. Salzberg shares small bits of her story to illuminate her discussion of faith’s role in Buddhism.) Interview with the author.
* Sandor, Marjorie. “Waiting for a Miracle: A Jew Goes Fishing,” in The Best Spiritual Writing 2000, edited by Philip Zaleski. New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 2000. (I enjoy how Sandor makes even library research into an engaging story. This chapter was later published in her collection, The Night Gardener.) http://marjoriesandor.com/
Sarton, May. Journal of Solitude. New York: W.W. Norton, 1973. (Sarton uses the informal journal structure but with the intention of an audience.)
Tweedie, Irina. The Chasm of Fire. Great Britain: Element Books, 1979.
Um Dayo, Kaighla. Things That Shatter: A Memoir. 2019.
Wilbanks, Jessica. When I Spoke in Tongues: A Story of Faith and Its Loss. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018.
* Williams, Terry Tempest. Refuge. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. (A rare look at feminist Mormonism. Williams draws beautiful parallels between the natural world, her family’s health, and the life of the soul.) http://www.coyoteclan.com/
Willis, Jan. Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey. New York: Riverhead Books, 2001. http://jwillis.faculty.wesleyan.edu/
Winner, Lauren. Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2002. Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. New York: HarperOne, 2012. (A refreshing memoir on emptiness in the Christian faith.) www.laurenwinner.net
Wilson, Diane. Spirit Car: Journey to a Dakota Past. Borealis Books, 2009.
Wurtele, Margaret. Touching the Edge: A mother’s spiritual path from loss to life. New Jersey: John Wiley, 2003.
Zaleski, Philip, ed. The Best Spiritual Writing, annual series. New York: Harper San Francisco. (This is a top-notch anthology that culls publications for short literary spiritual writing and always includes some memoir.)