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How Many Memoir Types Are There?

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There used to be one memoir type. The one kind of memoir genre was that written by famous people about the important events in history that they had taken part in. Mostly, these accounts were about how wonderful they were and how important their roles in history had been. Oftentimes, these memoirs were about excoriating […]

There used to be one and not several memoir types.

The one kind of memoir genre was that written by famous people about the important events in history that they had taken  part in. Mostly, these accounts were about how wonderful they were and how important their roles in history had been. Oftentimes, these memoirs were about excoriating their political or business rivals and actually provided little emotional or psychological insight into the protagonist other than s/he was a “good guy.”


Today, we have more kinds of memoir types—or genres—than we could have imagined even only several generations ago. The Memoir Writer’s Blog has a whole category devoted to types of memoir,

Today’s memoir types include the following:

1. The traditional memoir

This memoir need not now be a story of a famous person. In our age of democratization, the traditional memoir may be about an ordinary person and it now often covers that person’s life from birth to the present (this whole life story is more strictly labeled an autobiography) or else it is simply a portion of that life the writer feels is interesting to an audience or was deserving of exploration.

The sub-genre list of traditional memoir types classified by subject could be quite long. Let me just mention:

  • the artist’s memoir
  • the spiritual memoir
  • the political memoir
  • the coming of age memoir
  • the business development memoir
  • the parenting memoir

This list of memoir types by subject probably just skims the surface. A look at or Barnes and Noble will bring up hundreds of titles. As soon as you change the subject of a memoir search, you change the sub-genre.

2. The self-help memoir

There is now such an animal as the self-help memoir. The self-help memoir is the story of an individual who has overcome some difficulty and not only tells us about that challenge as we might expect in a traditional memoir but provides us with step by step plan for how we too can overcome that difficulty in our lives. This memoir is likely to have lists and “Action Steps.” While it may also have a bibliography, its strength is in the testimony it provides to a solution the author was able to implement. The problem written about in a self-help memoir is usually personal—a physical or social problem: disease, poverty, abuse, etc.

3. The Healing memoir

The healing memoir is close to the self-help a memoir but it is specifically about how one can cure oneself of an illness either physical or emotional. The healing memoir is clearly about helping you to become healthier. It contains much information about how the reader can implement strategies (including information on remedies, exercise and food choices). The healing memoir may have a bibliography of medical studies. It can be said to be in some ways a sub-genre of the self-help memoir.

4. The how-to memoir

This memoir is possibly a subcategory of the self-help memoir. An example of the how-to book would be the story of how to set up a business or how to raise a child.

The 1952 back-to-the-land classic Living The Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing is such an example. In it, we learn much about growing seasons, how to create compost, which firewood produces the best heat. The how-to memoir on a subject differs from a traditional memoir on the subject in its details, action lists, and “recipes” in general.

5. The investigative memoir

Like self-help memoirs, the investigative memoir is also about a challenge or difficulty an individual experienced. This time, however, that challenge is not a personal one as in self-help memoirs. It is more likely to be a challenge in the political or social arena. The investigative memoir writer talks about his or her life and about its challenges but does so in a context of significant research to dig up facts. That is why it is called an investigate memoir.

In a self-help memoir, the writer would deal with poverty in terms of personal actions that lead to overcoming it. In an investigative memoir, the writer focuses on elements beyond the protagonist’s self that lead to the poverty in question. The solution is often—but not exclusively—to be found in the political arena

The investigative memoir is full of documentation to prove the point of the writer. The memoir has many footnotes, endnotes as well as a bibliography.

6. The food memoir: the foodoir

There is also the food memoir—also known as the foodoir. A foodoir delves into the story of the role of food in the writer’s life. The foodoir can be a how-to book or it can be a self-help book or even a healing book. It generally contains recipes that the reader can implement, and it also may include such information as how to stock your kitchen and what implements the reader would do best to buy.

This blog ran a review of Kate Christensen’s book Blue Plate Special. The Kate Christensen interview in which she speaks about her life as a writer and the writing of this memoir is available in full in the Memoir Authority membership section. Excerpts from this long interview are also available on the My Memoir Education pages.

For more foodoir titles, click here.

7. The business or professional memoir

8. The travel memoir

The business or professional memoir covers these aspects of a memoirist’s life. It can often be used to promote a career or an enterprise.

Other types of memoir

If you know of  other types memoirs, please make a comment  below and suggest a writer—yourself or somebody else—who could do justice to the topic in a blog post.

Keep writing.

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