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Blog Insight & Commentary

17 Memoirs to Inspire Working Women

Books written for career women by boss women

Shameika Rhymes
Contributor

woman reading

Whether at networking events, over coffee chats, or on talk shows, women aren’t shy about sharing what their jobs, offices, or industries are like. But what do you do when you need sage career advice and The View isn’t on again until tomorrow? 

Easy! Read. There are also so many books available to help you figure out your own career journey from women who have been there and done that. These memoirs will inspire you and help you learn firsthand how women just like you were able to carve out a niche of their own and follow their passions.

All That You Leave Behind

Author: Erin Lee Carr 

Celebrated journalist David Carr was in the prime of his career when he died suddenly in 2015. Shattered by his death, his daughter Erin Lee Carr, known for her film Mommy Dead and Dearest, began digging through their correspondence over the years and found enlightenment in his responses to her own workplace missteps and relationship fails. His advice can help you, too. 

Becoming 

Author: Michelle Obama

Trying to juggle motherhood and marriage while standing tall next to the President of the United States, all in the judgement of the public eye, seems daunting. Former First Lady Michelle Obama handled it like the boss she is. As the first African-American to hold that role, she helped to open the White House to the public and make it inclusive. She also established herself as an advocate for women. In Becoming, she reveals the experiences that shaped her from her childhood in Chicago, to working as a lawyer balancing motherhood and work, to her time in the White House. It’s a story of inspiration to keep overcoming and defying expectations all while maintaining perfectly sculpted arms. 

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Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower

Author: Brittany Cooper

It’s okay to be angry. Feminist Brittany Cooper’s memoir is a reminder that anger can be used for good to give you the strength you need to keep fighting. She gives insight into what is known as “eloquent rage” among African-American women, which is what makes Serena Williams a power tennis player or what makes Beyonce’s girl power messages resonate. In Cooper’s world, neither mean girls nor mansplaining men ever win, but homegirls are the heroes. This book is an uncomfortable conversation, but it is also a reminder that we all have our own superpower we need to activate it to be taken seriously. 

Fish Raincoats: A Woman Lawyer’s Life (Journeys & Memoirs)

Author: Barbara Babcock

Barbara Babcock is one who blazed a trail of many firsts. She was the first female Stanford Law School professor, the first female director of the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, one of the first women to be an Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and the biographer of California’s first woman lawyer, Clara Foltz. In this book, she recounts her journey on being a pioneer, leader, and defender of the powerless. Babcock’s story is one that shouts from the rooftops, Women belong in leadership!

Formation: A Woman's Memoir of Stepping Out of Line

Author: Ryan Leigh Dostie

Ok ladies, now let’s get in “Formation.” It’s not the Beyonce song, but instead the story of Ryan Leigh Dostie, who found herself on the front lines of a war halfway around the world. A conversation with an Army recruiter in her high school cafeteria changed the course of her life and landed her in the male-dominated military. Dostie held her own until she is raped by a fellow soldier. Her story is one of proving her worth, physically and mentally, in a world where the odds are against her. 

From the Corner of the Oval

Author: Beck Dorey-Stein

If White House intel is your thing, then this memoir is for you. Beck Dorey-Stein was working five part-time jobs just to pay her bills when a posting on Craigslist landed her in the Oval Office as one of former President Barack Obama’s stenographers. It’s not “Scandal” and Olivia Pope doesn’t make an appearance, but it is a book about how taking a chance can change your whole life and teach you new things. 

Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab

Author: Melissa Plaut

Working in jobs that are unsatisfying is a familiar complaint. Melissa Plaut decided to stop worrying about what to do for the rest of her life and instead focused on what’s next. For her, that meant becoming a taxi driver in New York, despite it being a male-dominated field. This book is a look at breaking into a culture and carving out a lane all of your own. 

Read more: Books to Read If You’re Working in a Boys’ Club

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

Author: Sarah Smarsh

This is a memoir of Smarsh’s experience of working class poverty in America. She was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer. The book chronicles her life, but Smarsh also takes a closer look at the class divide and myth that people are less because they earn less. Her story is parallel to the classic novel The Grapes of Wrath. Smarsh captures the essence of not letting your beginnings determine how you end up. 

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone

Author: Lori Gottlieb 

Ever wonder what your therapist is really thinking while you are pouring out your innermost thoughts and secrets? Therapist Lori Gottlieb lets you into her Los Angeles practice in her memoir as she helps a variety of patients, everyone from a self-absorbed Hollywood producer to a senior citizen threatening to kill herself. The book offers a look at both sides, the patient and the therapist, and the lies and truths we tell ourselves as we balance on the tightrope of fear and courage and taking the power to transform our circumstances for the better.   

Men Explain Things to Me

Author: Rebecca Solnit

This essay collection is headlined by Rebecca Solnit’s comic essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” the piece that sparked the “mansplaining” revolution. In the essay, Solnit writes about men who wrongly assume they know things and women don’t—something Solnit experienced when a man explains her own work to her at a party. The six other essays that follow include a look at Virginia Woolf, of not knowing, doubt, and a survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women. 

On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard

Author: Jennifer Pastiloff

Jennifer Pastiloff tells the story of how she reached her full potential of who she was meant to be by battling her inner demons. After 13 years of waitressing, the opportunity came up to host her own retreats so she said “yes,” despite her fears. It’s a story of triumph and banishing shame attached to certain stigmas including weight and disabilities. Pastiloff’s memoir helps you take a look within and embrace your own “shero.” 

Power Your Happy: Work Hard, Play Nice, and Build Your Dream Life

Author: Lisa Sugar

In the world of pop culture and entertainment websites, you’ve probably heard about PopSugar.com. Lisa Sugar knew she loved pop culture so she figured out what her dream job was, took risks, and even partnered with her husband to create the now popular PopSugar brand. Her memoir is a collection of personal and business stories that walk you through starting a company from the ground up, ditching relationships that weren’t working, and juggling motherhood and marriage. 

The Middle Matters: Why That (Extra)Ordinary Life Looks Really Good on You

Author: Lisa-Jo Baker

Adulting is hard with all the responsibilities including paying bills, buying groceries in bulk, and no longer recognizing the celebrities on the magazines at the checkout, yet inside you still feel like you’re still in college and haven’t yet reached “ma’am” status. Baker reflects on the mid-life and gives permission on how to embrace everything about being middle age, including the muffin top and the muffins you have to bake for your child’s class bake sale. It’s a book about enjoying your life where you are and celebrating it. 

The Mother of Black Hollywood

Author: Jenifer Lewis

You’ve seen her playing Ruby Johnson on the ABC hit show Black-ish and playing the mother role in many movies including “Poetic Justice,” and “Jackie’s Back.” Lewis was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 33, and in her book, she details the journey through the pain from not knowing why she was crying daily to extreme mood swings, and a sex addiction. The book delivers the universal message to love yourself and to not let your circumstances keep you from getting a check. 

The Rules Do Not Apply

Author: Ariel Levy 

As women, you’ve probably heard “don’t be too forceful” or “don’t be too over the top.” Ariel Levy realized the rules her mother and grandmother followed aren’t the same ones she has to follow. In her memoir, she breaks the “rules” and becomes the kind of woman who is free to do what she chooses, including traveling all over the world, writing about unconventional heroines and following their examples in her own life. Levy’s story captures those old-school values that have shifted over time and how to move forward despite tragedy and obstacles. 

Save Me the Plums

Author: Ruth Reichl

Have you ever been handed an amazing opportunity but you turned it down because you had no inclination to be in a top position? Ruth Reichl was offered a management position at Gourmet, but she declined despite it being the magazine that inspired her career. Reichl’s memoir is a look at entering the corporate world and her journey of coming to terms with being in charge, making a mark, and following her dreams in the most unexpected way. 

Weird in a World That's Not: A Career Guide for Misfits, F*ckups, and Failures

Author: Jennifer Romolini

Jennifer Romolini started her career as an awkward 20-something-year-old misfit that navigated her way through New York media, becoming an editor-in-chief, an editorial director, and a vice president—all within little more than a decade. Her memoir is a career guide that offers relatable advice on reaching your dreams even when the odds are against you. From facing your fears, finding the right career, to landing and keeping that dream job, Romolini even gives the answers on how to make networking not so awkward, dealing with office politics, and how to leave that job that’s draining the life out of you.

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