Elizabeth Gilbert eats her way through Italy, meditates in India, and seeks balance in Indonesia. Her three-pronged trip is spurred by a divorce, a bitter rebound relationship, and a nasty bout of depression. With a cheeky narrative voice and the reassuring (albeit sometimes unbelievable) notion that if we jump, the net will appear, Gilbert takes us on an unforgettable tour of pain, pleasure, and personal growth. For more transformative stories like Eat, Pray, Love, check out these nine memoirs.
1. Love with a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
DeRoche leaves her home in Australia with adventure in mind. But she isn’t expecting to fall for an Argentinian sailor named Ivan and embark on a perilous, windswept journey across the globe because she has a crippling fear of deep water. But when faced with the choice of pursuing love or staying landlocked and alone, DeRoche opts to make the leap. In the days preceding the trip, she stretches herself to learn sailing and painstakingly plans their endeavor. But even the most meticulous plans are disrupted. For the first 26 days of the voyage, there is nothing but the new couple, the boat, and the open ocean. Along their journey, DeRoche and Ivan get more adventure than they bargain for. There is love, but there is also the chance of drowning.
2. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes
Though Under the Tuscan Sun is sometimes criticized for its solipsistic concerns and overall lack of narrative tension, it’s hard to deny Mayes’ ability to capture delight and vivid snapshots of the Italian countryside. You’ll feel excited when she discovers a forgotten fresco, its colors still peeking through plaster after many centuries. And it’s nearly impossible not to salivate as she shares Tuscan recipes. Mayes’ magic lies in her ability to make us fall in love with a culture, place, and time that we might not otherwise access. She writes of a bygone era and does so with authentic wonder and joy of spirit. It is no surprise that a wave of Tuscan-themed restaurant entrees and paint colors followed in the wake of her memoir.
3. Untamed, by Glennon Doyle
Doyle, author of Momastery (a Christian mommy blog), gets a divorce promptly after writing a memoir about fighting for her marriage. And surprise! She falls in love with a woman. Through the process of failing to meet society’s expectations, Doyle blossoms, and she learns that diverging from the norm is exactly the transformative detour she needs. Untamed is about Doyle’s endeavor to reject society’s conditioning of women. With personal stories about her crumbling marriage, bulimia, and regrettable cream-cheese parenting, Doyle attempts to unlock and further understand women’s bodies, spiritual beliefs, family trajectory, and feelings expressed (and ignored).
4. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
In 1951, Kerouac wrote On the Road in a feverish three-week frenzy. He typed the adventure on a 120-foot scroll in a singular paragraph. The beatnik memoir is a poetic retelling of Sal’s (Kerouac’s) and Dean’s jazz-laced, drug-fueled trips to New York, Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans, San Joaquin Valley and Mexico. Like many of the novels on this list, On the Road is told in parts and begins with a divorce. As soon as Sal finds new love, it sours. But the love is not explored in vain, for it gives him insight into his lives, past and present. Dean and Sal spend every moment on the road together pursuing the limit—scouring Skid Row, traveling at great speeds, testing drugs and cultural norms—until their friendship threatens to snap.
5. Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It, by various authors
After Eat, Pray, Love’s tsunami of commercial success, Elizabeth Gilbert noticed fans wanting to tell her their own stories—tales about how the book spurred new travel adventures, spiritual awakenings, and romantic encounters. Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It is an anthology of fan stories, all of which hinge on the moment the authors realized they had the power to change (at least in part) the bleaker patterns of their lives. After enduring ongoing panic attacks since high school, one essayist overcomes crippling anxiety by first doing all the wrong things (job hopping, boyfriend hopping, scary driving) and then, finally, finding equilibrium. Another writer finds her deceased mother’s approval to finally live a fulfilled life—one of travel, unconventional relationships, and self-love. And finally, an author journeys from postpartum depression, to fully embracing motherhood, to reclaiming her sense of self through a freelance writing career.
6. Buy Yourself the F*king Lilies, by Tara Schuster
Tara Schuster is winning at life. Or so it seems. By her late twenties, she is a burgeoning TV executive. She works on The Daily Show and helps launch the massively successful Key and Peele. But inside, she is falling apart. An over anxious, hypercritical, self-medicated mess, Schuster has to find a way to repattern her life. Through an arsenal of self-care rituals, journaling, and gratitude practices, Schuster seeks a healthier existence. Buy Yourself the F*king Lilies is honest, relatable, and wise, and it’s hard to look away as Schuster transitions from drunk dialing her therapist to becoming a self-help guru.
7. Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
When their relationship is finally at its best, Zauner’s mother dies of cancer. Zauner is only 25, and she is faced with a sudden identity crisis. She wonders, “Am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?” Zauner’s New Yorker-featured essay about grief and its unending nature begins the book. Then she explores links between food and identity. Though her mother was too sick to enjoy food before she passed, Zauner finally learns to make Korean classics after her death. And in her cooking, Zauner summons the voices of her past, her Korean heritage. She conjures her mother ordering another round of Kimchi, her aunt noshing Korean fried chicken, and her grandmother gulping noodles. As she cooks and retrieves unexpected memories, Zauner also finds herself.
8. The Measure of My Powers, by Jackie Kai Ellis
From her Instagram feed, Jackie Kai Ellis’s life looks picture perfect. She has a handsome husband, immaculate house, and coveted career. But Kai Ellis doesn’t feel elation over her exquisite-looking life. Instead she feels a gray cloud of depression. Inadequacy stews. She and her husband grow into strangers, and their childless home takes on the feel of a vacuous black hole. The only place that brings Kai Ellis joy is the kitchen. She attends pastry school in Paris, eats plump apricots in Tuscany, and stands in awe of a troupe of gorillas in the Congo, and ultimately she finds a peace previously unknown. Throughout The Measure of My Powers, Kai Ellis is raw, unflinchingly vulnerable, and often funny, and she also includes recipes that characterize each step of her metamorphosis.
9. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, by Issa Rae
Rae begins her YouTube series with the witty and poignant statement: “My name is J and I’m awkward—and black. Someone once told me those were the two worst things anyone could be. That someone was right.” Her essay collection The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl continues to grapple with identity, employing the same humorous yet prescient voice. You’ll find yourself laugh-crying through Rae’s expertly penned vignettes. She flashes back to her high school days, where as a self-proclaimed non-dancer, she finds herself on a high school dance floor, Sean Paul blaring, all eyes expecting her to make the right moves. She ruminates about becoming a “cyber ho” in middle school, her parents’ unraveling relationship, and unsolicited hair touching. But perhaps most compelling are the moments when Rae writes about her otherness and questions why society’s expectations of black women are so narrow and one-dimensional.