2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Photo by Malea Nguyen

Five must-read autobiographies for the summer

By Nazeefa Ahmed, June 27 2022

Autobiographies have to be one of the most underrated genres that exist. Many think of them as a boring retelling of past events with a cheesy message of hope and determination tagged onto the end. Some dare to put them in the same category as self-help books, as if one’s life story can be watered down to clichéd maxims and “how to” statements.   

I really enjoy reading autobiographies because they allow me to be a curator of hard-earned knowledge passed down by those who have endured struggle. Though their lives may be vastly different than mine, the lessons are universal and give a bird’s-eye view of what it means to live and be happy. Life experience is invaluable, especially for a young mind that is still trying to find her way in the world. In no particular order, the following are some of my must-reads. 

  1. Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey is an award-winning actor, best known for his roles in Interstellar, Dallas Buyers Club, and How to lose a Guy in 10 Days. The actor is also an amazing writer, a product of the daily journals he has kept for the past thirty-six years of his life. 

McConaughey’s autobiography is not an immersive experience as many are. He decides to keep his life story as the background and the lesson at the forefront. By doing so, he can address his message directly. 

His message is a simple one. Life gives us green, yellow, and red lights, and it is our responsibility to take each one with grace, understanding that they are there to teach us a lesson. He intertwines this very simple analogy with moments in his life, such as when he earned his father’s respect, or when he decided to take a break from his career. Many recommend listening to the audiobook rather than reading it because it is more interesting hearing his story rather than reading it. 

  1. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls 

“The Glass Castle” is a memoir written by Jeannette Walls about her unique childhood.  She and her three siblings grew up constantly on the move, and independent — they could not always rely on the erratic behaviour of their parents, and often had to earn money to feed themselves.  As they grew, they drifted from their parents and fit into their own lives, while their parents still chose to live in poverty.

I love the narration the most for this story. By using the first-person point of view, the reader can focus on how one of the kids dealt with their situation, rather than confusing the reader with many perspectives. The author was very vivid in her description and honest in her storytelling.  The last scene brought closure to her overall incomplete lifestyle, and I was able to appreciate her journey to get to that position.  For me, this story showed that even though someone may be born into a disprivileged position in society, hard work and an insatiable desire for more can pull them into a life they could have never imagined. However, once they get to that position, they should never forget their roots and those who supported them in the process. 

  1. Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

Half Broke Horses, a biography written by Jeanette Walls about her grandmother, affected me in a way only a few life stories have. Lily Casey was a strong, no-nonsense woman who faced her personal challenges with a mindset of growth, rather than one of blaming fate. From being a hardworking child in times of crisis at the family farm to traveling across Texas in thirty days on horseback to teach underprivileged kids in Arizona, Casey lived a fulfilling life because she refused to be defined by her circumstances. I have taken much inspiration from this woman I have never met. 

Walls writes in the perspective of her grandmother, hoping to make the story as close to an autobiography as possible. Also, it complements The Glass Castle beautifully, providing context to the bizarre family life that Walls experienced. 

  1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah 

In his autobiography, Trevor Noah writes beautifully, highlighting his life struggles with a silver lining of humor, allowing the reader to breathe for a second before slamming a powerful line to ponder on. 

Noah was a mixed child born during the apartheid in South Africa, a time where interracial marriage was punishable as a serious offense.  He discusses the precautions taken by his mother to hide him from the officers, and the struggle to identify with a group within his extremely segregated society. 

The comedian never fails to put a smile on my face. I have been watching him on his Daily Show since 2016, and I admire his quick wit and hilarious impressions of politicians and pundits. And though his experiences were already powerful on their own, as a performer, he has a way with words that made me really feel for his identity crisis. 

  1. Will by Will Smith 

I know what you are thinking: a man who slapped another man on live TV shouldn’t have much to say. Also, he is one of the most famous people on the planet, so how could any of his words apply to our normal lives? 

Celebrities like him are often idolized, put on a pedestal, and expected to embody the perfect human being — after all, their fame means that they are supposed to be the best of us, right? 

Reading Smith’s story humanized him for me. His struggles with marriage, family, career and personal demons were a reminder that money and fame does not make one less human. He described times where he was a coward by not standing up for those he loves, or the guilt he felt overworking his daughter, Willow. He discusses the toll that fame took on him, how it tempts the power-hungry nature of human beings. So many lessons packed into one story.

Well written autobiographies are not just about the author. They comment on the complexity of the human condition, make us feel less alone in our struggles, and inspire us to be better people all at the same time.

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet