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In Honor Of Mom: Books About Motherhood

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If your mother is a reader, giving her a book is always a good choice as a gift. Moms don’t always want to read about motherhood – they are living it after all – however, sometimes they need the support that learning about another woman’s experiences can provide.  In honor of Mother’s Day, here is an eclectic list of books that honor mothers. Some are fiction and some are non-fiction, and some are old and some are new.

Books About Motherhood

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott (Pantheon, 1993)

In a world before mommy bloggers poured out their souls daily on the trials of parenting, journalist Annie Lamott wrote this moving memoir of life with a newborn baby. At times almost brutal in its honesty, Operating Instructions offers deeply personal and spiritual insights about motherhood as well as details on the author’s struggles as a single mom on a limited income.

During this tumultuous first year of her son Sam’s life, Lamott is dealing with the pressure of life as a recovering alcoholic but the serious illness of her best friend from childhood. Far from being depressing, this is a journal about living life as a mom.

Favorite quote: “All these people keep waxing sentimental about how fabulously well I am doing as a mother, how competent I am, but I feel inside like when you’re first learning to put nail polish on your right hand with your left. You can do it, but it doesn’t look all that great around the cuticles.”

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Roberts Brothers, 1868-69)

If I had to select my favorite fictional mother, it would have to be Marmee, or Mrs. March, from Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women. I read and reread this book many times when I was a child, and I have read it to my own children. Although I related most to the character of Jo as a young person, my role model became Marmee when I became a mother.

This warm and intelligent women not only capably raises her four daughters while her husband is away serving as a chaplain in the Civil War, but she also finds time to serve the needy in the community and to teach her daughters to do the same. However, we learn that Marmee is far from perfect, especially in a tender scene in which she reveals how she handles her own temper to her headstrong daughter, Jo.

Largely based upon Alcott’s own mother, Abigail, Marmee’s strength of character and her devotion to her children, while not sacrificing herself, makes her one of literature’s most inspiring mothers.

Favorite quote: “Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.”

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989)

The mercurial connection between mothers and daughters is something that many authors have attempted to capture and describe. One of them who gets it pretty close is Amy Tan. In this 1989 book, Tan offers us the engaging and intertwining stories of four mothers and four daughters.

The mothers are mid -20th century Chinese immigrants to San Francisco who become friends who share their hopes, joys and losses with each other. Forty years later, as we come to know their daughters as well, we learn the answers to some family mysteries, but more importantly, we learn about the abiding relationships these women share.

Favorite quote: “I think now that fate is half shaped by expectation, half by inattention. But somehow, when you lose something you love, faith takes over. You have to pay attention to what you lost. You have to undo the expectation.”

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (A. Lacroix, Verboeckhoven & Cie.,1862)

This choice may seem a little out there as a book about motherhood, but the endurance of a mother’s love is one of the themes of this classic work of fiction. Fatine’s love for her daughter, Cosette, is both inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.

Although there is no happy ending for the tragic character of Fantine, we do see her concerns for her daughter’s welfare eased when our hero Jean Valjean pledges to take care of the child.

Favorite quote: “You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving. The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness. We pardon to the extent that we love. Love is knowing that even when you are alone, you will never be lonely again, and great happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved. Loved for ourselves, and even loved in spite of ourselves.”

Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner (Riverhead Books, 2005)

In this provocative book, Warner examines the state of motherhood in early 21st century America through a critical lens. Having lived in Paris with her first child, Warner is taken aback by the many cultural differences in parenting between big-city Europe and big-city America.

She addresses the ways that mainstream media as well as political and societal changes have shaped how we view motherhood, and she challenges the assumptions we make about what it takes to be a “good mother.”

Favorite quote: “I tried to do it all myself: be mommy and camp counselor and art teacher and pre-reading specialist (and somehow, in my off-hours, to do my own work). I tried my absolute best. And like so many of the moms around me, I started to go a little crazy.”

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