Cheryl Strayed writes about being embarrassed by her mother’s favorite book, The Novel, in her book, Wild. She later realizes the error in her thinking and becomes ashamed of her own thoughts, that her reading choices are superior. That scene stood out for me as it’s so easy for us to subscribe to the notion of what we should be reading–classics, serious books, high literature–that some books are better than others, that we are better for reading them. Yes, we should challenge ourselves with our reading, but sometimes it’s less about literature and more about bringing people together, creating memories, and encouraging reading in any capacity.
In this month’s Essential Reading roundup we are celebrating both mothers and books and how together they have shaped our lives. I have always been a voracious reader, which is something my own mother aided in. From my first copy of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends to Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to the Harry Potter Series, my mom and I have always shared a love for books. She’s continually encouraged me to read, overlooking me staying up too late to read under the covers with a flashlight or even reading in church. We might not read the same books today, but occasionally we find a book that we both love and recommend to the other. The most recent one we shared was The Book Thief , which, fittingly, features a protagonist obsessed with saving books so she can learn to read and share them with others. The YA book, set during Nazi Germany and narrated by death, somehow still offered an uplifting tale worthy of sharing with a loved one. As soon as I finished it, I sent my mom a copy. Some of the Literary Mama staff have had similar experiences with books and reading and were more than happy to share their selections and memories with our readers.
Lisa Katzenberger, Creative Nonfiction and Fiction Editorial Assistant, writes, “I remember going to the library with my mom every week as a child. She left me alone in the children’s section where I could wander around and explore on my own, while she did her own searching. We would meet up at the circulation desk with giant stacks of books falling out of our arms. Then, required reading hit in high school, and I unfortunately lost my love of reading for pleasure. I didn’t go with my mom to the library anymore, as I struggled through ancient texts like The Canterbury Tales. None of this sat well with her. She shoved a copy of Gone With the Wind into my hands, promising what a great read it was—it’s a love story!—but I wrinkled my nose at the text. Several years later, I found myself spending a summer at college, not taking any classes, working at the school newspaper, waitressing, and waiting for the day I turned 21. I had a lot of time on my hands and knew I needed a good book. I quietly got my own copy of Gone With the Wind and was sucked in. I remember that summer of suffering a heartbreak, sitting on the front steps of my apartment reading in the sun. Scarlett O’Hara had more determination than I’d ever seen in a female character and she could have any man. I lost myself in her world of self-assurance while I still felt like the ugly duckling waiting to grow into herself. I would like to say that when I finished reading the book, I had a moment of reflection that Mom was right all along. But, as many moments of clarity that have taken a while to arrive, that one didn’t come years later, until I became a mother myself. That sun-bleached copy of Gone With the Wind is still on my bookshelf, and I will offer it to my daughter when I think she is ready. Then I will sit back and hope that she will know the book—a metaphor, really—will be there whenever she is ready.”
Editor-in-chief Maria Scala speaks from the other side, as a mother sharing her favorites with her own children. She says, “I couldn’t wait to pass on my dog-eared Judy Blume books to my daughter, and began doing so a few years ago, starting with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. She appreciated them for the same reason I did—the humor, fast-paced narratives, and realistic and quirky characters. But I realized that my daughter has more eclectic taste than I did at that age, with a penchant for epic, historical tales. While she is currently a bit obsessed, as I like to tease her, with a certain series that features warrior cat tribes, she is also a fan of the Narnia books, as well as the biographical Who Was/Is? books. Right now, she has Who Was Christopher Columbus? and White Fang on her desk. The first was something she chose at the library, and the second was my suggestion. As for my kindergarten-aged son, he’s inherited my love of Dr. Seuss, but while I was nuts for the ABC book and Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!, he is drawn to the Fred and Ted stories, and will always read out the author’s name before beginning (because some are written by P.D. Eastman, and others by his son, Peter Eastman.)”
Amanda Jaros, blog editor, found a book that helped her share experiences and develop memories with her own child. She writes, “As a mother, one of the most important things I think I can do is to play outdoors with my son. And one of the books that has inspired me to this end is Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together, edited by Julie Dunlap and Stephen Kellert. This anthology is packed with essays and narratives by mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles, about the value of nurturing our children’s relationships with the natural world. There are stories of toads and birds and grizzlies, of hiking the Rockies with a teenager, and of growing a garden with a toddler. One of my favorite essays is Sandra Steingraber’s “The Big Talk,” in which she fumbles to figure out how to talk to her kids about global warming without scaring them. Another favorite is Janisse Ray’s “Raising Silas,” where she reflects on her choice to raise her son in the country with farms and fields as playthings, rather than in a city, surrounded by media and technology. Some stories are delightfully humorous, some border on scholarly, but all agree on one thing: building bonds between our kids and the natural world is something that any parent can do, and by doing so we create an enduring sense of wonder for us all.”
Literary Reflections Editor Libby Maxey recently found inspiration and comfort in one of her mother’s favorite series: “My mother has always been a great fan of Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. For her, the attraction lies in the care with which the plots were crafted. Sayers’s well-researched, detail-rich stories are proof that the author respected her reader’s intelligence as well as Lord Peter’s. (By contrast, I’ve often heard my mother scoff at Agatha Christie mysteries on account of flamboyant red herrings and culprits introduced at the eleventh hour.) Her favorite Sayers novel, I think, is The Nine Tailors, which involves not only murder, but also stolen jewels, flooding fens, and a good deal of change ringing. The role the bells play in the story is fairly esoteric, but Sayers has a gift for making esoterica appealing (no campanological pun intended). I didn’t read the full Wimsey series myself until I read it aloud to my husband, but those books will always feel like a part of my childhood because they are so much a part of my mother. After slogging through a particularly tone-deaf best-seller a few weeks ago, I had to soothe my sensibilities with Sayers. Her prose is elegance itself, capturing insight with the ring of aphorism; her dialogue, in particular, positively sparkles with cleverness. I’ve been enjoying Thrones, Dominations, a late addition to the Wimsey canon, which Jill Paton Walsh finished and published 60 years after Sayers abandoned it. Discovering the book has felt like a gift—one of which my mother would approve.”
For a full list of Literary Mama essential reading suggestions check out our Goodreads page. Do you have your own mother related book memory? Share it with us in the comments below or tweet us @literarymama.