We are honoring fathers in our reading recommendations this month and Literary Mama staff have selected a varied and inviting collection of books for you to choose from.
Libby Maxey, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor, shares this: “George Saunders’ endearingly imaginative novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is about a father (Abraham Lincoln) losing and letting go of his son (Willie), but it’s also, surprisingly, about the father figures Willie encounters in the cemetery. His burial place is a limbo inhabited by those who have not yet let go of life. The dead men who welcome Willie there realize that they must also help him leave, even though they themselves don’t want to. The novel, for all its historical content, manages to be both funny and deeply moving throughout. As painful as Lincoln’s loss is—so painful that he comes to hold his son’s corpse in the crypt at night—it is similarly painful for the dead to relinquish their sad hope that they are not dead after all. Still in love with life and its possibilities, Willie’s guardians must accept that they cannot belong in the world, and that it offers them no second chance, save the opportunity to choose their true and honest death, and perhaps help others do the same.”
Amanda Jaros, Senior Editor and Creative Nonfiction Editor, thinks you may want to add this one to your reading list: “One of my favorite books about fatherhood is Scott Russell Sanders’ Hunting for Hope. The book begins with an angry conflict between Sanders and his teenaged son, Jesse, as they trek through the Rockies on a hiking trip. The growing distance between father and son becomes clear as Jesse challenges his father’s despair about climate change, the destruction of the natural world, and the seemingly inevitable decline of planet Earth as we know it. Sanders’ life work as a nature writer has been to fight the commercial, economic, and cultural status quo—important, but seemingly futile work that left young Jesse resentful and wondering what hope his generation has if his father’s generation has given up. This sparks in Sanders a new kind of work that seeks to move past what has been lost and instead focus on how amazing our world truly is. Thus, the book proceeds through Sanders’ reflection on things that provide him with hope—like Wildness, Family, Simplicity, Fidelity. Sanders reflects on a time he and Jesse worked, together with his son-in-law and that young man’s father, to prepare firewood for the winter; four men, splitting logs and bonding in the woods. He shares how overwhelmed he feels sometimes with his electronics, correspondence, obligations, and how a dinner at a friends’ farm and a glorious sunset can revitalize him. Sanders still recounts science about how humanity is failing our planet, but he always brings the story back around to an antidote. The result of Hunting for Hope is a collection of life’s beautiful experiences, enough to convince us, and hopefully Jesse, that there is always a reason to hope.”
Susan Rowe, Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant, invites us to look at fathers, or the lack of one, in her recommendation: “A poignant truth about Father’s Day is that not everyone grows up with a father. That is the case for Joe Wilkins in The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing Up on the Big Dry. Wilkins’ memoir opens with a scene in which his father has just died. Wilkins is nine years old. We meet him in the middle of the night, a boy spirited away from sleep to say his last goodbye at a sterile hospital to a man who was increasingly remote as he fought his own battles against pain and cancer. Wilkins will spend the rest of his young life looking for someone to replace the father he has lost. Some of those fathers will be the local ne’er-do-wells like Donnie Laird, who expertly welds Joe’s basketball hoop after Joe backs into it with a pickup truck. Sometimes it will be a teacher like Bruce Whearty, who helps Joe imagine a life of the mind. And much of the time it is Joe’s grandfather, who works him as hard as any man while giving him space and permission to find his own path. The Mountain and the Fathers is a memoir in fragments. Each short chapter is a sketch of the harsh life in the Bull Mountains of eastern Montana, what locals call the ‘Big Dry.’ The cumulative effect is a memoir about how Wilkins comes to find a life away from this challenging landscape while revering it and the people who live there. A poet, Wilkins infuses the language of The Mountain and the Fathers with imagery and music. It is a reminder that the search for a father—for someone or something steadfast to guide us—can be as transforming and filled with love as the experience of having a father.”
Abigail Lalonde, Social Media Editor, related to this story of one father’s search for meaning: “I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years, so I was immediately drawn to Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. For some reason the book sat on my shelf. And sat. And sat. Fast forward to me having a baby and people asking if she’d be vegetarian. I remembered Foer’s book, and the first chapter, where he mentioned having researched and written it after the birth of his son. I was curious as to his findings and philosophies so I plucked it off my shelf and devoured it, no pun intended. Foer approaches his writing without any sort of judgment or preaching. He admits he himself has gone back and forth between vegetarianism and eating meat. Mostly, the book deals less with the ethics of eating animals, and more with how we go about eating them: factory farming. He speaks to the nature in which animals are raised and slaughtered, the environmental and health repercussions, and to the mental and physical well-being of people who work in the slaughterhouses. The book is thoroughly researched, but reads in a personal manner more than as nonfiction. I didn’t learn anything new, but I suspect any non-vegetarian/vegan would learn plenty from Foer. He suggests we, as humans, must change our ways and eat more sustainable animal products (read: not just meat but eggs and dairy, too). He has definitely convinced me to start incorporating more vegan meals into my diet and to source my animal products on a smaller scale, focusing on local farms instead of large chains when purchasing dairy. My favorite quote of Foer’s is one that resonated with me and my experience as a vegetarian and sums up my love for his writing, ‘I can’t count the times that upon telling someone I am vegetarian, he or she responded by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or trying to find a flaw in an argument I never made. (I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.)’ “
Kimberly Ruff, Creative Nonfiction and Fiction Editorial Assistant, recommends a daughter’s account of her father’s life: “The books that most captivate me are those that are categorized as ‘research narrative.’ Research narrative-type books are typically nonfiction and include detailed information of a topic as it relates to a personal experience. Since finding a love for this genre I have read many research narratives, but in honor of Father’s Day the one I feel deserves mention is Margaret Talbot’s book The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century. Talbot takes readers on a historical journey through life in entertainment during the first half of the twentieth century by sharing her father’s experience as an actor during that time. Although her father, Lyle Talbot, has worked alongside many big-name actors and actresses of the early 20th century (Humphrey Bogart for one), Lyle is not as well-known an actor, or what one might call a household name. However, in The Entertainer, Talbot honors her father’s seemingly hidden talents through her sentimental narrative and behind-the-scenes look at the world of entertainment during the 1910s, 20s, 30s, and 40s. Talbot’s book is a well-organized balance of history, memoir, and biography in a single text that educated and excited me, and kept me turning the pages for more!”
Which book most reminds you of your father? Share with us in the comments below.