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Water Cooler: Books to bond over this Mother’s Day

UPDATED: Mon., May 3, 2021


Is the mother figure in your life a big reader? If that’s the case, gifting a book or offering to read a book can be the perfect Mother’s Day treat. Here are a few books to bond over that explore the varied and powerful experiences of motherhood.

“Caramelo,” by Sandra Cisneros – When attempting to recount her grandmother’s life story, Lala is told she’s exaggerating. What ensues is a whirlwind of multigenerational tales that try to get the story right, but of course the “truth” is always a bit messy when it comes to recalling years of family life, but it makes for vivid and wonderful stories.

“Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China,” by Jung Chang – Blending biography and intimate memoir, explores the female experience of living in Mao’s China. Chang’s grandmother was once a warlord’s concubine and her own mother was once a young and idealistic Communist. Chang’s parents lived through the Cultural Revolution as members of the Communist elite. Chang herself was briefly a Red Guard, working odd jobs. Tracing the story of her family’s generation, a gripping and impactful story unfolds.

“Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders,” by Jennifer Finney Boylan – In this memoir that blends challenging and thought-provoking topics with a lot of humor, Boylan reflects on her experience of parenthood both as a father for six years, as a mother for ten years, and sometimes feeling like neither, sometimes feeling like both.

“Blue Nights,” by Joan Didion – A memoir that reflects on the terrible death of Didion’s adult daughter, Quintana, as well as the death of her husband. The non-linear narrative is interweaved with the author’s own thoughts on parenthood, death, aging and grief, making it an honest and personal portrayal of some of the hardships that can come with losing loved ones and finding one’s place in family life.

“The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life,” by Jasmin Darznik – Darznik moved to American from Iran as a three-year-old and grew up with a very limited knowledge of her family’s history. While helping her mother move, Darznik came across a photograph that had slipped out of a pile of old letters. In the photo, she saw her young mother wearing a wedding veil and standing next to a man who Darznik had never seen before. Her discovery leads to her mother sharing the story of a secret and abusive first marriage before her family came to start a new life in the United States.

“The Joys of Motherhood,” by Buchi Emecheta – This story follows the life of Nnu Ego, a Nigerian woman who’s life is beginning to change as colonial influences challenge traditional tribal gender roles. Because she was unable to conceive in her first marriage, she was banished to Lagos where she later succeeded in getting pregnant. Set during World War II, Nnu is forced to rise to incredible challenges after she and her children are abandoned by her husband.

“The Bean Trees,” by Barbara Kingsolver – Taylor Greer has two major goals in mind – to get out of Kentucky and to do so without getting pregnant first. Despite her resolve to be child-free, her travels lead her to Oklahoma near a Cherokee reservation where she suddenly becomes responsible for a three-year-old child as another woman approaches Taylor and quickly leaves her child without explanation. This story explores all the nuances and challenges of nontraditional family life as Taylor reflects upon this new relationship in her life.

“Mom & Me & Mom,” by Maya Angelou – An account of the simultaneously triumphant and struggle-filled experience of being her mother’s daughter, filled with love, separation and reconciliation.

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