May 7, 2014

Mother’s Day Reading: 15 Memoirs About Mothers & Motherhood.

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Our relationships with our moms are complicated, fascinating and unique stories and that’s why they make for the most interesting reading and writing.

This month we celebrate mothers (biological or adopted) and May is a great time to check out some of the best, most outrageous and creative memoirs written about motherhood.

Some of these books examine the authors’ relationships with their own mothers, while others explore the changes that come from becoming a mother. All make for fantastic and enlightening reading which will hopefully inspire readers to think about their own connections to the women who birthed and/ or raised them.


Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers—edited by Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon.

A diverse collection of childbirth tales from the harrowing to the simple to the transcendent, this anthology is a meaningful and engrossing read and would be a great gift for any woman who has given birth. Not recommended for women pregnant for the first time though as some of the stories might be a little frightening.

Half Baked : The Story of My Nerves, My Newborn and How We Both Learned to Breathe—Alexa Stevenson

Blogger Alexa Stevenson writes about her struggles with fertility in this sometimes painful, yet redemptive memoir which recounts her difficult pregnancy with twins and its aftermath.

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year—Anne Lamott

When Anne Lamott found herself unexpectedly pregnant, she was a recovering addict in a non-relationship with a man who had no interest in becoming a dad. Broke and with the help of a few dear friends, Lamott gives birth to her son and records the difficult, but often hilarious and heart- warming first year of his life in this wonderful memoir that gave me the strength to make it through my own challenging first year of motherhood.

Mother Daughter Me : A Memoir—Katie Hafner

In an attempt to build a healthier relationship and to heal old wounds, Hafner, her teenaged daughter and her difficult mother move in together in San Francisco for a year. As the year progresses, Hafner writes about her childhood dealing with her mother’s alcoholism, juxtaposing these memories with present events. In the process, Hafner comes to have a greater understanding of her mother and herself and learns to set boundaries.

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination—Elizabeth McCracken

An American living with her husband in France, McCracken can’t wait to be a mother. After a routine pregnancy, suddenly and unexpectedly her baby is lost in the last month and McCracken must deliver a stillborn child in a foreign land where she often feels confused and misunderstood. What follows is her year of grief and healing as she comes to terms with her loss and eventually becomes pregnant again. Beautiful and utterly gut-wrenching, but ultimately filled with hope.

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace—Ayelet Waldman

Berkeley mother, writer and lawyer Waldman writes a passionate and vivid series of essays about her experiences as a mother in this memoir, which is an absolute must-read for anyone with children (Waldman has four). With exceptional candor and honesty, Waldman recounts the joys and suffering of being a mother, and asks important questions about how our society as a whole views motherhood.

The End of Your Life Book Club—Will Schwalbe

As Schwalbe’s mother battles terminal cancer, over the last two years of her life, mother and son form their own, two person book club. Together, they bond over their discussions of all kinds of books, deepening their understanding of each other as they say goodbye.

Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama—Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is truly one of a kind in the literary world. Her graphic novels are unlike anything else and this one is all about Bechdel’s attempts at understanding her mother, described as a gifted but complicated woman.

The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother’s Hidden Life—Jazmin Darznik

After the death of her father, Darznik learns that her mother once had a very different life in Iran. At first, her mother refuses to discuss her past, but soon opens up and allows Darznik to tell the story of how she was a child bride who was forced to give up the older sister Darznik never knew she had and who still lived in Iran.


The Liar’s Club—Mary Karr

When I first read this book in grad school, I fell in love with Karr’s vivid storytelling and with the wild, unpredictable antics of her clearly mentally unstable mother. This is a dense book filled with insight, crazy tales, broken hearts, horses and the endurance of the human spirit. One of the great memoirs of all time.


Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter to do?—Elaine Lui

Elaine Lui’s mother, known to all as The Squawking Chicken, is a legend in Hong Kong for her strength, wit, uncommon will and her unforgettable voice. Lui tells the story of her mother’s life with charm, reverence, humor and compassion. A wonderful, highly entertaining story about an incredible woman.

Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding—Jessie Sholl

Jessie Sholl is a perfectionist with a seemingly perfect life, but she’s hiding a dark secret: her mother is a hoarder. In this riveting memoir, Sholl pieces together her childhood to make sense of her present relationship with her mother, whose compulsion to hoard along with her denial about her condition is maddening.

Hypothetical Future Baby: An Unsentimental Adoption Memoir—Claudia Chapman

This is a story about the road to adoption and how the journey to motherhood, for some people isn’t so simple. It’s a funny, unconventional memoir that tells it like it is and is a great read not just for adoptive parents who’ve shared Chapman’s experiences, but for anyone.

Make Me a Mother: A Memoir—Susanne Antonetta

When Antonetta adopts her son from Korea, she begins to question her own troubled relationship with her aging parents. Becoming a mother helps her to forgive her parents, to move on and to understand love and connection between people with complicated pasts.

With or Without You—Domenica Ruta

Ruta’s coming of age memoir is raw, edgy, over-the-top and impossible to put down and in it, Ruta examines her upbringing (or lack thereof) by her mother who is a mentally ill addict and a drug dealer. In spite of this, Ruta miraculously receives an excellent education yet finds herself facing and ultimately overcoming demons inherited from her mother.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: popofatticus/flickr, Pixoto

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