Reading together has always been an essential part of my relationship with my mom. From Goodnight Moon to Gone Girl, my mother and I have spent almost my entire lifetime reading together — and this Mother’s Day, I’ll definitely be sharing some of my favorite memoirs about mothers with her. After all, what’s a little homemade breakfast in bed without some great reading material to go along with it?
As the first, and often one of the most defining relationships we’ll have in our lives, our relationships with our mothers — the good, the bad, and the ugly — are complex and interesting and fraught with meaning (just ask Freud… kidding.) They’re relationships that teach us who we want to be, (and sometimes who we don’t want to be;) ones that show us where we come from, and help us decide where we’re going; they’re equal parts tense and nurturing, judgmental and accepting, competitive and celebratory. Mother-child relationships, from the ones that existed in your own house growing up to those happening on the other side of the world, are wholly unique and totally relatable at the exact same time — and as the books on this list will teach you, the language of unconditional love is spoken everywhere. And that’s one of the reasons why memoirs about mothers and motherhood make for really compelling, thought-provoking reads.
1. The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimage by Kimberly Meyer
Confession: more often than not, my spring break travel buddy has been my Mom. Lorelai-and-Rory-style we have traversed the country and the globe together, searching for our next great adventure. And truth be told, I couldn’t imagine a better globetrotting companion. If that sounds totally appealing to you too, then you’ll love reading The Book of Wanderings: A Mother-Daughter Pilgrimage, the story of mother-daughter duo Kimberly and Ellie’s journey ‘round the globe, via the journals of Felix Fabri, a traveling, medieval Dominican friar. Follow them from Venice to Greece, Israel to Egypt, in this perfect Mother’s Day read.
2. The Sacred Thread: A True Story of Becoming a Mother and Finding a Family — Half a World Away by Adrienne Arieff
There are countless ways to experience motherhood, each fraught with their own unique heartbreaks and joys. For memoirist Adrienne Arieff, her journey towards motherhood began with surrogacy, provided by a woman named Vaina, who lived half a world away. As the two women embark upon the last months of Vaina’s pregnancy together — while neither speaks the other’s language — they discover that the language of mothering and family is universal.
3. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott
This Mother’s Day, if you really want to get into the spirit of appreciating all that Mom went through while raising you, then Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year , an account of the writer’s first and only dive into motherhood, is a must-read. Written in Lamott’s classic style of blended irreverence, hilarity, and poignancy, the stories in Operating Instructions will have you swapping out those Mother’s Day tulips for a much snazzier gift in no time flat.
4. White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between by Judy Batalion
No matter how much you love your mom, there’s no denying that she’s had her less-than-perfect moments (haven’t we all?) Judy Batalion grew up with a compulsively hoarding mother — one whose possessions began to take over her entire life. It’s no wonder that as an adult, all Batalion wanted was her own, order filled space: pristine, sparse, white. But when she falls in love, gets married, and starts a family of her own, her hard-won order is threatened. White Walls is a powerful memoir about being a mother, being a daughter, and being both at the same time.
5. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
In one of the most jarring first lines in memoir-writing history, The Glass Castle opens with the following: “I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.” Right off the bat you know this is one nontraditional mother-daughter relationship. Raised by an unpredictable father and a free-spirited mother, writer Jeannette Walls had an unorthodox, bohemian childhood — to say the least. And while it’s clear that Wall’s parents were ill-equipped to raising their young family, and were often neglectful, there’s no doubt they bestowed upon their children what little parenting magic they had. This one will definitely make you think.
6. The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life by Jasmin Darznik
After the death of her father, memoirist Jasmin Darznik discovers a photograph of her mother as a child bride while helping clean out her family’s home. Darznik, who immigrated to the United States from Iran with her mother and father when she was only three, knew nothing about her mother’s life as a child-bride — nor about Darznik’s own older sister, who her mother was forced to leave behind in Iran. But with a little encouraging, Darznik’s mother Lili begins to tell her story: one of the strength necessary to rise above her circumstances, suffer inconceivable heartbreak, and build a better life for herself and her family.
7. My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family by Zach Wahls
Chances are you’re already familiar with Zach Wahls’s story. At 19 the son of same-sex parents spoke before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in defense of full marriage equality. That was over five years ago, and a lot has changed since then. What hasn’t changed is power of Wahls’s story, and the love he has for both the women who raised him — and hey, on Mother’s Day twice the moms equals twice the celebration. My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family is a powerful story that will remind you #LoveWins. Especially when it comes to Mom.
8. Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick
Writer Vivian Gornick grew up in a New York tenement apartment, filled with tireless and determined immigrants living on top of one another — both literally and figuratively. When the two women at the center of Gornick’s young life — her mother, and her young neighbor, Nettie — are both suddenly widowed, each woman demonstrates for Gornick a different way of moving on (or not) with their lives. While Nettie turned to a then-risqué social and sexual life, Gornick’s mother adopted widowhood as her new identity. It was these two contrasting women who informed Gornick’s young ideas about marriage, sex, and romance. Illustrating a fierce, complex, and ultimately love-filled relationship between mother and daughter, Fierce Attachments is all about the lessons we choose to learn from our mothers, and the ones we choose to ignore.
9. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
The story at the heart of this book is that of a woman, and a mother, who is as vibrant and compelling a character as one would find in the very best fiction — only better, because she’s real. Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, memoirist Alexandra Fuller’s mother, is at once courageous and rebellious, loyal and passionate, wild and perhaps just a tad insane. Desperate to hang on to her adopted homeland of central Africa — a landscape in the midst of a civil war that threatens to expel the Fuller family from their home forever — Nicola’s story of endurance, resilience, and survival takes on a larger-than-life quality that will have mothers and daughters everywhere enthralled by her.
10. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
From the writer and artist who gave readers the utterly unforgettable graphic memoir Fun Home, comes it’s literary mate — Are You My Mother?, a story that instead features Bechdel’s mother, and the wife of the father whom Fun Home centered around. Unhappily married to a closeted gay man and unable to realize her full artistic potential, Bechdel’s mother began emotionally distancing herself from her family when Bechdel was quite young. In Are You My Mother? the irreverent and hilarious writer begins the search for answers about her relationship with her mother, and explores how her mother’s unrealized artistic life informed Bechdel’s own success.
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures