After I gained the ability to read short chapter books on my own, my mom and I took a long hiatus from reading books together. It ended the summer before 6th grade, when I had a really hard time summing up Holes — a book with intersecting storylines — in my book report. She offered to read it, too, and helped me talk through the plot out loud before attempting to write it down.
A year later, I was allowed to write an essay on any book given to us on a very extensive list. Without knowing it, I chose one of the most complicated novels on it — Wuthering Heights . Anticipating that it'd be a literary feat for me, my mom decided to reread it with me, and I definitely appreciated having someone available to unload my feelings on Heathcliff and Catherine's complicated relationship (not to mention to explain some of the Victorian language).
I ended up rereading it for a class in college, where I followed her lead and became an English major. What this meant, of course, was that I rarely had time to read anything that wasn't assigned. In those four years, the only mother-daughter read we could squeeze in was the Girl With A Dragon Tattoo series the summer of 2010.
Now that my student days are behind me, and I have all the time in the world (comparatively) to read, I always look for recommendations from my mom, who's been trying to get me to join her ladies book club for months (we'll see about that one). Books really do have a great power of bringing people together, and she's the first person I think of when I'm reading something I can't put down. So, In honor of Mother's Day, I rounded up some great books with read with mom.
The Women by T.C. Boyle
Something women of different generations can always relate to each other about are relationships, whether they're past or present. Whenever I'm going through a break up, nothing is more comforting than hearing my mom's stories about her own lost loves, and knowing that, in the end, they made her stronger. T.C. Boyle's novel The Women is a biographical novel about Frank Lloyd Wright through the experiences of four women who loved him, from his young first wife to a morphine-addicted Southern belle.
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
A staple read for any coming-of-age woman, Judy Blume's young adult novel covers everything from discovering religion to buying your first bra, to questioning whether to voice an opinion that different from that of your friends. Basically, Maragret Simon is the original Lizzie McGuire, and a book that makes those very awkward pre-teen conversations with your mom a little bit easier.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants is one of those books that, once you start, is impossible to put down — which also means that you need to talk to someone about it. Like your mom. Alternating between Jacob as a 90-year old in a nursing home and the memories of his days as an orphaned and broke young man at the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, this is a book that touches on the wonder of the world through a very unique 1930s subculture — the circus.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
I had no doubt that Amy Poehler's book would make me embarrassingly laugh out loud on the train. What I didn't expect, though, was how much it would make me think about motherhood and realize all of the ways you can be a mother and, you know, star on your own show. I actually told my mom about one of Amy's lines about motherhood — "every mother needs a wife" — and she screamed "That's what I've been saying for years!" Who knew there was a little bit of Amy Poehler wit in my own mother?
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
When I started compiling this list, I put out a call to my friends about the books they've shared with their mothers. The Secret Life of Bees was the title that came up the most. Set in South Carolina in the early 60s, this novel tells the story of Lily Owens, who can't shake the blurry memory of the day her mother was killed. She and her stand-in mother, Rosaleen, move to Tiburon, SC, where they're taken in by three beekeeping sisters. Learns the secrets of her mother's past, but she also learns about female power. This is a book that will be shared with mothers and daughters for generations.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith's White Teeth tells the story of two friends: the Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and the English Archie Jones, both veterans of World War II. London's cultural and racial landscape of the time is reflected as Archie and Samad start families — Archie with a young Jamaican woman named Clara and their daughter Irie, and Samad with an arranged marriage and their twin sons with conflicting views of their Islamic faith. There's no shortage of cross-generational cultural topics in White Teeth to hash out with mom.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice deals with common themes in young adult novels (manners, education, upbringing, etc.) and then some (morality, marriage, high society). The classic story of the five unmarried Bennet sisters and rich and eligible bachelor Mr. Bingley and his status-conscious friend Dr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most popular novels in English literature — one that mothers and daughters alike will more than likely read at some point in their lives.
Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent
Cut Me Loose is about Leah Vincent's experience in the Yeshivish community (a fundamentalist sect of Orthodox Judiasm) and her struggle to balance her desire to leave with being unprepared for the secular life, but it's overall theme relates to all women across cultures and religions: defining yourself as an individual.
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook is an extraordinary and powerful story about Anna Wulf, a writer of a very successful novel who keeps four notebooks on different subjects: communism, a semi-autobiographical novel, the African experience of her earlier years, and a personal diary. We watch her attempt to tie them together in a golden notebook as she struggles to combine reality with fiction, as well as her own mental stability.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Imagine if your mother, who is so eccentric and "allergic" to the city you live in that she's hired a virtual assistant in India to un her most basic errands, disappears. That's what happened to Bee Fox, who compiles emails and secret messages to create a funny, charming, and bizarre story about her relationship with her crazy but loving mother and best friend, Bernadette Fox.
Image: Barney Moss/flickr