For Mother’s Day, bestselling author Jennifer Weiner asked her mom, Fran, to name her favorite books. In this exclusive essay, Weiner explains why—unsurprisingly—her own novels got left off the list.
My mother, being her usual impossible self, refused to answer the question with just one book. She sent me an e-mail with her responses in 16-point bold Helvetica (preferred font of bifocal-wearing 69-year-olds everywhere), in her own inimitable haiku-style prose—the same style she used to devastating effect in her master’s thesis, that was 80-some pages and, I think, two sentences long. I edited it the summer I came home from college. “Punctuation!” I remember yelling into the swimming pool, where my mother was plowing through her laps. “Punctuation is your friend!”
I have attempted to reproduce her responses here, after cleaning up the spelling of the authors’ names. (Fran crapped out on Michael Ondaatje and Andre Dubus).
Finally, for anyone wishing to stereotype about the overbearing, boastful Jewish mother, I will note the absence of any of my books. This is not surprising. The summer my first book came out, in 2001, Fran accompanied me on some of my book tour. I have memories of being in bookstores across New England, introducing myself to clerks and managers and signing stock while my mother would chat up the shoppers.
“Do you know, I just read the best book?” I heard her ask. “It was funny… and sad… the characters felt so real.”
Here it comes, I thought, arranging my face in an expression of becoming modesty as Fran trumpeted, “Richard Russo! Empire Falls! Come on, let’s see if they’ve got it!”
Herewith, Fran’s answer to the question, “What’s your favorite book?”
* * *
I love the book I’m with that said
in my 20′s The Golden Notebook (daughter’s note: by Doris Lessing).
had never read anything remotely like it, the struggles, the issues, the scope
Mr. Bridge Mrs. Bridge
a riveting view of a marriage (d.n.: by Evan Connell. I loved them, too—borrowed them from Fran! I also borrowed Mrs. Bridge’s first name—India—for one of my characters in Then Came You.)
A Late Divorce, done in a class with nehama (d.n.: the author is A.B. Yehoshua, and “nehama” is Nehama Aschkenasy, instructor of a class called “Women in Literature: From the Biblical Eve to the New York Socialite” that my mother has been taking for the last twenty years.)
her insights made it all the more intelligent and fascinating
A Perfect Peace (see above) (by Amos Oz)
last few years:
Townie…(a memoir by Andre Dubus III) I listened on cd as he read it, so gripping and the images stay with you
Lost Memory of Skin and Continental Drift
(Russell) Banks not only tells a good story his observations reflect important concerns
Cat’s Table…(Michael) Ondaatje…able to tell this from child’s pov
Dear Life (Alice) Munro
how can anyone not be in awe of her ability
Life After Life (which I cadged from Jen in Mexico and could not put down) I want to reread….How did she do this?
* * *
Finally, Fran coughed up Sandra Boynton’s Moo Baa La La La as her final answer.
“That is my final choice because the pleasure of reading to grandchildren cannot be beat.”