Mother-Approved Reads

Mother-Approved Reads

For Mother’s Day, we asked 8 authors—including Darin Strauss and Jenny Lawson—for their mom’s favorite book. Here are the picks from the women who read all those bedtime stories.

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    1. Firefly Summer

    “My mother identified strongly with her Irish heritage and loved all of Maeve Binchy‘s books. I remember coming home from college while she was reading Firefly Summer and reading the book after she finished it. My mother had always wanted to go visit Ireland, so I think she loved both the general Irish pub setting and the fantasy of an American moving to Ireland.” — Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

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    2. Death and the Dancing Footman

    “My mother was a voracious reader. She read to me every night, and then she would go to bed herself and read some more. Her favorite books by far were the mystery novels of Ngaio Marsh. I remember her reading and rereading those paperbacks until they were worn and wrinkled. Each time she started one from the beginning, she claimed she couldn’t remember the ending and explained that what was most important to her anyway was the New Zealand setting, the intelligent dialogue, and the way the plots were often wound around music, theater, and art. I think she had all of Marsh’s books in her collection, but I specifically remember the title Death and the Dancing Footman, so I’ll say that was her favorite. Thinking about this makes me want to reread one of them myself and say I have forgotten the ending, so I can again enjoy the writing.” — Lydia Netzer, author of Shine, Shine, Shine

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    3. Stiff

    “My mom was (and is) a prolific reader, and I’ve always been grateful to her for instilling that love of reading in me at a young age. When I was very little she read The Hobbit to me, and I remember being terrifically confused by it but also so enthralled by how excited she was to share it with me. Last week she told me that one of her new favorites was Mary Roach‘sStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and recommended it to me. As always, she was totally right. My mom is my favorite book reviewer.” — Jenny Lawson, author of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir

  4. 4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    “My mother’s favorite novel is Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. She says, ‘It’s a very readable book of philosophy that lyrically describes the role of man in nature while carefully utilizing “modern advances” like motorcycles, fuel, roads, etc. without falling prey to the “gotta get more” mentality. Also, this book beautifully talks about love, family, and being a parent. This is a calming and a thought-provoking book.’” — Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Best of Us

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    5. Roses

    “My mom has been carrying books around in little quilted covers with handles for as long as I can remember, echoing a time when people got their stories mainly from print. Book-of-the-Month Club selections were staples in our home, as were the boxed-up rejects. As my taste in literature developed during high school, mainly for the Great CliffsNotes—I was too busy procrastinating to read the Great Books—I became irked by the Books of the Month. Many had Fabio on the cover, dressed (and undressed) in pirate wear. How could she read this stuff? But read she did. Books for my mom were not decorations, or emblems of sophistication. They were practical, things to be used—usually for entertainment or wealth-building. (With the possible exception of the King James Version, the biggest book in our house was the Morningstar fund report.)

    But there were never any ideas. Or so it seemed. It wasn’t until many years later, at a cocktail party with some of her friends, that I began to understand why my mom likes the books she does, several of which she told me about on a recent telephone call. ‘When I was eighteen years old,’ one of her friends told me, ‘all the young men in my high school went to Japan or Germany. Most never came back. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had four babies and a husband who was gone most of the time working. We never took a year off to “find ourselves.” If we went to Europe, it was to fight in a war. This is our time to have fun.’

    Here, my mother’s answer: ‘I don’t really have a favorite book. There are so many. My favorite book in the last few months is called The Roses. I don’t know who wrote it. I like books about multiple generations that have business stuff in it, romance and intrigue—you get to identify with it. When I was growing up, Gone With The Wind was my favorite book. I’d never read a book like that. I’d read Hardy Boys mysteries and things like that. I liked it because it showed the history of the South, the terror of war, the spirit and courage people had. It opened up a whole new world. I don’t think she ever wrote another thing.’” — James Braly, author of Life in a Marital Institution: Twenty Years of Monogamy in One Terrifying Memoir

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    6. One Hundred and One Famous Poems

    “My mom, Julie LeMay, is a poet, and the book that first brought poetry to her ears was One Hundred and One Famous Poems, anthologized by Roy Cook. Longfellow, Wordsworth, Emerson, Poe—it includes the works of many wonderful poets, and my grandmother read them aloud to my mom when she was a little girl. Decades later, my mother continued the tradition by reading these same poems to me at bedtime. I can still remember the breathless excitement I would feel hearing “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes: ‘The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, and the highwayman came riding, riding, riding…’” — Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child

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    7. The Pillars of the Earth

    “Not counting my son, Ken Follett is my favorite author and Pillars of the Earth is my favorite book for its scope, beauty, and depth of characters.” —Ellen Strauss, mother of Half a Life author Darin Strauss

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    8. Little Women

    “My mother’s favorite book is Little Women. She told me, ‘When I read that book for the first time, I couldn’t believe that a book could be so good.’ She’s read it countless times, I’ve read it countless times, and I’m in the middle of reading it aloud to my eight-year-old for the first of what will be, I’m sure, countless times for her.” — Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

    This article originally appeared on Zola Books.


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