Books to Give This Mother's Day

May 12th is Mother's Day in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and upwards of 70 other countries. But not in the UK where Mother's Day happened almost two months ago in early March - catching me off guard, as it has in many previous years. I've lived in the USA for twenty years but grew up in England, where my parents still live and, despite my best intentions, more years than I'm willing to admit I'm wrong footed by Mother's Day  - not least because "Mothering Sunday", as it is traditionally known, is a movable feast, celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent, which can be anytime from early March to early April.

You'll find more about the history of Mother's Day in the USA and Mothering Sunday in Britain below, but first whether you're a mother, have a mother, or are just on the hunt for your next great read, here are a few book suggestions to inspire:   


Unusual Families

No Biking in the House Without a HelmetNo Biking in the House Without a Helmet
by Melissa Fay Greene

Hardcover: Apr 2011, Paperback: Apr 2012

"Greene gives the best description I've ever read about what international adoption feels like from the inside, about the agonies of making the decision and choosing a child, and about the ambiguities involved in taking a child out of grim circumstances in the third world and trying to integrate him into an American family by means of Legos and water balloons." - Jennifer G Wilder, BookBrowse

The Prize Winner of Defiance, OhioThe Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less

by Terry Ryan 

Hardcover: Apr 2001, Paperback: Apr 2002

Introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay, and her 10 children fed and clothed, with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the "contest era" of the 1950s and 1960s. Graced with a rare appreciation for life's inherent hilarity, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for fun and profit. From her frenetic supermarket shopping spree -- worth $3,000 today -- to her clever entries worthy of Erma Bombeck, Dorothy Parker, and Ogden Nash, the story of this irrepressible woman whose talents reached far beyond her formidable verbal skills is told in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit will triumph over the poverty of circumstance.

Hands of My FatherHands of My Father : A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love
by Myron Uhlberg 

Hardcover: Feb 2009

By turns heart-tugging and hilarious, Myron Uhlberg's memoir tells the story of growing up as the hearing son of deaf parents--and his life in a world that he found unaccountably beautiful, even as he longed to escape it.

Uhlberg's first language was American Sign Language, the first sign he learned: "I love you." But his second language was spoken English - and no sooner did he learn it than he was called upon to act as his father's ears and mouth in the stores and streets of the neighborhood beyond their silent apartment in Brooklyn.


Reflections on Motherhood

When Women Were BirdsWhen Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice 
by Terry Tempest Williams 

Paperback: Feb 2013

"Time, experience, and uncanny coincidence spiral through these pages....When Women Were Birds is an extraordinary echo chamber in which lessons about voice - passed along from mother, to daughter, and now to us - will reverberate differently in each inner ear." - The Seattle Times
If you've read this book, please do join us to discuss it.

The Still Point of the Turning WorldThe Still Point of the Turning World 
by Emily Rapp 

Hardcover: Mar 2013

"In The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp examines her son's all-too-brief life - and her own reactions to it - fearlessly and with an honesty that will devastate and astonish not only other parents, but everyone who opens this remarkable book." - Norah Piehl, BookBrowse

The End of Your Life Book ClubThe End of Your Life Book Club 
by Will Schwalbe 

Hardcover: Oct 2012
Paperback: Jun 2013

"Will Schwalbe's heart-wrenching memoir is difficult to categorize. It is at once a paean to his beloved mother, a treatise on the power of reading, and a handbook on how to live - and die. With direct prose and unflinching courage in the face of sadness, Schwalbe recreates the final months of his mother's life, offering a wealth of insight into how the written word can connect lives." - Sarah Sacha Dollacker, BookBrowse

Well Loved Mystery Series

The great thing about series books is that there's always another book to give. If your recipient's new to the series, give the first book; if they're already fans, give the appropriate book in the series!

The No 1 Ladies Detective AgencyThe No.1 Ladies Detective Agency Series
by Alexander McCall Smith 

Paperback: Feb 2001

"The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision. His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswana landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such alloyed pleasure for a long time." - Anthony Daniels, The Sunday Telegraph

Published in paperback Mar 2013: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
Publishing in hardcover Nov 2013: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
View full series order

Maisie Dobbs seriesThe Maisie Dobbs Series
by Jacqueline Winspear

Hardcover: Mar 2013

Young, feisty Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective. Such a move may not seem especially startling. But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways. Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. Little does she realze the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested. 

Published in paperback Oct 2012: Elegy for Eddie
Published in hardcover Mar 2013: Leaving Everything Most Loved
View full series order

Inspector Gamache seriesChief Inspector Gamache Series
by Louise Penny

Meet Inspector Gamache of the Surêté du Québec, who commands his forces--and this series--with integrity and quiet courage while solving unconventional murders in the tradition of the British whodunit.

Publishing in July 2013: The Beautiful Mystery
Publishing in hardcover Aug 2013: How The Light Gets In
View full series order

In Translation

Please Look After MomPlease Look After Mom: A Novel 
by Kyung-sook Shin 
Hardcover: Apr 2011
Paperback: Apr 2012

"While the book's themes are universal, its details are specific to rural Asia. The book is filled with descriptions of the everyday lives of Korean farmers as the characters take turns recalling the sacrifices of their mother. The reader learns about farming and cooking, childbirth, the holding of ancestral rights, and dealing with the poverty that often accompanies an agrarian lifestyle. It's a fascinating glimpse of a lifestyle unfamiliar to many who are products of Western culture." - Kim Kovacs, BookBrowse

The Bathing WomenThe Bathing Women: A Novel 
by Tie Ning 
Hardcover: Oct 2012

"For those who were born outside of communism, The Bathing Women sheds light on some of the Cultural Revolution's tragedies and effects on young people, but it is not political strife that marks this work as noteworthy – it is the careful exploration of love, loss, and the challenges of friendship and sisterhood that extend across time and culture which leave a lasting impression." - Karen Rigby, BookBrowse

Sky BurialSky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet 
by Xue Xinran 
Hardcover: Jul 2005
Paperback: Jul 2006

It was 1994 when Xinran, a journalist and the author of The Good Women of China, received a telephone call asking her to travel four hours to meet an oddly dressed woman who had just crossed the border from Tibet into China. Xinran made the trip and met the woman, called Shu Wen, who recounted the story of her thirty-year odyssey in the vast landscape of Tibet in search of her husband.

Famous Relationships

The Aviator's WifeThe Aviator's Wife 
by Melanie Benjamin 
Hardcover: Jan 2013

Melanie Benjamin pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America's most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Drawing on the rich history of the twentieth century - from the late twenties to the mid-sixties - and featuring cameos from such notable characters as Joseph Kennedy and Amelia Earhart, The Aviator's Wife is a vividly imagined novel of a complicated marriage - revealing both its dizzying highs and its devastating lows. 

Z: A Novel of Zelda FitzgeraldZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald 
by Therese Fowler 

Hardcover: Mar 2013

A dazzling novel that captures all of the romance, glamour, and tragedy of the first flapper, Zelda Fitzgerald - shining a light on Zelda instead of her more famous husband, Scott Fitzgerald, providing both justice and the voice she struggled to have heard in her lifetime.

Loving FrankLoving Frank: A Novel 
by Nancy Horan 

Hardcover: Aug 2007
Paperback: Apr 2008

This graceful, assured first novel tells the remarkable story of the long-lived affair between Frank Lloyd Wright, a passionate and impossible figure, and Mamah Cheney, a married woman whom Wright beguiled and led beyond the restraint of convention. It is engrossing, provocative reading.

I hope one or more of these books is just what you're looking for; and now, back to the roots of Mothering Sunday and Mother's Day...

In the UK, Mothering Sunday dates back to at least the 16th century when Christians would go "a mothering" to visit their "mother church" once a year, where they had been baptized. For some, this would also be the day of the year when mother's were united with their children - not just adult children but children as young as ten who might be apprenticed or in service.

Mothering Sunday was also known as Refreshment Sunday as the dietary restrictions of Lent were somewhat relaxed (some say in honor of the Feeding of the Five Thousand). Traditionally, a Simnel cake is baked - a fruit cake with a layer of marzipan decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 apostles (Judas excluded).

Although on record since the 16th century, it's believed that Mothering Sunday goes back much earlier, and was probably adapted from a Roman festival of spring celebrating Cybele the "Great Mother" goddess.

In the USA, on the other hand, Mother's Day has its roots in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War when Julia Ward Howe wrote a call for peace and disarmament known as the Mother's Day Proclamation. But the day did not catch hold until Ana Jarvis held a celebration in 1907 for her recently deceased mother who had founded Mothers' Day Work Clubs in five cities to improve health conditions. She petitioned President Woodrow Wilson who, in 1914, declared the second Sunday in May to be Mother's Day.

Sadly, Anna Jarvis's story does not end happily. By the 1920s she and her sister had become disillusioned with the commercialization of the holiday and spent their entire inheritance campaigning against what the holiday had become, dying in poverty. According to Jarvis's obituary in the New York Times she was particularly bitter about the giving of commercial greeting cards and candy: "A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother, and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment."

If Mother's Day in the US is the newer tradition, why might you ask is it only the UK, Ireland and Nigeria who still hold to the 4th Sunday of Lent as Mother's Day, while the majority of other countries either follow the US and celebrate on the second Sunday in May, or on another date that has meaning for them?

The answer is yet another legacy of the World Wars. By the 20th century it seems that Mothering Sunday had lapsed in much of Europe (and was never introduced to America, as the Puritans thought poorly of many festivals particularly those with pagan roots. Then, inspired by the American Mother's Day movement, a revival took place in some parts of Europe - mostly benignly but with sinister overtones in Germany where the Nazi government co-opted Mother's Day as part of their propaganda drive to push women to produce large quantities of children to serve the Fatherland.

But it seems it was the American and Canadian soldiers serving in Europe during World War I, but particularly during World War II, who put the event firmly back on the calendar. Presumably much of Europe had by that time lost the link to the original date of the 4th Sunday in Lent and happily embraced whatever day suited their calendars. Today, about 140 countries celebrate Mother's Day, about half at the same time as the USA, just three on the "traditional" 4th Sunday of Lent.

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