You often see lists of books to give for Mother’s Day, but less frequently do you see books that, in their explorations of mother-child relationships, hit home the importance of celebrating Mother’s Day.
These stories about the joys, tears, and frustrations of having a mother will do just that.
1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Cheryl Strayed’s book about hiking the 1,000-plus-mile Pacific Crest Trail on her own, which was recently made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, is as much a story about a mother-daughter relationship as it is a nature memoir. Strayed lost her mother when she was still in her twenties, and her decision to embark on her quest was motivated in large part by her desire to conclude, or at least to transform, her grief. Her story will resonate with readers who carry their mothers with them in all endeavors. Strayed writes at one point: “[My mother] been looming for days, riding low and heavy in my mind since Ashland, and now finally…she was undeniably here.”
What We're Reading This WeekGet recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.
2. Room by Emma Donoghue
Room, if you aren’t one of the thousands who’s read it already, tells the story of a young boy and his mother who are being kept against their will in a small room. Deprived of contact with the outside, the child, who narrates the book, develops a unique worldview—one in which his mother (“Ma”) plays an outsized, often heroic, role.
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Not every mom is perfect, but almost every mom is deserving of understanding and compassion. Austen invites readers to sympathize with Mrs. Bennett, who spends much of this classic novel trying to marry off her daughters, even as her shallowness and superficiality prove vexing. Love and vexation—doesn’t that sum up pretty much every mother-child relationship?
4. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The fragmented chapters that make up Faulkner’s classic book amount to a collective elegy for the mother character, Addie Bundren, whose death opens the novel and whose strange burial request spurs much of its wrenching drama. Her youngest son Vardaman’s heartbreakingly lucid proclamation — “My mother is a fish” — telegraphs the particular tragedy of losing a mom.
5. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Tan’s collection of interlinked stories, a classic of Asian-American literature, portrays several mother-daughter relationships. Because the mother characters tend to heed custom and tradition more dutifully than their daughters do, Tan’s stories also shed light on the intergenerational differences that can complicate, and also sometimes enhance, mother-child relationships.
6. We the Animals by Justin Torres
Torres’s energetic debut tells the story of a working-class Latino family living in Upstate New York. Though the book gives equal treatment to all the family members, and though it’s mostly a story about the narrator’s sexual becoming, its mother character provides much of the narrative’s heart. The protagonist’s inability to see her pain through the lens of his own childish worldview lends her additional depth. “Down the hall,” the narrator observes at one point, “the mother opens her son’s bedroom door and flicks on the light. Look how she steadies herself against the doorjamb. She whispers aloud to no one, enters.”
7. Break It Down by Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis, a writer know for her extremely short stories (many consist of no more than a few sentences), wrote frequently about mothers in one of her early collections, Break It Down. The strange, sometimes sinister quality of these tales can imbue any Mother’s Day with a much-needed element: humor. “The girl dug a small hole in the garden,” goes the story. “ ‘But how much better if you dug a large hole,’ said her mother. The girl dug a large hole and went to sleep in it. ‘But how much better if you slept forever,’ said her mother.”