Mother’s Day Bibliotherapy:
Books To Share With Your Mother

The School of Life bibliotherapy service offers reading suggestions for all of life’s situations—“shelf help,” as they put it. We asked two of their bibliotherapists, Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, to provide us with some reading suggestions we could share with our mothers. Here are a few ideas—choose the one that most sounds like your mother and buy two copies for reading in tandem.

If Your Mom Smiles & Toughs It Out

If your mom is the sort to put on a smile and tough it out, give her Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns, a light novel set in 1930’s London. The harsh realities of motherhood are rendered in painfully funny detail: a hideous hospital birth, a husband who refuses to make any concessions to fatherhood (who, for instance, doesn’t see why the baby can’t be kept in a cupboard), and a working world in which a woman with a baby renders you more or less unemployable. Luckily, our heroine Sophia is one of life’s survivors—relentlessly optimistic and spirited, she bounces back from each new setback, somehow managing to support the entire family while keeping house and being there for everyone.

If Your Mom is Doing it All

For high-flying moms, we suggest I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson, a hilarious dissection of the juggling skills required by the modern woman who wants to hold down a top job, make a go of staying married, keep a lover on the side, and be a mother. By day, Kate is a fund manager in the city; by night she has been found “distressing” store-bought mince pies for the school Christmas party to make them look homemade. It’s impossible not to sympathize with her wish to at least seem like a self-sacrificing domestic goddess even when she is keeping so many balls in the air. The most dextrous of juggling mothers will feel guilty at times; and by giving her this novel you’re saying you understand how hard it is.

If Your Mom Needs A Life Outside of Home

Let’s admit it: Mothers also need a life outside the home. And if you’d like to show your mom you empathize, give her Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell, a sort of Huckleberry Finn for girls. When sixteen-year-old Margo’s father dies in violent circumstances, this resourceful girl-with-a-gun decides to go looking for the mother who absconded from their small house in rural Michigan. Margo is a compelling heroine—dangerously beautiful, and fatalistic to boot—and her journey of discovery will resonate with women of all ages. As will her mother’s frustrations, once they are revealed to us. Let it open up a new space for a friendship with your mom that has nothing to do with domesticity.

If Your Relationship with Your Mom is Hard

All mother-daughter relationships become fraught at times; and if you feel that your conflicts stem from cultural or generational differences, give her Amy Tan’s wonderful The Joy Luck Club. Revolving around the weekly mahjong gatherings of a close-knit Chinese-American community in San Francisco, we watch the adult American daughters negotiate their careers and marriages while their immigrant mothers reminisce about their very different childhoods back in China. Can the two generations ever hope to see eye to eye? As we move through different narrative strands, it becomes apparent that some of the lessons their mothers learnt from their mothers can indeed be applied to their American lives after all.

Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin are bibliotherapists at The School of Life. For more information and to book a one-to-one consultation, either in person or on skype/phone, please visit: www.theschooloflife.com. They also wrote a book, The Novel Cure: an A-Z of Literary Remedies.