Mother, May I? | Mechanics' Institute

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Mother, May I?

Everyone has an idea of what they consider the perfect mother. She may live in a novel or in real life. For those fortunate enough to have been raised by a fabulous mother, we salute you. And for those whose mothers are still with us, count your lucky stars. In celebration of Mother's Day 2021, we offer you a mom-approved list of Mechanics' Institute staff favorite books (fiction and nonfiction) featuring a diverse cast of unique moms. 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery - Written in 1908, this classic children's novel features Marilla Cuthbert, one of the most famous literary mothers. Montgomery's heartwarming story about two siblings, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who set out to adopt a boy to help with the family farm but instead, end up with feisty, 11-year old Anne Shirley. A story of unconditional family love, this Canadian author's  book has been adapted for television and film several times over. However the most well known version is a 1985 Canadian TV film starring Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, and Richard Farnsworth. 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah - The host of The Daily Show's memoir about growing up in South Africa during the final years of apartheid unfolds in a series of essays. Noah's mother, Patricia, a black Xhosa woman, was determined to have a mixed race child in defiance of apartheid. She is portrayed as tough and resilient with an innate sense of humor, which may be why Noah became a comedian. 

The Color of Water by James McBride - Best-selling author McBride grew up with 11 siblings in an all-Black Brooklyn housing project. As a child, McBride became aware that his mother was different. She was white and she kept secrets. Against his mother's wishes, McBride went in search of his roots. An eloquent tribute to a parent who instilled in McBride and his siblings family values of the best kind. 

Home Baked: my mom, marijuana, and the stoning of San Francisco by Alia Volz - During the 1970s, Volz's mother ran the underground Sticky Fingers Brownies and delivered more than 10,000 illegal marijuana edibles all over San Francisco every month. A funny and exhilarating portrait of a not-so-average mother. 

Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes - First published in 1943, Forbes' collection of short stories about a Norwegian immigrant family living in San Francisco during the early 1900s is guaranteed to make you smile. You'll want to watch the equally heartwarming 1948 film I Remember Mama based on the book and starring Irene Dunne and Barbara Bel Geddes. The 1948 movie was based on John van Druten's play, which he adapted from Forbes' book. 

Mother Tongue: a saga of three generations of Balkan women by Tania Romanov - Author and MI member Romanov describes her journey back to her homeland with her mom to unravel the secrets of their shared past. 

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf - Clarissa Dalloway has sacrificed much for her own daughter, including the freedom to pursue her own dreams. Now that her daughter is on the threshold of adulthood, Mrs. Dalloway struggles with the separation of herself and her child, a universal thread that challenges many parents throughout generations. 

On Writing: a memoir of the craft by Stephen King - In this excellent memoir, best-selling author Stephen King recalls his childhood influences on his writing. He makes many references to his mother, who as a single mom, worked several jobs to keep her family afloat. Nellie Ruth King raised King and his brother under tremendous financial strain. Despite severe hardship, King's mother instilled in her sons a love of reading, often urging the boys to read aloud to each other while she was at work and then quizzing them later on the stories they had read. She also provided much-needed encouragement when King began writing his own stories at a very early age. 

The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis - In many ways, Alma Wheatley could have behaved in the stereotypical ways step-moms have been portrayed in films and fairy tales. A deeply unhappy woman after a bad marriage and separation from her husband, Wheatley could have returned Beth (the protagonist in Tevis' 1983 novel) back to the orphanage or refused to support her chess goals. Instead, Beth's foster mother showed surprising kindness toward the girl by acting as her business manager, treating her as an equal and looking out for her welfare. 

She-wolves: the women who ruled England before Elizabeth by Helen Castor - The story of the early queens of England and France (Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Margaret of Anjou, and Mary Tudor), the so-called "she-wolves" who not only ruled fiercely but raised children as well. If you love history, this is a refreshing tribute to powerful females who got the job done despite severe limitations of their gender. 

Posted on Apr. 30, 2021 by Celeste Steward