Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mother's Day Books: Avoid at all Costs Edition

The Ape was visiting a local chain bookstore recently and happened to spend a few minutes perusing the “Mother’s Day Idea” table. Not surprisingly, the proffered selections were not candidates for the Ape’s matriarchal unit, but the catalog of banal, tittering, and down-right insipid offerings did come as a shock. Now it is true that the Ape has been guilty on occasion of, shall we say, “aspirational” book-giving, the practice of giving books that are somewhat more challenging than a gift should be. That said, better a good book tried and disliked or unread than  even handling certain titles.

Our first reaction was to offer a list of Mother’s Day recommendations that would embarrass neither the Mother nor the giver. But this, it turns out, is pretty damn hard, since the only stable quality of mothers, it would seem, is that they have had, at some point, one or more children. This seems to us insufficient data for recommending much of anything, save ibuprofen and massages.

So in lieu of a recommendation list, here is a counter list---otherwise quality books you should never, under any circumstances give for Mother’s Day.

The Orestia by Aeschylus.
Father kills daughter to please the gods. Mother kills father for killing daughter. Son kills mother for killing father. Athena invents the jury trial to figure out who to blame only to have a hung jury. She sides, based on a technicality, with the father. Mother ends up both guilty and unavenged. So pretty much the most horrifying family drama of all time.

Mildred Pierce
 by James Cain.
So it’s hard to compete with total familial annihilation, but being such a bad mother that your daughter hates you, sleeps with her step-father and murders him, and then blackmails you for escape money is also pretty freaking rough. In fact, I’m not so sure that everyone being dead is worse. I feel like I need therapy just thinking about this book.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
 by Steig Larsson.
Many, many people have read and enjoyed this book, the Ape included. But I can’t imagine giving to your mother. First, the original Swedish title was “Men Who Hate Women,” so the watered-down title right there means the American publisher knew they had some image work to do (plus they probably thought people would be confused by it, thinking they were buying a family history of the Baldwins). Second, I don’t know what single phrase is a more terrifying subject for a parent than “long-term, serial rape.” So unless you want be personally responsible for your mom’s new Lunestra prescription, let this one lie.

Sophie’s Choice
by William Styron.
Here’s a moral dilemma sure to reduce any mother to a quivering pile of goo: if you could only save one of your children, which would you save? There aren't enough Kleenex in the world, man. Though I suppose if one of your children gave you this book for Mother’s Day, then your choice might be a smidge easier.


  1. Interesting post. It does make me wonder, though, what books Mom would like.

    I have to agree, "Girl with Dragon Tattoo" would not be to her liking at all!

  2. You probably should avoid the Ancient Greeks altogether (Oedipus Rex, Medea)...

  3. Janna- I have to admit I am a little surprised how popular Dragon Tattoo is, considering how terribly gruesome the subject matter is. But I am a touch more squeamish than many...

    Fair's pick your poison, quite literally, in the Hellenic world.

  4. hello, i just found your blog at the blog hop. it is particularly interesting for me as i was a lit professor (in the uk so i was a tutor) before i gave it up to be a dramaturg and a writer.

    i have to agree that the ancient greeks and mother's day do not mix.

    i love the title of your blog, especially as it was virginia woolf's nickname for herself when writing to her sister. she also used the plural and sometimes the french. so pleased to have found your blog.

  5. Welcome Priya, glad you found us.

    And you uncovered the secret inspiration for the name of the blog! We have a longish post about the name in the hopper, so stay tuned for that.

  6. Great list! Mildred Pierce would definitely be a no-no As would Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford.

  7. I'd suggest leaving Stephen King's Carrie off the list as well!