If you're looking for criticism of this book, you might look elsewhere. I'm writing about my son's newest volume, published today by the Penguin Press, and I won't surprise you with negativity. I will tell you what the book is and the effect it had on me.
MOM presents bits of conversations about, with, and for mothers, culled from the tens of thousands interviews collected at the StoryCorps booths around the country over the past six years. The actual interviews last for 40 minutes, so we are reading snippets of the conversations.
But what amazing snippets they are. Ordinary people: mothers, children, fathers, grandparents, and friends share their intimate feelings, their memories, and their hopes. As we read them, we have the experience of overhearing a conversation. So we hear a mother of an adopted son confessing that she got pregnant as a teenager and gave up her baby for adoption. We hear grown kids remembering how their impoverished, single mom took no sick days at work, so she could get paid for them at Christmas in order to give her six kids a proper holiday. We meet a Native American woman who got training as a woodworker to support her kids, and is so proud when she visits an office and finds a desk she built.
We hear children talk about their mothers who are no longer alive, remembering silly and magic moments with them. Moms and their disabled kids talk about their struggles together, and their triumphs. Mothers who lost a child console themselves and us.
The words are edited from transcripts, and such material usually does not read so well. But this book sings. The cadences may vary, and the emotions change. But in each piece I found simplicity of expression and directness that many writers strive for and few achieve. This is perhaps the most surprising element in the book: the everyday eloquence of intimate conversation.
There wasn't a dry eye in my house when I finished the book. Here's what I felt:
I recognized that our children and grandchildren, who notice everything about us, treasure us and love us, despite all our failings.
I discovered a bond between the mothers who work and those who stay at home, simply by reading their stories. When it comes to our children we're all fighters.
I felt once again what an honor it is to be mom, and how lucky I am to be the mother of my children.
If you are thinking about a gift for your mom on Mother's Day, this is an easy home run, and if you are a mom who doesn't get this book in May, go out and buy one for yourself. You'll see what I mean about the universality of our experience and the love that infuses this book.
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