Finding the perfect gift for Mother's Day can be about as much fun as shopping for, say, new tires. Does your mom really need another coffee mug, or yet another bottle of bubble bath? Fortunately, this year there is a book for every taste, from the heartbreaking to the sublimely bizarre.
Read, white and blue
One might expect longtime Republican adviser Mary Matalin's new book to be a juicy peek inside the George W. Bush White House, but that's not the case. Letters to My Daughters is a collection of tender essays on life and love written to Matalin's two young daughters. The letters are exceptionally personal; Matalin displays a vulnerability one would not expect from the fiery conservative seen on TV. She writes about sex, body image, female friendship and other thorny topics her daughters are sure to face in the not-so-distant future. Matalin weaves wonderful life lessons into her tales, encouraging her daughters to travel widely and find careers about which they feel passionate.
Not surprisingly, the book isn't entirely nonpartisan family fare. Although Matalin writes that she and her husband Democratic political consultant James Carville try not to influence their daughters' political leanings, she can't resist tucking a few digs at Bill Clinton and Ralph Nader into her letters, just as she can't help a few laudatory mentions of the current president. Matalin's daughters are sure to count this book among their most prized possessions, and readers outside the Matalin/Carville clan Republican, Democrat or independent will find much to love in it as well.
There's no way around it, Let Me Go is a tough read without a happy ending. It is, however, a courageous book with many rewards for the reader. Helga Schneider's mother abandoned her family when Schneider was just four years old. Her reason for leaving was horrific: she became an officer in the Nazi SS, highly regarded for her cold-blooded work as a guard at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Let Me Go recounts Schneider's reluctant final encounters with her mother, by then a frail old woman in a Vienna nursing home. It is an exceptional series of visits in which a daughter searches for the hint of humanity that might allow her to forgive her long-absent mother. Schneider interrogates her about her brutal work during the war, demanding answers the older woman is ill-equipped to give. Schneider's anger bubbles just under the surface on every page. Her mother's pride in her work in the SS is undeniable. "I never stopped feeling proud, and worthy, to have belonged to the Germany of our great FÅ¸hrer," she tells her daughter. This is not what Schneider wants to hear, but it is what she gets and she relays it honestly in this searing, bare bones memoir.
Mame and company
Aunts sometimes seem like cooler, less judgmental versions of mom. They come by this designation somewhat unfairly, of course, since aunts are free to act like a hip older friend while moms are stuck doing the thankless business of actually mothering. Nonetheless, as the introduction to Aunties: Thirty-Five Writers Celebrate Their Other Motherlaments, there is no Auntie's Day. This book, edited by Ingrid Sturgis, aims to change that. Written by a variety of contributors, Aunties includes poignant, well-rounded tributes to an eclectic assortment of women who hail from all corners of the country. One aunt is a tough woman who raised two children alone in the poverty of sweltering south Texas. Another is a voluptuous 40-something beauty who loves form-fitting clothes and proclaims, "I don't care what people say. I live for me!"
It could happen to you
What woman hasn't moaned the title words of I'm Becoming My Motherwith a mixture of pride and horror? This hilariously quirky gift book offers a wink at the traditional notions of motherhood and domesticity. Colorful, '50s-retro photos of women in aprons and pearls are captioned with words that are, it can be safely said, unexpected. Author Anne Taintor tweaks the conventional notions of happy family by pairing tranquil scenes of home and hearth with acidic quips. One woman grins maniacally as she sits in front of a sewing machine, saying "Curtains! Slipcovers! This must be Heaven!" A mother-and-child photo is accompanied by this bon mot: "Wow! I get to give birth AND change diapers!" Every page of this slightly off-balance book yields a chuckle. This just might be the perfect book for any mom who hates vacuuming but loves a good laugh.
Amy Scribner writes from Turnwater, Washington.