May 2008

A little something for mom

By D.G. Fulford
By Kathryn Kysar
By Frances Richey
By Jimmy Carter
By Carrie McCarthy
By Pamela Keogh
By Alix Strauss
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What happens to a mother when her husband, her children's father, dies? In Designated Daughter: The Bonus Years with Mom, D.G. Fulford steps in as "the sibling who would try to take up the empty space that had always been filled by Dad." (Fulford's brother is author and former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene.) Each chapter is co-written by Fulford and her mother, Phyllis; they offer stories that are by turns funny and poignant, and familiar in their glimpses of what it's like to be the surviving spouse or child. They're frank about these "bonus years," and how their changed relationship required some rebalancing—of Fulford's own approach to motherhood, Phyllis' ability to be independent and both women's perspective on what matters and what can be laughed off. Designated Daughter offers a hopeful vision of what mother-daughter relationships can be.

Riding Shotgun: Women Write About Their Mothers, edited by Kathryn Kysar, contains 21 thoughtful explorations of memory, discovery and the mother-daughter bond. The writing in this collection is superb, thanks to the skill and thoughtfulness of the contributors, which include accomplished novelists, poets, journalists and essayists such as Jonis Agee and Sandra Ben&and#237;tez. There are photos, too, lovely in both their familiarity awkward poses in dress-up clothes, mom-and-baby candids and diversity. Riding Shotgun is an honest, memorable collection worth savoring and sharing.

Frances Richey raised her son, Ben, on her own. He grew up to become an Army captain and Green Beret who served two tours in Iraq, secret missions in a war his mother does not support. Writing poetry helped Richey, a former corporate executive who has been a yoga and meditation instructor for the last 15 years, cope with her fear for her son. Her poems in The Warrior: A Mother's Story of a Son at War are powerful in their evocation of the emotional battles fought every day by the people who are left behind, worrying and wondering: "My son is always leaving. / Sometimes he looks back / and waves good-bye. Sometimes / he just disappears." and "It was easy to think of warrior / as a yoga posture, until my son / became a Green Beret." One Mother's Day, Richey didn't hear from Ben; she writes about it in "Incommunicado." But this mother's story has a happy ending: Ben, who first deployed in 2004, returned home in 2006.

Former president Jimmy Carter is no stranger to author-dom: He's written more than 20 books, including An Hour Before Daylight, Our Endangered Values and Beyond the White House. A Remarkable Mother is both a biography of his mother, the indomitable Miss Lillian, and a memoir of his relationship with her over the course of her life (she died in 1983 at age 85). Lillian was born in Georgia, the fourth of nine children. Carter recounts stories of her formative years in the rural South, her work as a nurse during World War I, and her volunteer work for the Peace Corps. It's interesting to read about Miss Lillian's role as "America's first mama": She visited the White House often, accompanied her son on official state missions and "played a key role in [Carter's] crucial support from African Americans." Photos help tell the story of Miss Lillian, who is shown with family and foreign dignitaries alike. She is talking and smiling in nearly every one.

Each of us makes choices about our personal style from how we look and the objects we treasure to the career paths we follow. According to fashion and interior designer Carrie McCarthy, and Danielle LaPorte, a writer and communications strategist, identifying and embracing a particular style philosophy can help us be more mindful of and deliberate with our life choices. In their book Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design, they share their own statements and feature portraits of women who embody various style statements; descriptions of characteristics common to those styles; and questions to help readers determine and interpret their own preferences for certain colors, flowers, foods, art forms and the like. Think Color Me Beautiful, but for your life, not just your makeup colors.

From longtime fans who've seen Breakfast at Tiffany's countless times to those who discovered the gorgeous gamine via a Gap commercial, Audrey Hepburn has seemingly endless appeal. What Would Audrey Do? Timeless Lessons for Living with Grace and Style offers advice for emulating the icon's style and approach to life. Author Pamela Keogh gives oversized sunglasses and ballet flats their due, but she goes beyond signature fashion to ponder whether Audrey would have a MySpace page, sit for an interview with Oprah or admit she learned lessons from her strict mother (no, probably, yes). WWAD? offers thought-provoking and fun anecdotes, quizzes and decorating tips, but it also contains plenty of biographical detail. Keogh also describes Audrey's work with UNICEF, for which she served as an ambassador until her death in 1993 at age 63. WWAD? is a well-rounded read for the Audrey aficionado, or anyone who wants to live life with a bit more panache.

Any woman who's suffered through a mom-induced blind date will find herself laughing—and cringing—in sympathy with the writers who contributed to Have I Got a Guy for You: What Really Happens When Mom Fixes You Up. The essay collection, edited by Alix Strauss (author of the short story collection The Joy of Funerals), contains 26 stories by women who've experienced some rather interesting fix-ups thanks to their well-meaning, but misguided, mothers. Standouts include "Letters to Gelman," about a mom's sudden and complete obsession with the producer of "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee," and "Dentists + Dragons," in which the writer's suitor, a dentist and screenwriter wannabe, drags her to a Dungeons & Dragons convention and presents her with a skimpy costume. There are positive outcomes here, too. One date becomes a good friend; another becomes a husband; and plenty of women emerge from their dates creeped out but wiser.

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