In celebration of Mother’s Day, Writer’s Relief has collected eleven memoirs about mothers—“momoirs” —that delve into the lives they live, the secrets they keep, the sacrifices they make, and the incredibly strong imprint they leave on their children’s lives.
Some of the stories are heartwarming tales of connection or reconnection. Others are heartbreaking tales of loss or of the ways mothers let their children down. But each book examines the complicated, important role of mothers in our lives.
11 Memoirs To Read For Mother’s Day
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
This graphic memoir by Bechdel is a companion piece to her earlier memoir, Fun Home, which examines her relationship with her father. Are You My Mother?, the title of which is an allusion to a children’s book by P.D. Eastman, centers on Bechdel’s unaffectionate relationship with her mother and the ways it marked her adulthood.
The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke
After her mom died of cancer at the age of fifty-five, O’Rourke began to record her grief to try to make sense of it. Of course, such a thing cannot be made sense of—but O’Rourke’s memoir ultimately shows how caring for her mother during her illness brought them closer together, and how even though her entire life was spun into chaos, her family’s love and strength carried them through some of the darkest times of their lives.
The Center of the Universe by Nancy Bachrach
In this hilarious and moving memoir, Bachrach recounts the story of how her mother, a woman with a long list of mental illnesses who once called herself “The Center of the Universe,” is miraculously cured in the same freak carbon monoxide poisoning incident that kills Bachrach’s father. Following the events that unfold afterward, Bachrach weaves through stories of grief, mental illness, hilarity, and family—detailing a sort of rebirth of her mother, who traveled from genius to madness and back again.
Russo’s memoir recounts the story of his family and the poverty-ridden upstate New York town they lived in. The book tells of Russo’s mother’s dream for their escape from the town and the ways they worked together to find that freedom—as well as the ways that Gloversville maintained an inexplicable hold on them both. This is an account of family, an examination of the meaning of home, and the story of a mother searching as much for her own freedom as for her son’s.
Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by Scott Simon
While his mother was in the hospital on her deathbed, NPR’s Scott Simon began to tweet about his relationship with her and the impact of their final days together. When the tweets went viral, Simon decided to use them as the basis for this memoir, which chronicles the story of his glamorous mother: a woman who dated mobsters and movie stars, modeled, worked in clubs, and was also a successful single parent to Scott. As much a tribute to his mother’s fascinating life and death as a story of the love between a mother and son, Unforgettable is a Mother’s Day must-read.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Another story of a man’s dying mother and the relationship between the two as the end draws near, Schwalbe’s memoir tells how literature brings him and his mother closer than ever. After discovering that they are reading the same book, Will and his mother begin a sort of unofficial “book club” between the two of them—opening up all kinds of intimate, passionate, and moving discussions.
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan
Ryan’s memoir tells the inspirational story of how his mother did whatever she could to keep him and his nine siblings out of extreme poverty. With an alcoholic husband who failed to support the family in a time when women didn’t traditionally work outside the home, Ryan’s mother, Evelyn, took to writing poems and jingles for contests, which enabled her to support them herself. Truly a story of perseverance and dedication.
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
A well-known memoir, Angela’s Ashes tells the story of McCourt’s childhood, which was marked by poverty, death, his father’s alcoholism, and his mother’s depression. Throughout the family’s constant struggles and losses, McCourt’s mother, Angela, sinks deeper and deeper into terrible circumstances and a horrifying depression—but she also makes impressive and lasting sacrifices to take care of her children in whatever way possible.
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
A white, Jewish woman who married a Black man in 1942, McBride’s mother struggled to raise twelve Black children in a community where she was perpetually an outsider. Often embarrassed by his mother in his younger years, McBride eventually begins to understand the intense pain and hardship she endured throughout her life. By alternating between stories of his childhood and first-person accounts of his mother’s life, McBride begins to understand and appreciate his mother.
Though Wild focuses mostly on Strayed’s journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail by herself, the entire genesis of this book—and of Strayed’s hike—is her mother’s death. At twenty-one, Strayed lost the woman she loved most and completely fell apart, with her life and marriage following suit. In telling the story of how she began to try to put herself back together, Strayed shares a moving, loving, and incredibly open account of her undying love for her mother.
Bettyville tells the story of how, when his mother became ill, Hodgman left his home in Manhattan for his childhood town of Paris, Missouri, to care for her. His mother had never really accepted the fact that her son was gay, and the two, who ultimately live in entirely different worlds, work to bring their lives together and find a new understanding and acceptance of one another.
Question: Which memoir about motherhood did you most enjoy? Why?