Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: What My Mother Gave Me

Summary:  In What My Mother Gave Me, women look at the relationships between mothers and daughters through a new lens: a daughter’s story of a gift from her mother that has touched her to the bone and served as a model, a metaphor, or a touchstone in her own life. The contributors of these thirty-one original pieces include Pulitzer Prize winners, perennial bestselling novelists, and celebrated broadcast journalists.

Whether a gift was meant to keep a daughter warm, put a roof over her head, instruct her in the ways of womanhood, encourage her talents, or just remind her of a mother’s love, each story gets to the heart of a relationship.

Rita Dove remembers the box of nail polish that inspired her to paint her nails in the wild stripes and polka dots she wears to this day. Lisa See writes about the gift of writing from her mother, Carolyn See. Cecilia Muñoz remembers both the wok her mother gave her and a lifetime of home-cooked family meals. Judith Hillman Paterson revisits the year of sobriety her mother bequeathed to her when Paterson was nine, the year before her mother died of alcoholism. Abigail Pogrebin writes about her middle-aged bat mitzvah, for which her mother provided flowers after a lifetime of guilt for skipping her daughter’s religious education. Margo Jefferson writes about her mother’s gold dress from the posh department store where they could finally shop as black women.

Collectively, the pieces have a force that feels as elemental as the tides: outpourings of lightness and darkness; joy and grief; mother love and daughter love; mother love and daughter rage. In these stirring words we find that every gift, 
no matter how modest, tells the story of a powerful bond. As Elizabeth Benedict points out in her introduction, “whether we are mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, or cherished friends, we may not know for quite some time which presents will matter the most. -- Algonquin

Mother's Day is right around the corner and I hope you've already purchased a gift for that special woman in your life. But if you haven't (or just need a little something extra), you should definitely consider WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME: THIRTY-ONE WOMEN ON THE GIFTS THAT MATTERED MOST edited by Elizabeth Benedict. This book is a collection of essays about mothers from 31 successful women including Pulitzer Prize winners, a U.S. Poet Laureate, bestselling novelists, award winning authors, and more.

WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME explores the special relationship between mothers and daughters. Author Elizabeth Benedict got the idea for this book after reflecting on the importance of a gift she received from her mother. She decided to ask 31 women to write essays about the most meaningful gift their mother ever gave them. The result is WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME!

I thoroughly enjoyed WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME, and quite honestly, that's not always the case for me when I pick up collections of essays. Maybe I'm just becoming more of a softie in my old age, but I found something special in each story. I loved how unique each of these essays were and the various ways the writers interpreted the question. For example, some of the writers took the question literally and mentioned a physical gift that they received from their mothers, while others answered the question with a metaphorical gift.

Naturally, there were a few essays that really resonated with me. Most of these were by authors whose works I had read in the past including Lisa See, Joyce Carol Oates, and Caroline Leavitt. There were also a few essays that I appreciated just because they were so honest. And then there was the one about a mom who wouldn't touch condiments. We are a condiment-free family so that one definitely resonated with me!

I think what impressed me the most about WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME was the quality of writing. All of these essays were just beautiful, and I felt like each author captured so much in just a few pages.These women held nothing back with their honesty about the sometimes difficult relationships with their mothers; and I loved that despite their problems, they still managed to find something of value in what their moms gave to them.

I highly recommend WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME. It's a touching tribute to the complex relationship between moms and daughters, and it's the perfect gift for Mother's Day!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


Sandy Nawrot said...

This is a great gift idea for mothers!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I do like to keep collections of essays like this around, for when one needs to read a brief thing that is enjoyable.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds fantastic! Do you need to have a box of tissues handy when you read it?

Beth F said...

I love collections like this. And like Jill, I tend not to read them all in one sitting. I like to dip into them one essay at a time.

Elizabeth Benedict said...

I'm the editor of What My Mother Gave Me, and I'm honored to see your eloquent review. It was a hugely moving project to work on, and now that it's out in the world, I'm amazed to see and feel the enthusiasm it's generated! Thank you all! To see photos of some of the gifts in the book - and post your own! - please visit: And LIKE us on Facebook to follow news about the book!

Beth Hoffman said...

This collection sounds wonderful.