The 24 Best Memoirs About Moms, According To Goodreads
With Mother's Day right around the corner, the folks over at Goodreads did the leg-work of rounding up a list of 24 of the best memoirs about moms written by their sons and daughters. Based on 85 million-member lists of reviews and ratings, each book that Goodreads included on this list is more swoon-worthy than the next. The stories within the pages of each memoir contain stories that range from overtly hilarious to ugly cry-inducing, but they all center around the most important woman in the author's life — their mom.
As a writer, it is one of my ultimate goals to honor my family with what I write whenever possible. This is especially true of my mom. For my entire life, my mom has been a person who has always cheered me on, lifted my spirits, and given me the type of guidance that only a mother can. While I haven't written an entire book about her awesomeness (yet), I definitely could.
If your mom is a reader, gifting her one of these 24 memoirs about moms is sure to make her Mother's Day one to remember. And if curling up with a good book sounds like the way you want to spend your own Mother's Day, check out any one of these titles and take a moment to reflect on the bond between mothers and children that these fabulous authors have written about.
1. 'Angela's Ashes' by Frank McCourt
Angela's Ashes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic by Frank McCourt, chronicles McCourt's childhood growing up during the Great Depression. He writes about his Irish immigrant parents, in particular his mother, who cared for his family despite his father's drinking problem and lack of work ethic. Amid struggle, McCourt found a way to keep his compassion and humor about him, partly in thanks to his mother — which makes this memoir one to be celebrated, especially around Mother's Day.
2. 'The Color Of Water' by James McBride
As the mother to 12 children, all of whom she saw through college, we can all learn something from the story of James McBride's mom that he writes in The Color of Water. Growing up in an all-black neighborhood, McBride's mother was white yet refused to let the color of her skin keep her from being fully immersed in the culture of her all-black church and family. McBride's book is a testament to his mother's strength and courage, and is the perfect story for sharing with your own mom on Mother's Day.
3. 'Mom & Me & Mom' by Maya Angelou
Despite writing about her life through multiple autobiographies, Mom & Me & Mom is the first memoir by Maya Angelou to exclusively examine her relationship with her mother. Divulging the struggles she faced at a young age when her mother sent her and her brother away to live with their grandparents, Angelou explores how her relationship with her mother evolved throughout the course of their lives in a way that is as poignant and eloquent as anything else she has written.
4. 'Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights' by Tananarive Due and Patricia Stephens Due
Written by mother-daughter duo Tananarive Due and Patricia Stephens Due, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights tells the story of family values and struggles during the civil rights era. The chapters of the book alternate writings of Tananarive and Patricia as they each share their side of the journey they experienced while fighting for justice and equal rights. This powerful piece of history gives unique perspective to the mother-daughter relationship that can be used as a jumping off point to start conversations about race relations and family values.
5. 'Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?' by Roz Chast
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? the debut memoir of Roz Chast, was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award. Filled with cartoon illustrations, personal family photos, and stories about her aging parents, Chast addresses the delicate topic of caring for parents as she enters a time in her life where role reversal occurs as she goes from being taken care of by her parents to becoming their caregiver herself. Although this is a natural progression, Chast brings wit and humor to subjects that many adult children face. It's a great read for parents and adult children who might be heading into that phase of life to help facilitate discussion in this unfamiliar territory.
6. 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?' by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson chronicles her search for her biological mother in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Through stories that are both humorous and powerful, Winterson talks about her painful past and shows readers how to rise from the ashes and find where they belong in the world. It addresses the importance of knowing your roots and finding out who you are despite the struggles you face.
7. 'Are You My Mother?' by Alison Bechdel
Get ready to laugh and cry while reading this stunning graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. In Are You My Mother? Bechdel takes readers on a journey through her relationship with her mother and how the space between them that developed when Bechdel was very young has impacted every aspect of her life. The book also provides readers with an in-depth analysis of the work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in terms of the relationship between Bechdel and her mother.
8. 'Elsewhere' by Richard Russo
In Elsewhere, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo writes of growing up in Gloversville, New York with a mother who fantasized about living beyond their town rife with struggle and illness. His powerful yet comical style shines a light on a relatable mother-son dynamic in which Russo's mother leads him into her own anxious feelings as he struggles to find himself.
9. 'The End Of Your Life Book Club' by Will Schwalbe
Any adult child dealing with a sick parent can relate to the story of Will Schwalbe and his mom in The End of Your Life Book Club. While Schwalbe's mom undergoes chemotherapy, the two begin discussing books that they read together to pass the time during appointments. The resulting conversations chronicled in Schwalbe's memoir are a testament to the power of reading and the bond between a mother and her son.
10. 'The Liars' Club' by Mary Karr
Winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award and a New York Times Bestseller, The Liar's Club is the 1955 memoir by Mary Karr about her life growing up in an east Texas town where her mother's secrets begin to unravel her dysfunctional family. Although the book was written more than 60 years ago, the themes of family ties, relationship drama, and a mother's impact on her daughter are timeless tropes that Karr weaves into this literary gem.
11. 'Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgetfullness' by Alexandra Fuller
Alexandra Fuller writes of her mother Nicola's life in Africa as told to her through extensive interviews with her mother. Against the beautifully exotic background of Kenya, Zambia, and Rhodesia, Fuller recounts stories of her parents' marriage, their war-ridden continent, and the eventual end of their lives in Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness. For anyone who wishes to read about the intricacies of a family journey to find peace, this book is a gripping account that does not disappoint.
12. 'Bettyville' by George Hodgman
In Bettyville, worlds collide when author George Hodgman becomes the caregiver of his aging mother. Hodgman's poetic storytelling throughout the book describe his childhood home and his reluctance to move his mother out of it and into a care facility, all the while examining the relationship between a mother and her son who she cannot quite accept for who he is. This story of family and the passage of time is one that runs the gamut from childhood struggles of a gay man to explorations of the mother-son bond and the idiosyncrasies of small rural towns.
13. 'The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life' by Jasmin Darznik
When Jasmin Darznik discovers her mother's secret past, she uncovers an entire family history she once knew nothing about. Married at age 13 in Iran, Darznik's mother gave birth to a sister that Darznik never knew she had. The Good Daughter tells the story of how Darznik and her mother come to terms with the past in a touching memoir of struggle, secrets, and family ties.
14. 'All Over But The Shoutin'" by Rick Bragg
Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg tells his story of growing up in the rural South. Bragg's descriptions of poverty and struggle in All Over But The Shoutin' are mirrored in his touching explanations of his mother's attempt to shield himself and his brothers from their violent father and the dramatic conditions they were being raised in.
15. 'White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, And The Mess In Between' by Judy Batalion
When faced with the trials of motherhood herself, Judy Batalion offers reflections on her own childhood being raised by her hoarder mother in White Walls. Tying in a generational thread of struggle, Batalion also includes observations of her grandmother's upbringing as a survivor of the Holocaust in this touching memoir about the journey to heal a broken past and learn how to be the mom she was meant to be.
16. 'I'm Supposed To Protect You From All This' by Nadja Spiegelman
In I'm Supposed To Protect You From All This, author Nadja Spiegelman takes readers on a journey of discovery of her mother's upbringing in Paris and the generational influence between her grandmother, mother, and herself. While uncovering her mother's past takes an emotional toll on Spiegelman, it also helps her come into her own as a woman who can confidently navigate her family relationships.
17. 'Ordinary Light' by Tracy K. Smith
Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith was raised by a God-fearing mother in a suburban California neighborhood. After spending a summer with her grandmother in Alabama learning about her mother's experiences during the Civil Rights movement, she returns home with a newfound understanding of what it means to be a black woman, describing the experience for her readers. In Ordinary Light, Smith uncovers not only these truths, but also her struggle to grapple with her mother's cancer diagnosis and the belief system she grew up with.
18. 'The Long Goodbye' by Meghan O'Rourke
In The Long Goodbye, Meghan O'Rourke chronicles her resilient journey through caring for her mother with cancer and the life-changing grief she experiences as a result of her death. While the death of a parent is something many people will eventually face, O'Rourke attempts to bring her experience to life through gut-wrenching honesty in a relatable way.
19. 'Unforgettable: A Son, A Mother, And The Lessons Of A Lifetime' by Scott Simon
Author Scott Simon gives readers an intimate look at his mother's life and death in Unforgettable. In 2013, Simon took to Twitter from his mother's hospital room to pay tribute to the woman who raised him by herself. The result was the heartwarming story of their bond that went viral, and is expanded on in his book.
20. 'My Dark Places' by James Ellroy
My Dark Places by James Ellroy is a gripping investigative autobiography examining the mysterious rape and unsolved murder of his mother. His mother's murder happened when Ellroy was just 10 years old, setting him up for a lifetime of obsession with women and murder mystery as chronicled in his work as a crime writer. This book follows his journey to investigate his own mother's death and examines their short, but complex relationship.
21. 'Fierce Attachments' by Vivian Gornick
As any mother and daughter will likely explain, the mother-daughter relationship can be a very complicated one. Wrought with confusing details about the role one another plays in their relationship, Vivian Gornick's memoir Fierce Attachments explores the ins and outs of her relationship with her mother as it evolves throughout the course of her life.
22. 'The Prizewinner Of Defiance, Ohio' by Terry Ryan
Author Terry Ryan captures what it was like to grow up with an inventive and hard-working mother in The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio. Facing poverty, the mother of 10 entered local contests writing jingles and essays to win prizes of cash and appliances to help support her family. Ryan's memoir explores family trials and triumphs through story after story of her mother's tenacity.
23. 'Lies My Mother Never Told Me' by Kaylie Jones
Growing up the child of an alcoholic mother and a novelist father, Kaylie Jones experienced struggles that she chronicles in Lies My Mother Never Told Me. Each chapter begins with a short story as told by Jones' mother and then expands into the author's reflections on any given memory throughout her complex life.
24. 'The Center Of The Universe' by Nancy Bachrach
As her mother lay in a coma, author Nancy Bachrach describes her reunification with her siblings and recounts how her family's dysfunctional ways have shaped her life as she knows it. In The Center Of The Universe, Bachrach attempts to wade through her traumatic upbringing, while bringing readers into the fold of her dark humor.