I was trying to think of ways to celebrate Mother’s Day with a bookish twist and it hit me… why not take the time to read my mom and nan’s favourite books?!
The women in my family are all big readers and I’m 100% sure that I got my love of books from them. My mom’s an English teacher and my nan spends her days wrapped up in the pages of the goriest thrillers she can find. Here’s a bookish way to honour the wonderful women in my life and get to know them a little better through their favourite books.
When I asked my mom what her favourite book was, it came as no surprise to me she went for a classic. There’s a pretty healthy collection of (very) well loved copies of the old orange Penguin books on our bookshelves from when my mom was younger so I definitely saw this one coming.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Blurb: Antoinette Cosway is a Creole heiress; product of an inbred, expatriate community; a sensitive girl at once beguiled and repelled by the lush Jamaican landscape. Soon after her marriage to Rochester, rumours of madness in the Cosway family poison Rochester’s mind against her; Antoinette’s beautiful face turns ‘blank hating moonstruck’ and the action narrows, as inexorable as Greek tragedy, towards the attic in Thornfield Hall, the grim Grace Poole and the suicidal holocaust of leaping flames.
I’d been recommended this book a few times by a few different people but, as always, mom’s word is the one that really convinces me to do something. I’m not typically one for classic literature (I get lost so easily!) but if I must make an exception, it’s for something that’s got a dark edge and I love that I got that from my mom. We’ve always been really close and I always delight in knowing a personality trait or preference is one that we share.
A lot of this writing is a product of its time, especially when it deals with race, so definitely made me uncomfortable. Saying that, I can see why my mom enjoyed it so much – as someone who is always drawn to classic literature, she loved getting the chance to see the story behind Rochester’s ‘mad wife’ that we meet briefly in Jane Eyre. Like me she’s someone who has to find an answer to a question and the existence of a prequel to a book she enjoyed so much was perfect! One of the best parts of my reading experience here was being able to talk to my mom about it, about what she enjoyed and also to engage in a more 21st century discussion of race and the treatment of women. She’s a very open person who holds no prejudice so it was nice to have a more serious conversation.
While reading this book hasn’t converted me to being a classics lover, it has shown me that I can get through it (and even make some sense out of the story!) so there’s hope!
And, for a woman who exclusively reads all of the gruesome murder mysteries/thrillers that she’s usually raving about, my nan went for much more of a classic pick.
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
Blurb: A wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Costwold village, a village before electricity and cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.
This book had been on my radar for a while after hearing my nan talk about it so finally setting aside some time to read it felt really nice! I have to admit I didn’t know anything about Laurie Lee going into it but that honestly doesn’t distract from the enjoyment this book brings. The descriptions are rich and full of life, becoming almost lyrical in their detail. While reading this book, I truly felt as though I was a child again. I say that even despite the fact that Laurie Lee was born in 1914 and lived in the countryside (and I can identifying with neither of those things), there’s a sort of universal experience when it comes to childhood and getting into things you shouldn’t that was so much fun to read. It’s almost strange to feel a connection with a man who died the year I was born but it’s special nonetheless.
I will say, however, that this book is very much a product of its time in some of the phrasing that’s used. Lee seems to like to sexualise things a lot and there’s a pretty open reference to the time he and a few other boys planned to rape a girl from their village. They don’t do it in the end but this still amazed me that it was so casually mentioned. If you’re not too bothered by this sort of thing then the other chapters can make for an interesting read.
As for why my nan loves this book so much, I think that despite being a good fifteen years younger than Laurie, she also revelled in getting to relive a childhood that was close to her own, to weave her own precious memories amongst those in these pages and be transported back to a simpler time. I always loved hearing her own stories about growing up, meeting my granddad and all of their adventures so this definitely makes me think of sitting in her lounge, cup of tea in hand while she tells her tales – something that I’ve sincerely missed during this past year.
So, what did I learn from this bookish adventure? That my mom and nan enjoy a book with a problematic edge? 😂 Hopefully not. But it was a lovely experience to find out what it was about these books in particular that stuck with them over the years!
Are your family into reading? Have you ever tried to give their favourite books a go? What did you think? I’d love to know!
You can always find me over on Twitter if you’d like to discuss this post (or any others that I’ve featured) in more detail 😌