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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, May 9, 2004

Moms, This Is Your Day to Relax, Maybe With a Good Book

It's Mother's Day, the one day of the year when women are supposed to be taking it easy. So please, ladies – no cleaning, cooking, or laundry – all that will still be there tomorrow. Instead, putter a bit in the garden. Or read a good "woman's book," maybe even one about mothers.

In My Mother's House by Margaret McMullan (St. Martin's Press, 2003).

McMullan is a local treasure – an accomplished and glamorous young author from Chicago who is a professor and Chairperson of the English Department at the University of Evansville.

McMullan's second novel crosses continents and decades to interweave the stories of a mother and a daughter whose history includes the indelible shadow of the Holocaust as well as the heartfelt loss of their ancestral home and country of birth. Complicating their relationship is the fact that the daughter has embraced the Judaism of her heritage, while her mother has rejected it.

This is a gracefully written testimony to the impact that mothers and daughters invariably have on each other's lives. The author's third work, a touching Civil War novel entitled How I Found the Strong, has been selected as the first One Book One Community youth title.

Paths of Desire: the Passions of a Suburban Gardener by Dominique Browning (Scribner, 2004).

The fact that Browning has been editor-in-chief of "House and Garden" Magazine since 1995 might make you think that she's a domestic goddess. But she's not.

When divorce leaves Browning with two young sons and a decades-old home in suburban New York, she neglects all but her "Back Bed" behind the patio for years. However, the collapse of a retaining wall that smashes all her carefully nurtured perennials leads her to not only redo this bed but her entire half-acre spread. Her sons were growing up anyway and would soon be gone – it was time for a new passion.

Browning is the kind of gardener I like – one who loves digging in the dirt but can't remember scientific names. She's more interested in the experience of creating beauty than the pedigrees of the individual plants. She readily admits to lots of mistakes, but will probably have you out in your yard anyway sketching a bold plan for the future.

Loud and Clear by Anna Quindlen (Random House, 2004).

This is the second collection of essays by the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author of four best-selling novels, including Black and Blue and Object Lessons. She is currently writing a bi-weekly back page column for "Newsweek."

Although Quindlen has written about all aspects of contemporary life, she specializes in women's issues, motherhood, and social change. These essays are divided into five sections – heart, mind, body, voice, and soul – and run the gamut from infanticide to hot flashes to September 11. Whatever her topic, she has obviously done her research and thought long and hard about the issues.

We all need Quindlen for our best friend. She makes sense and isn't afraid to share her thoughts.

Mommy Myth: the Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels (Free Press, 2004).

Douglas is Professor of Communications at the University of Michigan, while Michaels teaches philosophy at Smith College. Both are married. Douglas has one child; Michaels five.

With steely wit and thorough research, Douglas and Michaels analyze "momism: a trend in American culture that is causing women to feel that only through the perfection of motherhood can true contentment be found."

They sketch the process by which society has deflected women away from the feminism of the sixties and back to the philosophy that women's place is essentially in the home (unless they're welfare moms). They decry the fact that little progress has ultimately been achieved toward making childcare and housework a shared responsibility of men and women.

If you don't have time for the whole book, just guffaw through the last chapter. It's a hilarious rendition of a future fictional reality TV show called "Survivor: Motherhood Island" involving ten men stranded with thirty young children on a "not tropical" island.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.