Raised in a family consisting almost entirely of single women, I was surrounded by smart and strong females every day.
These women should get most of the credit for raising me.
And today, in honor of Women’s History month, I’m here to celebrate the library ladies who raised me.
My own personal literary timeline
I was named after the main character in Elizabeth Bowen’s novel To the North and Emmeline Pankhurst (a British political activist), my mother instilled a love of literature and a rebellious spirit upon me at birth.
Skipping the usual children’s classics, the first book my mother read outloud to me was Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
To this day, my mother insists it had a calming effect on me (I think I would have prefered this version). She tried to read it again to me a few years later with much less success (see below).
Age five now, my mother decided I would more fully appreciate Jane Eyre. A few chapters in, confused by Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester and bored with Victorian England, I begged my mother to read me something else.
She chose Annie Dillard's newely published An American Childhood. It is the first time I remember falling in love with words (it's still one of my favorites!). And it encouraged my mother -- who decided to skip children’s books almost all together -- opting instead for bedtime titles by Rumer Godden, Harper Lee, and Margaret Atwood.
Full of strong (sometimes crazy) female characters, good music, and over-plucked eyebrows -- these movies taught me about friendship, kindness, and that it was okay to celebrate being a girl with a shopping spree at Contempo Casual.
High school creative writing classes reminded me how much I loved words.
But as a platinum haired teenager with a (not parent approved) belly button piercing, I wouldn’t be caught dead reading Jane Austen or the Bronte’s. Instead I devoured the quirky and magical characters of Francesca Lia Block.
In college now, I realized how limited my reading was. Aside from House on Mango Street by Sandra Ciscernos (a high school requirement that I loved), I had read little by women who weren’t white.
College changed that, and immersed myself in the stories of Tony Morrsion, Rosemary Bray, Jhumpa Lahiri, Marjane Satrapi, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie -- being transformed by new perspectives and experiences.
I found out I was pregnant (surprise!). After learning I would be having a boy, my mother gifted me Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions.
Honest and hilarious, no book could have better paralleled my untraditional entrance into motherhood and life with a baby boy.
2011 - 2014
I became a mom to two more wild and rambunctious boys.
Exhausted and inspired, I turned to Ariel Gore and her collections of essays to help me navigate the chaotic world of parenting while trying not to lose myself.
2017 - Present
After three boys I delivered a fourth (and FINAL!) baby girl. Like her brothers before her, my fierce little lady is being raised by a loving family and an eclectic storytime routine.
Storytime in our home often consists of chapters from Edna Lewis’ The Taste of Country Cooking, the board book Baby Feminists (a favorite!), picture books by Maira Kalman, and an occasional Gertrude Stein excerpt.
And, of course, I can’t wait to watch Clueless with her.
Here’s to strong women. May we be them, may we raise them, and may we READ them!
Here is a short list of some of my favorite literary ladies:
by Jennifer Adams
Not my mother's Jane Eyre, but despite her insistence that I loved Bronte's version, I think I would have preferred the board book.
by Francesca Lia Block
Even after twenty years, I think Francesca Lia Block's series featuring Weetzie Bat and her eccentric entourage, hold up as classic tween/teen lit. If you didn't grow up reading Lia Block, I encourage you to enter her quirky world -- no matter your age.
starring Drew Barrymore and Chris O'Donnell
High school me loved this movie for its realistic portrayal of mental illness, Drew Barrymore's cute pixie cut, and Chris O'Donnell's sweet selflessness. If you grew up in the 90's, loved Drew Barrymore like I did, and haven't seen it -- sign in to Hoopla and watch it tonight.
written and illustrated by Maira Kalman
My mother might not have read me many picture books, but when I discovered Maira Kalman in my grade school library, I fell in love with her whimiscal stories and art. She has written many great picture books for children, but lately I default to this lovely little book about cake (with recipes!).