Columns > Published on May 5th, 2016

7 Starter Ideas For Your Mother-Daughter Book Club

Daughters of the world: Mother’s Day is right around the corner! The obvious gift choice is a book, but what about an unexpected spin on this tried and true staple? Try buying two books. Two of the same book, in fact. One for your Mother, and one for you. I'm talking a Mother-Daughter book club!

It sounds cheesy, but based on my experience, it is a wonderful way to connect with the woman I used to see every day, but now only see once or twice a year. We talk on the phone often, but the conversations tend to follow the same thread. It's harder and harder to really speak about the specifics of our lives when we aren’t living in the same state, let alone the same house.

When we started reading books together, a whole new thread of conversation emerged, and I found myself getting to know my mother in a way I hadn’t previously experienced.

Here are seven starter suggestions for your Mother-Daughter book club endeavor, some pre-tested by yours truly, and others completely new!

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This emotional sprawl of a novel is best digested with someone there for support, reading along with you. I could not imagine reading A Little Life on my own. I needed to talk to someone about Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm. And Harold! At the end of every section, you’ll want to call your Mother to tell her you love her and to mourn the many different kinds of losses these characters experience. 

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2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Maria Semple

This story of a mother gone missing and a daughter putting together the pieces of said mother's life in order to find her is one that is truly tailor made for a Mother-Daughter book club. Its format is unusual, and the story is both funny and touching. Also, Richard Linklater is in talks to direct a film adaption starring Cate Blanchett? Sold on all fronts. If you two are looking for a novel with mainstream appeal that still manages to be original, you've found it.

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3. August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

If you have any sort of a strained relationship with your mother, this one might be a tough, but vital, co-read. There is at least one character in this play you will both relate to in some way, and perhaps there are multiple. This is my favorite play written in recent history, so I am a bit biased, but I consider it to be required family reading (and viewing, if possible) across the board.

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4. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

My mother likes to remind me of her life's trajectory and compare it to mine with brutal honesty. When I turned 27, she called me to say, “I was 27 when I gave birth to your older sister, you know.” Waldman’s novel is told from the perspective of Nathaniel P., a frighteningly accurate example of one of my generation’s “eligible bachelors.” Once your mom spends a little time in Nathaniel's head she might understand why you haven’t settled down and started a family yet.

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5. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

This one is almost too obvious, I know. Enjoyed letter-by-letter, Tiny Beautiful Things will spark multiple conversations about every aspect of life and love. I urged everyone I knew to read this book once I had, including my mother. If you want to do a book pairing, this could easily be read alongside Torch, Strayed’s debut novel that delves deep into family loss.

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6. When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

On the surface this book is another obvious choice for a Mother-Daughter book club: a woman writing about her mother. Williams goes about it in such a beautiful, poetic way, however, that it’s hard to call this book obvious. This is the kind of book you will both be highlighting and writing notes in constantly. When you’re finished reading your respective copies, you can share the passages that spoke to you the most as a mother and as a daughter, but especially as a woman.

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7. The Circle by Dave Eggers

One of the first books we read together, The Circle’s fast-paced, nail-biter of a plot was the perfect novel to get my mother back into reading after a long hiatus. I think she also associated me with the protagonist, and I could chime in about the ways Mae and I are similar, but also the ways we are very different. Very, very different. Eggers always writes such digestible books, and after finishing this one my mom immediately moved on to A Hologram for the King. Go Mom!

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Now that you have some starter options, I strongly urge you to call up your mother on her special day and surprise her with a book club suggestion. Experiences are always the best gifts, and reading together is an unforgettable experience.

What are you favorite Mother-Daughter worthy books?

About the author

Christine J. Schmidt is a writer originally from New Jersey. After receiving her BFA in Dramatic Writing from SUNY Purchase, she worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre as their artistic literary intern. She recently left Brooklyn, where she was a bookseller and events host at WORD, to reside in Los Angeles. She has previously written for New York Theatre Review, and her plays have been read and produced at theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Washington. Coffee is her favorite thing.

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