Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Father’s Day

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At first glance, David Small's Stitches: A Memoir may not be the most feelgood family story, but is an apt gift for the father who needs to hear the message: "You might worry you're doing a crappy job, but you're not nearly as crappy as this dad." While the narrative focuses mostly on the mother-son relationship, Small's father, the absentee parental figure, slinks around the edges. Aside from being mostly absent, Small's father, a radiologist, gave his son cancer by intentionally exposing him to x-rays. He meant to cure his son's sinus problems and his parenting might not have been out of the ordinary for the (gender normative, radioactive) 1950s, sort of. But Small's graphic memoir also suggests that David was little more than a lab rat or, worse, a problem that could be fixed, a collection of symptoms to be treated. But in the end, Small's story accomplishes the remarkable feat of breaking the heart at the same time as inspiring it.

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Graphic memoirs must be in the air because Caroline M Grant, Editor-In-Chief, writes, "After hearing Alison Bechdel read from her incredible new memoir, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, I had to go back and read her earlier memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. The title comes from the fact that her father, a high school English teacher, also ran the family business, a funeral home which they all irreverently referred to as the Fun Home. That alone gives you a good sense of the dark comedy with which Bechdel was raised. Her father was bookish and distant, a man who worked hard to restore their Victorian home to its period glory and didn't always know what to do with his own messy children. Also, as Bechdel learns after she comes out -- by letter -- to her parents, he was a closeted gay man. When he is killed by a truck shortly after these revelations, the family suspects his death was a suicide. As with Are You My Mother?, Bechdel draws from her own journals, letters, texts like Ulysses and The Great Gatsby, and the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, to grapple with her father's life. The story is alternately funny and heartbreaking, always rich and complicated."

Katherine J. Barrett, Reviews and Profiles Editor, shares, "I recommend The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee (who also wrote this month's profile). I found The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in a tiny store near Cape Town. Although published in 2006, it was not relegated to the back shelves, but proudly displayed close to the front door. When I brought it to counter to pay, the bookseller gushed, 'Oh, this is such a lovely book,' and seemed reluctant to hand it over. The memoir thread of the book tells of Buzbee's long career in the book business, working in San Francisco shops and as a roving salesman. We see how the book trade works from the inside -- behind the front desk or ensconced in the back room. Buzbee, a self-proclaimed sufferer of 'book lust', writes, 'I am promiscuous when it comes to bookstores. Every bookstore, from the most opulent Parisian emporium to the anonymous strip-mall shop in Tucson, offers its own surprises.' The history thread of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is equally enthralling. Buzbee takes us from ancient Egypt and the first recorded bookseller through several thousand years to the rise of e-books. The bookshop, books -- and fellow book-lusters -- continue to adapt and survive."

Rhena Tantisunthorn received her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 2007. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and daughter and is currently working on a book about her experiences working with Karenni refugees on the Thai-Burma border. You can find her blog here: Rhena Tan.

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