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

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Our Father's Day reading list features books that may remind us of fathers in general, but definitely remind us of our fathers in particular.  I've been reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander, and although I don't think my father has read it, he probably should.  He loves good historical fiction -- the detailed descriptions of military actions, the thoughtful insight into personal struggles behind the scenes, the fresh perspective on another era.  This prime specimen of the genre, which recently appeared on Esquire's list of "The 75 Books Every Man Should Read," was recommended to me by a friend who ended up reading all 20+ books in the series because his father read them.  Although I wondered somewhere in chapter two if I was the only woman ever to make it past chapter one, the book was well on its way to winning me over even then.  The novel tells the story of a British sea captain, c. 1800, managing his first command and the ship's diverse crew.  It reflects an amazing amount of research, made engaging without descent into pseudo-literary tackiness -- no small feat.  If one can endure the initial, deliberately (?!) overwhelming onslaught of nautical jargon, one can then enjoy the interesting, strangely likable and utterly believable characters, as well as the convincingly archaic dialogue.  O'Brian's prose style is an unexpected pleasure, marked by graceful economy and invested throughout with delightfully dry humor.  I'm not yet sure if I'll undertake another in the series, but at least now I can play the captain’s daughter in H.M.S. Pinafore this fall without fear of ignominiously confusing the fo'c'sle for the quarterdeck.

Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle recommends a favorite of mine (although it makes me think of the other father in my life, my husband): “Any of David Sedaris's essay collections remind me of my dad, because he introduced me to public radio way back when.   He started with the gateway drug of Click and Clack doing their comedy car repair schtick, moved on to Fresh Air, The Diane Rehm Show and then, of course, This American Life and the hilarious, uncomfortable, genius-weirdness that marks the work of David Sedaris.  Also, Sedaris's tales of his own father -- one of my favorites is ‘The Ship Shape,’ about the family beach house-that-wasn't (in ) -- are somehow affectionate even as they make you cringe.”

Humor seems to become fathers; Editor-in-Chief Caroline Grant offers another amusing and insightful title: "Chris Bachelder's Abbott Awaits is a quietly funny, closely observed novel about the everyday life of a father.  Abbott, a university professor, lives with his bright two-year-old daughter, his insomniac pregnant wife, and an anxious dog.  There are moments -- like when Abbott stands in the driveway, cleaning the highchair with a hose -- that make me laugh out loud: 'He blasts the highchair so hard it rocks back on two plastic wheels. Desiccated raisins fly like shrapnel.'  Other moments accent the pleasure of reading a writer who gets it: 'Abbott approaches sleep with an ineffable sense of relief that he did not know, before having a child, what it was like to have a child -- did not really know what it was really like -- because if he had known before having a child how profoundly strenuous and self-obliterating it is to have a child, he never would have had a child, and then, or now, he would not have this remarkable child. Abbott's wife, were she here, might say that it doesn't quite make sense. Abbott might rub her hip lightly with the back of his hand. "That's the thing," he might say.'"

Irena Smith, Columns Department Editorial Assistant, has a suggestion that says “Father’s Day” loud and clear: “I must have re-read Calvin Trillin's Messages from My Father at least half a dozen times, and it simply never gets old.  Of course I fall into a category of people for whom Calvin Trillin can do no wrong, but this book is something special: it's an understated and at the same time profoundly moving meditation on the life and lessons of a man whose flashiest piece of advice to his son amounted to, ‘you may as well be a mensch.’  Abe Trillin was stubborn, given to swearing off things -- coffee, tobacco, alcohol (no, he was not a Mormon), and all neckties that were not yellow in color -- but he was also deeply decent, fundamentally kind, and Good with a capital ‘G’ in all the ways that mattered.  Born in Russia and raised in western Missouri, he believed in the American dream with all his heart and taught his son to aspire to a standard of behavior reflected in his own approach to being a grocer: ‘give good weight, refuse to buckle to pressure from the chain stores, [and] treat with contempt the wartime temptation to get rich by cutting a few corners.’  There are worse lessons to teach your kid.  It's a fantastic read for Father's Day, but honestly, for just about every day of the year as well!”


Libby Maxey lives in rural Massachussetts with her husband and two young sons. With her academic career as a medievalist having died a stunningly swift death by childbirth, she now works as an editor, writes poetry, reads when able, and sings with her local light opera company. Her work has appeared in The Mom Egg Review, Off the Coast, Tule Review, Crannóg Magazine, Mezzo Cammin and elsewhere.


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