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Now Read This! The Neverending Mother's Day Story


As Mother's Day approaches, I've been thinking about the most powerful gift my mother ever gave me: my love of reading.

Not just any reading, mind you. When it became clear that 8-year-old finicky reader Bethanne Kelly was bored to death by age-appropriate bedtime tales, 35-year-old Julia Kelly quickly "thought outside the book": She dug out her old college literature texts and started reading me the poetry, short stories and essays they contained.

That sounds sweet, doesn't it? Sure - until you hear some of the titles Mrs. Kelly gleefully read her 3rd-grade daughter at bedtime:

"The Masque of the Red Death," where costumed partygoers are felled by a mysterious plague.

"The Tell-Tale Heart," where the murderer of an old man buries the dismembered body beneath the floor of his bedroom.

"The Cask of Amontillado," where a dude gets buried alive.

I wasn't a macabre kid - I swear! - but I loved the musicality of Poe's prose. And the gift was less in what my mother read than in her willingness to stop feeding me those predictable Newberry- and Caldecott-stamped paperbacks (though I had plenty of those, too).

That sort of open mind and heart are precisely what I love about the book I'm recommending this week.

What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-One Women on the Gift That Mattered Most, edited by novelist Elizabeth Benedict, features fond-but-wise recollections by some high-candlepower daughters: Joyce Carol Oates, Roxana Robinson, Marge Piercy, Rita Dove - you get the picture. These essays are not fluff pieces. (Not a chocolate box or silk scarf in sight, I'm happy to report.) Instead they're deeply considered, deeply felt writings on identity and relationships.

Some of the gifts received were objects: a gold dress; a bouquet of bat mitzvah flowers; a cake pan. Others were experiences: a boat trip around Manhattan; a year of sobriety. And still others were life-transforming: a passport.

Every gift described in What My Mother Gave Me will make you think - mostly, if you're like me, of your own mother and the most cherished thing she passed along to you.

What did your mother give you that you will never forget?


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