To get in the holiday spirit, we’re offering up some awesome gift suggestions for moms by counting down the 25 Days of Christmas with 25 must-reads for today’s hip mamas. From comedies and classics to travel guides and toddler tips, here are some of the best books for the maternal bookshelf. Wrapping up one of these and putting it under the tree is one of the greatest gifts a mom could ask for. (Well, besides a nap and a massage and some nachos and some earplugs and a margarita and a pedicure.) People shopping for the woman of the house, take note!
1. Confessions of a Scary Mommy: An Honest and Irreverent Look at Motherhood—The Good, the Bad, and the Scary, by Jill Smokler
I think we’re almost there. Where? At the end of that era where mommyhood and parenting were glossed over and sugarcoated and idealized in a way that made everyone feel like they were getting it all wrong. And thank goodness. Because of truth-tellers like Jill Smokler, we’re finally getting somewhere on this mothering ride—to the fun part. This based-on-a-blog groundbreaking book is hilarious, touching, and unapologetic. Every mother should have it AND a sense of humor if they hope to get anywhere with this childrearing gig.
2. The New York Times 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in USA and Canada, by Barbara Ireland
Do modern moms ever get away on a trip that doesn’t have the adjective “business,” “field,” or “emergency room” in front of it? Well, they should. Granted, time is usually of the essence once you’re a parent, so this invaluable guide to 150 weekend destinations in the United States and Canada offers “practical itineraries” straight from The New York Times’ popular “36 Hours” column. This book’s contents are beautiful, inspiring, and, most importantly, feasible. No longer will a getaway seem like a pipe dream. Now, to find a sitter.
3. Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
One of the most straightforward, least intimidating, and gentlest books on meditation, this guide on centering oneself, quieting the mind, and awakening to the world around us is a priceless addition to any harried mom’s library. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center (among other titles), leads readers on a basic yet beautiful journey of living in the moment. With chapters like, “You Don’t Have to Go Out of Your Way to Practice” and “Can Anybody Meditate?,” this life-affirming, peace-invoking gem is a friend to busy women everywhere.
4. Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives, by Jean Shinoda-Bolen
This classic book on female psychology from the early 1980s is still timely and profound more than 30 years later. In it, Shinoda-Bolen offers up seven archetypal goddesses, from Artemis and Athena to Demeter and Aphrodite, to describe the patterns, thoughts, feelings, and life approaches specific to women. Moms will enjoy the riveting philosophy behind the book, but will especially appreciate it for the way it inspires them to reach for greater fulfillment in a realistic way, by becoming conscious of the stereotypes outside and the archetypes within.
5. Cooking With Trader Joe’s: Dinner’s Done, by Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati
Every parent I know loves Trader Joe’s, because it offers not just pantry and produce basics, but also lots of frozen convenience food and pre-prepped goodies (like diced onions and frozen minced garlic cubes). Not to mention, Trader Joe’s foods are typically low on preservatives, high on natural ingredients, and CHEAP! This insanely simple cookbook shows you how to take the ease of Trader Joe’s to a whole new level. Think you don’t have time for a sit-down dinner? Let this book prove you wrong. Your children will even have time left to do their homework and the dishes.
6. Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, by Katrina Alcorn
Being a working mother is not an easy job, even though it’s often portrayed in terms of “having it all.” Here, the account of one mom’s breakdown and breakthrough, and an honest look at how overextended lots of American mothers are. This book is nbold, brave, and personal. Katrina takes readers through her emotional collapse one day at Target, and on to her ultimate healing and recovery. This is a compelling read for those struggling to balance parenting, marriage, and work, offering helpful suggestions and techniques, as well as hope.
7. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, by Anne Lamott
Somehow I find a way to work this priceless jewel onto lots of reading lists, and here it is again. Have you read it yet? Because I’m going to keep recommending this book until everyone has. In this MUST-READ book, Anne Lamott details—in short, poignant, entries—what life was like in the first year after her son arrived. Breathtakingly beautiful, outrageously irreverent, and both ridiculously funny and deeply soulful, this book is an absolute must for every mother. Are you ordering it right now? Are you? Huh?
8. My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, by Zach Wahls
At the age of 19, Zach Wahls stood before the Iowa House of Representatives and defended gay marriage. You may recall his now-famous quote (“The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character”), or remember that his speech went viral on YouTube in 2011. This book describes his life, what it felt like to be raised by two mothers in a conservative Midwestern town, and what makes a family a family.
9. The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children, by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
Recommended to me by Dr. Carrie Contey, cofounder of the Slow Family Movement, this is a parenting book like no other. Tsabary’s theory is that children “function as ushers of the parents’ development” and serve as “mirror of their parents’ forgotten selves.” Compelling, wise, and pioneering, this book inspires parents to connect with their true essence, so they can move toward a relationship with their child that is one of pure communion. As one reviewer so aptly put it, “This book is a game-changer.”
10. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
We’ve long heard the dangers of telling boys “not to cry” and to “keep a stiff upper lip,” but this book details exactly why putting a damper on our sons’ emotions is one of the most heartbreaking things we can do as parents. Herein, Kindlon and Thompson detail exactly the challenges boys face at home, school, and on the athletic field, and how we can help them cultivate and embrace the most important gift of all: emotional literacy.
11. Opehlia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self, by Sara Shandler
Inspired by Mary Pipher’s bestselling Reviving Ophelia, which tackled issues unique to adolescent girls, Ophelia Speaks is a collection of first-hand accounts from teen girls nationwide (from various races and economic statuses) that voices the concerns and struggles of young women—from body image and boys to parents and school. This book of real, raw insight is invaluable to mothers raising girls—reminding us of who and where we once were and how we can best lead and nuture the next generation of women.
12. Running Like a Girl: Notes on Learning to Run, by Alexandra Heminsley
Most people think the world is divided into two groups: people who can run and people who can’t. This candid and funny look at one woman’s decision to “become a runner” is inspiring for moms (and everyone, really) who may have felt tempted to give jogging the old college try, but have resisted out of fear of failure, fear of looking silly, or just plain uncertainty of how to begin. Heminsley’s unintimidating tale of transformation from non-athlete to five-time marathon runner is both encouraging and entertaining.
13. Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing From America’s Favorite Humorist, by Erma Bombeck
No mother’s library is complete without at least one book by Erma Bombeck—the quintessential funny mom who made a household name for herself as possibly America’s most hilarious columnist in the 1960s. Erma took motherhood, marriage, and housewifery and turned them on their heads—unheard of in her generation—and in the process gained millions of adoring fans through her frankness and gentle brilliance. My favorite Erma quote? “My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.”
14. Parenting: Illustrated With Crappy Pictures, by Amber Dusick
Based on the blog of the same name, this illustrated (and I use that term loosely) gem is laugh-out-loud funny. Author Amber Dusick takes parenting’s most challenging moments and brings them to life in poorly-rendered but uproarious cartoons. This selection makes a great bathroom book for any mom, because it deals with a lot of crappy moments through crappy drawings. Actually, forget about the bathroom book part. Moms never get to go in there alone. It just makes a good, general book. One that she can read when she’s hiding in the closet with the Halloween candy.
15. Running With Scissors: A Memoir, by Augusten Burroughs
I love this book and this movie and this author. This outrageous memoir details one of the most fascinating, heartbreaking, and comedic childhoods EVER. That’s a bold statement, but I think anyone would say the same about a boy who is given up by his delusional mother to live with an eccentric, Santa Claus lookalike psychiatrist and his feral family, where chaos, Valium, electroshock therapy, and a year-round Christmas tree reign. In short, this book is Grey Gardens meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I recommend it for mothers who think they may have packed too few carrot sticks in their child’s lunchbox.
16. Mom & Me & Mom, by Maya Angelou
In this priceless autobiography, Maya Angelou finally delves into her complicated relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter, who sent three-year-old Maya away from California to live in Arkansas with her grandmother and brother. When Maya and her mother reunited a decade later, they began to heal their broken relationship, all of which is detailed in the beautifully wrought book that’s written in a way only Maya can write, with equal parts courage and eloquence.
17. Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, by Glennon Doyle Melton
There’s a reason this book and the blog it originated from (Momastery) are so well-liked: because Glennon is so darn likeable. Within this absolutely-must-read, Glennon details both the most dark and difficult and giddy and glorious days of her life in a manner so self-deprecating and witty, that you cannot put the book down. From her struggles with drugs, alcohol, and, an eating disorder to her triumphs in sobriety, marriage, and writing, this mother of three delivers a book that reads more like a bible on self-acceptance.
18. The Can’t Cook Book: Recipes for the Absolutely Terrified!, by Jessica Seinfeld
In the same vein as the I-can’t-run mindset, Jessica Seinfeld provides a book for those convinced they can’t cook. Find cooking boring, formidable, time-consuming, or tedious? Jessica provides delicious recipes (such as: lemon Salmon and roasted asparagus) with easy-to-follow steps for anyone hoping to crank out something decent for family or friends. Especially helpful for moms too busy to Google the difference between broiling and boiling, this book is ALSO GREAT FOR DADS.
19. Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes
Let’s not beat around the bush: kids are terrible sleepers and they make you want to swear. This book is so irreverent and so funny and so spot-on true, that if you’re offended by it, you must have one of those perfect kids who never needs a drink of water after 5:00 p.m. (There are three total of those kids in the world. So, congratulations!) Anyway, this book. Buy it. Love it. Read it. Maybe even to your kids.
20. What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most, by Elizabeth Benedict
This anthology of thirty-one personal essays, including some from award-winning novelists and journalists, attempts to answer the question: what was the most important thing your mother taught you? Not too sappy, and filled with plenty of bracing honesty and humor, this collection is a great reminder of how significant a mother is.
21. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons
Written by a Rhodes scholar and bullying expert, this book details how girls sometimes treat one another, why they do it, and what can be done to turn around the culture of female aggression and social exclusion. An important resource for mothers with daughters, Odd Girl Out sheds light on the subversive culture of mean girls and gives hope to those struggling with this sort of hostility.
22. Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
First published in 1955, this book is traditional in nature but timeless in perspective. Written by Lindbergh at the beach, the author uses analogy to compare the types of seashells she gathers with the many stages of women’s lives—mother, wife, friend, grandmother. This book has been given to me several times from various sage older women in my life, and I’m just now, at 41, beginning to appreciate the timeless wisdom within. A keeper.
23. Sh*tty Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us, by Laurie Kilmartin, Karen Moline, Alicia Ybarbo, Mary Ann Zoellner
Written by four really funny moms/TV producers/comedy writers, this anti-parenting book is just the cure for all those well-meaning how-to books that offer up advice on cloth-diapering and making your own baby food. In this farcical tour-de-force, you’ll learn all about “How to Sleep Until 9 A.M. Every Weekend,” and how to “Stop Not Taking the Easy Way Out.” Totally uncensored and unapologetic, this belongs in that diaper bag you’ve been using for beer.
24. An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard
Here’s where I put some real American literature on the list. This memoir from Pulitzer prize-winning Dillard details her 1950s childhood in Pittsburgh with an ethereal voice and luminous prose. This masterpiece is vivid and life-affirming and all-around exquisite. As a mom, it reminds me how fleeting and precious childhood is. (No pressure or anything.)
25. Big Bad-Ass Book of Cocktails: 1,500 Recipes to Mix It Up!, by Running Press
I think this one speaks for itself, dear mamas. Cheers!
We’ll be adding to this list every day—check back again!