Mother's Day is upon us and you haven't bought a gift yet?! Me neither!!! Not for my mom. Not for my mother-in-law. Nor have I yet bought a gift for myself from my sons—ages 2 and 4—who will want to have bought me a gift come Sunday morning, when they lurch in with the bowl of Superman Life Cereal and the buttercups from the back yard.
I am a bookish mom. My credo has always been: If you can't learn to do it from a book, it's not worth doing at all. And having raised bookish boys (or, rather, one bookish boy and one tiny Visigoth), the best place for me to shop for my own Mother's Day gift seemed to be the local Barnes & Noble, where I quickly counted four tables teeming with books "Just for Mom." So, to help me help you choose the very best of this Mother's Day bounty, I pretended to be an exhausted and overextended mom and picked a few. My unscientific conclusions follow:
Disclaimer:I do not claim to speak for all moms. No doubt that for every worn-out mother of small children who shudders at the notion of a book about how to start your own dude ranch, there are seven others who desperately crave such a thing. If my efforts to steer you through the highs and lows of the Just for Mom section lead your mother or partner to burst into tears on Sunday, I apologize. I haven't had a proper night's sleep in four years.
Upon quick inspection, here's how the Mother's Day books shake out: There are stacks of books that urge Mom to do something else, and stacks of books that urge Mom to be something else. One way or another, it seems, the entire object is to keelhaul her out of her own momness and shoehorn her into something else. (By way of contrast, the table of Father's Day books, for you way-in-advance shoppers, features many, many books about golf.)
Let's start with the books that are bad for Mom. In decreasing order, let me suggest that no mom alive, whatever species, whatever phylum, wants any of the following:
Diet books: Please. "Happy Mother's Day. You're fat." Why it is that books like this are billed as Mother's Day fare is beyond me. Ditto for the makeover books and the You-dress-like-Gollum books. New dads, a warning: Buying the book about how your ravaged and sleep-deprived partner might regain the scorching body of her youth for her first-ever Mother's Day is the worst idea you've ever had. Go with the stretchy pants or the hedge clippers instead.
Organization books:"Happy Mother's Day! Your house is a landfill." Don't get me wrong. I love the feng shui, declutter, and time-management books as much as the next mom. But I don't want to own one, unless it is preprogrammed to declutter my residence itself or to disintegrate the moment it reverts from thoughtful gift to maddening clutter. On the one day a year we set aside to celebrate our moms, demanding that they get off their duffs and start creating a workable home filing system is the wrong impulse.
How-to books: Caveat: If your mom is a rabid crocheter, beader, scrapbooker, or felter, these books may be perfect. But before buying any, ask yourself this: "Has my mom put away the mittens and the winter boots that have overrun the front hall closet yet?" If the answer is no, you may not want to buy her a book suggesting that if only she were a bit more competent (see item above), she would have ample time to take up Wagashi, the Japanese art of hat-making.
Microscopic books: For some unknown reason, publishers believe that what moms really want for Mother's Day are books that measure a single square inch with fonts the size of dust motes. Books like the itsy-bitsy In Praise of Moms or the mini version of It's a Mom Thing seem like a great idea. They are, after all, on the Just for Mom table. They have the word mom in the title. But know this about the teeny books: If your mom spends the better part of her days sorting through microscopic socks and well-nigh-on-invisible Lego pieces, the last thing she really wants to do at the end of the day is crawl into a great big bubble bath and squint at a "gift" the size of a tortilla chip. Go the other way: Give her an enormous book. A Shakespeare concordance or a King James Bible. Something improbably permanent in a universe teeming with tiny plastic things that cannot be found when needed and are invariably underfoot when not.