Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages from Home

Emails from moms that make you laugh, cry, or sometimes just scratch your head.

Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages from Home Hyperion 247 pp., $17.99

More than ever, publishing today is a risky business. Bringing a book into the world is a gamble, and the best way to gamble, of course, is to reduce the number of unknowns in the game. 

It’s a calculus that works in the favor of Doree Shafrir and Jessica Grose, co-authors of Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages from Home.

They’re young writers from New York’s blogosphere, and their first book may be the best of a new publishing trend: turning successful blogs into books. Shafrir and Grose get arguably closer than any other bloggers to making the genre-jump work.

They started roughly a year ago, after Grose sent Shafrir an e-mail from her mother. Shafrir suggested they collect them, and a blog “phenomenon,” as they call it, was born. The site averages 500,000 page views a month and attracts international attention.

The book based on their blog, which came out last month, is an attractive physical package: Larger than the tiny novelty products sold next to cash registers to last-minute binge buyers, “Love, Mom” is a real book, durable but cute. And its price – $17.99 for a hardback! – is persuasively quaint.

Ultimately, though, “Love, Mom” functions as a novelty book. While the authors add some breezy introductory material to their chapters, along with distracting trivia about and advice for moms, the meat of the book is e-mails and instant message chats between mothers and their grown kids, both of whom remain anonymous.

The messages are arranged topically into chapters that sketch a familiar and somewhat clichéd portrait of mothers: technologically backward, simultaneously fashion-conscious and clueless, mediators of family rivalries and makers of unmatchable bean dips, the composite Mom of Shafrir and Grose’s book is one who doles out not-so-subtle hints about weddings and grandchildren and mostly off-the-mark advice about relationships and hairstyles, even as she asks for help from her kids on using Facebook, following the latest “blobs,” or buying things on eBay.

The authors do a charming job of sketching “essential mom-ness,” as they call it. But more fun are the mom-memes that emerge quietly from the material they’ve collected.

Mothers, for whatever reason, seem to prefer the shorthand “puter” to “computer.” They are, apparently, universally concerned with how the hit HBO television series “Sex and the City” has influenced their daughters’ professional and love lives. They seem to find wry humor in the phrase “parental units.”

But the real gems of the book are excerpts where moms inadvertently shake off the stereotype of a role they’ll never escape (at least not as long as it’s their daughters and sons who are circulating their e-mails).

The story one mom tells about a sick cat entertains not because it reveals mom-ness, but because the woman behind the e-mail is a naturally good storyteller. In another e-mail, the idiosyncratic limits of unconditional love are on display: “[Bring] me your new book. I don’t want to spend money unless it’s a keeper.”

The best example may be the mother who sweetens her tough-love advice with a gentle opening. She mimics the book’s composite mom saying, “It’s hard-wired into parents, part of our DNA.  We love our children no matter what.”

But she goes on to reveal a sense of humor and a personality that is uniquely her own: “I’m sure Paris Hilton’s parents love [her] – certainly Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother loved him.” It makes a daughter laugh out loud, but it implies a limit most moms aren’t willing to discuss with their kids, or perhaps even themselves: a mother’s love makes you special – but only to your mother.

It’s these moments, where the book turns essential mom-ness on its head, that are most worthwhile. But they are lamentably, if unsurprisingly, few.

Like other books from blogs, “Love, Mom” is essentially a dose of pop anthropology. It’s the written word’s equivalent of a coffee-table book, meant to playfully catalog its subject’s habits.

But like coffee-table books – or, for that matter, blogs – “Love, Mom” should be read only a few pages at a time. Because it turns out that mom-ness is best ingested a few small, gleeful doses at a time.

Jina Moore is a freelance writer in Brooklyn.

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