The Bookworm: Celebrating powerful women in honor of Mother’s Day

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs”

By Jason Porath

c. 2018, Dey Street

$24.99, $31.00 Canada; 244 pages

Your mom is tough as nails. The minute you were placed in her arms, she became your personal warrior, cheerleader, and banker. She remembers the good things you did and (sigh) the dumb things you tried. She pretends to forget why she ever gave you “that look.” And in the new book “Tough Mothers” by Jason Porath, you’ll meet other women just like her.

“Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs” by Jason Porath.

Good old mom. Through the years, she’s worn many hats: nurse, playmate, disciplinarian, chauffer, chef, advisor. Without her, let’s face it, you wouldn’t have been born. Mom’s made you laugh, she’s made you cringe by living “fully, brashly, boldly” and, says Porath, “You are not alone.” In this book, you’ll read about other kids’ moms.

Take, for instance, Toronto mom Vera Peters, a cancer doctor who, in 1949, proved that new ways of treating breast cancer were better than the old ways. Male doctors didn’t want to believe her, but once they finally did, Peters’ methods undoubtedly saved a lot of other mom’s lives.

Bella Abzug was a “wrecking ball of a human being,” says Porath, but some preferred to think of her as fierce. No doubt she was: even today, minorities, LGBT individuals, and women enjoy the fruits of Abzug’s work.

Jason Porath, author of “Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs.”

In first century China, Mother Lü’s son was killed by a corrupt government magistrate. No one would blame her for wanting revenge, but she didn’t get it immediately; instead, she turned to her neighbors with works of sweetness and charity. Of course, they became steadfastly loyal to her, took the stockpile of weaponry she’d amassed, and went to war against Lü’s enemies on her behalf.

Sojourner Truth became one of the first black women to successfully sue a white man in America. Susan La Flesche Picotte built a hospital for the Omaha nation that opened in 1913; not long afterward, she died there of bone cancer. Aborigine Molly Craig walked across Australia twice: once, carrying her sisters away from a government “concentration camp” and once, carrying her daughter. And despite being beaten, arrested, and jailed, Fannie Lou Hamer marched …

When you first pick up “Tough Mothers,” don’t let yourself be confused. Yes, it looks every bit like something you’d read to a six-year-old, but don’t: this is no butterflies-and-unicorns princess book. As author Jason Porath asserts in his introduction, the majority of what you’ll read here is absolutely for a mature audience.

Indeed, you’ll want to brace yourself (and warn mom!) if you’re the sensitive sort: Porath recounts violent tales of war and cruelty, death and abuse, outrageous laws and senseless loss throughout the centuries, and some of it is cringe-worthy. To the good, though, and to be fair, this is well-researched, historical information; it’s tempered with humor; and Porath warns his readers with color-coded indications of what’s to come.

Get this book for yourself and loan it to mom – although you may never get it back. Between the incredible illustrations, the laughs inside, and Mom Tales you’ll eat up, “Tough Mothers” is a book you’ll both sink your nails into.

“The Language of Kindness”

By Christie Watson

c. 2018, Tim Duggan Books

$27, $32.95 Canada; 336 pages

There was a time in your life when you tried everything. Full-time, part-time, gig-worker, entrepreneurship, you changed jobs like most people change clothes. It’s exhausting and disheartening and author Christie Watson had the same experience: café worker, milk deliverer, video shop clerk, she tried them all but in the new book “The Language of Kindness,” she tells how she settled upon her best job of all.

“The Language of Kindness” by Christie Watson.

Christie Watson was just 16 – a newly-single, homeless, unemployed high-school drop-out looking for a job that provided accommodations – when she landed work at a UK community center. She was hoping for a paycheck but, in helping severely disabled adults with their daily lives, she found friends. When nurses encouraged her curiosity for their profession, she found a calling.

First, though, Watson had a lot of learning to do. She fainted at the sight of blood on her first day, but she figured she’d get used to that. Later, she trailed a comfortingly self-assured hospital mentor, afraid that she’d never reach that level of competence. Assisting at her first birth, teary, awed, she was also a little frightened at the sounds, sights, and smells. She learned that she loved caring for the disabled and for psychiatric patients, a legacy she got from her Mum; preemie babies and profoundly sick children taught her enough to make her want to adopt a baby of her own. Eldercare schooled her about the importance of dignity and the need to not be patronizing to older patients. Working on the cancer ward taught her the importance of every second of life.

Christie Watson, author of “The Language of Kindness.”

She learned the facts of death from her patients, too: from babies who struggled against Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, premature birth, disease. Elderly and disabled patients taught her about death before they made her laugh, despite their suffering. Watson met death in psychiatric rooms, pediatric wards, bedsides and incubators.

She watched it at the bedside of her own father …

Time and time again, there are surprises inside “The Language of Kindness.”

The first arrives in a refreshingly blunt account of how author Christie Watson came to be a nurse, the difficulties of learning, and the general health of the industry today. Now retired, she writes unabashedly about how healthcare systems fail patients, comparisons in care between countries, addiction problems among her colleagues, and an on-going shortage of compassionate healthcare workers.

Another surprise arrives in the anecdotes Watson shares. The stories will absolutely be of the familiar sort to those who work in the industry, but often-gruesome details may turn the stomachs of lay-readers. Details are in here. Beware.

The biggest, perhaps most appealing, surprise is that this memoir sometimes veers off into things that seem intensely personal, which may have nothing and everything to do with nursing. Watson’s stories are observant and honest. They’re laced with Britticisms, action, compassion, and thought. With their attention to detail, they could bring you to your knees. And if that sounds just a little better than perfect, then “The Language of Kindness” is the book to try.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.