The best books that can help you survive a kooky childhood

Wendy Lawless Author Of Chanel Bonfire
By Wendy Lawless

Who am I?

I'm a stage and television actress who, after getting married and having two children, turned to writing in my forties as my “second act”. I started writing about being a mom in Hollywood, and being raised by a mom who was—well, nuts. For years I dined out on crazy stories of my childhood: breakfasting on cold, half-eaten hors d'oeuvres strewn across our Park Avenue room from my crazy mom's all-night cocktail parties, falling asleep on banquets at nightclubs, skipping school to sneak into a swanky hotel in London and meet the Osmonds. The final result was my memoir, Chanel Bonfire. I believe it has the power to inspire and give hope, as well as entertain. 


I wrote...

Chanel Bonfire

By Wendy Lawless,

Book cover of Chanel Bonfire

What is my book about?

Georgann Rea didn’t bake cookies or go to PTA meetings; she wore a mink coat and always had a lit Dunhill plugged into her cigarette holder. She’d slept with too many men and a few women, and she didn’t like dogs or chil­dren. Georgann possessed the icy beauty of a Hitchcock heroine with the cold heart to match.

From living at the Dakota in 1960s Manhattan to London’s swinging town houses and beyond, Wendy Lawless and her younger sister navigated day-to-day life as their unstable and fabulously neglectful mother, Georgann, chased her delusions, suffered dramatic breakdowns, and survived suicide attempts. With clear-eyed grace and flashing wit, Lawless portrays the highs and lows of her unhinged upbringing—and how she survived her mother’s endlessly destructive search for glamour and fulfillment.

The books I picked & why

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Running with Scissors

By Augusten Burroughs,

Book cover of Running with Scissors

Why this book?

Augusten Burroughs memoir, Running With Scissors, was my call to action! Within minutes of reading its opening pages, I had an epiphany. RWS was a roadmap for me; a book that showed me what kind of a memoir I wanted to write, and made it seem maybe do-able. Like my memoir it’s darkly funny, has a wacky cast of characters, insane situations, car chases, a crazy mom, and a main character who survives, reasonably intact in spite of it all. If only there had been a book like RWS when I was growing up! I would have thought that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to turn out alright. Which it did. 

Running with Scissors

By Augusten Burroughs,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Running with Scissors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times Bestseller

An Entertainment Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year

Now a Major Motion Picture

This is the true story of a boy who wanted to grow up with the Brady Bunch, but ended up living with the Addams Family. Augusten Burroughs's mother gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. The doctor's bizarre family, a few patients and a sinister man living in the garden shed completed the tableau. The perfect squalor of their dilapidated Victorian house, there were no…


Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups

By Kay Thompson, Hilary Knight (illustrator),

Book cover of Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups

Why this book?

Eloise is a children’s picture book about a six-year-old girl who lives with her nanny, named Nanny, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. She has no real parents; her father isn’t around and her mother prefers to jet set around the world, shopping and eating lunch. Eloise is hilariously unkempt, in her rumpled party dress, uncombed hair, and crooked hair bow, she prowls the hotel, looking for snacks and adventure. Eloise has always been close to my heart for her wild imagination and her plucky acceptance of being a fabulously neglected child. 

Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups

By Kay Thompson, Hilary Knight (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eloise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eloise has been delighting readers for more than sixty years—though she’s still not a day over six. Celebrate with the original classic storybook that now comes with a CD narrated by the brilliant Bernadette Peters!

Eloise is a very special little girl who lives at The Plaza Hotel in New York City. She may not be pretty yet, but she’s definitely already a real person. She loves learning about people who aren’t boring. Take Eloise home with you and she’ll introduce you to life at The Plaza. You’ll be glad you did! Eloise’s fans—young and old—will love, love, love this…


When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends: Resolving the Most Complicated Relationship of Your Life

By Victoria Secunda,

Book cover of When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends: Resolving the Most Complicated Relationship of Your Life

Why this book?

I’m a big believer in self-help books. This was recommended to me by a therapist who basically saved my life, navigating me through a very difficult time in my life in my twenties. The author, Victoria Secunda, breaks down all the different dysfunctional types of mothers, with chapters titled “The Avenger”, “The Doormat”, “The Critic”, in an easy-to-understand way. Reading this book helped me “diagnose” my mother, who never took responsibility for her mental illness, always blaming her behavior on her kids or others. This book helped me to understand her more fully, perhaps even feel compassion for her. I often recommend it to anyone who, like me, has or had a troubled relationship with their mother.

When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends: Resolving the Most Complicated Relationship of Your Life

By Victoria Secunda,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked When You and Your Mother Can't Be Friends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A book of great value for every daughter and every mother; useful for sons, too.”—Benjamin Spock, M.D. 

From the Introduction:
The goal of this book is to help readers achieve that separation so that they can either find a way to be friends with their mothers, or at least recognize and accept that their mothers did the best they could—even if it wasn't “good enough”—and to stop blaming them. Among the issues to be covered:

• To understand how a daughter's attachment to her mother—more so than her relationship with her father—colors all her other relationships, and to analyze why…


Shuggie Bain

By Douglas Stuart,

Book cover of Shuggie Bain

Why this book?

This beautifully written coming-of-age novel is the story of a young boy living in poverty in 1980s Glasgow with his alcoholic mother. It is epically and inevitably tragic, but I was transfixed and uplifted by the ferocious love the main character, Shuggie, has for his mother, Agnes, and she for him. When I finished the book it was as if the author has given me a gift. Shuggie endures so much but despite his turbulent home life he manages to transcend it, escape, and make a life for himself. It’s an incredible and exquisitely wrought tale of survival.

Shuggie Bain

By Douglas Stuart,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Shuggie Bain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD



A stunning debut novel by a masterful writer telling the heartwrenching story of a young boy and his alcoholic mother, whose love is only matched by her pride.



Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city’s notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings.



Shuggie’s mother Agnes walks a wayward path: she…


Monkeys

By Susan Minot,

Book cover of Monkeys

Why this book?

I chose this quietly devastating first novel by Susan Minot because it is a delicate family story, thought to be based on her own childhood of growing up as one of seven children. When it came out, many of her siblings became upset with her portrayal of events; a few even wrote their own novels with their version of what they perceived as “the truth”. My own sister stopped speaking to me when I sent her my first memoir to read. She eventually came around, and told me she was glad I’d told our story. I believe that the truth is not a solid, but a liquid. Truth is personal—it’s what we see, assume or believe filtered through our own lens and experience. 

Monkeys

By Susan Minot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Monkeys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

 

Minot’s bestselling debut: A moving novel of familial love and endurance in the face of shattering tragedy Monkeys is the remarkable story of a decade in the life of the Vincents, a colorful Irish Catholic family from the Boston suburbs. On the surface, they seem happy with their vivacious mother Rosie at the helm. But underneath, the Vincents struggle to maintain the appearance of wealth and stability while dealing with the effects of their father’s alcoholism. When a sudden accident strikes, their love for one another is tested like never before. Written by the bestselling author of Evening, Monkeys is…


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