Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Can Any Mother Help Me?

It seems like a long time ago that Karen wrote about Jenna Bailey's book Can Any Mother Help Me? The book stayed in my mind though, and once it was available in paperback (with rather a silly cover) I had to make it mine.


This is the story of a group of women who corresponded with one another via a secret magazine from 1935 until 1990. They called themselves the CCC - The Cooperative Correspondence Club - and wrote articles about their lives which one member would compile into a magazine which would be mailed in turn to each member. The magazine was born from a letter written to a mother's magazine in which the writer, a young mother, described how lonely and exhausted she was and desired some sort of occupation. The suggestion was made that perhaps the writer would like to exchange letters with other mothers, and the CCC came to be.



Jenna Bailey was a student looking for a subject for her master thesis when she came across these old magazines and lovingly turned the material into this book. There is commentary from her throughout the book which I appreciated, but the bulk of the book is made of these women's stories through the years. They wrote through all the phases of their lives, from childbirth and young motherhood, through the war, during working days or staying at home with the children, to divorce, and family illness, and finally their own mortality as they aged. There is such an immediacy to their writing. I felt heartbroken as one woman described her divorce from a man she was still in love with and so much sadness as they wrote about the illnesses of their children, both in infancy and as adults. Over time, the women met in person and developed relationships beyond the magazine's pages. The author has been fortunate enough to have met with a few of the remaining women and their families who were so generous in sharing the intimacy of their lives

This is a remarkable story in many ways. Remarkable in the length of time the magazine continued, the effort these women put into it, and the representation of lives lived in a particular moment in time. It is striking that as the magazine made its rounds among the women, they would make comments in the margins for the writing. Does that sound familiar? These women were the bloggers of their time.

17 comments:

Cornflower said...

They were indeed the bloggers of their day!
I so enjoyed that book - a fascinating look at those ladies' lives.

Iliana said...

This book sounds wonderful. I love letters and yes email is great but a letter is something special nowadays.

I'm adding this one to my list!

Nan said...

Wonderful, wonderful. I definitely want to read it.

Staci said...

Seriously, I have to read this!!!

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

Oh, I MUST read this. I hadn't heard of this one until your review. Thank you!

Tara said...

Karen, I'm so glad you featured this book!

Iliana, it is always fun to get a real letter in the mail, isn't it?

Nan, this is definitely one for you. The Book Depository has it.

Staci, I think you would enjoy this one.

B&B's Mommy, I hope you like it!

Ashley said...

Oh this book sounds great! I love reading (and receiving) letters! Putting it on my wishlist

Bonnie said...

This sounds wonderful! I'm adding it to my wishlist.

Samantha said...

Tara! Another to add to my tbr! p.s. Have you seen on thebookdepository.co.uk that the three instalments of The Midwives is going to be published all as one volume in about 5 or 6 months time? I have put it on wishlist to order it when it is released.

Bybee said...

What a find-of-a-lifetime for Jenna Bailey.

Tara said...

Ashley, this is a great book, I'm glad it appeals to you.

Bonnie, I'm glad you think so!

Sam, yes, this one is definitely up your alley! I did not see that edition of The Midwife - what a great idea!

Bybee, I thought the same thing.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds fabulous! What a devoted group of friends.

Tara said...

bermudaonion, it is a really moving book.

Anna said...

This one sounds really good. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Les said...

I had a feeling Nan would say this is her kind of book. She and I have been corresponding for a dozen years and have never met. Sounds a bit like these women. I love letters and books about letters and books about women writing to one another, so this is going on my must-read-soon list! Lovely review, Tara. Thank you!

Tara said...

Anna, you are welcome!

Les, I thought the same about Nan! I had no idea you've known each other for 12 years - how did you two 'meet'? I think you would like this as well.

Les said...

We met through an online book group. I can never remember what the original group was - maybe something to do with Oprah - but we wound up in a group called Bookstacks. It changed names later on, as I recall. Once it folded, we continued on via various Yahoo groups. Now we simply email each other. I know her as well as some of my closest friends. We've had phone conversations, exchanged gifts and advice over the years. We may have never met in person, but I love her like a sister.