One of my favorite poems is This Be the Verse, by Philip Larkin, which is about the ways in which we can get, er, messed up by our parents. I think that no matter how much we love our families, it’s undeniable that they influence us in ways both good and bad. I often joke about the various ways I’m probably scarring my son for life (no one should have to hear their mom make up words to rap songs, unless their mom is Missy Elliot or someone, in which case it’s probably okay), but the fact is that one day he’ll be as messed up by me as I was by my folks. In a good way, I hope. At any rate, Philip Larkin was onto something when he wrote this poem, as Freud or Dr. Phil could attest. Messed up or merely interested in the tricky universe of family dynamics, here’s a little reading list on the subject.
You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation, by Deborah Tannen: I’ve loved Deborah Tannen since I took my first linguistics class as an undergraduate. She writes on the role that conversation plays in relationships, and while she may be most well known for her work on the conversational differences between men and women, in this book she tackles the sometimes prickly issue of mother-daughter relationships. Like you might expect from an expert on conversation, her writing style is approachable and makes for a good read.
Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives, by Frank J. Sulloway: Our parents aren’t the only ones who can mess us up! Sibling relationships can be even more influential in our lives, and some would claim that the very order in which you were born can play a role in your place in the family. I’m not sure how much I believe that birth order can really put us into such neat categories, but if you have siblings you’ll probably find this interesting.
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris: Probably you’ve read this by now. If you haven’t, you should put down whatever you’re reading and pick it up. Some of the funniest stories in this and other collections by Sedaris feature various members of his family, and surely your own childhood will look tame by comparison.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel: This very poignant graphic novel relates the story of the author’s coming of age and her relationship with her father. Her somewhat nontraditional story, told in graphic form, makes a nice change from the usual family memoir.