Reading My Mother Back

A Memoir in Childhood Animal Stories

Timothy C. Baker


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When his mother died, Timothy C. Baker discovered that there was almost no record of her existence, and no stories that were his to tell: the only way to bring her back was through reading. Reading My Mother Back is a genre-bending memoir that explores a life marked by trauma, illness, religion, and abuse through a focus on the books Baker and his mother shared. The book combines accounts of rereading childhood classics with true and apocryphal stories of a quiet life, marked by great sorrow and great joy. The book is about grief and memory and how our childhood reading shapes the way we see the world; it's about loneliness and the search for belonging; it's about how ordinary lives are transfigured by storytelling.

Moving from accounts of American evangelical communities to kidney failure, from literary criticism to psychoanalysis, and from guilt to love, Baker shows how literature provides a framework for understanding our experiences, and offers a way of connecting with everything we have lost. The book illustrates how children's animal stories bring us into a love of the world, and how acts of rereading become a way not of assuaging grief, but of bringing the past and present together. Reading My Mother Back offers a bold and personal view of why the stories we read and share matter so much. And there are bunnies.

What do we do when we write about animals for children, and what happens when we return to books we loved as a child? And what can this teach us about loss, grief, and loving the world? Reading My Mother Back precisely and eruditely engages with these questions. Whether Baker is examining The Secret Garden or intentional communities in the rural US or retelling memories of his sick mother, his prose is infused with rare intelligence, insight and compassion.

Professor Jenn Ashworth, Creative Writing Subject Lead, Lancaster University

A delicate weaving of memoir and criticism, this book is an ode to reading, to childhood, and to the books that shape a life. Profoundly moving, it captures all that is slowly revealed to us about childhood, if we are brave enough to look back.

Claire Lynch, Reader in English and Irish Literature, Brunel University, London

A transporting and absorbing evocation of an unorthodox childhood in Baltimore and rural Vermont, and of a son's search for his mother, who died too soon, Reading My Mother Back is wise, perceptive, funny, and startlingly profound. It is a work of philosophy as much as memoir; the rare book that feels on each page both beautiful and true and that not only tells a story with insight but that illuminates the larger world, too.

Cara Blue Adams, author of You Never Get It Back

Timothy C. Baker