Review: Can Any Mother Help Me?, Jenna Bailey

In 1935, a mother wrote in to a British motherhood magazine saying this:

Can any mother help me?  I live a very lonely life as I have no near neighbors.  I cannot afford to buy a wireless. I adore reading, but with no library am very limited with books.  I dislike needlework, though I have a lot to do!  I get so down and depressed after the children are in bed and I am alone in the house….Can any reader suggest an occupation that will intrigue me and exclude ‘thinking’ and cost nothing?

In response, a group of women formed a privatecorrespondence magazine.  They submitted articles about their lives; the articles were bound into a magazine and sent around to each woman in turn.  They wrote comments on each other’s articles, offering advice and support.  The correspondence magazine lasted for over 50 years and was a lifeline to the women involved.  Can Any Mother Help Me? excerpts articles the women wrote about their children, the war, family sickness, marital problems, etc.

The book was fascinating – it reminded me so much of blogging!  The women who participated in the magazine would put in little notes on the articles, “love what you have written!”, etc.  Before each excerpt, Jenna Bailey included a biography of the woman who wrote it, to put the articles in the broader context of the author’s life.  Although there isn’t enough room in the book to give a lot of information about each woman, their descriptions of their lives are still vivid and individual.  I liked Yonire and Accidia the best as writers, but I enjoyed many of the stories.

If I were doing the Women Unbound Challenge – which I am not, I swear I can resist the temptation to enter these things because I have no idea whether I will be able to finish them – but if I were, I’d include this book as part of it, because, you know.  Hooray for women supporting each other!  (Thanks to Tara for the recommendation.)

This review seems a smidge perfunctory, but that is only because I am currently in the middle of The Mask of Apollo, a book by Mary Renault that I have been saving and saving for many years and finally decided to read and it is wonderful.  I wish I could travel back in time and give Mary Renault a hug.  Should be finished with it soon though my review may be delayed as my little sister just got back into town and we have A LOT of stuff to catch up on, like going to the mall and trying on prom dresses, and talking about who we would cast in the movie versions of every book we have read since we last saw each other, and eating Mexican food and going out for cheese fries, and watching Doctor Who and Angel and Better Off Ted – y’all, there are many things we are going to do.

In other happy news, my parents got a puppy.  She is the sweetest little puppy, though I am glad I am grown-up and not at home and thus no longer responsible for cleaning up after a brand new puppy, or for puppy-proofing all my things.  I named her Jasmine (Jazz for short!), and her proper name is Jasmine Mouton because she looks like a little sheep when she romps all over the house.  Of course, after we had already agreed on the name, I discovered she was born on Oscar Wilde’s birthday.  BORN ON OSCAR WILDE’S BIRTHDAY Y’ALL.  If I had known this, I would have pushed to name her Ada Leverson.  Ada Leverson Puppy.

See that koala bear in the corner?  Jasmine loves it.  We caught it at a St. Patrick’s Day parade a few years ago, I believe, and it is nearly as big as she is, but she still carries it all around and worries at it and tries to rip its ears off.  I think that means affection, from a puppy?  Anyway she is extremely sweet and seems very, very clever.  She is already starting to head for the back door when she needs to go out, though of course once she is out, all she wants to do is to chew on the air conditioning and run under the house.  We hope she grows too tall for under the house VERY SOON.

  • Awww – the puppy’s adorable 😀 And what a perfect birthday for a Jennyfamily puppy!

    I love the sound of the book as well! I actually am doing the Women Unbound challenge because I have zero will power, so I think I’ll add it to my list for that 😛

    • I know, right? It’s like the world picked out a puppy with me in mind! I love the Women Unbound challenge – so many tempting challenges out there! – but I’m still sort of waiting for the new year to start before I decide what (if any!) challenges I want to do. But I hope some other people get to read this book, because it was very cool. (And, of course, unavailable in the US – had to buy it in London!)

  • It does sound like blogging! And I totally agree with you about challenges – I don’t want to commit to something I have no idea if I can finish or even if I will want to finish!

    • I always enjoy reading other people’s challenge posts though! My thing is that I have so many unread books lying around on my shelves, I don’t want to add to my problems by giving myself a bunch of lists of books that I have to read by a certain date.

  • Katy

    In one of those Antonia Forest books that I recommended a few comments back but that are hard to find, the main character gets in trouble for having smuggled The Mask of Apollo into her boarding school. They’re only supposed to bring one book from home each term (wouldn’t that be awful?) and The Mask of Apollo is in the school library but is only for the older kids, so Nicola smuggles it in and gets caught and has to go explain to the English teacher precisely why she thought it was worth breaking the rules for. Which she does, and it turns out the English teacher has also read The Mask of Apollo and is quite willing to discuss it. She still punishes Nicola, though, by assigning her a massive reading list with lots of Dickens on it.

    The puppy is very, very cute. Do you sing “Jasmine” to her, to the tune of “Mandy?”

    • We sing her “A Whole New World” and also “All that Jazz” and this awful song called “Jazz Baby” that Carol Channing sings in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

      Is that Peter’s Room? There’s a Nicola in the one I was reading (which has now vanished somewhere into my house) but I don’t think I remember that happening in it…

      • Katy

        Oh, you’re getting to read Peter’s Room? Great! I hope you like it. No, this is The Cricket Term, which comes later.

        I don’t know if you’ve gotten to the part of Angel where Angel sings “Jasmine” to the tune of “Mandy,” but if you haven’t then you’re in for a treat.

      • OH YES I REMEMBER THAT NOW. Oh, Angel and his Jasmine days. You know, I’d completely forgotten, when we named her, that Zoe was called Jasmine in Angel – I saw her in Firefly first, so when we watched Angel we only ever called her Zoe. That’s so funny, and on a bad puppy day kind of apt – we love her devotedly even though she tries to eat us. 😛

  • Eva

    Awww! Puppy! 😀 And that book sounds fascinating!

    • It is fascinating! And thank you for the admiration of the puppy – poor little thing, she apparently hardly slept at all last night, so when I saw her today, she was very very sleepy. She would play for about two minutes and then crawl into somebody’s lap and go to sleep immediately.

  • What a cute puppy! She does look just like a lamb. (I have a book called Le Mouton the Adorable, that a pair of my great-aunts wrote; made me think of that!)

    It sounds like a wonderful book, as well. I doubt it’s available in my library, though.

    • When you see her romping around the backyard, she looks like a very tiny, rather clumsy white bear. SO fluffy. It’s going to be weird the first time my parents give her a real haircut.

      It’s probably not at your library – I don’t think it’s been published in the United States yet. Or if it has, it’s under a different title. I got my copy when I was on vacation in London earlier this year. :

  • What a cool book! It reminds me of finding an old book that has other people’s notes in it.

    ADORABLE puppy, too!

    • Yes, exactly! I am addicted to reading other people’s letters! Especially when they talk a lot about what their lives are like and all their private affairs. I’m so nosy. 😛

  • That puppy is just the cutest thing ever. Maybe one day genetic engineering will produce a puppy that doesn’t poop endlessly and messily and will thus be completely perfect. And I’ve seen this book around and wondered what it was like. I love sisterhood stories – women supporting one another are just so great.

    • Our puppy is getting better about pooping indoors. (Knock wood.) But she hasn’t quite gotten the hang of giving us a clear indication when she wants to go outside for any reason. One of the many reasons I’m glad I no longer live with my parents.

      The book’s very sisterhoody – especially when the women are having difficult times. Everyone writes nice, supportive comments in the margins, and it’s very touching.

  • Oh the puppy is adorable!

    Can Any Mother Help Me? sounds lovely. It keeps coming up as a recommendation for me on amazon so I might check it out now!

    • Do! Amazon is quite right in this case!

  • PUPPY! puppypuppypuppy!!! I was just told that a puppy of my favorite breed is at the pet store in the mall and I have yet to give it to temptation to go see it. Cuz if I do, that thing is coming home with me. Can. NOT. Go. to. Mall.
    sigh
    oh! and I will consider this book for the Challenge – thank you for the rec. (you do know, don’t you, that the challenge-police doesn’t really exist, right?)

    • What’s your favorite breed? We pretty much have to get a poodle as my mum and sisters are allergic to regular dogs; fortunately poodles are very sweet, intelligent dogs.

      I know the challenge police doesn’t exist. Sort of. But I can’t help feeling like if I don’t finish my challenges, people will shake their heads and think, That Jenny. What a terrible book blogger. 😛

      (I’m probably going to end up joining several challenges. I just have to choose which ones and what books.)

  • I really like the sound of this and was adding it to my Women unbound list! until I saw your comment that it’s not in the US. And you’re right — can’t find it. Boo hoo!
    🙁

    Thanks for a great review anyway. I’m glad for blogging so i won’t be a lonesome mother!

    • I’ll lend it to you, if you want! Or of course there’s always the lovely Book Depository, which ships free worldwide (how I do not know; I think it is magic).

  • So very glad you liked this one!

    • I did! Thanks so much for the recommendation!

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