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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Author Ayelet Waldman once said she loves her husband more than she loves her children. She admitted these feelings made her, in the eyes of many, a bad mother. Conveniently, that's also the name of a recent collection of essays she wrote, in which she explores with honesty and humor what it means to be a mom in a culture where motherhood is often idealized.

Here she is for our series Three Books, where authors talk about three books on one theme.

Ms. AYELET WALDMAN (Author, "Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace"): Nowadays, it seems there are two ways - and only two - to write about motherhood. There's cloying sentimentality, the kind most often seen on websites with soundtracks heavy on the Tchaikovsky or in slim volumes with pastel pink covers and titles like "A Letter to My Darling Little One."

More popular lately, though, is the bitter and cynical motherhood-is-hell school. I am heartily sick of both.

I'm no sentimentalist, but clearly, there's something about the project of motherhood that I enjoy - I've done it, after all, four times. This year, I've decided to embrace books that are bracing and honest, yet do not shirk from the pleasures of parenthood; books that tell the truth, but in which the truth is more joy than bitterness.

Shirley Jackson, author of one of the most marvelously sinister novels of all time, "The Haunting of Hill House," and of the short story "The Lottery," also wrote two charming autobiographical novels about raising her four children in a ramshackle farmhouse in rural Vermont.

In my favorite, "Life Among the Savages," Jackson's humor is as snappy as her horror is creepy, and her children, though as messy and obstreperous as mine, seem never to inspire in her anything worse than a fond exasperation.

The title story of Amy Bloom's short story collection, "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You," contains one of the most absolute expressions of a mother's love in fiction.

In this collection, ordinary women rise to the occasion demanded by motherhood. They make mistakes - some terrible - but they generally succeed in making up for them.

My last recommendation is not about mothers at all, but about fathers, or rather, one father in particular.

In his memoir, "Family Man," Calvin Trillin writes with marvelous good humor about his wife and daughters.

Getting advice on the best way to bring up children, Trillin writes, is like getting advice on the best way to breathe - sooner or later, you're probably going to forget it and go back to your regular old in-and-out.

Trillin gives the impression of being the best kind of husband. He not only wears the Snugli and pulls his domestic weight, he's utterly enchanted by his family.

Trillin and "Family Man" are so appealing and vicariously pleasurable that the book amounts to no less than mommy porn.

NORRIS: Ayelet Waldman is the author of the book "Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace." She lives in San Francisco. Her Three Books were "Life Among the Savages" by Shirley Jackson, "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You" by Amy Bloom and "Family Man" by Calvin Trillin.

For more books coverage, authors interviews, commentaries and reviews, go to npr.org.

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