Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 29: Favorite Book Quotes (these could be quotes from books you love, or bookish quotes in general)

  1. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.” —  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

For a character who is “no bird” Jane is often associated with them in this novel. Even her name sounds like “air”. But perhaps it is a free bird, as opposed the the caged bird she calls to mind here, that one associates with Jane the most. No matter what happens she is able able to take off when she chooses. She may seek out greener pastures, or go back to battle old ghosts. I think it takes a lot of nerve for her to assert this actually. At this point in the book, nothing in her life has told her she has value. She’s “poor, obscure, plain, and little,” but she feels that she has intrinsic worth in spite of that. That’s what gives her the guts to assert herself, to take off when she feels it’s necessary, and to refuse to be ensnared.

2. “From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood.” —  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was about 12 and I definitely identified very strongly with Francie. I still do, even though I’m older now. This quote is a perfect example of why. I honestly do feel like books are my friends. Some people might see that as sad, but I see it as having reliable friends who never talk back and never leave me or let me down. (I do also have some actual, human friends too!)

3. “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” — Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

I’ve always had a tendency to be hard on myself. Even when I was a child, I would take myself to task for my mistakes. I first read this book when I was about nine, and right away something clicked when I read that! It was so freeing to see things that way! Even now, if I have a bad day, I try to remember that there’s always tomorrow, and there are no mistakes in it yet! It doesn’t always help, but I do try to remember it.

4. “How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.” — Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a more recent read, and a big theme in this book is the perceptions of others vs. self perception. That really resonated with me, even independent of the rest of the book. I think that we constantly create different versions of ourselves with different people. To some extent that’s natural: we behave differently with out friends from adulthood for example, than we do with people who have know us since we were children. But it can be cultivated too. Sometimes we have a sense of how someone else sees us, and we can try to live up to it. How a stranger sees you for the first time is powerful, because it can give us the feeling of a blank slate. We can sort of create ourselves anew.

5. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

This is from a conversation between Gandolf and Frodo, after Gandolf tells Frodo about the Ring. Frodo wishes that this hadn’t happened during his lifetime, and this is Gandolf’s response. They’re words that I’ve thought of a lot through the craziness of 2020. Things happen that we don’t control. But we control our response.

6. “There are few people whom I really love and still fewer of whom I think well.”Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This quote stands out to me because of the distinction made between loving someone and thinking well of them. We often think of loving people as thinking of them in the highest regard. But really, we can love people and not think well of them at all. We can love people and not like them. So the distinction makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

7. “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)” – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Just very true words. People can turn anything into a weapon. They can make things that are supposed to help up, things that are supposed to make us better, destructive. Is that true of everyone? No, of course not. A whisky bottle in the hands on one man may be meaningless. It might simply mean that he likes the taste of whisky and enjoys a glass of it and the end of a long day. But in the hands of another man, it could mean that he’s about to become a violent drunk. Similarly, the Bible is a book that is supposed to teach people to be kind to one another, to help each other. And one person may use it that way. But another may use it as a way to oppress others and even as a justification for it.

8. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” – The White Album by Joan Didion

I just think that this is so true. When something terrible happens, we immediately try to understand it. We try to put it into some kind of workable context. I once lost someone close to me, and I almost immediately tried to put that loss in narrative terms. I thought about how this person’s narrative arc was complete, even though he was young. I was aware that I was imposing a narrative on something that didn’t necessarily have one, but it did help a bit to think of it that way. Stories help us get through life, by escaping it, and sometimes by giving us tolerable ways to understand it.

9. “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”The Twits by Roald Dahl

Once again a children’s book proves that it can articulate something more simply and memorably than something intended for adults. I think that this was something that I tried to convey when I wrote Beautiful. Needless to say, I definitely think it’s true. And the reverse is too. Someone might be totally gorgeous, but if they act like a jerk, sooner or later, they won’t look so appealing.

Top Ten Tuesday: Small Town Novels

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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This week’s topic was:

August 11: Books I Loved but Never Reviewed

But the thing is that there are a lot of books I’ve loved but never reviewed. My reviewing a book has more to do with time/inclination than love.

Since I wasn’t feeling this week’s topic, so I decided to go with one of my own. I’m definitely more of a big city girl IRL. But I do appreciate some small town fiction.

  1. 71pevpzotdl._ac_uy218_Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn– Camille is a reporter who returns to the small town of Wind Gap, Missouri  to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls. She finds a town that’s even more toxic than the one she left years earlier. At the same time she must grapple with some equally toxic family relationships.
  2. 81jwx0nliyl._ac_uy218_Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery– Avonlea is practically a character in these novels (most of them at least). Actually most of Montgomery’s work features small PEI based towns that play a large role in the story.
  3. a1eoxybsj5l._ac_uy218_We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson– The small town takes on a villainous role in this one. I think it rivals Wind Gap for toxicity! This town has it’s own set of witches (sort of), but the “normal” townspeople might be more dangerous than the witches!
  4. 91paeh4pugl._ac_uy218_Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- A lot of Allen’s fiction is set in small towns, but this one (and the sequel First Frost) is set in Bascom, North Carolina. It’s a typical small Southern town in many ways, but some of the residents (namely the Waverly family) are anything but typical. That fact sends Sydney Waverly out of town right after high school graduation. But it might also be what brings her back.
  5. 91j44fyb1ml._ac_uy218_Salem’s Lot by Stephen King- I’m actually not a big fan of  this novel, but one thing that King does in it really successfully (IMO) is create a portrait of mundane, everyday evil. We see acts of abuse and bullying that make up the fabric of daily life in ‘Salem’s Lot. Ultimately I think that’s more chilling than the vampires that eventually make an appearance.
  6. 81ap62fhl._ac_uy218_Shakespeare’s Landlord by Charlaine Harris– I know that the Sookie Stackhouse novels, the Aurora Teagarden series and the Midnight, Texas series are also set in small towns (and have small screen adaptations) but those never really resonated with me. I prefer this series set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. I included this book because it’s the first, but any of the others also apply.
  7. 41fsa9p0jul._ac_uy218_Peyton Place by Grace Metalious– This novel is about how three women come to terms with their identity as women and sexual beings in a very conservative, small, gossipy New England town. This book was a major bestseller when it came out in the 50’s (it was quite scandalous because it dealt with subjects like incest, abortion, adultery, and murder; as well as larger issues like hypocrisy, social inequality, and economic privilege) . It spawned a sequel, and both books got film adaptations. It also inspired a successful TV series. I read it years ago, and don’t remember much in terms of plot, but I do remember that secret filled town.
  8. 713lu0aeegl._ac_uy218_Empire Falls by Richard Russo– The titular town in this novel is a working class town sees through the eyes of Miles Robey. Miles owns the Empire Grill (where everyone in town seems to eat) and is father to a teenager.
  9. 81d3bhbgngl._ac_uy218_Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng- Shaker Heights prides itself on being an open minded small town.  Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl arrive and make a home for themselves there. But when a controversial custody case divides opinions in town, Mia finds herself on the opposite side from her employers, the Richardson family. The split could have dangerous consequences.
  10. 81ay1lxk9l._ac_uy218_To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee– I think that Maycomb, Alabama is one of the of first places I think of when I think of fictional small towns. Like many, it’s a close knit community where there’s a lot of gossip and people know each other’s business. It’s harmless, until it’s not. We see another side of this town from a different perspective in Go Set a Watchman.

Unpopular Literary Opinions

  • 41rryji1bvl-_ac_us218_A lot of contemporary interpretations of Romeo and Juliet misunderstand the play completely.
    • If they don’t believe in love at first sight, they dismiss they entire play. OK, Macbeth opens with witches. Hamlet meets a ghost. Do you say “witches/ghosts don’t exist, so clearly this play offers nothing of value”?  Why should love, at first sight, be any different?
    • They say Romeo is fickle because he thought he was in love with another girl prior to meeting Juliet. But if you look at the poetry, Romeo’s language, once he meets Juliet, becomes more sophisticated. This indicates that it’s the real thing. So why include that other girl at all? Well, it’s Shakespeare telling us that this isn’t a childish infatuation because Romeo’s had that and it looked different.
    • They claim that Romeo and Juliet were two immature teens who didn’t really understand love or life. IRL, of course, a couple in their early teens wouldn’t understand true love. But for the sake of the play, we need to accept that this is a “perfect” love. It’s meant to be. Then we see the tragedy of what happens to a perfect love in a world filled with hate.
  • 511jzqi9ekl-_ac_us218_In Little Women Jo made the right romantic choices. She and Laurie would have been a disaster as a couple. They’re way too similar in terms of personality and they’d have clashed all the time. Jo also had a deep love for her family and defined herself in terms of her sisters. Laurie also loved her family, and saw Jo as sort of the “Lead March Sister.” In other words, the way he saw her was exactly the way she saw herself. He didn’t challenge her perceptions at all. Bhaer knew and cared for Jo independent of her family.
  • 51tt9v9vjl-_ac_us218_Wuthering Heights is not a romance. A love story, perhaps, but not a romance. And really it’s just as much a “hate story” as it is a “love story.” Even with the two characters who get a happy romantic ending, we’re ultimately left wondering if it was worth it. Lowood observes Cathy and Hareton together and grumbles “‘They are afraid of nothing…Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions.'” Then he walks back and in the churchyard sees “the three headstones on the slope next the moor: the middle one grey, and half buried in the heath; Edgar Linton’s only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its foot; Heathcliff’s still bare.” The implication is that the price of Cathy and Hareton’s happiness is those three graves.
  • I think of John Green as a YA version of Nicholas Sparks. Which is fine if you like that, but I don’t really. I like his vlogs and persona but I feel like as a writer he doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.
  • 51xipv5h1l-_ac_us218_I actually think that Go Set A Watchman enriched To Kill A Mockingbird and the characters. I much prefer to see Atticus Finch as a flawed human being rather than a perfect white savior. It makes sense that as a child, Scout perceives her father as a hero. And it makes sense that as an adult she’s able to see him as he is: a person with strengths and weaknesses and prejudices. It also makes sense for Atticus’ racism to come out in the way that it does. When an innocent man is accused of a crime that he didn’t commit, Atticus defends him, because a) it’s his job and b) people shouldn’t be held responsible for things that they didn’t do. But twenty years later, when civil rights are becoming a major issue, it seems believable that Atticus, who grew up in a segregated world where the power was squarely in the laps of white males, might begin to feel threatened. He fears to lose the privilege that’s been his all his life.
  • I like the Ron/Hermione pairing in Harry Potter. They’ve got the whole opposites attract thing going for them. They balance each other out. But I always felt like the Ginny/Harry pairing was just so that Harry wasn’t left romantically alone at the end of the series.51iosghk0l-_ac_us218_
  • 41rrzplmctl-_ac_us218_Rupi Kaur has yet to really impress me as a poet. I know a lot of people find her really relatable and I don’t want to diminish that. I think it’s wonderful when people have that response to something, even if I don’t share it. Especially since I can see why they relate to it. A lot of the themes that Kaur addresses in her work are universal. But I feel that, with a few exceptions, she doesn’t address them in an innovative or artful, or skillful way. My problem was that there is enough potential in the work for me to wish it was better.
  • I don’t particularly care for Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books. I know that a literary detective in a futuristic world who goes inside books sounds like it should be right up my alley. I tried the first three books in the series but they just left me cold.
  • Stephen King is underrated from a literary point of view. He’s seen as a purely commercial writer. Yes, he’s written his share of trash, but when he gets it right, he really touches on our societies secrets, fears, and shame.

Is This Book For Me? Reading Outside Your Demo

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The Adult Reading YA Controversy

It’s no secret that people who aren’t teens read books marketed as YA. According to a 2012 Publishers Weekly study, 55% of YA books are bought by adults. Yes, they could be buying books for their kids. But the largest group of YA buyers, 28% of those buyers are between the ages of 30 and 44. Is it possible for a thirty-something to have a teenage child? Yes. Is it likely? Not according to recent data which shows that in the US the average age of a first-time mother is 26. Around other parts of the YA buying world, it’s closer to 30. Meaning that people in the 30-44-year-old range are more likely to have a young child than a teen.

So let’s assume that adults are buying YA for themselves and reading it. Is that good? Should they be embarrassed? Opinions differ. In 2014, Ruth Graham wrote for Slate that “Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.” Her reasoning for this opinion is ” It’s not simply that YA readers are asked to immerse themselves in a character’s emotional life—that’s the trick of so much great fiction—but that they are asked to abandon the mature insights into that perspective that they (supposedly) have acquired as adults.”  That’s a big assumption to make. Unless the author of the books writes a forward demanding readers do just that, it’s not possible to be sure that that was the intention. Do some adults read these books from the perspective of a teenager? Perhaps. Do some read it from the perspective of someone who was in that frame of mind once but isn’t any longer? That’s equally likely. I imagine that for most people it’s a combination of the two. I usually fall somewhere along that spectrum, but in different places depending on the book.

Graham also asserts that  “mature readers also find satisfaction of a more intricate kind in stories that confound and discomfit, and in reading about people with whom they can’t empathize at all” OK. Is that to say that teens can’t find satisfaction in ambiguity? Or that YA only features “likable” characters? I’d say no. Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable, for example, is told from the perspective of an accused rapist. The main character is not a textbook villain though. He doesn’t understand that what he did actually qualifies as rape. I imagine most readers of the book condemn his actions and believe that he should face consequences for them. Yet some might feel sympathy for a teenage boy, caught up in a situation he doesn’t completely understand. That doesn’t condone what he did at all. It simply complicates the reader’s feelings about what happens in the book. Different readers might close the book and have different opinions about what consequences the character should face. Or look at a more classic example. In The Outsiders, one character has a tragic ending that is framed as the lesser of two evils. The other survives and offers a vision of his life that involves making the right decision. Is this an optimistic ending? Pessimistic? It depends on which the reader feels a stronger emotional connection to.

After Graham’s article came out, a lot of YA readers and writers refuted it. In doing so many tackled that question of what “literature” is. But I am more curious right now about what categories such as “children”, “middle grade”, “YA”, and New Adult” actually mean.

Author Kate Axelrod wrote an essay about her novel, intended for adults, being marketed as YA. The Law of Loving Others is a novel about the toll that mental illness takes on a family. Because it featured a teen protagonist, most editors wanted to market it as YA. Axelrod resisted but eventually decided to sell the book to Penguin’s Razorbill imprint. The novel was eventually published in 2015 and didn’t attract much critical attention. That translated to lackluster sales. According to most readers and reviewers, the book wasn’t really a YA novel. It was an adult novel featuring teen characters. Adults who didn’t gravitate toward YA weren’t interested. Why?

And what makes something “not YA”? After all, there are many books that are successfully marketed to a YA audience that deal with dark, complicated themes including mental illness, suicide, violence, racism, drugs, and abuse. Look at the success of novels like 13 Reasons Why or The Hate U Give. These have achieved a crossover success with both adult and teen readers. Why were they able to do so, while Axelrod’s novel wasn’t? I could see JD Salinger or Harper Lee being told that The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill A Mockingbird needed to be marketed as YA, using the same logic.

Also, why wasn’t Axelrod’s novel able to be marketed as adult fiction? A lot of contemporary adult fiction features teenage protagonists. Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep was successfully marketed to an adult audience in spite of the fact that it was a coming of age story that took place at a New England prep school. Donna Tartt is consistently referred to as a writer of adult, literary fiction. However, her debut, The Secret History was set in college, and featured characters that were students. Her follow up, The Little Friend, features a twelve-year-old protagonist, and her Pulitzer Prize winner, The Goldfinch follows the main character from the age of thirteen through his early adulthood.

What’s the takeaway? Should we ignore all of these categories completely? Would that help people find books that resonate with them, or would it simply overwhelm them? People like to classify and categorize. It serves several purposes. Without these categories, choices can be too much. Imagine walking into a bookstore that was just organized by authors name. Fiction, nonfiction, children’s books etc were all jumbled up. A lot of people might just get frustrated and walk out. These categories also help draw in readers. Someone who reads a middle-grade book that s/he just loves may be more likely to seek out other books marketed to that audience, regardless of their age.

Is Children Reading YA A Problem?

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It’s also tricky when considering younger readers because not all content is appropriate for children of all ages. Childhood is a period of significant growth and development. The changes that one undergoes between the ages of 8 and 18 are enormous, whereas someone who is 50 may still be much the same ten years later. As a result it’s hard to tell what’s appropriate for whom.

Even within YA, there is a lot of variation. Traditionally, YA is aimed at a 13-18-year-old readership. While an 18-year-old might be ready for something like Judy Blume’s Forever, it might not be appropriate for every 13 year old. Having a single category that covers an age range in which a lot of maturing happens is tricky.

Or look at Middle Grade which is aimed at an 8-12-year-old readership. An 8-year-old might be a bit young for some darker/scarier MG books like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or The Girl Who Could Fly,  but a 12-year-old might find that same content exciting, suspenseful and compelling.

There’s no easy way for parents and educators to know if a certain book is appropriate for a certain child. Especially since no two children are alike. One 12 year old might be ready for YA while another one might be comfortably reading MG. For that reason, I think it’s essential that parents and teachers know their children and have at least some familiarity with the books in question.

Do you agree? Disagree? Do you like reading books that are “for” a demographic into which you don’t fit?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Literary Fathers

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 13: Father’s Day related Freebiefavorite dads in literature, best father/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your dad, worst dads in literature, etc. etc.

I wouldn’t give up my own father for the best of these guys. But they are pretty amazing. Just a few notes: I didn’t want to include Atticus Finch because he shows up on all of these lists. Also, I found it interesting that so many of these were adoptive rather than biological fathers. In many cases they do far more for their children than the children’s biological fathers ever did. It just goes to prove love makes a parent. Not biology.

  1. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- Early in the novel, ex-con Valjean turns away from a life of crime and tries to live as an honest man. But he only truly learns to love when he adopts the orphaned Cosette. He’s 110% devoted to her.
  2. Silas Marner in the novel of the same name by George Eliot- Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Silas Marner becomes curmudgeon and a miser. One night he finds a two year old girl wandering in the snow and adopts her. Little Eppie changes his life. He becomes more involved in the community, he makes friends and cares for her completely.
  3. Mathew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables– While his tough as nails sister, Marilla takes a while to warm up to the orphan Anne, Mathew loves her right away. He is the first person in her life to truly show her kindness, and he faces his fears to make her happy.
  4. Daniel LeBlanc in All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr-  Widowed father of a blind daughter, Daniel LeBlanc teaches his daughter, Marie-Laure to be independent by creating a scale model of their Paris neighborhood for her to memorize by touch. He also provides her with novels in Braille. When the Nazis invade Paris Daniel brings Marie to the coastal town of Saint-Malo, where he once again creates a model for her to learn her surroundings.
  5. James Fraser in the Outlander series– Over the course of 8 books (so far) fatherhood isn’t always kind to our hero. Unable to raise his biological children from childhood, Jamie still raises his fair share of kids, from the French pickpocket Fergus, to his nephew Young Ian. But when his biological children do enter his life later on, he proves that parenthood doesn’t end when one’s children are grown.
  6. Frank Gilbraith Sr in Cheapter By the Dozen by Frank B Gilbrath Jr and Ernastine Gilbraith Carey is an efficiency expert and father of twelve. He was rather eccentric, but his children’s book about him recalls a home full of children, laughter, warmth, and love.
  7. Pa Ingalles from the Little House series by Laura Ingalles Wilder is always present.  He had a major case of wanderlust but took his family along with them, giving them a view of life that few people did in the 19th century. He was able to go hunting and built a house but also taught his children to treat others with kindness and care and led by example.
  8. Horton from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss- When Mayzie the bird lays an egg but can’t be bothered to hatch it, Horton steps in.  In spite  of the absurdity of an elephant sitting on a bird’s egg, Horton refuses to abandon his charge.
  9. Dr. Wilbur Larch from The Cider House Rules by John Irving- Dr. Larch is the founder and director of the orphanage of St. Cloud. He gives all the children in his care his attention and affection, but he loves Homer Wells like a son. Even as Homer grows up and makes his own way in the world, he and Dr. Larch maintain a powerful bond.
  10. Ned Stark in Game of Thrones by George RR Martin- once he left the series I lost a lot of my interest in the story actually. Everything he did was for the safety and well being of his children. No principle had priority above their welfare

And a few of the worst literary fathers on my “dishonorable mention” list:

  • Harry Wormwood in Matilda– Harry is a duplicitous used car salesman, who believes that everything he needs to know he can learn from television. He is initially horrified that his daughter, Matilda, isn’t a boy. His horror is compounded when it becomes clear that she would rather read a book than watch TV. Otherwise doesn’t much care what she does.
  • Jack Torrance in The Shining– From the beginning of this book, Jack isn’t an example of paternal excellence. He’s an alcoholic who has a tendency toward violence when her drinks. But when he gets a job as the winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, the now sober Jack, moves there with his wife and 5 year old son, Danny. As the ghosts of the Overlook invade his psyche Jack becomes increasingly unstable, until, finally, he ends up chasing his wife and Danny through the hotel with a croquet mallet.  But in his final moments he is able to wrench his mind free from the hotel’s destructive influence encourage Danny to escape. So perhaps, in spite of his many flaws, there was love at the bottom of it all.
  • Franklin in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- I spoke about his wife, Eva as a notable, but deeply flawed fictional mother. But Franklin is just as flawed. His sin is denial. He can’t- or won’t- see that his son is anything less than wonderful. When his wife tries to make him see warning signs in Kevin’s behavior he turns a blind eye. He pays for this in a major way.
  • Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte- It’s one of my favorite books, but Heathcliff is still a nasty piece of work. He marries for revenge after his true love marries another man. Then he takes his anger and sadness out on his sickly son. Nice.
  • Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- I know he has his fans, and that his wife has her own issues (discussed here) but there is a very serious issue facing his family that he completely disregards. He has five daughters who can’t legally inherit his property. That means that following his death they’ll be without resources. His wife is, understandably, concerned about this, and he mocks her for it. To make it worse, he mocks her in front of his daughters, thereby diminishing their respect for their mother.