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9 Great Books About Motherhood to Add to Your TBR Pile

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

Mother’s Day is coming up, and that can bring up a lot of different feelings for people: maybe you are estranged from your mother, maybe you didn’t or don’t have one, maybe you want to be a mother and aren’t right now—whatever you are feeling, feel it. There is no one “right” way to feel. Sometimes we might even have a bunch of different feelings. But there are always a ton of movies or advertisements that paint Mother’s Day as a universally good-feeling holiday, when in reality it’s not always that for many people. Books can be a great escape or a way to connect with other people who share aspects of your own experience. With Mother’s Day arriving soon, here are some books about motherhood for your TBR pile that deal with motherhood or a mother-child relationship in a variety of ways.

Stray coverStray by Stephanie Danler (May 19)

This is…not a happy book. It was hard to get through, honestly. Danler, the author of the novel Sweetbitter, writes about her mother (an alcoholic) and her father (an addict) and the abandonment and neglect she experienced in such a way that the reader viscerally feels the discomfort and ambivalence. Told in fractured segments, we get a sense of how Danler has reconciled her past with the present, eventually becoming a mother herself. There are no neat and tidy endings here, though—which is what makes it so relatable and raw.

Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, Mai’a Williams, and Loretta J Ross

I read this early on in my motherhood journey, and it was crucial. The anthology centers mothers of color and marginalized mothers’ voices. Queer mothers, nonbinary mothers, single mothers, activist mothers, poor mothers—anyone who doesn’t fit into the neat and tidy boxes we make of “motherhood.” These mothers are working for reproductive justice, economic justice, anti-violence movements, and much, much more. These are voices we don’t often get to hear, voices that need to be heard, urgently and loudly. We need more collections like this.

Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother’s) Lifetime by Maggie Downs (May 12)

Shortly after she got married, Downs quit her job and decided to go around the world to the places her mother only dreamed about going. Her mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s years prior, and this book is a travelogue as well as a coming-to-terms with her mother’s illness and losing her mother in a variety of ways.

Guidebook Relative Strangers Dungy coverGuidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille T. Dungy

While not a book solely about motherhood, this book really spoke to me as a working mother. Dungy grapples with history, with culture, with society—all against the backdrop of motherhood and what this means and how it’s impacted her life. A mix of memoir and travel journey and cultural criticism, these essays reflect important aspects and experiences of motherhood.

Artifact by Arlene Heyman (July 7)

This debut novel takes us into biologist Lotti Kristin’s life, spanning decades that cover pregnancy, motherhood, and reconnecting with one’s livelihood. This is a story about going back to what makes one thrive, finding your place and someone who makes room for that, and refusing to live life on others’ terms. The term “coming-of-age” is often thrown around, but this is a book that really fits that category, in an amazing and fresh way.

Want by Lynn Steger Strong (July 7)

Elizabeth has a PhD, kids, a husband—and is going broke, literally. She lives in New York and everything feels difficult: her marriage, her kids, her job, any kind of social life, and finding time for herself. But if you think this your typical anxiety-ridden city mom book, you’d be wrong. Elizabeth has been keeping tabs on a childhood friend, Sasha, who is also having a crisis of her own. What unfolds, especially in the last half of the book, is a surprising examination of privilege, the lives we share with others, and motherhood, among other things.

What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang

Lang’s mother was a formidable woman—a physician who seemed to be able to do it all: demanding job, raising two children, and maintaining a traditional Indian home. When Lang became a mother herself, suddenly her own mother was nowhere to be found. Eventually, she finds out her mother has Alzheimer’s disease, and when takes in her mother to care for her, she learns the truth about how her mother juggled it all. This is a book about mothers, daughters, family, and the expectations we—and society—put on ourselves as women.

I Was Told it Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman (June 16)

If you’ve ever gone on a college tour with your parents or your child, this will bring back all the memories. Jessica and Emily are a mother-daughter pair on a road trip to a variety of colleges along the East Coast, with two very different ideas about the trip. Emily sees it as a taste of her life to come, and Jessica sees it as a bonding opportunity. Reading it as a mom of a toddler, it’s bittersweet, but funny and insightful just the same.

The Shame by Makenna Goodman (August 11)

Alma and her family are homesteaders, raising some sheep and chickens, making their own syrup—things look pretty idyllic. Her husband works at the local college while she stays home with the children. But one day, Alma gets in her car and heads to New York. The book is a series of flashbacks that takes the reader through her decision-making process to leave, and what led to that point. It is a haunting, unsettling story of motherhood, marriage, capitalism, making a life (and a living), and the nature of relationships.

Want more books about motherhood? Check out this post and this post.