There is so much to write about the experience of motherhood. All of us have had mothers or mother figures in our lives, even if we haven’t all experienced motherhood personally. For those who will be, are, or have been mothers, there is no facet that doesn’t warrant in-depth exploration whether it is the ages and stages or the myriad highs and lows.
We’ve highlighted some of the books published in 2022 that featured and focused on motherhood in some capacity that editors at Literary Mama thought were pretty fantastic. Find them all here.
Angela Garbes, author of Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, is one of the most important voices interrogating the work of caregiving today. This is her second book, after Like a Mother, and a must read for anyone interested in the conversation about how to support mothers and caregivers in our world today. Our review of the book can be found here.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan hit so many best of lists and has been the topic of many book club discussions. You can read Literary Mama publisher Cindy DiTiberio’s review of the book here. The novel shows how impossible the standards for a “good mother” are in a slightly dystopian setting.
In a recent interview with Literary Mama editor in chief Amanda Fields, novelist Jacinda Townsend says “My new novel, Mother Country, tells a story from two different, serial points of view: that of an American woman struggling with infertility who finds a child on a business trip to Morocco and brings her home, and that of the escaped Mauritanian slave who is the child’s biological mother.” Townsend, a former Literary Mama contributor, has written a novel that deals with motherhood grief in its various forms.
In her review of Aileen Weintraub’s memoir, Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir, Mikhal Weiner writes: “The author is learning about who she is in this new home, far from the Jewish culture within which she was raised, and about who she’ll be as a mother. She’s figuring out how to overcome rocky times in her marriage, and how to make sense of her complicated relationship with her late father. This is a book about family in all its kaleidoscopic iterations.” You can read the full review here.
Author Alex Kiester has said in interviews that she used her ambivalence about motherhood to write her novel The Truth About Ben and June. While the novel begins with a mystery, it is much more than that. It brings to life the pain and turmoil of perinatal mood disorders in a book that is page-turning and heart-rending.
The Long Devotion: Poets Writing Motherhood edited by Emily Perez and Nancy Reddy is divided into four parts: “Difficulty, Ambivalence, and Joy,” “The Body and the Brain,” “In the World,” and “Transitions.” Each section begins with poetry, is followed by essays, and finally offers writing prompts for readers to reflect on and write about their own motherhood experiences.
More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez has received a ton of buzz, including being a Good Morning America Book Club pick. It is the story of true-crime blogger Cassie who meets and develops a friendship with Lore Rivera, a woman whose decisions about love put her life in complicated and dangerous situations. Readers with a special affinity for true crime may find this book especially appealing.
There is nothing like the worry that comes with mothering a sick child, but that worry magnifies when the sickness is strange and unexpected. Taylor Harris has written a memoir about her son’s mystifying medical conditions that came out of the blue titled This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown. While primarily focused on his illness and how that impacts her and her family, it also touches on the protracted bureaucracy of medical care in the southern US.
While Nancy Reddy’s volume of poetry, Pocket Universe, confronts the topic of birth, it isn’t limited to just the births that take place in the delivery room. It ventures into the past with a look at 16th century births while also remaining grounded in the contemporary with celebrity social media culture and modern childhood birthday parties.
Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes by Jazmina Barrera and translated by Christina MacSweeney is an episodic, lyric reflection on bringing a child into the world. Barrera records her first pregnancy which coincided with the 2017 Puebla, Mexico earthquake while also pulling in her reflections on other women writers, including Mary Shelley and Maggie Nelson.
Jessi Klein is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer whose second volume of essays, I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife & Motherhood, focuses a lens on the unattainable expectations placed on mothers. The book is a relatable collection about how motherhood can consume you and the desperate endeavors we embark on to reclaim ourselves and our lives. An excerpt from the book can be found here.
The protagonist of The Means, a novel by Amy Fusselman, is Shelly Means, a stay-at-home mother in Manhattan who is on a mission to get her family a second home in the Hamptons. This novel is a light-hearted romp of a book that also explores all the unpaid work of motherhood that is nevertheless work and the disorienting feelings that arise when it is not considered work.
Winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, Hollie McNish’s Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood blends diary and poetry in a collection that is raw and emotional. It covers a lot of ground, from social policies related to breastfeeding to handling a toddler on a busy train.
Wildcat is Amelia Morris’ debut novel that explores the complexities of female friendship, how to navigate work and marriage and motherhood and still have a life. It also takes a look at the role of social media in the lives of women and what that does to their psyches and relationships.
In this new offering by Pulitzer Prize-willing author Elizabeth Strout, Lucy by the Sea takes readers back to the early days of the pandemic and is not just about motherhood but the quarantine and marriage and so many things. Lucy trying to deal with her grown daughters losses and pain and not being able to control any of it is a beautiful reflection of mothering adult daughters.
In All of This: A Memoir of Death and Desire, Rebecca Woolf reflects on her difficult marriage after her husband’s death and explores how to handle it when you are not the kind of widow the world expects. She writes about what it means to be a complicated woman and also a mother and how to let your children see that you are more than just their caretaker.
In addition to being an addictive read, Lessons in Chemistry, the debut novel of Bonnie Garmus, is a reminder that women have many acts beyond what they do in their 30s and 40s. (Garmus is in her mid-60s.) The novel follows Elizabeth Zott, a chemist in the 1960s who struggles against a “good ole boys” world that sees her as only valuable when and if she produces children and keeps a husband happy.
The Baby on the Fire Escape: Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem by Julie Phillips brings together the thoughts of artists and writers who have struggled to have and raise children without sacrificing their art, independence, and thoughts, including Adrienne Rich, Shirley Jackson, Susan Sontag, and Alice Walker.