I’ve been sitting on Lauren Elkin’s article asking “Why all the books about motherhood? for a year and a half and only read it fully for the first time today. It offers an immense reading list of books related to motherhood. Many of them are written by mothers, and so I think by default curating their writing counts as curating stories of creative mothers.
Elkin quotes Jenny Offill in an interview with Vogue:
“Early on, I took my colicky baby to one of those new-mothers’ groups. I wasn’t sure how to connect with them, but I desperately wanted to. But the affect seemed odd. The new mothers seemed to be talking in these falsely bright voices; all the anecdotes were mild ones of “the time she lost her pacifier on the bus” variety. No one seemed to feel like a bomb had gone off in their lives, and this made me feel very, very alone. Gaslighted, almost. Why weren’t we talking more about the complexity of this new experience?”
This resonates immensely with my new mom group experience. I would go. I would not know what to talk about. Our babies would be cute. I would feel awkward. I would leave knowing it was good that I got out of the house, but only feeling a little less lonely. I didn’t know how to reach out. Maybe the moms in these books will reach me.
The new books on motherhood are a countercanon. They read against the literary canon with its lack of interest in the interior lives of mothers, against the shelves of “this is how you do it” books, and against the creeping hegemony of social-media motherhood.
I welcome this countercanon.