There’s something so private and soothing about reading. Especially as a mother. The pages don’t have needs, they’re often enjoyed while lying down, they don’t require that we speak, and they’re a portal to a different space and time. When a book is really great, we’re inspired to create, become, and evolve.
Lest you tell yourself you “don’t have time” to read, think of reading – like all forms of time spent reconnecting to yourself as a human being outside of your roles – as mandatory mental healthcare.
Here are my five prescriptions for literary medicine this fall, organized by what ails you.
Read Mother Brain: How Neuroscience Is Rewriting the Story of Parenthood, by Chelsea Conaboy. Conaboy is a veteran journalist who was on a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Boston Globe. She puts her journalistic training to work for us, investigating the (lack of) science and (abundance of) mythology on motherhood. My favorite theme throughout the book is the interrogation of the notion of “maternal instinct.” How real is this idea, to whom is it helpful, and might it just be that maternal instincts are something that all parents develop over time? This book is one I could not put down, filled with notes and bookmarks, and continue to reference in conversation. But beyond that, it speaks to my heart with the message that there is nothing wrong with me for being different after having kids. Emerging science tells us that a parent’s brain architecture is fundamentally altered upon having children, and the changes endure as we journey through parenting. It’s not you; it’s all of us.
Pick up Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, by Dr. Becky Kennedy. Not one to trust most “parenting experts,” what first drew me to Dr. Becky is her bold-faced acknowledgment that she only follows her own advice about one third of the time. What’s made me a full believer is that Dr. Becky has found the gray area between controlling children’s behavior, on one hand, and permissive parenting, on the other. That middle ground is found in establishing boundaries while prioritizing connection with your kids. It’s always been my opinion that my job as a mother is to raise adults, not turn my kids into compliant robots… but figuring out just how to do that is another story. Dr. Becky’s taken her down-to-Earth approach, her clinical experience and education, and her journey as a mother, and written a book that meets both parents and children where we are: good inside but in need of help with those moments when we’re most apt to have a hard time.
Pull out The Push, by Ashley Audrain. This book is a psychological thriller that weaves three generations of mothers together, explores what happens when a mother doubts and silences herself, and is at once a relatable story of modern motherhood and a horror story. The book was snatched up immediately to be turned into a series, and I highly recommend you hurry up and read it before you see the screen adaptation. It’s engrossing from the first sentence: “Your house glows at night like everything inside is on fire” and never lets up through the last word on the final page. It’s the most original and thought-provoking novel I’ve read on motherhood, period.
Crack open Jenny Mollen’s City of Likes. Those of you who follow @jennymollen know that she’s a distinctive mix of fit, rich, fashionable mom and the first person to call herself out on the pretense of influence, social media, and fame. In Jenny’s third book and first novel, City of Likes, it’s hard to tell which main character is most autobiographical. There are Easter eggs for faithful Jenny followers like the antagonist’s thyroid disorder and the protagonist's way with a witty caption under an exhibitionist selfie. But what kept me interested – enough to read the whole book in one weekend – was the inner lives of the mothers, the common insecurities among the privileged elite, and the everyday mother trying to integrate ambition and motherhood. It’s also a cautionary tale about staying present in real life and actually putting down your phone.
Dive into Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. This book is hands-down the best book I’ve read in the last year. The story of Elizabeth Zott, a genius mid-19th century chemist, and her daughter “Mad” had me cheering, crying, and reflecting on how greatly we need the contributions of women and mothers in science. Each female character is treated with dimension and grace. We’re reminded that there’s nothing trivial about the work we do at home, while being encouraged to contribute outside of it. And if you’ve ever been overlooked, mansplained, plagiarized, or assaulted while working toward a creative achievement, you’ll feel both validated and hopeful in the depictions of the key male characters. Jason Bateman is producing the series adaptation of this novel, and I love him… but I can already promise the novel is better. It’s something you’ll devour, be so sad to finish, and recommend to every one of your friends.
Happy reading, my friends. Let us know some of your favorites in the comments below.
Erin Erenberg is a mother of three, attorney, serial business builder, fund advisor, co-founder of the Chamber of Mothers, and the founder and CEO of Totum, an advocacy firm for modern mothers at the intersection of ambition and motherhood. Before launching Totum, Erin practiced as an IP attorney for Moore & VanAllen and SESAC, served as the Executive Director of ACM Lifting Lives, ran business development for social impact-driven tech firms Indiegogo and Omaze, and worked as an agent for William Morris Endeavor.