The best books about motherhood

books-about-motherhood

We have put together a round-up of the very best books about being a mum. Intelligent, insightful and full of wit and wisdom, these books honour motherhood, with its many joys and challenges.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Although Little Women isn’t strictly about motherhood, this list would be incomplete without Marmee, arguably the most ‘perfect’ mother in the history of literature. She is the glue that holds the family together, through the Civil War and their father’s long absence. She’s loving and giving, passing her wisdom on to her four daughters and allowing them space to grow as characters. She’s firm but certainly no tiger-mom, never nagging and embracing creative play. Oh to be Marmee… (But imagine the stick she’d get on Mumsnet!)

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How Not to Be a Perfect Mother - Libby Purves

How Not to Be a Perfect Mother - Libby Purves

For those who don't strive to emulate Marmee's perfect mothering skills, Libby Purves' book offers a more realistic approach to parenting and has been endorsed by Mumsnetters since its publication in 2004.

“The book was like a long chat with someone else's mother. I enjoyed the realness of it all. She shares motherhood as she saw it and it had me nodding along most of the time. Away from the pressures of being perfect, it's more about being 'good enough' and enjoying the ride”.

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My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout

Lucy Barton, in hospital for five days, receives a surprise visit from her mother. The two haven't spoken to each other in years. Her mother's visit will awaken memories from her childhood that she thought were long buried, and force her to confront the faults and realities of the way she lives now. Longlisted for both the Man Booker and Bailey's Prize last year, this is an exquisite story of mothers and daughters.

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Room - Emma Donoghue

Room - Emma Donoghue

With Brie Larson’s Oscar-winning performance as Ma in the adapted film Room, and with several writing awards to its name, Emma Donoghue’s novel needs little introduction. If you haven’t yet read it, this is the most powerful and consuming story of a mother and child kept in isolation. A Mumsnet Book Club pick, it was applauded by readers who found it made them look at their own role of being a mother:

“For me, it was a powerful reminder of how privileged I feel to be a mother, and of the immense resilience and bravery that people, including very young children, are capable of displaying”.

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Hurrah for Gin - Katie Kirby

Hurrah for Gin - Katie Kirby

Katie Kirby’s blog about being a frazzled parent of two gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each month. Her stick figure illustrations of everyday life are now in book form, hilariously and accurately depicting such joys as childbirth, sleep deprivation, and hangovers with kids. The perfect book for not-so-perfect parents.

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Little Deaths - Emma Flint

Little Deaths - Emma Flint

This atmospheric read set in a heatwave in 1960s Queens has just been longlisted for The Bailey’s Women's Prize for Fiction. Ruth Malone wakes to find her two young children missing from her apartment and later that day the police find their bodies. Both police and press are quick to leap to conclusions about Ruth when they find her flat littered with liquor bottles and provocative clothing. She is certainly not a stereotypical example of motherhood – but does this mean she could be a murderer? Based on the real life story of Alice Crimmins, this is a gripping and haunting read about love, patriarchy, justice and motherhood.

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Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple

Mumsnet Book of the Month and New York Times bestseller, Where'd You Go Bernadette is a suspense story about smart teenager, Bee, who tries to track down her missing mother, the notorious Bernadette. Bernadette's dry humour and unorthodox methods create drama wherever she goes. This is a caustic satire on modern life, parenting, social interaction and the American Dream.

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Why Did Nobody Tell Me

Why Did Nobody Tell Me

Why Did Nobody Tell Me shapes that collective wisdom of the Mumsnet Talk boards into dozens of dos and don’ts that will lead any mother through the minefield that is 21st century parenting. From dealing with visitors after birth to surviving the school gates, this wise and witty book sets out some of the golden rules of parenting.

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Hole in the Heart: Bringing up Beth - Henny Beaumont

Hole in the Heart: Bringing up Beth - Henny Beaumont

On Mother’s Day 2001, Henny Beaumont gave birth to her third child. For the first four hours, her baby seemed no different from her two other little girls. But when the registrar told Henny and her husband that their daughter might have Down’s Syndrome, Henny wondered how she would cope. Hole in the Heart is her honest and beautifully drawn graphic novel about parenting a child with special needs.

One Mumsnetter said: “I read it in one sitting and found it poignant and truthful, with an honesty about emotions that all parents feel. There’s so much emotion in the illustrations they need few words to go with them.”

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Hey Yeah Right Get a Life - Helen Simpson

Hey Yeah Right Get a Life - Helen Simpson

Helen Simpson has become a pioneer in short stories depicting the lives of modern day women. Her fourth collection contains nine interlinking tales which examine what it’s like to be a modern mother. We meet high-flying women, feckless teenagers, and alienated stay-at-home mums, trapped in the suburbs with their lives dominated by the daily routine of sleepless nights, nursery and school runs. Hey Yeah Right Get a Life is a wonderfully written and involving collection of stories that will have a high-recognition factor for many readers.

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Nobody Told Me - Hollie McNish

Nobody Told Me - Hollie McNish

Hollie's collection of poetry and prose should be on every new parent's reading list. It strives to show that nothing in parenting should be taboo.

“Although I don't read much poetry generally, as the mum of a six-month-old baby I was blown away by how Hollie managed to put word to many of the feelings and reflections I've had through pregnancy, birth and beyond. It's really reassuring and made me feel like I'm part of a community of mothers/parents.”

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The House of Hidden Mothers - Meera Syal

The House of Hidden Mothers - Meera Syal

The House of Hidden Mothers is the devastating story about the lengths women will go to to have a child. Actor, author and screenwriter Meera Syal looks at the booming industry of international surrogacy in India, and its appeal to western couples who are unable to have their own child. Journeying between East London and a rural village in India, this compelling novel explores race, motherhood, ageing and love.

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Night Waking - Sarah Moss

Night Waking - Sarah Moss

Chosen as a Mumsnet Book of the Month for its true-to-life observations on motherhood and its sharp dialogue, Night Waking tells the story of Anna, her family and a summer spent on a remote Scottish island. Anna is trying to write a history book but is finding it hard going thanks to her young children who won't sleep through the night. With more than enough to cope with, Anna finds the skeleton of an infant buried in their garden and becomes obsessed with the history which links the child, the island and her husband's family.

Sarah Moss' latest novel The Tidal Zone will be our Book of the Month in May.

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The Lost Daughter - Elena Ferrante

The Lost Daughter - Elena Ferrante

From the author the infamous Neapolitan series, The Lost Daughter is Elena Ferrante's most compelling and perceptive meditation on womanhood and parenting. Leda, a middle-aged divorcee, is alone for the first time in years when her daughters leave home to live with their father. Her initial, unexpected sense of liberty turns to agonising introspection as she grapples to understand why she feels diminished by motherhood.

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Mom and Me and Mom - Maya Angelou

Mom and Me and Mom - Maya Angelou

The seventh and final part of Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series, Mom and Me and Mom was published shortly before Angelou’s 85th birthday. In this book she shares the intimate details of her relationship with her mother, Vivian Baxter – a forceful character who abandoned her children when they were young. She chronicles their reunion a decade later and how love, understanding and ultimately the strength of the maternal bond enabled them to re-build their relationship.

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A Life's Work - Rachel Cusk

A Life's Work - Rachel Cusk

A Life's Work is Rachel Cusk's account of her first few years of motherhood. When first published in 2001, it divided female critics and readers. One columnist wrote a piece demanding that Cusk's children were taken into care whilst Oprah Winfrey invited her on the show to defend herself and the book. Mumsnetters’ views were equally conflicted with one reader shouting: “I found it made me feel more miserable and negative about the whole baby thing… it's just so bloody joyless”, while another mother recommended it, “It's not very cheerful but it will sure as hell confirm that you're not the only one!”

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