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📗Beech-Nut Book Club: The Book of Mothers

By Beech-Nut

📗Beech-Nut Book Club: The Book of Mothers

Ever wonder what forces shaped your mental picture of motherhood, beyond observations of your own family? Decades before Netflix, The Simpsons, or The Real Housewives, culture was hard at work setting & reflecting norms for modern motherhood that linger today.

Our friend, Carrie Mullins, former editor of Serious Eats and contributor to Parents, believes that literature & popular books from centuries past have played significant roles in shaping our understanding of what it means to be a mom—for better or worse.

In her new book, The Book of Mothers, Mullins investigates the inner lives of famous, fictitious moms (some you may have met in high school) and dissects how they were portrayed by their creators within their respective political, economic, and cultural contexts. How would these fictional moms be depicted today? Would they still carry the same values, expectations & priorities?

The idea first came to Carrie when she was pregnant. As a book lover, she did what she always did in new situations: turned to novels for perspectives on what motherhood would be like, just as she read books about growing up, falling in love, or new cities she was about to explore. But after she became a mother, she found, “The books I was reading were not reflective of my experience or the experiences of other women that I saw around me.”

Never one to give up on books, Carrie realized the problem wasn’t necessarily the novels themselves, but rather the way we talk about them. Fictional mothers tend to be overlooked, dismissed, or reduced to cliches. What would happen if we read these beloved books again, this time through a modern lens? Could they speak to the issues of today?

Carrie notes, “It was difficult to choose which mothers to include in the book! I chose novels that are popular enough to have influenced our broader, shared understanding of motherhood while also making sure I touched on a wide range of issues facing today’s moms.” She ultimately landed on fifteen mothers, including those from Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, The Great Gatsby, Beloved, Heartburn, and The Joy Luck Club.

the book of mothers book club

The Book of Mothers shows that, if we take the time to understand these books and the context in which they were written, we’ll also learn how our understanding of motherhood was formed. We’ll better understand why we believe mothers should act, look, and even love a certain way, and thus, better understand ourselves. Says Carrie, “My hope is that The Book of Mothers will help mothers feel seen and less alone.”

Bonus Reading: Carrie recommends these four novels that feature imaginative retellings of famous fictional mothers:

marmee book

Marmee, a novel by Sarah Miller imagines Little Women from the point of view of its beloved matriarch and mother to Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

 

marilla of green gables

Marilla of Green Gables: A Novel by Sarah McCoy considers the life of Marilla, the unlikely mother who raises Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables

 

Daisy book

Daisy: a Novel by Libby Sternberg retells The Great Gatsby from Daisy’s point of view, asking if there was more to her than meets the eye.

 

circe book

Circe by Madeline Miller takes the mythological goddess and imagines her full story, including her journey through motherhood.

 


Got a Beech-Nut Book Club suggestion? Write us at [email protected]


Carrie Mullins is a journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in Parents, Food & Wine Magazine, Epicurious, and Publishers Weekly, among other publications. She is a former National Editor at the James Beard Award–winning website Serious Eats and a longtime contributor to Electric Literature, where she covered the intersection of literature and culture. She lives in New York City with her husband and sons.