The Book of Mothers: How Literature Can Help Us Reinvent Modern Motherhood (Hardcover)

The Book of Mothers: How Literature Can Help Us Reinvent Modern Motherhood By Carrie Mullins Cover Image
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"Timely and evergreen, engaging and infuriating, personal and universal—a necessary reintroduction to some of fiction's most familiar mothers." —Cecile Richards, bestselling author of Make Trouble and former president of Planned Parenthood

This treasure trove for book lovers explores fifteen classic novels with memorable maternal figures, and examines how our cultural notions of motherhood have been shaped by literature.


Sweet, supportive, dependable, selfless. Long before she had children of her own, journalist Carrie Mullins knew how mothers should behave. But how? Where did these expectations come from—and, more importantly, are they serving the mothers whose lives they shape? Carrie's suspicion, later crystallized while raising two small children, was that our culture’s idealization of motherhood was not only painfully limiting but harmful, leaving women to cope with impossible standards––standards rarely created by mothers themselves.

To discover how we might talk about motherhood in a more realistic, nuanced, and inclusive way, Carrie turned to literature with memorable maternal figures for answers. Moving through the literary canon––from Pride and Prejudice and Little Women to The Great Gatsby, Beloved, Heartburn, and The Joy Luck Club—Carrie traces the origins of our modern mothering experience. By interrogating the influences of politics, economics, feminism, pop culture, and family life in each text, she identifies the factors that have shaped our prevailing views of motherhood, and puts these classics into conversation with the most urgent issues of the day. Who were these literary mothers, beyond their domestic responsibilities and familial demands? And what lessons do they have for us today—if we choose to listen?

About the Author


Carrie Mullins is a journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in Parents, Food & Wine Magazine, Epicurious, Tin House, 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.

Praise For…


"If we ever need a reminder that literature changes lives, look no further than the brilliant and sharply observed The Book of Mothers. Carrie Mullins examines modern motherhood through the lens of women in literature, in turn creating a classic of her own, a fascinating rendering of gender, social norms, and stressors that, remarkably, haven’t changed much since the days of Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald. A literature-parallel mother of a psychosocial experiment!" ––Lee Kravetz, bestselling author of The Last Confessions of Sylvia P.

"Mullins draws unexpected connections and manages the difficult task of finding fresh perspectives on much studied works of literature. The result is a discerning feminist examination of the Western canon." ––Publishers Weekly

"The Book of Mothers is a colossal act of both scholarship and sympathy––Mullins leaps between classics, culture, and confession as if it were easy. Here are the books we loved before having kids, masterfully reintegrated into a new mothering mindset. It soothes and electrifies." ––Rebecca Dinerstein, author of The Sunlit Night

"The Book of Mothers: What We Can Learn from the Most Memorable Women in Literature is an innovative, thought-provoking book. Weaving together biography, cultural history, literary analysis, and autobiography, Mullins keenly scrutinizes books and traditions that are generally taken for granted. In her examination of the way that famous books simultaneously evoke and shape mothers, Mullins doesn’t shy away from the deepest questions about motherhood as an institution and as an experience. This subversive book is sure to spur important and overdue conversations about how we can broaden our sense of compassion and possibility for anyone involved in the act of mothering." ––Helen Phillips, author of The Need

"Part personal reflection, part cultural and literary criticism, The Book of Mothers delivers just enough of each to keep the reader delightfully enthralled—like a meaty visit with old friends you haven’t seen in ages. Illuminating and fun." ––Darcy Lockman, author of All the Rage

"Mullins leads a fascinating journey through literary history, exposing truths about motherhood and the writers whose fictional characters and real-life experiences deeply resonate to this day. Mullins writes with a blazing intellect, a clear eye and a big heart. Her whip-smart, urgent and compassionate book is not just for caretakers—it is essential reading for everyone who wants the world to spin forward rather than back, who knows that maternal well-being is the foundation of a healthy society." ––Erin Carlson, author of Queen Meryl

"If our conceptions of motherhood—yes, conceptions—are shaped by the portrayals of mothers in literature, from Woolf to Walker, from Alcott to Atwood, then what possibilities, and what limitations, have we carried with us from these beloved books? How is each character’s narrative a lens through which we see our own lives, with either surprising clarity or frustrating distortion? In The Book of Mothers, Carrie Mullins unpacks these questions with rigor, empathy, and a down-to-earth delivery that invites us to do the same." ––Maggie Smith, New York Times bestselling author of You Could Make This Place Beautiful

"The Book of Mothers is timely and evergreen, engaging and infuriating, personal and universal, a necessary reintroduction to some of fiction's most familiar mothers. As she urges readers to consider how the stories we tell were shaped––and by whom––Carrie Mullins offers vital insights into everything from reality television to reproductive rights and points the way to a more nuanced, inclusive, and sustainable vision of motherhood."
––Cecile Richards, New York Times bestselling author of Make Trouble and former president of Planned Parenthood



Product Details
ISBN: 9781250285065
ISBN-10: 1250285062
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: May 7th, 2024
Pages: 304
Language: English