Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
November, 2009

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This month, Literary Mamas are reading about personal life, family life, and mama life. Each title here has a distinct set of memorable characters sure to draw you in. Take your pick!

Download the list to find it fast at your local bookstore or library.

Caroline Grant, Editor-in-Chief and Columnist, writes, "I just finished Lorrie Moore's new novel, A Gate at the Stairs. I love Moore's writing, and this novel, like her earlier books, had me slowing down to reread amazing passages while simultaneously racing ahead to get more. Her Sarah Brink is one of the most complicated, prickly women I've encountered in fiction in a long time, not always particularly sympathetic, but always interesting, and every once in a while she says something that absolutely hits home. 'In everything I do there seems to be some part missing,' she comments about going back to work after adopting a toddler; 'I'm discovering that it is almost impossible to be a mother and also do anything of value outside the house. But that almost is key, and I'm living in the oxygenated heart of that word.' But, much as I loved the writing here, and was captivated by the characters, the plot hinges on an event that I just didn't believe in. I'm still puzzling a little over that. But it's still a fascinating novel, witty and provoking, and well worth reading."

Reviews Co-Editor and former columnist Sybil Lockhart, recommends NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman. "Clear, provocative, fun-to-read writing about recent revolutionary research in education. I have just begun reading, but thus far Bronson and Merryman seem to use clear explanations of empirical data to upend much of what we thought we knew about children and how to raise them. Very thoughtful and also satisfyingly warm and personal (Bronson really cares about how he raises his own kids)."

Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-Editor, shares, "I recently savored The Crack Between Worlds: A Dancer's Memoir of Loss, Faith, and Family by Maggie Kast. Kast writes with intelligence and honesty about becoming a Catholic in her forties, after having been raised without any religion at all; her coming of age as a dancer (she was once a student of Martha Graham); and the vicissitudes of family life. (The book opens with the tragic traffic accident which claimed her young daughter's life). One thing I love about this book is how Kast combines the spiritual with the sensual. After I finished reading, I had a fierce craving for rhubarb pie."

Alissa McElreath, Columns Editor, writes, "I'm about halfway through Joyce Carol Oates' We Were the Mulvaneys. Yes, I know, I'm behind the times as most have no doubt either read this already, or seen the film version, released in 2002. But I buy most of my books from my favorite thrift store, so I sometimes have to wait quite awhile before a coveted read falls into my hands. I read a few pages here and there, usually at the end of my day, and bask in the chaos that is the Mulvaney family -- their home, High Point Farm, bursts at the seams with the flotsam of daily life, with what seem to be a dozen animals, wandering in and out, and inserting themselves into the family dynamic. I have been drawn lately to novels about families -- large families, small families, in all their messy, sometimes dysfunctional wonder, and this book captures both the individual character of certain family members, and the tapestry of the family as a whole. When we first meet the Mulvaneys they are quirky and interesting -- from the nicknames they playfully give each other, to the riveting tales embedded in the larger story. Yet we quickly learn that something dark is stirring beneath the surface, and threatening not just to unravel the family itself, but the goodness in the very people who are involved. I haven't finished Oates' novel yet, but I'm in no hurry. I'm curious to get to know the Mulvaneys better, and I wince to think about the darker parts of the novel still to come, but Oates' superb writing, her poetic sense of image and the rhythms of language, have entranced me, and I hope to stay under her spell for a good while longer."

Kristina Riggle, Fiction Co-Editor, says, "I'm reading 31 Hours, by Masha Hamilton, about a young white man named Jonas, who is bent on an act of terrorism in a New York subway. His loved ones have thirty-one hours to stop him ... if they can find him first. Part thriller and part family excavation, Hamilton deftly switches between strikingly different character perspectives -- the younger sister of Jonas's girlfriend, a subway panhandler, the embittered Muslim man who recruited Jonas, and more -- as time ticks closer to the appointed hour of Jonas's act of defiance against shallow Western culture. Remarkably, the story loses no urgency when the characters are exploring the dramas within their own lives. Hamilton manages to make those scenes just as compelling as the passages that move the plot closer to the appointed hour of destruction. I'm only halfway through this book but I dare not read it before bed. It's too engrossing, and I need my sleep."

Cassie Premo Steele, Columnist, shares, "I just finished two books by Christina Baker Kline (her edited collection, Child of Mine, was required reading for my pregnancy and later, for my Motherhood classes). Her latest novel is Bird in Hand, which is riveting. I don't want to say any more about it because it's so yummy. Then I went back to the library and looked for her older titles and found The Way Life Should Be -- which is a nice escape (cute guys, island in Maine, and Italian recipes). But run, don't walk, to get Bird in Hand. This is a Literary Mama's must-read."

Christina Marie Speed writes poetry and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including Caper Journal, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune Online, and The View From Here. She lives with her husband and two sons in a sunny fourth-floor walkup in Brooklyn, New York.

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