One of the biggest challenges of being a working novelist is balancing the deep, focused work of actually writing your books with the promoting of those books, the part that requires you to be in the world both online and off. Both are necessary and I generally enjoy these disparate parts of my job, but there is also life that must be lived somehow while all of that is going on. And boy has life come at me this year!
Here were the weeks leading up to the launch of my second novel She Regrets Nothing earlier this year: First, my agent and I sold my third book to Atria. Selling a book is always a big moment but this time it felt like a HUGE moment because the writing of this book consumed me in a way that no other project of mine has before. We Came Here to Forget is the story an Olympic skier who loses everything—her career, her family, and the love of her young life—and escapes to Buenos Aires where she reinvents herself after a family tragedy, meets a colorful group of ex-pats, and is swept up in the city’s tango scene. All novelists borrow from their own lives in their writing, but for this one, I went way deep into the hardest parts of my past: writing this book has been draining, cathartic, and rewarding in a way that nothing else I’ve written has been. I cannot wait to share it with you next summer.
Next, about a week after getting the new deal, I got my second piece of big news: that I was going to have a baby. A pregnancy is probably the least shocking news a married thirty-something can share, but seeing that positive test sign for the first time rocked my world. A few days after I found out I had a baby on the way, my second novel She Regrets Nothing went on-sale.
All three of these things are good news and each on its own mildly to majorly life changing. But all three all at once? Too much is an understatement. I was a tsunami of emotion and hormones for the first month of my launch, and the worst of my nausea hit me smack in the middle of my tour. And the thing about pregnancy (much like book deals) is that you can’t really share the news with anyone but your closest confidantes for months. Never have I felt quite such a gulf between my outward facing life and my inward facing one as I have this year. Watching myself in interviews or looking at pictures from events, I’m startled how normal I look.
Safe to say nothing about my life in the next year(s) is going to feel anything like normal. I’m excited, I’m freaked out, I’m nervous, I’m overjoyed—and that’s just in the past ten minutes!
As I head into the last couple months of my pregnancy, it’s probably no surprise that I’m bingeing on books about motherhood. Here are a few I highly recommend:
Motherhood by Sheila Heti. This book sparked a ton of discussion when it came out last May and for good reason. As I’ve learned fist hand, once a woman reaches her mid-to-late thirties, the speculation over when she’ll have kids reaches a fever pitch. Less often considered—and guaranteed to come with a heaping amount of judgement—is the question of if a woman wants to become a mother at all, and it’s this question that’s central to Heti’s book. In this stream of consciousness novel (widely believed to be autobiographical) Heti examines the question of motherhood from a variety of angles—the spiritual, the practical, the philosophical—and wrestles with whether she should take the plunge and have a baby with a willing but tepid partner. I devoured this book in a day. I’ve known for a while that I wanted to have children, but I found much of Heti’s ambivalence both compelling and relatable. I found myself taking screenshots of passages to send to writer friends. This one especially stuck with me: “There is something threatening about a woman who is not occupied with children….What is she going to do instead? What sort of trouble will she make?”
And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell. This book is unflinching—even brutal—in its descriptions of pregnancy and early motherhood, but O’Connell’s candor is both compelling and wise. O’Connell delves deep into the existential crisis of becoming a mother and cuts through so much of the cultural nonsense around pregnancy (the fantasy of a “natural birth” for example). This trenchant and hilarious memoir made me very glad that I waited until my advanced maternal age to have kids, but it’s also made me question everything in the best possible way.
No One Tells You This by Glynnis Macnicol. If Heti’s novel asks what a woman without children might get up to, this lovely and moving memoir offers one woman’s answers. This book isn’t about motherhood per se, but about deciding to find happiness outside of the cultural mandate that says women must wed and procreate before forty or be doomed to an unfulfilling and lonely life. Macnicol’s story isn’t so uncommon—statistically more women are now unmarried and childfree by choice than any previous generation—but it isn’t a narrative that we see very often in pop culture. This highly readable memoir chronicles Macnicol’s fortieth year as she cares for her ailing mother, goes on adventures to exotic locations, and helps her sister navigate being a single mom to three kids.
Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes. Sometimes it seems a book comes out just at the moment you need it, and this was the case for me with Garbes’ book, which is packed with incredible research and woven through with her own story of becoming a mom. Garbes is the new mom friend we all need, the one who has sorted through the mountain of advice given to pregnant women and new moms and can help you decipher what’s worth listening to and what is bullshit. Since reading this book in May, I’ve recommended it to every pregnant woman I know, and find myself recounting anecdotes from it on a regular basis. This gave me what I most wanted in a pregnancy guide, to be spoken to like a thoughtful grownup who is embarking on an exciting but daunting time.
Andrea Dunlop is a novelist living in the greater Seattle area. This piece was first shared in her e-newsletter; you can sign up for updates from Andrea on her website.