Motherhood: 3 Books On Work, Life And Too-Small Pool Towels

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When I was in my 20s, I used to wonder why the media ran so many stories about life-work balance, and specifically about life-work balance for women. Then I had children. Now I'm fascinated by news reports and articles about subjects such as "having it all" and "leaning in." I also like novels and memoirs about the challenges and delights of motherhood, work, and combinations therein. Here are three books I love because they acknowledge and even celebrate the messy way that most of us actually live.

The Ten-Year Nap

by Meg Wolitzer

Hardcover, 351 pages, Penguin Group USA, $24.95, published March 27 2008 | purchase

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The Ten-Year Nap
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Meg Wolitzer

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In The Ten-Year Nap, a novel by Meg Wolitzer, four well-educated New York moms have all shelved their careers, at least temporarily, to stay home with their children. To varying degrees, they're ambivalent about the choices they've made, while also fiercely loving their kids, and Wolitzer depicts their ambivalence with honesty and wit. She also has one woman pose a dilemma that I now always think about when I take my daughters swimming. If your child sprinted out of the locker room while you were still changing, before giving chase, would you use the too-small towel to cover the top half of your body or the bottom half? Whether you're a stay-at-home mom or a high-powered executive, I think we can all agree that this is one of the critical questions of our time.

Poser

My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses

by Claire Dederer

Hardcover, 332 pages, Farrar Straus & Giroux, $26, published December 21 2010 | purchase

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Poser
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My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses
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Claire Dederer

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Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, by Claire Dederer is ostensibly a yoga memoir, but I personally probably wouldn't have finished it if that's all it was. It's also about a particular kind of pressure that a particular kind of mother today puts on herself to swaddle her baby in organic cotton blankets, make her own pureed sweet potatoes, breastfeed until her child is in preschool and acquire only wooden toys. After having children, Dederer worked part-time and from home, circumstances which — surprise, surprise — presented both advantages and disadvantages when it came to her finances and her marriage. Dederer is candid, sympathetic and entertaining, and reading this book is like buckling your baby into a stroller, going on a walk with one of your smartest mom friends and talking about everything on your minds.

My Hollywood

by Mona Simpson

Hardcover, 369 pages, Random House Inc, $26.95, published August 3 2010 | purchase

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My Hollywood
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Mona Simpson

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My Hollywood by Mona Simpson is told from two distinct points of view: that of Claire, an American mother who works as a composer, and that of Lola, the Filipina nanny Claire and her husband hire to care for their young son. Lola, whose chapters are written in dialect, sends money back to the Philippines for her own five children and husband, and is part of a larger community of Los Angeles nannies. Claire is much more isolated, and more doubting about her own caretaking abilities. Simpson is a brilliant writer who uncannily evokes the shifting moods and details that constitute daily life, and the alternating sections are equally convincing. This ambitious novel comments implicitly on class and ethnicity, but its greatest triumph is the complexity of its characters.

Can women have it all? I'm pretty sure that depends on your definition of "all." And whether the answer is yes or no, these books take us past the headlines to offer nuanced and thought-provoking accounts of women's lives.

Curtis Sittenfeld's latest book is Sisterland.

Three Books... is produced and edited by the team at NPR Books.

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