Tag Archives: motherhood

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

Motherhood by Sheila Heti Title: Motherhood
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1627790772
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

It took me a while to get into “Motherhood” by Sheila Heti. I was under the impression that this one would also be an easy read, just like, “How Should A Person Be?”, however, I was mistaken. “Motherhood” also because of the content and obviously the writing style (which is mostly meta in my opinion), makes it a little of a tough read. If you are prepared to battle through the first couple of pages, you are in for a treat.

“Motherhood” as the title suggests is obviously about motherhood but beyond that,​ it questions what a woman loses or gains when she becomes a mother. At first, it comes across as a strange book even, given there is no plot really and when you read the narrator’s life and her point of view, then everything falls into place.

Her experiences, her friends’ experiences, people who have children and people who don’t; they all play a major role in building her as a person and yet at the core of it is the question of motherhood – related​ to body, philosophy, society, ​and womanhood.

More than anything, the book is about a woman’s body and her choices, which are hers alone. The writing​, as usual,​l is solid, drifting and changing forms (which I enjoyed a lot by the way) that propels the book to another level.

“Motherhood” celebrates every aspect of being a woman and I am so glad it does. At the heart of it, Heti is also writing about femininity and vocation, mortality and empowerment and the history of it all. She breaks the mould of what is being a mother and what isn’t and gives room for ideas and opinions that are different to breathe and prosper. Sheila Heti is truly one of a kind writer according to me.

Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna

Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna Title: Mrs Funnybones
Author: Twinkle Khanna
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143424468
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 248
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Books that take you out of a reading slump are hard to come by. If those kind of books are funny, then all I can say is that go for them because funny books are hard to come by, well at least for me, who is not taken in by them till I finished reading, “Mrs Funnybones” and my jaw was actually hurting from laughing out loud.

I honestly though didn’t have any expectations from this book. I mean I had heard of Twinkle Khanna’s column in DNA and TOI but did not expect anything from the book. I had not read any of her columns. However, I can safely say that all of you and I mean every single one of you must read “Mrs Funnybones”. It is hilarious and I cannot stop recommending it enough.

“Mrs Funnybones” is about a regular woman’s (not quite so given her celebrity status) often irregular and chaotic life with her celebrity husband, kids, mother-in-law, dog, domestic help, a vivacious mother, and many more characters that keep popping in and out of chapters. I could not stop turning the pages. I could also not stop giggling like a school girl. There is also a lot of profundity in the book without it being too preachy and that is what I loved second best after the humour.

Twinkle Khanna writes with a lot of ease and it’s almost effortless. The writing just flows and humour is sometimes obvious and sometimes not, which is what I call, balanced. Whether she is talking about her man Jeeves (whom she calls desi Jeeves and that somehow cracked me up) to the time she was on a flight to Delhi and had to deal with a mother and her baby who decided that it was potty time on flight and what followed later was just laugh-out-loud and disgusting at the same time, she conjures life as is, without any frills and pretensions. We need more honest writing like this I guess.

My favourite parts were the ones that involved her Mom – how she was made fun of as a child and also of how she keeps getting these emails from her with her baby and teenage picture attachments. It was a laugh riot and at times I could not help but think of what she says about growing up, life, and everything in between.

“Mrs Funnybones” is the kind of book which will appeal to everyone. There is something which everyone can relate to – if not house issues, then about the state of the country, issues which she deals with great subtlety and wit. Like I said, I cannot stop recommending this book to everyone. It sort of reminded me of Moni Mohsin’s Diary of a Social Butterfly. I will get back to it in bits and parts when I am feeling down and about, so I can laugh and forget what is going on around me, at least temporarily.

Ongoingness : The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

Ongoingness - The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso Title: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
Author: Sarah Manguso
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977030
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 104
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What is “Ongoingness”? What does it mean and how does it come to be defined? Is it even a word like that? Is it okay for anyone to invent something like that? And does it also then mean that it is all okay and to just experience moments as they come by? “Ongoingness” by Sarah Manguso is a diary – it is however, not your usual run-of-the-mill diary either. Come to think of it, it is not like something I have read in a very long time and trust Ms. Manguso to come up with something so uniquely different and contemplative.

Of course you can finish this book in one sitting and that is the idea. However, I also had to pause in most places and keep contemplating about life. The book is about Sarah’s life as a mother and how memory and loss of it played a major role for some time then. This diary is just a series of fragments on time, memory, the nature of the self and how one connects with the internal and the external world.

The memoir is barely only about 100 pages long and yet there is so much you will see in this book which perhaps no other book will be able to communicate or show. Manguso has dealt with the passage of time beautifully from the time when she was not a mother to the time she became one and how things changed drastically.

“Ongoinginess” is beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It is about relationships and life and yet Manguso has a different perspective and outlook in everything. It is a poetic meditation on our need to remember and capture life through words, images and sounds.

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An Interview with Alice Eve Cohen

WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW is a great title. What does it mean?

A: At pivotal moments throughout the memoir, there are short sections titled  “What I Know.” In the book, whenever I try to make sense of overwhelming and mystifying events, I make a list of everything I know. But time after time, I find out that the “What I Know” list I’ve come up with is utterly wrong. With twenty-twenty hindsight I realize that what I thought I knew was based on long-held false assumptions. At the end of the book I finally get it right.

Your story is incredible. At age 44, when you thought you couldn’t bear children you discovered you were 6 months pregnant. What were some of your concerns about finding out you were pregnant when you were so far along?

The first six months of my pregnancy were a disaster, in terms of prenatal care and lack thereof. I had been diagnosed as infertile many years earlier, and told never to attempt pregnancy with fertility treatment, as I could never carry a baby past six months. When I started to feel sick, doctors attributed my ailments to early menopause and other conditions related to aging. Six months, numerous x-rays, CAT scans, prescription hormones, and a slew of doctors later, I was raced to an emergency CAT scan for a large abdominal tumor—which turned out not to be a tumor at all. I was 6 months pregnant.

My first reaction was shock, followed by the fear that I would deliver the baby prematurely, which would result in severe disability. I was terrified that I had already injured the fetus by subjecting it to so many terrible risks.

There’s a great deal of humor in your book. Given the immense challenges you faced, how were you able to mine so much comedy?

The comedy in my memoir helped me to write the book. It made me laugh and enabled me to maintain perspective. I want the humor to welcome readers into the story.

My approach to storytelling is to infuse as much humor into the writing as possible. My preferred survival mechanism is to find humor even in the most painful situations. I look for the story value in scary moments, for the absurdity in intolerable predicaments. I take great pleasure in self-mockery. Humor is an appealing unspoken contract with the reader. Audiences will shut down when offered a journey of unmitigated bleakness; they will join you as a partner if you pave the road with humor.

You are in the unique position of having adopted a child and then having one biologically. How are the experiences different? How are they the same?

As every parent knows, raising a child is infinitely complex. Adoption contributes a layer of complexity to the parenting equation, but there are countless other variables. Each of my daughters came into the world with a unique prenatal resume: Julia’s back-story includes adoption; Eliana’s back-story… well, hers is the inciting incident of my book. Julia, now 18 years old, has always had very positive feelings about her adoption. This spring, her adoption story came full cycle when she found her biological mother and visited with her for several days. 

My daughters have both asked me about the relative merits of adoption and biological parenthood. In response, I sing the praises of motherhood—by any method—but readily admit that physically it’s a hell-of-a lot harder to give birth at age 45 than to adopt.

Ultimately, adoption doesn’t change how or how much you love your child. Here’s an excerpt from my book on the subject. This is the “What I Know” list where I finally get it right:

“I love both my daughters.

The one who was planned for, researched, fought for, hard-won, rehearsed for, competed for, and paid for on the not-for-profit Spence Chapin Adoption Agency’s sliding scale.

I love the one who arrived unannounced and impossibly.

I love the one who was adopted, whose birth I observed from a comfortable and pain-free distance.

I love the one who I gave birth to at age forty-five, after forty-seven awful hours of labor.

I love the one whose birth-mother didn’t know about her, until she was 6 months pregnant.

I love the one I didn’t know about, until I was 6 months pregnant.

I love the one who is off-the-charts tall and the one who’s off-the-charts short.

I love the dark-haired one and the fair-haired one.

I love the symmetrical one and the asymmetrical one.

I love the one I desperately wanted, and the one I desperately didn’t want.”

When reading WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW the reader can feel your anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. It’s dramatic. You are a playwright and a solo theater artist. How did this background help you shape the writing and storytelling in the book?

Structurally, my book is deeply influenced by my theatre writing. It’s written in three acts, with an epilogue. Each act is divided into scenes. The action of the scenes is revealed through dialogue, and the reflective narrative throughout the book is akin to solo theatre monologue. The three-act structure gave me a container in which to shape my unruly collection of experiences, thoughts, and feelings into a coherent whole. The dramatic structure also helped me figure out the where my story began and ended—which eluded me for a long time.

My book begins, “Scene 1: Stage Fright. This was going to be a solo show…” I originally thought I would write this story as a solo theatre piece, but I quickly discovered that I wasn’t ready to contemplate performing this story for an audience. It was too raw, too frightening. At that time, three years ago, I could barely talk about the story, no less perform it. Writing a book allowed me to work through my very personal struggle with the material, by removing the terrifying prospect of performing it.

I found it ironic and amusing when my publisher recently asked me to perform a portion of the book for a promotional video. “Um… excuse me, but did you happen to read the first page?” I asked. Luckily, I’d gotten over my stage fright and I found it immensely pleasurable to perform the story for an audience. In fact, I’m now revisiting the idea of creating a solo theatre piece about this story.

Can you describe your writing process for this book?

It took me a couple of years to regain my emotional footing after my unexpected and traumatic pregnancy. It took me much longer to write about it. I tried several times to start writing the story, but couldn’t, and soon stopped writing completely. “This is the story you have to write, and you know it, Alice,” said my bullying subconscious. “Until you figure out how to write it, I won’t permit you to write anything.”

One day, quite unexpectedly, I started writing again—in absolute secrecy.  I spent a year writing with a frenzied urgency, as if under a spell. I had to finish writing the story, or else—I didn’t know what else, but I was sure something bad would happen if I didn’t finish it. I became uncharacteristically superstitious: I was afraid that if I stopped writing for even a day, or if I told anybody I was writing this story, the spell would be broken, and I’d be cursed again with that same demonic and depressing stranglehold of writers block. For a year I didn’t even tell my husband that I was writing the book. That early writing process was something I needed to do for myself, in order to make sense of what had happened, so much of which was still deeply troubling to me. Then I was able to edit, rewrite, and turn it into a book.

This book hits upon real hot button issues including medical and legal. Obviously you can’t go into the specifics of the case, but you reveal in the book that a wrongful life lawsuit was brought. What does this mean?

“Wrongful life” refers to a class of legal cases in which the birth itself is a result of the medical malpractice. You can only sue for wrongful life if the baby has a sickness or disability that will result in expenses over and above the cost of raising a healthy child. Damages are limited to the additional and extraordinary expenses of raising a child with special needs. In the book, I talk about pursuing a wrongful life lawsuit. For legal reasons, I can’t discuss any details about the case or its outcome.

With regard to “hot button” medical issues, I’d be thrilled if the absurd and nightmarish health insurance frustrations I describe in the book could contribute to the current national debate about healthcare, and help to underscore the need for universal health insurance coverage.

Psychologically you experienced pregnancy in a condensed timeframe. Most people plan for their pregnancy and have nine months to mentally come to terms with how their lives will change. You didn’t have that. You had 3 months for your emotions to run the gamut of joy and fear. In WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW you reveal that raw emotion. What was it like?

 Short answer—I don’t recommend it. Nine months of preparation sounds positively luxurious, but with both my daughters I’ve had very little prep time: two months to prepare for Julia’s adoption; three months to prepare for Eliana’s birth. Since I was on bed rest for those three months I had lots of time lying in bed on my left side to think, fantasize, worry, obsess, hope, rage, dream. Act II of my book draws from those highly saturated three months of pregnancy.

What do you want people to take away from reading WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW?

WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW invites readers to observe my pitfalls, fears and triumphs, my stumbling and imperfect attempts to do the right thing. It is a rocky journey that ends at last in a soft, safe landing; a nightmare that ultimately becomes a love story. Perhaps my tale will bring comfort to readers as they reflect on their life trials and their own best efforts to do what is right.

I hope readers will enjoy the book as an exciting and moving story filled with suspense, surprise twists, vivid characters, and unexpected humor. I’ve been told it’s a page-turner, which delights me. (Spoiler alert—it has a happy ending.) I also hope it invites discussion about the topical issues embedded in the events of the book—including the problems with our country’s health care system, and the national dialogue about abortion rights.

As this is a memoir, I’ve written as honestly and candidly as I can about my personal odyssey and about the complexities of motherhood. In my story, there were times when I didn’t recognize myself, times that I feared for my daughter’s life and for my own. Somehow, my family, my marriage, my children and I all survived and thrived, despite (and maybe because of) the storm we weathered together.

I imagine that the book will speak to anybody who has been through difficult times—which of course includes just about everyone. For years, I was unable to talk about my experience. Since writing the book, I have felt hugely relieved, and deeply gratified that readers enjoy and relate to it.

This happened about 9 years ago. How is the baby today?

 The “baby” is nine years old and she’s great. Eliana is phenomenally smart, she has a wonderful, quirky sense of humor, and she’s an awesome fiction writer. She loves animals, donates much of her allowance to World Wildlife Fund, and can’t wait to go back to sleep-away camp, where she has learned to take care of llamas and a variety of barnyard animals. The extra thrill this summer is that her big sister Julia will be a counselor and lifeguard at the same camp. Eliana is finishing up a long and arduous leg-lengthening procedure, the first of two; the second one will be in a few years. She had surgery in November, and she’ll be recovered just in time for camp in August.

 What have you learned from putting your story on paper?

 “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” Zora Neale Hurston

I chose this quote as the epigraph to my book. Telling stories makes us human. Hurston’s quote has special resonance for stories that are particular to the domain of women. “Bearing an untold story inside of you” evokes the image of a woman’s story as a metaphoric pregnancy. I concur that it is agony to bear an untold story inside of you, and I’ve learned that sharing a story is powerful medicine.

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen

So when I laid my hands on “What I Thought I Knew” (actually it was sent to me as I wanted a review copy), I read the synopsis and thought to myself: How different could this memoir be from the others that I have read? Each memoir consists of the same ingredients anyway (as though writers dish recipes out – freshly baked!), don’t they? I am glad that I was mistaken and proved wrong.

When I started reading the book, to be very honest I could not put it down and I am not just saying this because I received a review copy. I am saying this because though I am not a woman, I felt for Alice and what she was going through. More than that I guess I knew it was not easy for her and yet she was there – facing it all and emerged a different person.

Who would not? Imagine that you are a 44 year-old woman living life the way you are supposed to. Your career has never looked better. Your boyfriend and daughter seem the only world to you. Everyday seems like a blessing and that’s precisely when you think something will happen (its true, I completely agree with this theory)and it does. You feel your stomach turning hard and wonder what is wrong with me? You have been diagnosed as being infertile in the past and before you know it you are six months into pregnancy and without a clue.

I can’t begin to imagine what would have been my state had I been in that situation. To add to which you have a history of ailments in your family which could either endanger you or the baby. There is a lot to what meets the eye in the book and one has to only dig deeper while reading it. The emotions. The chaos. The battle at some point to take a stand and make a moral decision. The idea of loving a child, who may be you were not prepared for. Its true. How does one do it?

That’s the beauty of the book, according to me. It is real and honest. Alice does not mince her words or her feelings and I love that. It is a rollercoaster ride of emotions that all must venture to ride at least once. Go read it! It is brilliant.